Discover Nature

Whistler Museum announces a new ‘Discover Nature’ program

Get ready to Discover Nature with the Whistler Museum! With help from the Whistler Naturalists and the Whistler Biodiversity Project, the Museum is piloting a public education program this summer.

The program includes a Discover Nature Station at Lost Lake and a Discover Nature activity booklet for kids. The Discover NatureStation will be open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 am – 4 pm, starting July 1st and running until September 3rd. It will operate under a tent just outside the concession by the Lost Lake beach. Highlights include manned touch tables showcasing a wide range of Whistler’s amazing nature as well as demonstrations that people can drop in and interact with throughout the day. TheDiscover Nature Station will also serve as a starting point for scheduled nature walks and other family activities, encouraging face-to-face engagement with nature.

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Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, nature walks will meet at 10 am at the Discover Nature Station and run for about one hour. Family activities will start each day at 1, 2 & 3 pm and run for about 30 minutes each. There will be a different theme for each week day of operation, such as forests, wetlands and water, so those interested could come back on consecutive days and discover something new. All programming at Lost Lake will be by donation. If you have a large group interested in any of these programs, please contact the Museum in advance so special arrangements can be made.

The Discover Nature activity booklet for kids is a self-guided and full of fun activities that teach about the wonders of nature here in Whistler. It was inspired by similar successful programs in National Parks across Canada and the US, and locally by the Bear Smart Kids booklet. The booklet includes 15 activity pages, a completion certificate and is illustrated by local artist Kate Zessel. A special Whistler souvenir will be awarded to those who complete activities in the booklet. The Discover Nature activity booklet for kids will be on sale at the Whistler Museum and Lost Lake as well as other outlets, with proceeds going back to the program. If any businesses are interested in carrying the booklet they are asked to please contact the Museum.

The Discover Nature program is designed to meet the Museum’s mission of interpreting the natural history of mountain life. Emphasis will be on the notion that all organisms (including us) are interconnected. The goal of the program is to promote environmental stewardship, enhance educational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, and endorse Whistler as an awesome place to explore nature.

Photograph by Trish Odorico.

The program would not have been possible without generous funding from the Community Foundation of Whistler and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, as well as support from the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Other key contributors include Bob Brett, Julie Burrows, Emma Tayless, Jane Millen and Sylvia Dolson. The Museum is also thankful to the AWARE Kids Nature Club and the Whistler Library’s Wonder Club for being great inspirations.

The Whistler Museum would love the community to come and help kickoff of the program at Lost Lake on July 1st. Come out for a picnic and appreciate that food is nature too!

Photograph by Michael Allen.

Photograph by Michael Allen.

For any additional information, booking large groups or booklets for resale, contact the Museum at 604-932-2019,DiscoverNature@WhistlerMuseum.org, or drop in. The Museum is located at 4333 Main St. behind the Library.

“There’s been talk of nature programming in Lost Lake Park for years so it’s exciting to be a part of this pilot project. I think anything that makes nature education more accessible will have far-reaching benefits. Like fostering environmental stewardship and expanding cultural tourism opportunities here in Whistler. The program has also been a great reason to reach out to many others and the response has been terrific. For example, the Royal BC Museum is willing to loan us items for our touch tables, Nature Kids BC has been very helpful with our programming for kids and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists has contributed to the kids’ booklet. Closer to home, we’ve been in touch with many local businesses and organizations that have also been really supportive,” says Kristina Swerhun, Coordinator of the Discover Nature program and also with the Whistler Naturalists.

“The Community Foundation of Whistler is excited to support this program. The Environmental Legacy Grants program seeks to support education about our natural environment and promote stewardship. Lost lake park is a fabulous location for the Discover Natureprogram, particularly with the annual Western Toad migration that usually takes place in the middle of the park during the summer. The program will benefit both locals and visitors and will hopefully lead all to a greater respect and understanding of the amazing ecosystems in our community,” says Carol Coffee, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Whistler.

Whistler Is About To Get BioBlitzed

Pull out your microscopes and get ready to examine, because BioBlitz 2015 is coming to Whistler! What is a BioBlitz, you ask? Well, let us tell you.

A BioBlitz is essentially a festival bringing together teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and community members to identify as many species of plants, animals, and other organisms as possible. What makes the event different from any other field study is that it is a race against time! All of these volunteers only have 24 hours to discover as many species as possible within the specified area.

The term was first coined by U.S. National Park Service naturalist Susan Rudy, who assisted with the very first blitz held at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (Washington,D.C.) in 1996. Since this initial event, the blitz has become a world-wide phenomenon, springing up in countries all over the world.

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BioBlitz aims to discover as many alpine and valley organisms as possible in the Whistler area. Some common animals found in our lakes, rivers, and wetlands are frogs, salamanders, beavers, and Rainbow Trout.

