Edward Oliver Wheeler was born to Arthur and Clara Macoun Wheeler on April 18, 1890 in Ottawa, Canada. His grandfather, John Macoun, was a respected botanist and his father was a surveyor and mountain-climbing enthusiast who founded the Alpine Club of Canada. His own passion for the mountains began when he accompanied his father to survey the Selkirk Range, and would spend subsequent school holidays as his father's assistant. He received his education in Ottawa's public school system, and attended Ontario's Trinity College. After graduating from Kingston's Royal Military Academy, Cadet Wheeler garnered the highest grades ever received by an officer in training, was awarded the Governor General's medal and the Sword of Honor. At the age of 20, he received a commission to the Royal Canadian Engineers, and was deployed to India in 1913. The young officer saw considerable action during World War I, serving with King George V's Bengal Sappers and Miners in 1915, and fought in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) from 1916-1918. For his efforts, he was awarded the Military Cross, and became a member of the French Legion of Honor.
After the war, he returned to India, working as a surveyor, and in 1921, married Dorothea Danielson. Their son John later became a celebrated geologist. Captain Wheeler's mountain-climbing prowess and skills as a map maker led to an invitation to join the first British Expedition to Mount Everest. Under the leadership of Colonel Charles Howard-Bury, Captain Wheeler, along with other experienced climbers like George Leigh Mallory (who would die tragically in 1924 on another Everest Expedition), investigated various routes to determine the most expedient approach, which Captain Wheeler's group determined to be the East Rongbuk Glacier that led to the North Col. He constructed the first map of Mount Everest and surrounding area, and also created a photographic record of the expedition. His daily travel kit included a cumbersome knapsack, which consisted of a camera, 11 glass plates, notebooks and pencils, weighing about 30 pounds; a tripod; disassembled theodolite telescope housed in a wooden box; along with spare plate holders, extra glass negatives, tape measures, and stone-filled bags to steady the tripod, tipped the scales at 100 pounds. Over the next five months, Captain Wheeler would capture and develop 240 images of the majestic Everest.
Captain Wheeler made a triumphant returned to India, but was considerably weakened by illness, resulting from the high altitudes and drinking contaminated water. After regaining his health, he was named Deputy Superintendent of the Survey of India, promoted to Major, and eventually achieved the rank of Brigadier General. He was knighted in 1943, and though he was eligible for retirement two years' later, he stayed with the Survey of India, before finally retiring and returning to Canada in 1947. He and his wife settled in Lavington, British Columbia, where he resumed his mountain climbing activities, and served as President of the Alpine Club of Canada from 1950 until 1954. On March 18, 1962, 71-year-old Sir Edward Oliver Wheeler suffered a massive stroke, and died the next day. He is fondly remembered for his military service, as a mountain climber and surveyor, and for his landmark expedition photographs. Exhibiting a gift for understatement, Sir Wheeler once observed, "I was in this camp for five days; most of them spent huddled under rocks waiting for the clouds to lift. I had one beautiful day… and got some very nice photographs of Mount Everest and its West ridge." Those "very nice photographs" remain some of the most impressive and breathtaking panoramic views of Mount Everest well into the twenty-first century.
2006 Among the Great Hills: Three Generations of Wheelers by R.W. Sandford (Alberta, Canada: The Alpine Club of Canada), pp. 4, 20-21.
2004 Canada’s Everest? Rethinking the First Ascent of Mount Logan and the Politics of Nationhood, 1925 by Zac Robinson and PearlAnn Reichwein Sport History Review, Vol. XXXV, pp. 95-121.
2007 The Canadian Rockies: Pioneers, Legends and True Tales by Roger W. Patillo (Aldergrove, British Columbia: Amberlea Press), p. 285.
2001 Edward Oliver Wheeler (URL: http://www.beyondnootka.com/biographies/e_wheeler.html).
2009 West Rongbuk (URL: http://more.glacierworks.org/glacier/west-rongbuk-glacier).
2010 Yale University: Environment 360 (URL:
Return to Previous Page
Return to the History Librarium
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera