The Post Office Post

This morning I woke up to beautiful, massive snowflakes falling over Whistler, and a substantial layer of powder already formed on the ground. It’s days like these that entice me to look through our archive for some old photographs of deep snow. Our collections are full of such pictures, and today I found a few especially endearing ones of Whistler’s first post office (covered in snow, of course).

Post office and store at Rainbow Lodge, 1914 or 1915. Verso reads "First winter, 1914-1915." Philip Collection.

Post office and store at Rainbow Lodge, 1914 or 1915. Verso reads “First winter, 1914-1915.” Philip Collection.

Before the PGE Railway ran to Whistler (then Alta Lake) in 1914, mail was sent and delivered by people passing through the valley to and from Vancouver – a less than reliable system. The completion of the railway made way for many conveniences such as mail delivery. In anticipation for the PGE Railway, Myrtle and Alex Philip (proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, Whistler’s very first resort lodge) included a post office in a small alcove in the lodge, and the office was later moved to their newly built general store. Myrtle became Alta Lake’s first postmaster in 1915, and she would often wake up before dawn to collect the mail packet from the train.

Myrtle Philip and her dog standing outside the post office, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Myrtle Philip and her dog standing outside the post office, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Although the progress of the PGE allowed for a more reliable mail delivery service, there was still one major issue; the first post office address was Summit Lake, B.C., which was often confused with another Summit Lake in the province. Thus, mail was frequently sent to the wrong destination. This conflict immediately prompted a name change to “Alta Lake, B.C.,” which made delivering and receiving mail a little more consistent.

Post office with Christmas tree, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Post office with Christmas tree, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

In the beginning, mail came in on all trains, four times per week. On Monday and Thursday the mail came direct from Vancouver. On Wednesday and Saturday it came from Vancouver via Ashcroft and Lillooet and was usually a lighter load. The PGE had a mail car with a mail attendant on the train. Everyone in town gathered at Rainbow on mail days to collect their mail, pick up their newspapers, and of course, socialize.

Myrtle Philip remained postmaster for almost 40 years. In 1948, after Alec and Audrey Greenwood purchased Rainbow Lodge, the position fell to Audrey.

Photo from the Archive: Alex Philip shoveling snow, ca. 1965

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I have a feeling most viewers are envious of this mass amount of snow from approximately 50 years ago! “Hey Alex, ‘mind transferring some of that to the future over here?” I love looking through old photographs from our archive and noticing the changes in landscape and weather that are apparent. I especially love pictures like this that showcase some of our earliest pioneers and their Whistler lifestyles—and not without subtle humour, of course.

This photograph shows Alex Philip in his later years. Alex was the co-founder of Whistler’s first resort, Rainbow Lodge, and is also known for being an author of romance novels. Click here to learn more about the life of pioneer Alex Philip.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram (@ whistlermuseum) for more short bursts of history and weekly photographs from our many collections.

Dave Murray: Whistler’s First Home-Grown Hero

Dave Murray is one of the most well-known names and highly adored athletes in Whistler’s history. Thought of as Whistler’s very first home-grown hero, Murray grew up skiing on Whistler Mountain, and is originally from Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Murray had a late start in his ski Dave-Murray-ACCESS-WMA_P95_006_027_Murrayracing career, as he didn’t start racing seriously until he was 16 years old. This, of course, did not stop him from achieving great professional heights. In 1974, at 21 years old, Murray became a member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team. He spent the following eight years as a founding member of the Crazy Canucks, the downhill team that captured our hearts in the 1970s and 80s with their “crazy” racing style. In Murray’s best season (1975-76) he had four top-ten finishes. In 1979, he was overall Canadian Champion and was ranked third in the world in downhill. He also represented Canada at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic games.

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The Crazy Canucks.

After 10 years on the competitive ski racing circuit Murray retired to become the director of skiing at Whistler Mountain, as well as the organizer and lead instructor of the summer ski camps. In 1984, the name of Whistler’s most popular summer ski camp was officially changed to Atomic Dave Murray Whistler Summer Ski Camp, and its fame grew to attract many skiers from Europe and Japan. Murray also organized masters ski racing for adults (an idea he imported from Europe).

Stephanie Sloan, ca. 1980.

Stephanie Sloan, ca. 1980.