While a BioBlitz is geared toward bringing scientists of various backgrounds together, the event also strives to create an exciting and relaxed environment for the study to take place, as well as introduce the general public to the biodiversity that exists within their home. BioBlitz Festivals provide the opportunity for people to meet real scientists, ask any questions they may have, and learn how to conserve the habitat of the plants and animals that reside in their area.

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The BioBlitz Nature Festival, held in Alpha Lake Park on June 27th, will give participants the opportunity to touch real insects, various plants, and even a water snake!

BioBlitz was first introduced to Whistler in 2007 by the Whistler Naturalists, with the goal of targeting both alpine and valley ecosystems across the region. This year, the program will be taking place in Alpha Lake Park. The number of areas within the Resort Municipality of Whistler that have been ‘blitzed’ in past years continues to grow, including Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, the Emerald forest, and more. The introduction of this educational race against the clock for locals and visitors of all ages has lead to the discovery of more and more species every single year.

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The BioBlitz Nature Festival, which showcases the amphibians, reptiles, spiders, plants, and fungi found in the area using interactive displays, will be taking place in Alpha Lake Park on Saturday June 27th. Participants will have the opportunity to touch a giant water bug or snake, learn about frogs and lichens, and take part in a scavenger hunt. The Festival encourages children of all ages, parents, youth, adults, and seniors to come join in the fun from 12 to 5 pm!

Get Bear Smart

By Alexandra Gilliss, Program Coordinator/Summer Student

Having lived in Whistler for just about a month now, I was amazed to experience my first close-up sighting of a black bear during an initial outing in the bike park. The even better part is that this was just the first of several bears I would encounter. Whistler is indeed bear country, but with humans and bears living together in such close proximity, several precautions must be taken for a harmonious co-existence between the two species.

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With about 900,000, the most common bear in North America is the black bear. They can be found in all Canadian provinces and territories except for P.E.I.

Problematic interactions between bears and residents have occurred since tourists first began arriving in Alta Lake in 1913. It wasn’t until 1995 that the Bear Smart Society was registered as a non-profit charity, with the mission to minimize the number of bears killed as a result of human-caused problems. Since then, the group has strived to educate the public on bear safety, and encouraged businesses to ensure all garbage and food waste is in secured containers out of reach of bears and to keep all doors closed at all times.

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Bears are not mean or malicious, but mothers with their cubs can become quite aggressive when they feel threatened. It is important to always give them lots of space during an encounter.

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Bears tend to avoid contact with humans, and often, hikers are not even aware when they come close to bears in the wild.

One particular story that tugged on my heart strings is that of Jeanie, Whistler’s famous black bear. With her distinct white triangle on her chest, Jeanie had been spotted in and around the Whistler village for approximately 20 years beginning in 1991, even becoming the star of her own Facebook page. In 2007, worries surrounding the bear began to arise as she had made a habit of coming into the village with her cubs in search of readily available garbage. Jeanie had become so accustomed to human activity that she even began charging conservation officers that attempted to direct her out of the village, leading many to believe she had become a public safety threat. Despite the Bear Smart Society and others’ pleas for businesses and residents to lock up food waste and garbage, the situation came to a head on October 20, 2011 when Jeanie was destroyed by conservation officers after numerous weeks of aggressive behaviour. In addressing the incident, the Bear Smart Society states, “less berries in 2011 and more competition for berry patches in the ski area, which is where Jeanie’s home range was, likely drove her to seek food in peopled areas.”

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This bear, named “Twix” by a grade 5 student, was tagged in his left ear because of his habit of breaking into garbage bins and getting too comfortable with people.

While Whistlerites mourned the death of the local bear, the event came as a wake up call and efforts to create a community that was safe for both bears and humans increased. You’ve probably seen many of the locked garbage and recycling bins throughout the village. These systems are just one way in which Whistler has become more bear conscious. Today, Whistler is recognized as a Bear Smart Community by the province of British Columbia, meaning that the region has gone above and beyond in terms of discouraging bears from coming into the area. This makes Whistler the 4th municipality in B.C. to receive this status (the other communities being Lions Bay, Kamloops, and Squamish).

A Hobby of a Different Breed

It has long been known that Rainbow Lodge (Whistler’s first resort lodge) was a tourist destination based around fishing. What many people don’t know is that fishing wasn’t proprietor of Rainbow Lodge Myrtle Philip’s only hobby. She also enjoyed spending much of her leisure time with some tall, dark, and four-legged creatures.

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Myrtle and two other women on horseback at Rainbow Lodge, ca. 1925. In the background, Alta Lake Post Office and Store can be seen.

