Blackcomb Mountain’s Blabcomb

We love newsletters at the museum.  They’re a great way of keeping interested parties up to date and sharing information and, when donated to the archives, are an interesting record of changes to an organization over time.  Recently, some of the museum’s resource binders were digitized to make them text-searchable to help with our own and others’ research projects.  One of these binders housed a collection of newsletters published by Blackcomb Mountain over the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Blabcomb.

The 18 foot cake prepared by Gourmet for the opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980.  By the time the Blabcomb began publishing the mountain had been open for skiing for only seven seasons.  Whistler Question Collection.

When the first edition of the Blabcomb came out on March 17, 1988 the newsletter was only four pages of news and updates related to Blackcomb operations; the last issue that the museum has a copy of, from July 12, 1991, had grown to twelve.

Early issues of the Blabcomb came out with payroll every two weeks, then switched to monthly publication for the summer months.

The issues included lists of birthdays, staff changes, discounts, meetings and recognition of the latest ICE (Inspire Continued Excellence) Awards.  Even birth announcements made it in,

Thought the newsletter included frequent calls for volunteers and contributions, it would seem Blabcomb was spearheaded by Eric Sinclair of Blackcomb’s accounting department.  The name “Blabcomb” was the product of Wayne “Chookhead” Burt, who won out against competing submissions such as “Snow News” (Bart Parsons), “Seventh Heaven Express” (Peter Bacholtz), and “Blackcomb Briefs” (Gerhard Reimer).

Considering the chatty (and, at times, perhaps gossipy) tone of the newsletter, Blabcomb seems like a perfect fit.

The suitcase races on Blackcomb were a popular event, and would have made for great television. Blackcomb Collection.

In some ways the resort described in the Blabcomb is very different from the Whistler Blackcomb operations of today.  Events such as the Celebrity Challenge Suitcase Race (you can learn more about that event here) no longer run and with the merger between Whistler and Blackcomb guest numbers are no longer a competition.  Other parts of their spring 1988 newsletters, however, could almost be published today.

The Blabcomb reportedly began “in order to maintain the Blackcomb spirit,” which some feared was being lost as the company grew (a feeling not unknown in Whistler).  In early March 1988 the Blackcomb staff (combining both employees of Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises and of Alta Lake Foods, which ran the food and beverage operations for the mountain) surpassed the 600 employees mark.  The creation of the Blabcomb recognized that it could be “difficult to maintain that feeling of ‘family’ among such a large employee base.”

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain. Whistler Museum.

With expanded food service and five new lifts added in 1987 (Magic Chair, Wizard Express, Solar Coaster Express, 7th Heaven Express and Horstman Glacier T-Bar) the 1987-88 season was a big year for Blackcomb Mountain.  By early April it had exceeded 512,000 visits (to put the number is perspective, the previous record of 508,000 had been set by Whistler Mountain in the 1984/85 season) and looked on track to exceed 600,000 by the time the season ended.

Employees asked by the Blabcomb described the season as “exciting, exhausting, wild and, of course, magical” but the newsletter also acknowledged the toll the season had taken.

As they put it, “Not only did Blackcomb employees have to adjust to a massive expansion project that included new lifts, buildings and added responsibilities, they were overwhelmed by the number of skiers we received in Whistler Resort this year… A shortage of employees, cramped, and sometimes marginal living conditions made these ‘adjustments’ even more difficult.”

Over the next few years the Blabcomb continued to update employees about changes in operations and events on the mountain, while also covering topics that we still discuss in Whistler today, such as the construction of employee housing (it was during this period that Blackcomb and CP Hotels, later the Chateau, built some of the housing currently in use).

Though newsletters are often written thinking of the present and future, they can be really useful resources when examining our past.

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George Benjamin’s Candid Whistler

The Whistler Museum’s archive houses many documents, printed material, films, oral histories, and photographs from Whistler’s rich cultural past, from the arrival of Whistler’s earliest pioneers to the journey of hosting the Olympic Games.  It’s a treasure trove of interesting facts and unique stories that are unapologetically Whistler.

One of the first major collections I (Brad Nichols, Executive Director/Curator) catalogued while working in the archives as an intern at the Whistler Museum in the summer of 2011 was the George Benjamin photograph collection.

