Tales of Whistler’s Early Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities

This year I spent thanksgiving with a group of new friends. As tradition goes, we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. This has got to be one of the most beautiful holiday rituals, as the room generally goes from silly and sarcastic to completely genuine as soon as the first person says their thanks. This sincerity and gratefulness got me thinking about Whistler’s early days when there was a bit less to be thankful for in terms of amenities–more specifically, regarding Whistler’s water supply and sanitation facilities.

Whistler’s early settlers had to locate their homes near rivers, creeks or lakes in order to have access to water. Rainbow Lodge and Hillcrest Lodge had holding tanks of water pumped from Rainbow Creek and Alta Lake, respectively; however, most properties weren’t so fortunate. Some residents used flumes to direct water from the source to their property, though this method was quite unreliable.

Betsy DeBeck recalls her and her father constructing a flume for her brother and sister in-law, Denis and Dorothy DeBeck. Denis and Dorothy had recently built a house on the shores of Green Lake, and Betsy and her father figured they could ‘help’ the new homeowners by providing a more convenient water supply system. The two got to work, building a V flume that reached approximately 100 yards up the slope from Green Lake, right into Denis and Dorothy’s backyard. This would prevent them from having to go down the stream to retrieve buckets of water. While great in theory, during the winter months the flume and all the water in it froze and they were left with this ‘huge big iceberg,’ as Dorothy describes. Dorothy quickly grew to curse the flume.

By 1925, the town installed a water line from Scotia Creek in order to service new subdivisions on the west shore of Alta Lake. It operated on the gravitation principle, by which water flows downward from a large wooden holding tank built up on a hill. In 1954, Dick Fairhurst of Cypress Lodge received the rights to Scotia Creek and took over the system.

Along the railway line at the main stations, public outhouses were build for passengers' convenience. Someone with a sense of humour added the sign.

Along the railway line at the main stations, public outhouses were build for passengers’ convenience. Someone with a sense of humour added the sign.

Early sanitation systems were nothing to write home about either (because people write home about their plumbing all the time). Whistler’s early sanitation systems consisted of outhouses and, in later years, septic tanks. Surprisingly, the outhouses were considered quite the establishments and are remembered fondly by many of the first skiers to live in the valley.

Jean McDevitt in front of Petersen's old outhouse, 1968.

Jean McDevitt in front of Petersen’s old outhouse, 1968.

These outhouses brought many tales of hilarity. One in particular is the sizzling story of Charlie Chandler. Charlie Chandler, a local trapper, had been given a small amount of high-grade aircraft fuel by a kindly visiting floatplane pilot, which he used to clean some of his exceedingly grimy overalls. When finished cleaning his clothes, Charlie felt that the best way to dispose of the remaining fuel was to chuck it down the ‘biffy.’ He went on with his day as usual, and when it came time for his next visit to the outhouse he sat down and lit his pipe, as was his habit. The explosion was heard from miles away. Charlie’s nearest neighbour, Phil Tapley, rushed to the scene where he found a singed but otherwise unscathed Charlie with his pants around his ankles, wondering what had occurred.

Grizzlies in the Valley

As most of us are well aware, wildlife is constantly in flux. Species come and go; they migrate; they evolve; they become extinct. These transitions are especially evident living in Whistler, as wildlife surrounds us, so much so that one of the first things I learned when I got here concerned our ever-changing mammal population. I quickly learned that although grizzly bears once roamed our valley, they have since moved on from this social, tourist town.

mammals-of-the-alta-lake001Recently, the museum acquired the book Mammals of the Alta Lake Region of South-western British Columbia by Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart Cowan, published in 1935. This fantastic account eloquently outlines the various mammals that were known to exist in the Whistler (then Alta Lake) region. The account of grizzlies is slight, with only a few documented sighting before 1935; however, we know that an abundance of brown bears made their homes here in Whistler for many years before humans moved in.