Alex and Myrtle Philip first opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914. This was the same year the Great Pacific Railway (PGE) reached Alta Lake (now Whistler), making the valley much more accessible to the outside world. Tourism in the area took off and by the 1930s, Rainbow Lodge had expanded to include 45 outbuildings in addition to the lodge.

Prior to the development of the PGE, horses played an integral part in the two-day hike from Squamish to Alta Lake. From 1858 onward, explorers sent by British Columbia Governor, James Douglas, used sturdy pack horses to carry supplies along the Pemberton Trail for trappers and prospectors looking for their fortunes in the Coastal Mountains. Settlers in the Alta Lake area also made use of horsepower for the purpose of clearing land, hauling firewood and hay, and towing newly cut timber down the mountain trails, often for two or three miles at a time.

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Myrtle enjoyed taking her horses along various trails, particularly those that ran along Alta Creek (pictured here) and Green Lake.

Myrtle Philip was a devoted horseback rider, and she took great pride in her horses and stables. Horses provided recreational enjoyment for the newly discovered summer tourist trade in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, and Myrtle assisted in the development of horseback riding as a tourist option, implementing regular early morning breakfast treks on horseback to Green River for the guests of Rainbow Lodge. Midnight rides, makeshift racetracks, and gentle walks through the valley trails were all enjoyed by visitors to Alta Lake. The Rainbow Lodge workhorse, Bob, would even tow skiers and skaters behind him across the frozen lake in the wintertime.

“I think, really, that riding was one of the most popular things at Rainbow Lodge and it is regrettable that at this point, there is so little of it done”, Myrtle affirms in an interview done in 1971. For those that remember Rainbow Lodge, snapshots of horses grazing and morning trail rides make up a large part of these memories.

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Frank Tapley with two children on the back of Bob,
the Rainbow Lodge workhorse, 1924.

While horseback riding is still available to summer visitors to the vicinity today, particularly in the Pemberton area, mountain biking has become the main outdoor activity of choice in the summer months and many buildings that previously served as stables are now replaced by bike rental and repair shops. Several companies offer scenic trail rides through areas such as the Lilloeet River and Callaghan Creek, as well as day trips to Birkenhead and Tenquille Lake. Though horseback riding will likely never be as popular as skiing and mountain biking in Whistler, it remains a hobby, passion, and sometimes even career for those who love it.

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Skijoring (being towed on skis behind a horse or dogs) was a popular winter activity for the guests of Rainbow Lodge in the late 1920s and 1930s.

Challenging Mother Nature: Glacier Skiing & Riding

With daily temperatures reaching 20°C, lakes warming up, and the faint hint of sun tans beginning to appear, this can only mean one thing… summer is coming. Despite Whistler Blackcomb boasting the longest ski season in North America, June 7th 2015 marks the end of an extended ski season in Whistler for many. However, this is not the case for those die-hard skiers and boarders that defy the stereotypical image of a summer spent laying out on the beach with a cold drink in hand. For those wanting to get their ski/ride fix while simultaneously working on their tan (or goggle tan, to be more exact), you’re in luck as glacier skiing atop Blackcomb Mountain opens this year on June 20th.

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One of two T-bars servicing the Horstman Glacier

While taking a look through our archive, I came across a 1980s video on summer glacier skiing on Whistler peak. It would seem that “ski bums” have been finding ways to escape the bustle of the mountain base and extend their ski season into June and July since the inception of Whistler Mountain in 1965, even before the merging of Whistler and Blackcomb in 1997/98. If you thought the trek from the base to Blackcomb’s peak was extensive, involving a ride up two chairlifts, followed by a bus ride to the base of the 7th Heaven Express, this is rather a simple means of transportation compared to what those dedicated snow bunnies did to reach some summertime snow in the 1980s.

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A photo of Toni Sailor’s Summer Ski Camp, 1969.
Back row from left to right: Dan Irwin, Yves Benvene, Roddy Hebron, Andy Shall, Dag Aabye, Wayne Booth, Toni Sailor, Al Menzies.
Front row from left to right: Alan White, Nancy Greene, Karen Dotta, Colin Haffrey, Roy Ferris.

As the video reveals, the trek from Whistler base to its glacier used to involve a 45 minute ride up the chairlift, followed by a 20 minute hike at 6000 feet across the face of Whistler mountain. Unlike today, in which Horstman Glacier is open to anyone looking to get some T-shirt clad skiing and riding in, glacier skiing during this time of year was only available to those registered in a ski camp. With less time-consuming transportation routes to Blackcomb’s peak now in operation and the ever-growing popularity of Whistler Blackcomb, glacier skiing has gone from being exclusive to those that are very serious about the sport to being accessible by all. That being said, due to the vertical of the glacier, its terrain park features, and world-class race training facilities, it tends to draw a crowd of more advanced/expert skiers and riders.

