University of Calgary

University of Calgary

February 24, 2012 11:55 ET

New University of Calgary collection celebrates "Marco Polo" of Rotary

Library acquires treasure trove of artifacts from world traveler James Wheeler Davidson

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Feb. 24, 2012) - The University of Calgary has recently acquired an outstanding collection of papers and artifacts documenting the extraordinary life of Calgary businessman, explorer, writer, diplomat, businessman and philanthropist James Wheeler Davidson (1872-1933).

"This is a tremendously exciting opportunity for researchers," says University of Calgary Librarian Tom Hickerson. "The artifacts collected during Davidson's global travels as well as his field notes, photographs and textual records reveal a contribution that spans the world."

Born in Austin, Minnesota, in 1872, "Big Jim" Davidson embarked on a life of travel and adventure. He travelled with the Peary expedition to Greenland in 1893-94, reported on the Sino- Japanese War (for which he was presented with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan), narrowly escaped the San Francisco Earthquake, and served an illustrious career as US Consul in Formosa, Manchuria, and Shanghai.

Davidson and his family settled in Calgary where he played a leading role in the business community. He was instrumental in forming the Alberta Motor Association and in expanding Alberta's highways. His love of adventure took him into the mountains as a member of Canadian Alpine Club and, in 1935, a mountain peak just north of Lake Minnewanka was named Mt. Davidson in his honour.

Davidson joined the Rotary Club of Calgary in 1914, and later became known as the "Marco Polo of Rotary" by extending Rotary to Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. In 1928, using his own funds, he embarked on a three-year odyssey that chartered 23 Rotary Clubs in twelve countries, from Turkey to Thailand.

Davidson's health began to fail soon after the family's return to Canada in 1931, and he died in 1933.

The James Wheeler Davidson Family Collection now at the University of Calgary provides a colourful and vivid glimpse into this remarkable life. Handwritten notes and sketches document Davidson's participation in the Peary Expedition in 1893-94. Glass lantern slides, speech cards and notes for many of Davidson's speaking engagements, sketches, correspondence, and six volumes of travel journals form just part of treasure trove of research resources.

James Davidson's grandson, Don Abramson, and his wife Leslie have greatly assisted with the identification of individual items and organization of the donation.

The collection has been further strengthened by an important donation of JW Davidson research materials by historian Dr. Robert Lampard, an honorary member of the Calgary Rotary Club who has written extensively on James Wheeler Davidson. Margaret P. (Marmie) Hess, a distinguished member of the Calgary Rotary, knew Davidson personally, and has been invaluable in encouraging the collection coming to Calgary.

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Contact Information

  • University of Calgary
    James Stevenson
    Senior Communications Manager, Media Relations
    403-220-3511 or Cell: 403.512.6756