Check-list-of-mammalsGrizzly bears were common to the alpine meadows and adjacent timber of the Whistler region. On June 26th, 1924, grizzlies were seen in Avalanche Pass, between Mount Overlord and London Mountain (now known as Whistler Mountain). Could you imagine seeing a grizzly around Whistler Mountain today? Of course, there is far too much excitement around the mountain for a grizzly nowadays, as brown bears require a great deal of personal space.

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The book states that the latest grizzly bear tracks were sighted on December 5th, 1932, by John Bailiff; however, there have been grizzly sightings in Whistler since the book’s publishing. The most recent occurrence was in Function Junction in 1989. Sadly, the bear was shot by an RCMP officer after it displayed aggressive behaviour toward local dogs.  There are also reports that claim that the RCMP officers did not have the necessary expertise or equipment to safely tranquilize and relocate the animal.

By now it is common knowledge that grizzly bears are rarely spotted in and around Whistler, but we have also seen a great decrease in brown bears across the Sea to Sky Corridor in general over the last century. This steady decline of the grizzly population began with a vengeance during the twentieth century, and was unsurprisingly largely man-made.

Aside from Racey and Cowan’s book, the museum holds a few other accounts of brown bears in Whistler, including photographs of hunted bears, as well as a newspaper article by John Bailiff about his attempt to hunt a mother grizzly in the 1930s. Bailiff’s article is a rather upsetting read, as he takes us through his excitement at the thought of killing the maternal bear, with seemingly no compassion for the cubs alongside her. Thankfully, times have changed and continue to progress toward attitudes and laws that protect these ursine beauties that roam British Columbia.

Hunters with two trophy grizzly bears in the Singing Pass/Musical Bumps area, ca. 1916.

Hunters with two trophy grizzly bears in the Singing Pass/Musical Bumps area, ca. 1916.

For more information on bears in Whistler, and how you can be bear smart, visit the Bear Smart Society. 

Remembering Hillcrest Lodge

While flipping through the 1979 October/November issue of the Whistler Answer, I came across a fascinating story titled “The Whistler Lodge (1973-74) or the Heyday of a Cabaret.”  I love the Whistler Answer for its bare all writing styles that would most definitely be deemed inappropriate in today’s local news. This story has all that quirkiness one expects from the paper, as the author, an old doorman at Whistler Lodge (also known as Hillcrest Lodge), gives his first-hand history of the place in as many outlandish adjectives as one can muster.

The article highlights the delight of the lodge, going as far as to describe it as “phantasmagorical”–a bold claim, the author admits. He attributes the liberal nature of the lodge to the managers, Rob and Jen Houseman, whose bureaucratic strategy was “don’t make any rules and none will get broken.” Have a read for yourself:

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This fun recollection of Whistler Lodge inspired me to dig for some more facts about the place, leading me to the story of the Mansell family. Jack Mansell first came to Whistler (then Alta Lake) on a fishing trip in 1944. While staying at Rainbow Lodge, he got word of property for sale across the lake. Luck would have it that the owner of the land was a regular at Jack’s shoe repair shop in Vancouver. The two negotiated and that same year, Jack bought the property on Alta Lake.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

By May 1945 Jack had sold his three shoe repair stores and moved to Whistler with his family–wife, Cecile ‘Cis’ and sons Loyd and Doug. The family lived in a little cottage on the property before deciding to build a few cabins and develop the site as a fishing lodge. Interestingly enough, the place became a very successful tearoom; Myrtle Philip of Rainbow Lodge brought horseback riding groups round the lake to stop for refreshments at the Mansell property.

In January 1946 the family began building the main lodge, and it was complete by July of that same year. By 1947 Hillcrest Lodge was open for business with a total of sixteen units for rent. The lodge opened for guests on the May long weekend and closed after Thanksgiving in October. Guests would arrive at Alta Lake on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and were often greeted by current guests… in costume!

Hillcrest Lodge guests dressed to meet the train, ca. 1950s.