George Benjamin, originally from Toronto, Ontario, first came to Whistler in 1968 on a ski vacation, staying at the infamous Toad Hall.  George, on “Benji,” as he was more commonly known, would move to Whistler in 1970.

George was a semi-professional photographer.  His family back in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, and this allowed him to develop his photographs for free – a handy asset in the days before digital photography.

George Benjamin himself holds his catch at the dock of Tokum Corners. Benjamin Collection.

The George Benjamin Collection consists of 8,236 images from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.  Photos in the collection include images of early Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol, Soo Valley Toad Hall, Gelandesprung ski jump competitions, summer days spent at many of Whistler’s lakes, parties, and everyday shots of living and working in Whistler.  This might be the most candid representation of Whistler during this era in our collection.

Photos don’t usually get more candid than this. Benjamin Collection.

Folks living in Whistler during this time would have had more in common with Whistler’s early-20th century pioneers than with the Whistler of today.  Many residents were still using outhouses, had little-to-no electricity, and relied on wood stoves for their cooking needs.  George’s photos capture this pioneer lifestyle, but with the added element of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s – and, of course, people that loved to ski.

George’s residence in Whistler was the infamous Tokum Corners.  This cabin – which was once home to Whistler Museum Board Chair John Hetherington, had no running water, and was often repaired with found materials – would become one of the cornerstones of social life in the valley.

Tokum Corners, as seen across the tracks in 1971. Benjamin Collection.

George, who had access to 16mm film equipment, would often shoot on Whistler Mountain, capturing his days following ski patrol blasting and partaking in avalanche control.  These film vignettes would be screened at Tokum Corners, usually with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing over top to ever-growing crowds.

The Photocell, covered in snow. Benjamin Collection.

George opened the Photo Cell photography store in Creekside around 1973.

He later became a commercial fisherman in the late-1970s.  He moved from Whistler back to Toronto in the early 1980s and now lives in Port Perry, Ontario.

George generously donated his collection of photographs and negatives to the museum in 2009.  The bulk of George Benjamin’s photos are available on the Whistler Museum’s website here.

If you  have any interesting stories, films, or photographs from Whistler’s past, we would love to hear from you.

Lodges of Garibaldi

Hearing the name Alpine Lodge, many people may assume it refers to a lodge located in the alpine or in the neighbourhood of Alpine Meadows.  Alpine Lodge, however, is actually one of the three lodges we have information about that were located around the Garibaldi Townsite.

The Garibaldi Townsite and several other small communities formed in the Cheakamus Valley near Daisy Lake around the Garibaldi Station of the PGE Railway that opened in 1914.  Much of the information the museum has on the area has been provided by Betty Forbes who, along with Ian Barnet, gathered interviews and other documents to put together what Betty called “a record of the history for generations to come.”

Betty (seated on suitcase) and Doug Forbes (third from right) wait for the train at Garibaldi Station with three other couples. The pair visited Alpine Lodge on their honeymoon in 1945. Forbes Collection.

The first lodge, Garibaldi Lodge, was built by Tom Nye in 1014 on the east side of the Cheakamus River.  Like Rainbow Lodge, it included a post office and a store.  The lodge was operated by Tom Nye and his family until the late 1930s.  Garibaldi Lodge was largely inactive during the Second World War until it was reopened by Bill Howard and his father in 1946.  According to Bill, one of the more popular trips they offered was up to Black Tusk by horseback.  As he recalled, “Very few ever hiked it – very few of our guests anyway.  It was a 12-mile (9km) trail that used to go way out by old Daisy Lake.  It took about four hours on horseback to get to the top.”  Often these excursions would be camping trips, with pack horses carrying supplies to stay overnight.

The Howards operated Garibaldi Lodge for only two years before selling to the Walshes in 1946, who later sold the lodge to Pat Crean and Ian Barnbet in 1970.  They winterized the lodge to serve the growing number of skiers heading to Whistler Mountain.

Members of the “Alive Club” outside Alpine Lodge in 1979. Forbes Collection.

Alpine Lodge, further along the Cheakamus River, was built by the Cranes in 1922.  A store was later added in 1926 and a post office.  Alpine Lodge was operated by members of the Crane family through the 1940s.  In 1970 it was bought by Doug and Diane McDonald and, like Garibaldi Lodge, was winterized.  Both lodges appear in hotel directories in publications such as Garibaldi’s Whistler News from the 1970s.

A third lodge, Lake Lucille Lodge, did not make it the 1970s.  Built by Shorty Knight in 1929 and close to the lake, it was very popular for fishing.  The lodge went through various owners before it was bought by BC Electric in 1957 and used as a construction camp during the building of the Daisy Lake Dam.  The lodge was burnt down in 1959 after construction of the dam was completed.

Tongue in cheek signs at Garibaldi – Alpine Lodge signs Northbound (l) and Southbound (r).  Whistler Question Collection.

Both Garibaldi and Alpine Lodges were still operating in 1980 when the provincial government issued an Order-in-Council declaring Garibaldi Townsite unsafe due to the instability of the Barrier, a naturally formed lava dam retaining the Garibaldi Lake system.

Despite opposition from the residents, the townsite, which had grown considerably by this time, was to be emptied.  One of the last community gatherings was held at Alpine Lodge.  As Betty Forbes recalled, “The McDonalds at Alpine Lodge opened their whole lobby, kitchen, and dining to the residents of Garibaldi for a pot-luck supper…  It was rather lake a wake, but it was a happy wake.”

Garibaldi Lodge was sold to the government in 1982 and most of the structures were destroyed (one cabin was moved to Pinecrest).  Alpine Lodge followed the same fate in 1986.

While the museum has transcripts of oral-history interviews and various photos, it is difficult to create a cohesive history of Garibaldi.  Recently, however, Victoria Crompton took over the project from Betty Forbes and Ian Barnet and has now published a book, Garibaldi Townsite: Life & Times, for those interested in learning more about the area.

Remembering Jane Burrows

The integral role Jane Burrows played in the founding and operations of the Whistler Question, Whistler’s first newspaper, came through clearly at the opening of the museum’s temporary exhibit in September 2017 featuring photographs from the Question.  In the Question, as in so much else, Jane and Paul Burrows were equal partners.

Jane and Paul Burrows with their dog Simba upon their return from their world travels in 1984.  Whistler Question Collection.

Born Doris Jane Burrows in Kirkland lake, Ontario in 1941, Jane moved west to Vancouver in the 1960s after completing a degree in Marketing Research at Ryerson University and taking time to travel the world with a few friends.  While living in the city Jane obtained her teaching degree from the University of British Columbia and, in 1968, met Paul at the Dev Pub.

Jane began her teaching career with the Howe Sound School District (today Sea-to-Sky District #48) soon after her marriage to Paul.  After teaching for a time in the two-room school at Britannia Beach Jane transferred to Signal Hill Elementary in Pemberton where she taught primary grades.  Commuting from Alta Lake, where Jane and Paul lived in their Alpine Meadows A-frame, and Pemberton in the early 1970s was not for the faint of heart.  In a 2000 interview with Whistler Cable Paul recalled that stretch of Highway 99 as “nothing more than a glorified logging road.”  A spot was decided upon by the Burrows as “the point of no return” and if conditions became questionable Jane would decide to turn back or forge ahead depending upon whether she had passed that point or not.

Jane Burrows and her class show off their Halloween costumes. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Alta Lake officially became the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975 and the next year brought great changes for both the Burrows and their growing community.

Following an unsuccessful run for Whistler’s first mayor on Paul’s part, the two sat down to decide on their next project.  They came to the conclusion that Whistler was in need of both a bus company and a newspaper.

Without the funds to purchase the requisite vehicles, the Burrows decided upon the latter.  The first edition of The Whistler Question was produced in their basement and published in April 1976.  Jane was an important influence on the Question, both in what was covered and who was hired.  When Glenda Bartosh (who would buy the paper in 1982) applied for a job as a reporter she had to pass two interviews, one with Paul at the Creekside office (by then the paper had moved out of the basement) and one with Jane at their home.

The staff at Myrtle Philip School, 1978.  Whistler Question Collection.

Five months after the Burrows became publishers Myrtle Philip School opened in September 1976.  Jane transferred from Signal Hill to form part of the school’s original staff.