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Whistler’s summer ski camps offer world class race training facilities, drawing some of the best ski racers in North America

Regular operating hours for the Horstman Glacier are from 12:00 pm to 3:00pm daily, but for those that are eager to get a start on their summertime training, participating in one of Whistler’s many ski camps has its bonuses. These include earlier upload times and select private ski areas. Some of the more long-standing camps include the Camp of Champions, Treeline Summer Camps (formerly the Dave Murray Summer Ski and Snowboard Camp), and Momentum Ski Camp.

While I remain strictly a winter skier, I find the dedication of those willing to challenge mother nature and look for a different way to spend their summer months to be inspiring. As a relatively new Whistler local, I am delighted to become a part of a community that simply loves skiing and snowboarding.

Post by Alexandra Gilliss

Hippie style of smokin’ salmon

You may think that a fridge is only used for conventional things such as keeping cucumbers, Coca-Cola, and beer cool. However, there are many other uses for old refrigerators. In the museum, we have a fridge that serves as a chronological monument documenting Whistler life from the beginnings of our ski town to the famous destination resort it is today. Gordy Harder’s fridge truly is a tribute to the spirit of the early ski bum – and, of course, “stickermania” at its best.

Bruce Prentice and Bob Sanderson (r.) smoking and hanging fish. Whistler Museum, Benjamin collection, early 1970s

One more purpose of a fridge is – believe it or not – salmon smoking. In the early 1970s, this old fridge actually garnished the backyard of the Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, a property which is now owned by Roger McCarthy. Back then, using an old fridge was a common way of smoking a fish or meat, remembers long-term local and president of the Whistler Museum, John Hetherington.

Someone would get an old fridge from the dump, cut a hole in the side for the stovepipe leading from an airtight stove, and light a fire. An airtight was a cheap heater stove made of a sheet of metal, he recalls. Ask Bruce Prentice or Bob Sanderson. Maybe they will share their fridge construction plan for the white dragon with you. Enjoy!

What is “round” about the Roundhouse Lodge?

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the “flying saucer-shaped” original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1967

Have you ever sat at the Roundhouse Lodge and — while munching a delicious burger — asked yourself why this light-flooded but pretty square-cut, mid-mountain venue is called “Round”-house?

Here is the answer to the brain-twister: Today’s Roundhouse Lodge had a much smaller, flying saucer-shaped precursor that perched atop Whistler Mountain just across from where the Valley View Room is located today.

When Whistler Mountain opened in January 1966 there was no cafeteria. In the first season, hot drinks, soup and sandwiches were served off a picnic table using a Coleman camp stove in the so-called Red Shack at the top of the Red Chair.

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1966

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, summer 1966

The original Roundhouse was built in the summer of 1966 and opened in the following winter. It was a copy of a building in California and was designed as a warming hut with a huge fireplace in the middle where the skiers warmed their feet. No food or washrooms were in the design for the original building. Back then, Skiers couldn’t use inside toilets, only outhouses on the hill below the Roundhouse. John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum and ski patroller in the late 1960s, remembers that part of their job was to shovel out and clean the outhouses. “Ugly job” he says.

Early plans for the original Roundhouse. Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

Early plans for the original Roundhouse: Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

The ironic truth is: They built the Roundhouse on a large rocky knob that wooed them with a magnificent all-round view but then left them high and dry. They couldn’t find any water on that knoll. Two hydraulic engineering companies were engaged to study the area – without any success.

They were so desperate that they brought up a professional water dowser from Vancouver Island. Hugh Smythe, a teenage ski patroller at that time who went on to become the CEO of Blackcomb Mountain and all of Intrawest, remembers actually being with the dowser when he located the water which was one year after the original Roundhouse was built. “We found a number of locations but the best was just below where the Peak2Peak terminal is now” he recalls.

The dowser wandered around for a while. Just beside the Roundhouse his willow stick bent down like crazy, and he declared that there was running water about 30 feet below. The next spring they brought up a company with a water drilling rig. And guess what? They really found water. Relieved, a pump was sunk that brought up enough running water for the kitchen and the toilets of the Roundhouse.

The old Red Chair. In the back is the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

The top of the old Red Chair with the original Roundhouse in the background. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

In the following years, there were constant renovations done on the building. When first built, the Roundhouse stood on posts with the wind blowing freely beneath the building, making it almost impossible to heat. One of the major alterations was digging out and enclosing a lower floor. Indoor toilets were installed. The fireplace was removed to make room for a kitchen. They wired the place for electricity, and installed a large diesel generator in the basement which was stolen during a later winter in the 1970s, remembers John.

Finally, in 1998 the original Roundhouse was replaced by the new palatial building. Though, the original Roundhouse hasn’t disappeared entirely. Pieces of it became part of the wall of fame in today’s Roundhouse.

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl