Finding My Father’s Footsteps by Allan Spahr

Must mountaineering expedition documentaries be extreme or about first attempts? Can they not be a heartwarming story? I would like to share this true story about my father that still continues today…


You always hear the phrase “You don’t miss what you don’t know”, and to some extent that is true. I had heard a few stories about my father as I grew up but everything was vague. He was always a mystery to me but slowly, over time, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. Even today, I am realizing the life I have been living in some ways has been mimicking the same life of my father as we both share a passion for the mountains. The adventure that follows slowly unwraps this great mystery in my life.

Rudy Spahr, my father, came from the small farming community of Ersigen Switzerland. In October 1954 at the age of 19, after school, he moved to Wengen and worked as a Cabinet Maker for two years. This is where his passion for climbing, skiing and the mountains began. He came to Canada in 1956 and moved to Vancouver in 1957 where he met my mother, Norma. This is where his story ends and mine begins. His life ended shortly afterwards in a tragic industrial accident. I never really knew him as he passed away when I was only 10 months old. My mother never remarried so the only father I knew was just story and legends.

img070(Photo Allan Spahr)

One day, in the spring of 1985, I was looking at the North Shore Mountains from downtown Vancouver and decided to learn how to climb. With the help of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia I took rock climbing lessons. My first day was rainy, slippery, and cold but I fell in love with the sport. After a couple of years of taking the Outdoor Recreation program at Capilano University, I taught Outward Bound north of Whistler. Since then I have taught many family and friends the fine art of climbing. Eventually in 1989, I moved to Canmore, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies to raise a family and do more climbing. I have done a lot of climbing with my wife in the Vancouver area, Canadian Rockies, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California.

Many of my relatives from Switzerland have come to Canada for visits but the last time I was in Switzerland was 1980. I missed my family and the farm in Ersigen so much. In 2011, my wife and I decided to visit Switzerland, with the help of many relatives. I talked to my cousin, Kurt Stegmüller, over Skype organizing our holiday. With all the plans starting to be laid out, some questions started to arise about Rudy and his time in Wengen. My cousin knew that in 1954, he moved there to work as a cabinet maker. When my older brother, Jeff, and I were there in 1980, Kurt took us to Wengen, but we had no idea as to his residence or employment, a great disappointment. I was also told that his family never went to Wengen for a visit, as it was expensive to travel for farmers. So none of my relatives knew a lot about his time there. My aunt, Vreni Stegmüller, only knew he was under the instruction of a master cabinet maker by the name of Steiner.


After a quick internet search “1955 Wengen cabinet maker Steiner” the only result was a hotel “The Rainhus” run by the Steiner family. I thought to myself that the Swiss never really sell anything so maybe the original Steiners were still there. I wrote an email to Trudi Steiner at the Rainhus.

Here are some of the emails

  • 18.03.2011 20:22:
    I was trying to look up information about a master carpenter by the name of Steiner who lived in Wengen 1955. or his assistant Rudy Spahr. Could you point me in the right direction?
    Allan Spahr

I thought, what are the odds of finding someone from 56 years earlier. But I received a reply shortly later to my excitement.

  • Hi Allan,
    This is Trudi writing to you. I am the daughter of Arnold Steiner, who passed away 1981, I was a carpenter apprentice at the time Ruedi Spar was working here. He left for Canada 2 months earlier than I left for California, where I had stayed for 20 years. 1977 I returned from the US to take care of my mother, who was very ill. When she passed away I stayed with my father to help him in his business and with the vacation rentals. I have been doing that ever since. I am now 76 myself and I have 2 daughters in California who I visit frequently.
    Are you the son of Ruedi Spar, and where are you living?
    Trudi Steiner

With this email reply, the surprise from all my relatives was amazing, as all my Dad’s brothers and sister were still alive. I explained to Trudi about my father and the trip we were planning.

  • Hi Trudi
    I was in Wengen back in 1980 and we knew Rudy was working there but did not know where. As I said, he passed away very young, so I never knew any details of his life. Vreni (Rudys sister) told me about his friend in Wengen that he worked with hoping to remember his name was Steiner. So I took a shot and I am pleased to come for a visit to talk more. It sounds like you remember him, did you work together? Or did Rudy and Arnold or you hike or climb together? Sorry as you see I have so many questions.

Many questions are to follow with many emails prior to our visit. The more I wrote, the more details I uncovered about my father and his time in Wengen.

  • Hi Allan,
    I was an apprentice myself learning the trade of cabinet making, but I never did big jobs myself. As I mentioned in 1957 I left for California got married had 2 girls and only worked around the house. I remember him, he was living in our house on the ground floor. My Mother cooked for everybody his roomate was Stalder Leo, I try to find out if he is still living, he would be 79 now, he might remember more about him.All I remember well is that he had one of the first music recording machines, something you find in museums now. Too bad you did not come in 1980, my Dad was still living and even working at that time, he could have told you a lot more about your Dad, he had a great memory.
    So long,

Upon more searching I managed to find out that Leo was alive and he wanted to meet Trudi and I when I came to Switzerland.

  • Hi Allan,
    I forgot to ask him that, but I am sure there will be people to translate otherwise I’ll try to do it even so I am not very good at it. I think in English or in German, but the fast back an force explaining to people is harder for me and the older I get the more problem I have finding the proper words fast, but I am sure we’ll manage. Leo is looking forward to see you and to see me. I’ll check my foto albums, but in those days we did not make so many pictures. Films were expensive with our small salaries and to develop a film costed money again. It’s not like now where you take a thousand pictures and delete most of them again, What do you think about the idea to come to Wengen to all meet here and if the weather permits go to Maennlichen or Kleine Scheidegg and enjoy the scenery. Leo said he still skis, he must be in very good health. He had been in Wengen several times but he had no idea that I was back from the US and livng in my parents house. Thanks to you we just got in contact again. You may write to me any time you feel like, if I can answer your questions I’ll be happy to do so.
    Gruezi und auf Wiederhoere. (greetings and to hear from you soon)

So all the plans are set as we are to meet in Wengen on Friday July 29, 2011.

Continue reading Allan Spahr’s Story in
Part I – Part IIPart III

9 responses to “Finding My Father’s Footsteps by Allan Spahr

  1. I was very interested in this story and look forward to reading Part II. Is it available yet?

  2. Pingback: Finding My Father’s Footsteps (PART II) | Swiss100Canada·

  3. Pingback: Finding My Father’s Footsteps (PART III) | Swiss100Canada·

  4. Fantaastic story. My wife and I were on a bus trip a year ago “Rocky Mountaineer” when Allan related the story. Did he bring home his father’s ice pick?

  5. A most engaging story Allan, I enjoyed reading Part Ii and Part III just recently. Happy Mountaineering….

  6. Hey “Big Al”, this is Buttercup,aka Jimmy McDowell. You were our driver while we we touring the ice fields. Becky located you tonight. I sent you a friend request in Facebook. We really enjoyed getting to know you. Thanks,Buttercup

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