This free spirited welcome set the tone for a typical stay at Hillcrest Lodge. Common activities and events included musical raft rides around the lake, masquerade parties, square dancing, kangaroo courts and mock weddings.

Jack and Cis eventually retired,  leaving management of the lodge to their children Doug and Barb. Doug and Barb managed the lodge from 1958 to 1965 before selling it to a group of Vancouver based businessmen led by Glen Mason. At this time, the name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge. After operating for about ten years it closed due to lack of business. Thankfully, the stories live on.

Big Kids LEGO 2014

Dear adults: Come be kids again! The Whistler Museum is excited to announce our third ever adult LEGO building competition, happening Thursday, October 16th. Come by the Museum from 6-9pm to stretch your imagination and test your building skills in the coolest 19+ event to happen in Whistler, ever! I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate claim, anyhow. Competitors begin building at 6pm, and the museum is open to the public at 7pm.

This year’s theme is “What is Whistler missing?” Personally, I think Whistler could use some candy mountains and a hot tub time machine, but you will build what you will. Whistler could be missing something touristy or perhaps something personal to you, like a special someone to love… Anything goes.

There are great prizes to be won from Scandinave Spa, Purebread, Splitz Grill, Nesters Market, Prior, and more!

LEGO Hamburger, 2014.

LEGO Hamburger, 2014. Whistler Museum.

While you’re at the Museum make sure to take a guess at the contents of our LEGO jar. The guess that comes closest to the total number of LEGO pieces wins a year-long family membership to the Whistler Museum.

To register, you can drop by the museum or give us a call at 604-932-2019. There are only 20 spots for competitors (friends are encouraged to come watch, have some drinks and wander the museum) so be sure to register ASAP. Teams are fine, but there will still be only one prize awarded for first, second and third place. You are welcome to bring up to three of your own LEGO pieces. Happy building!

A look at the 2012 Big Kids LEGO Building Competition:

Alta Lake Community Club

The Alta Lake Community Club’s (ALCC) first meetings were held at the Rainbow Lodge store in 1926. In order to join the club each member had to pay $1. This, however was not where the story began for the ALCC.

In 1923, Grace Archibald thought that because there were a few regular summer visitors it would be a good idea to form a social club in the valley. As well as the regular summer visitors, there were also a number of permanent settlers such as Lizzie Jardine-Neiland and Flo Williamson. One afternoon these women met at Rainbow Lodge and planned a picnic. This picnic spawned the ALCC.

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First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow. “Boy in front: Lawrence Lineham; Dorrie Lineham; Mrs Lineham; Mrs Brown; Mr Brown; Ed Droll; girl in back: Dolly Archibald; Bill McDermot; Ernest Archibald; hat: Grace Archibald; Bert Harrop; Harry Horstman holds the coffee pot; End of plank: section foreman; girl – Sister Jean.”

The ALCC became the consolidating force in the Alta Lake area. This community connection was enhanced with the newsletter called the “Alta Lake Community Reminder” when it started in 1958. Later the name of the newsletter changed to the “Community Weekly Sunset” (Feb 1958-april 1959) and “Alta Lake Echo” (April 1959- June 1961). This newsletter ran from January 15th, 1958 until June 7th, 1961 when it was announced that the newsletter would no longer continue because the newly named Editor, Cruickshank, had left town.

Over the years the ALCC planned many community activities and social gatherings such as picnics, meetings, card nights, fund raising concerts, potlucks, film screenings, and parties, as well as special events for children at the school. The club even arranged for books to be brought to the Alta Lake area on the PGE through a travelling library program.

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Clipping from the Whistler Question Feb. 5, 1981.

In 1933, after almost seven years of no meetings, the ALCC gathered at Myrtle and Alex Philip’s home to decide how it was they were going to spend the $207.40 the club had accumulated over the years. It was decided that this money would go toward building a community hall that the school could use when it needed. Throughout the summer of 1933 in order to help fundraise more money for the community hall the ALCC held weekly dances. The first meeting in the new building was held by the ALCC on October 28th, 1933.