On Tuesday, October 23rd, 1990, Dave Murray passed away after battling skin cancer. He was just 37 years old, leaving behind his wife and best friend Stefanie Sloan, and daughter Julia Murray. Stephanie was a pioneer in freestyle skiing and a world champion, and Julia became a member of Canada’s Ski Cross Team, and competed at the 2010 Olympics. Both continue to call Whistler home.

Dave Murray had a major influence on the world of ski racing, but perhaps what is most inspirational about his story is that he had a genuine love for skiing. His free time was spent free skiing. He took any chance he could get to explore and carve down obscure, off-piste runs, exuding pure joy on his descends. “It’s that unbelievable sense of freedom you get when you’re free-falling through the powder,” he tells friend Michel Beaudry. “It’s like nothing else on earth.”

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A Woman Ahead of Her Time: The Original Sightseeing Gondola Rider

Nowadays you don’t have to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy the fantastic vistas that Whistler Blackcomb has to offer. Non-sliders are very welcome to enjoy the thrill of riding the lifts and, of course, the spectacular experience of the Peak to Peak gondola. The summer months are packed full of sightseers and hikers, but it is not uncommon in winter for people to ride the gondolas “on foot,” and there is even a special ticket price for this kind of sightseer.

Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980. Whistler Mountain Collection.

However, in the early days of Whistler Mountain, the “on foot” visitor had not been thought of. A middle-aged woman pioneered the concept in the 1960s. She arrived at the base of the Creekside gondola (the only gondola at that time) wearing her snow boots and a fur coat, and asked to purchase a return ticket. She took her place in the line-up and proceeded up the mountain to the dismay of the staff, who were quite taken aback by this passenger without skis. When she alighted from the gondola she calmly proceeded to the chair lift. The operators were extremely confused, but dutifully stopped the lift to allow her to sit down comfortably. Once the chair had started up they realized that disaster might be looming when the chair reached the ski-off ramp as the sightseer had no skis to ski-off with! They hurriedly called the top station operator so that he was forewarned, and he too stopped the lift so that the unorthodox rider could descend from her perch in comfort.

Creekside Gondola, 1966. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The woman was completely unruffled and she chatted amiably with the staff about how much she had enjoyed the ride, the beautiful mountain views, and watching all the skiers. She then enquired as to where the T-bar was located! The idea of the fur-clad woman skidding up the slope on her snow boots must have crossed the lift operator’s mind as he pointed towards the T-bar bowl. The woman blinked and said, “No, I mean the tea bar, I was told there was a tea bar up here and I would like a nice cup of tea!”

Much laughter ensued from both the staff and the woman herself when the misunderstanding was revealed. In hindsight however, we must admire the woman as being ahead of her time. These days it’s perfectly normal to ride the lift without skis and enjoy a nice cup of tea in the Roundhouse.

The Black Tusk

One of the most distinguishable mountains in BC is the Black Tusk. Visible from many different heights in Whistler and the Garibaldi region, it is often talked about and almost always identified aloud when viewed in any form; people can’t help themselves from calling out “Black Tusk!” when they see it in pictures or from afar. Aside from its distinct and fascinating appearance, the Black Tusk has quite an interesting geological history.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

In the last two million years volcanoes and glaciers have added dramatic scenery to the landscape of Whistler and the surrounding area. The topography of BC has been continually modified by glacial and steam erosion and the eruption of volcanoes. The Black Tusk, a local volcano that erupted about 170,000 years ago, is a reminder of our volcanic past. The Black Tusk is a stratovolcano, meaning it is made up of many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash. Centuries of erosion have stripped away its outer cone of bombs and ash, leaving behind solidified lava of its central conduit that now forms its narrow summit spire.

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Photograph by Trish Odorico.

The Black Tusk reaches 2,319 m (7,608 ft) above sea level. Alike to well-known mountains such as Cerro Torre in Patagonia, the Barbarine in Germany, and the Vajolet Towers in Italy, it is a pinnacle, giving it its sharp and unmistakable structure. Pinnacles are individual columns of rock, isolated from other rocks or groups of rocks, that form the shape of a vertical shaft or spire.

The mountain hosts two significant glaciers that start from approximately 2,100 m (6,890 ft) and flow northward to below 1,800 m (5,906 ft). Both glaciers are heavily covered in debris due to the crumbling nature of the Black Tusk’s rock.

To the Squamish people, the Black Tusk is known as t’ak’t’ak mu’yin tl’a in7in’a’xe7en, meaning “Landing Place of the Thunderbird,” while for the L’íl’wat, the mountain is called Q’elqámtensa ti Skenknápa, meaning “Place where the Thunder Rests.” It is said to be named after the supernatural bird Thunderbird. The story goes that the jagged shape and black colouring of the Black Tusk is due to the Thunderbird’s lighting, or as another account goes, by the Thunderbird’s talons that crashed into the peak.

Whistler Museum Collection.

Whistler Museum Collection.

Pro Patrol at Whistler Film Festival 2014

Whistler Film Festival and Whistler Museum are excited to present a screening of Pro Patrol followed by a talk by Roger McCarthy about the early days of ski patrol. The event is on December 7th from 4pm to 6pm at Whistler Museum.

Pro Patrol is a 1980 film that was the first of director Curtis Petersen’s career. The film is a short documentary on Ski Patrol on Whistler Mountain, filmed in 1979. It won several international awards for the budding film maker and became an iconic film of early days on Whistler Mountain.

Petersen went on to work on numerous film projects from documentaries to music videos, and has over 150 feature films under his belt.

Roger McCarthy is one of the stars of the film and was on Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol from 1974-1990. His talk will give insights into working on ski patrol and how the world of mountain safety has evolved over the years.

The entire staff of Whistler Mountain “Pro Patrol” in 1968: L-R: George Bruce, Hugh Smythe, John Hetherington, Ian McDonald and Derek Henderson.

The entire staff of Whistler Mountain “Pro Patrol” in 1968: L-R: George Bruce, Hugh Smythe, John Hetherington, Ian McDonald and Derek Henderson.

Amazingly, in the early days of Whistler Mountain there were only a handful of paid ski patrollers. In 1968 there were just five! On the weekends, when the mountain became much busier, a dedicated team of volunteers, known as First Aid Ski Patrol (FASP), also worked as patrollers. The existence of two patrols–FASP and the Whistler Mountain employees–led to the term “Pro-Patrol” being used to describe the paid staff.  It was only in May 1979 that FASP was disbanded.

Tickets for the event are $10 and can be purchased through Whistler Film Festival.

Upcoming Events: Feeding the Spirit / The Science & History of Alta Lake

The next couple of weeks are exciting ones here at the museum! We have two events to share, the first of which is happening this evening. Join us tonight for free food and a chance to win stellar prizes from Creekside Market, Prior, Splitz, Whistler Roasting Company, PureBread, and more. Whistler Museum’s annual event, Feeding the Spirit, is a chance for new residents to enjoy some free grub, and mix with long-time locals in an intimate setting.

As part of Welcome Week, the museum, with support from Whistler’s Creekside Market, is aiming to welcome new residents and provide them with a sense of place and community. This event also provides a chance for long-term Whistlerites to recall and share their stories of what originally brought them here and what keeps them in this beautiful playground. Hope to see you there!

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We are also thrilled to announce In Depth & In Writing: The Science & History of Alta Lake, an event you don’t want to miss. Join us for this historical and scientific discussion of environmental change in Alta Lake in the past, present, and future. The event will start at 7:00pm and there will be a cash bar. Free to attend.

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During the summer of 2014 Professor Ian Spooner and graduate student Dewey Dunnington from Acadia University, working with members of Cascade Environmental Resources Group (CERG), conducted some exciting research on Alta Lake. Using a core sampling technique, they collected intact samples of the layers of sediment on the lake bottom to better understand how the lake and its watershed have reacted to both natural and man-made change. This technique is known as paleolimnology. Most studies only look at the way the lake exists now – paleolimnology allows us to study the history of a lake too. Every centimeter of sediment represents about 5 years, so some of the material in these samples is as much as 400 years old!

Alta Lake is an important ecological component of Whistler Valley, and since western settlement of the region, has been an essential resource for residents and visitors alike. It is also historically significant – so much so that the town itself was called “Alta Lake” until 1975.  The history of the lake from a human perspective has been recorded in the pictures and writings of the residents of the valley, many of them kept in the archives of the Whistler Museum.

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While we have watched the lake from its surroundings, the lake has also observed us, recording environmental change through the slow accumulation of material as it washes into the lake, year after year. The sediment from the bottom of Alta Lake allows us to better understand how the lake and its watershed have reacted to both natural and human-made change, and will help us evaluate our management strategies going into the future.

On the evening of Thursday, December 4th, Dewey Dunnington will be presenting his findings to the community at the Whistler Museum. To complement this Executive Director of Whistler Museum, Sarah Drewery, will also be presenting on the history of settlement around Alta Lake.