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 Arctic 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.



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.


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.


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.



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.



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

Discovering Alex Philip (Part Two)

As briefly mentioned in our article “The Crimson Paradise Turkey” in The Question (coming out Tuesday Aug. 26th), depending on whose perspective you get, the ‘facts’ of history may be different. Below is a quote from an interview completed by Sally Mitchell with Pat and Lou Woods from 1989, in which they discuss how a donation from Myrtle really got the museum going.

Sally: She left us the entire contents of her house.

Lou: Oh she did, eh’?

S: That’s how it first got started, the museum. So we were a little, almost biased to begin with because we had all her things, and we didn’t have anything from anybody else.

L: Oh I see.

S: That’s why it’s so important that we get out and talk to other families.

L: Well in every human community for heaven sakes there’s pros and cons on everything.

S: Oh yeah.

L: It doesn’t matter what the issue is or what the point is, there’s always different angles.

S: As long as you get all those different angles, then you don’t get stuck.

L: Then you get, kind of, nubs coming in there. There’s touching lines, right? Yeah, then you say, “Oh that could have been fact.”

I bring this up because since I began working at the museum in June, I have been told of what kind of person Alex Philip was, and it has not painted the best picture of his character. However, while doing research, I have read many positive remarks about Alex (Alec to most people in the early days). This is not to say that young Alec and old Alex had the same personality, or that the traits that made him a likeable proprietor of Rainbow Lodge, and author, did not betray him later in life.

Alex Philip and his dog, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

Alex Philip and his dog, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

In the interview quoted above, Pat Woods discusses Alec a few times, stating, “He was a hell of a nice old guy.” Pat worked for Alec and Myrtle for a short period of time when he was around 13, bringing firewood into the cabins of Rainbow Lodge. In the interview clip below he tells a story about one time when he forgot to bring the wood into the hall.

Pat: I remember one time I forgot to put the wood in. They had a big fireplace in the…that was the dining well the dinning room. Then they’d move the tables to dance at night. And ah, sometimes it’d get cold. My job was to pile, pile the wood by that fireplace. I went to work the day. I don’t know what happened. They were delivering milk. And cut into some beer… The next morning packing wood into these cabins…(Run into Alec?)…I think there was a few people around. He said, “Pat, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. I guess I’ll give you one more chance.” …He said can you imagine in front of 100 guests here’s Mr. Philip’s, the proprietor, with his while flannels and white shoes, silk shirt, packing wood into the dinning room?” I said “Oh my God.” He said “Cause that’s what I did.” And then he started to laugh. And I says “You did it yourself?” “Well I found someone to help me.” That was his humour ‘eh. But I remembered not to do it again.

It seems that the Woods family had a close connection with Alec. Fred Woods, Pat Woods’ father, also had many positive things to say about Alec. In an interview conducted by Tim Cornish with Fred Woods in 1982, Fred states that “Alec was a very strange man, tall, but a very good-natured man, very kind. Although, he was considerate, mind you he never threw his money away. Just pleasant.”

Alex Philip on his boat, 1956. Philip Collection.

Later in this interview when asked to say more about Alec, Fred states:

“He was the one that attracted the tourists, because Alec’s got more stories than Carter’s got pills. And he was a clean living man. He enjoyed a drink, but that was all, he never got intoxicated or nothing, he was a pleasant man. There was an awful lot of B.C. telephone girls that would go up there on their’ holidays. It was close to home and quite reasonable in those days. And of course Alec would get them in a bunch and tell them stories; he could make stories up in his mind. They were all stories that the girls liked. That’s how Rainbow started.”

Throughout my research it has become clear that Alec was indeed a very well liked by other men. It seems from the archives, that those who knew him in the days of Rainbow Lodge knew Alex as a kind host, entertainer, storyteller, and the life of the party. However, there are many sides to every story.

Mountain Biking Back in Time

In the spirit of Crankworx and mountain bike culture in Whistler in general, we thought we’d dig up some vintage mountain bike footage. Here’s a video from the Cactus Cup Mountain Bike Competition in 1995:

Although we no longer hold the Cactus Cup, Whistler is home to the exciting and popular Crankworx, happening right now. Recently, our Assistant Archivist, Alyssa Bruijns, spent some time digging through the archives here at the museum to get to the root of mountain bike culture in Whistler. Below, Alyssa takes us back to the 90s to the origins of some of Whistler’s most popular trails, the bike park and Crankworx’s Redbull Joyride.

Cranking Through the Decades 

By Alyssa Bruijns

With Crankworx in full swing, all of Whistler has mountain biking on the mind. Whistler Museum and Archives is no exception: lately we’ve been reflecting on the history of the sport in Whistler.

The first trails in the area were built and cleared by riders themselves in the mid-80s, many of them incorporating gravel access roads and decommissioned logging roads where necessary. A 1993 article from our archives identifies Cut Yer Bars, Northwest Passage, Black Tusk climb, A River Runs Through It, and Lost Lake Park as ideal spots for riders who wanted to venture off-road at the time. A few mountain biking enthusiasts began running tours up Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain under the name Backroads Whistler. Some of the trails they rode were incorporated into the bike park we know today: for instance, Ripping Rutebaga formed the skeleton for what is now Dirt Merchant.

Since mountain biking had to be put on hold on the mountain while the new Roundhouse was being built in 1998, the employees of Whistler Blackcomb used the opportunity to pitch the idea for a proper bike park to Whistler Blackcomb. Despite some hesitance, Whistler Blackcomb agreed to begin building, although many trails were quite difficult for the average rider from the outset. As technology and rider ability caught up to trail difficulty, the sport burgeoned in Whistler, and Whistler’s trail-builders rose to the challenge in order to create new machine-built features and trails each season. It is from this base of expertise that Gravity Logic was born, a company that has contributed to trail design and building in bike parks around the world since its inception.

As mountain biking gained popularity into the 2000s, Whistler became known as a world-class venue due to the amount of overseas visitors, global media recognition, its plethora of bike shops and media blitzes. Whistler Mountain Bike Park is now a prime destination in the mountain biking world, and A-line has become one of the most well-known downhill trails worldwide, having grown to signify a style of trail including flowy dirt jumps and berms. In 2003, Richie Schley pushed Whistler to host a slopestyle type of competition that would use many freeride elements to form one show-stopping contest course. Upon approval, Schley designed the first Slopestyle Expression Session which would allow riders to choose their own lines and tricks. Now called the Redbull Joyride, this contest has become one of the favourite events of Crankworx for riders and spectators alike, especially with Sea-to-Sky resident Brandon Semenuk clinching podium spots nearly every year competing.

Crankworx has grown not only as a sporting event but also as an event central to Whistler’s culture. The film portions of the festival, the live music, the cheese-rolling competition, and the fan-fuelled spirit of Heckler’s Rock on the downhill course make Crankworx so much more than a mountain biking festival. As the birthplace of slopestyle and a yearly mountain biking bonanza, it is no surprise that Crankworx has engrained itself in Whistler’s history and culture. Certainly, summer is no longer ‘off-season.’

Discovering Alex Philip (Part One)

As a person coming from an Anthropological background, I am drawn to the narratives surrounding ones life. Outside of this I am also very interested in Canadian fiction; therefore, I was fascinated to hear that Alex Philip was not just the co-founder of Whistler’s first resort, Rainbow Lodge, but was also an author (for more information on Alex’s books, visit our previous blog post here). This intrigued me to dig further into the life of Alex Philip, as being both pioneer and author seems like an odd combination of attributes. As J. Butterfield said in his column “The Common Round” in the Daily Province, Vancouver “…when you found a man who ran a tough restaurant all day and sat up to write poetry at night, you simply had to take notice.”

Alex Philip on the boardwalk in front of Rainbow Lodge, ca. 1920. Philip Collection.

Alex Philip on the boardwalk in front of Rainbow Lodge, ca. 1920. Philip Collection.

While doing this research I have read and heard many stories about the kind of man Alex was, but I will keep this blog post to two news articles talking about Alex’s public life. The first is an announcement of his leaving Bangor, Maine in 1906 for Vancouver. The second is an article announcing his return to Bangor for the first time in 50 years.

In the 1906 article, published by the Bangor Daily News, the author refers to Alex Philip as Alec, as that is how he was known during the five years he worked as a night man at Frey’s Central street restaurant. A patron of Frey’s, who happened to be a journalist with the Bangor Daily News, published this article as a farewell present to Alec. It is a very flattering portrayal of Alec, stating, “He was the acknowledged super-superba, past-master, expert extraordinary lunch-bar man of Bangor. He was in a class all by himself. He got all the votes.” The article goes on to say, “Nothing phased Alex. He made no mistakes, no false motions and never lost his grip on the situation…Maine never sent out a brighter, cleaner more honest young man, who can be depended upon to make good wherever he goes–the kind which makes friends and keeps them.”