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Clipping from the Whistler Question. Precise date unknown, sometime in the 1980s.

The Diversity of Whistler’s Trees

The trees here in Whistler constantly amaze me. Well, I suppose trees of any kind in any place are quite amazing; their billowing roots, their twists and turns, their constant evolution; they are alive. With each hike I am reminded of this and I am humbled and enchanted all in one breath.

I moved to Whistler one year ago from Ontario, and perhaps that is why the trees here leave me awestruck. They are big, abundant and varying, making them vastly different from what I am used to. Although many people assume our forests are built up of mostly pine trees, they include a multitude of species. This variety of species is due in large part to Whistler’s many microclimates. Our microclimates range from coniferous mixed forest found in the valley, to slightly drier slopes, to Alpine tundra way up in the alpine.

A simple walk through the valley is enough to recognize the rich, saturated greens of the landscape. This vibrancy is thanks to Whistler’s abundance of precipitation that comes mostly in the form of snow in the winter and rain in the spring and fall. This climate has allowed for a temperate rainforest to flourish here. This rainforest is comprised of mostly coniferous giants such as Douglas fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Amabilis Fir and Sitka Spruce or Whistler spruce.

While hiking through a Whistler forest one might also notice the lack of sunlight available to much of the greenery and soil beneath the thick canopies of branches and leaves above. For this reason, few deciduous trees are able to survive here. The ones that do survive do so in forest openings and include mostly Red Alder and Douglas Maple, while Towering Black Cottonwoods are commonly found along valley streams and rivers.

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As you travel a bit higher into the subalpine terrain you will notice Mountain Hemlocks and Subalpine Firs replacing the Douglas Firs and Cedars found near the valley floor. The subalpine forest extends from an elevation of approximately 1000 metres to 1800 metres. This area consists of typically less developed soil and is generally covered in snow much earlier in the fall than the lower levels. It also remains buried in snow well into the spring and early summer when the rainforest below is already thriving.

Then of course, with a little more hiking, you reach the high alpine, the cheekiest of climates. Here you’ll find only the hardiest of tree species, as the elements seem to conspire against any plant life. This area is subject to more snow, greater winds and higher levels of UV than the lower ecological zones, yet you will see Subalpine Firs inching their way as high as they can go.

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Whistler’s ecosystem is far more complex than just its trees. Whistler’s wetlands and plentiful undergrowth is a topic all on its own, and perhaps a topic for another post soon.

GranFondo 2014

Today (Saturday August 6th 2014) marks the 5th annual GranFondo bike race to take place from Vancouver to Whistler.

Gran fondo (or “big ride” as loosely translated from Italian) events have been popular in Europe for many years and have been gaining speed within North America. These mass participated cycling events often involve riding a hundred kilometers or more. Gran fondos are aimed and designed for a wide variety of cycling levels and are not races even though the top finishers are recognized.

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Zachery Garland being recognized as coming in first place in the 2011 GranFondo. PHOTO FROM THE GRANFONDO WHISTLER WEBSITE.

Kevin Thomson and Neil McKinnon got together in 2007 with the idea of creating a world-class cycling event to be part of the legacy left behind from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic games. This vision was realized in September 2010 with the first GranFondo race in BC. 4000 people and their bikes attended this first year and made their way from downtown Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway.

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GrandFondo participants 2010. PHOTO FROM THE GRANFONDO WHISTLER WEBSITE.

In 2011, 7000 cyclists made the trek and in 2012 the amount of people coming from all around the world grew as the Vancouver to Whistler GranFondo established itself as one of the best cycling events in North America.

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GrandFondo participants 2010. PHOTO FROM THE GRANFONDO WHISTLER WEBSITE.

We wish everyone on the trek all the best. For more information click here.