Alex Philip and friends in Maine. The annotation on the reverse reads "Alex Philip in his 20s, Bluehill Maine, 2nd from left, about 1906." Philip Collection.

Alex Philip and friends in Maine. The annotation on the reverse reads “Alex Philip in his 20s, Bluehill Maine, 2nd from left, about 1906.” Philip Collection.

Flash forward 50 years to the Bangor Daily News article dated August 30th, 1956, on Alex’s return to Bangor for the first time since he departed for British Columbia. In this article we learn that Alex carried the 1906 article with him for the 50 years and the clipping was one of his prized possessions. He even used the 1906 article to help him get a job at the Horseshoe Café in 1907. “He still carried the NEWS clipping, yellowed and tattered after a half-century of travelling. He hadn’t discovered gold, he said, but, proudly explained how that same newspaper article had been his ticket to a successful career as a resort owner and author.”

Alex Philip, Blue Hill native, popular Bangor counterman and successful British Columbia resort owner, is shown looking over a Bangor Daily News clipping which detailed his departure from Bangor in 1906.  Mr. Philips returned to visit Bangor in August 1956. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY SPIKE WEBB

Alex Philip, Blue Hill native, popular Bangor counterman and successful British Columbia resort owner, is shown looking over a Bangor Daily News clipping which detailed his departure from Bangor in 1906. Mr. Philips returned to visit Bangor in August 1956. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY SPIKE WEBB

It was in the Horseshoe Café that Alex met trapper John Millar, who described Alta Lake (at the time called Summit Lake) to Alex, convincing him and his wife Myrtle to travel north and see the area. This trip inspired both Alex and Myrtle, and soon after this first trip they settled in the Alta Lake area to begin construction on Rainbow Lodge.

Whistler Museum’s 18th Annual LEGO Building Competition

It’s finally here, our 18th annual LEGO Building Competition! Happening next Saturday, August 9th, from 2-4pm. 50 kids will participate and anyone aged 3-12 is welcome. Only $5 per child.

This year’s theme is “What makes Whistler Awesome?” Essentially, you can build something, anything, that makes Whistler awesome to you. Perhaps you think bears are awesome, marmots, fishing, hiking, skiing—anything goes!

LEGO Building Competition, 2013.

LEGO Building Competition, 2013.

This year we’ve got tons of great prizes from Armchair Books, Whoola Toys, Fun for Kids Clothing and Accessories, TAG – The Adventure Group, Meadow Park Sports Centre, Village 8 Cinema, Prior, Fathom Stone Studios, Great Glass Elevator and Peekaboo Beans.

This event sells out in advance every year, so to avoid disappointment, stop by the museum or give us a call at 604.932.2019. Because of the event’s popularity, we cannot reserve spots without payment.

Last year's LEGO competitors!

Last year’s competitors!

We can’t wait to see all of the marvellous LEGO creations of awesomeness to come!

Kids Summer Fun in Whistler

Summer in Whistler brings out the youngins, as most of them are out of school and looking for interesting and exciting ways to spend their time. Thankfully, there seems to be endless activities for kids all summer long in Whistler.

The Whistler Museum has been joining in on the fun, hosting crafts at Whistler Children’s Festival and starting our own pilot program, Crafts in the Park: Whistler Through the Decades. Crafts in the Park is held every Tuesday in July and August, in Florence Petersen Park. This unique program blends a bit of history with stories and crafts. Each week our theme focuses on a new decade in Whistler’s history. The crafts and stories are best suited for ages 3-12, and children must be accompanied by an adult.

This week for Crafts in the Park, we’re focusing on the 1930s and 1940s, so we’ll be getting back to our photographic roots and hand-painting images from those decades. We love this craft because, well, kids love it, and because it incorporates a whole lot of history!

Before colour film, colour was sometimes applied to monochrome (often referred to as black and white) images by hand-painting. Hand-coloured photographs were most popular from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, and the Whistler Museum is lucky to hold some great examples of the process in our collection. To learn more about the process and to see some of those examples, check out our blog post Pioneers in Colour.

Not only does this craft entail a somewhat lost art of early photography, it also gives kids a chance to work with historical images of Whistler. We’ll have a variety of subject matter to choose from, broadening the appeal to just about everyone. Hope to see you there!