At Myrtle Philip Jane was not only a kindergarten but the kindergarten teacher in Whistler, a position which held a great influence over an entire generation of Whistler children.  When the growth of Whistler’s population led to the need for a second kindergarten class there was great consternation that, for the first time at the school, students would start their schooling with a teacher who was not Mrs. Burrows.

Jane and Paul were also incredibly active in their community outside of the school and paper.  Both were involved in the Alta lake Ratepayers Association before there was an RMOW, joined the Whistler Ice Stock Sliding Club, sang in the Whistler Singers, contributed to the Whistler Museum and Archives and sat on the Whistler Public Library’s first Board of Trustees.  Despite these and many more commitments, the pair made time for extensive travels to almost every continent (as far as we know the Burrows did not got to Antarctica).

Publisher Paul Burrows and his wife Jane prior to a well-earned visit to the Caribbean.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

In 2000, now both retired, Jane and Paul moved to their dream home in Salmon Arm and quickly became involved in their new community.  They continued to travel, even after Jane was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2012, taking their 60th cruise in 2015.  Jane passed away December 29, 2018.

This past Saturday (April 27) there was a Celebration of Life held for Jane at the Myrtle Philip Community School.  This was an opportunity for everyone who felt her influence to remember an amazing woman who, whether teaching five-year-olds about Stone Soup, instructing Question employees on what to keep in their car for winter driving or helping shape the Whistler we know today, impacted so many people.

Records of Environmental Change: Why the Stories Matter

For our last 2018/19 Speaker Series on Thursday, April 11 the museum had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University for his presentation on environmental change in Alta & Lost Lakes.  The head of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Spooner and his students, working with Cascade Environmental Resource Group, have been using lake sediment cores to study Alta Lake for the past five years.  In 2018 Spooner took a core from Lost Lake.

Alta Lake has seen a lot of change over the past 150 years, both around its shores and in its water and sediment. Fairhurst Collection.

Sediment cores provide a record, not entirely unlike tree rings, of minerals and organic matter found in the lake sediment.  The core taken from Alta Lake was about 40 cm long and went back around 500 years.  By dating the different layers, Spooner and his student Dewey Dunnington were able to tell a lot about how the lake has changed over time and, by connecting the dates to historical records and stories told by locals, what might have contributed to these changes.

During his talk, Spooner highlighted the changing presence of copper and arsenic in Alta Lake.  Though there is always some change over time, the presence of both copper and arsenic increased considerably from the 1880s, as the Pemberton Trail and PGE Railway were built and the area became more settled.  While both have shown a decrease in more recent years, a spike in copper sometime around the 1960s illustrates how important stories are to adding context to this data.

The building of the PGE Railway and the development that followed disturbed the landscape around Alta Lake, changing the presence of minerals in its records. Philip Collection.

From the data and records, it had been assumed that the spike in copper was part of the increasing and continued development around the lake.  However, during a talk Spooner did at the museum in 2016 one audience member offered a different reason.  He got up and informed Spooner, “No, you’re wrong.  We dumped that copper in the lake, back in the 60s.  We wanted to get rid of an invasive species.” (Copper is used in some places as a biocide as it effectively kills parasites such as those that cause Swimmer’s Itch.  It also, however, will kill all the fish.)

When asked where one might find records of or a permit for this action, the man told Spooner there was none, they “just did it.”

There is no doubt that as stories are collected to add context to the core taken from Lost Lake, this attitude of “just do it” will come up again.  After all, we already know of some such cases.

In 1977 a group of Whistler freestyle skiers made plans to build their own ski jump on the shores of Lost Lake.  With no development permit or any official permission from the district, Lost Lake offered an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way site.  To go with the lack of permission, the ski jump also had no funding for materials or labour.  Timber was scrounged from a number of sources and the plastic grass ski out from the Olive Chair was taken from the dump and given a second life as the ski jump’s new surface.  Once the materials were gathered construction took only two weeks.

A jumper unfolds their flip into Lost Lake.  Whistler Question Collection,

The finished ramp projected out 20 feet over the lake (not too far from where the sediment core was taken) and willing skiers could launch themselves up to 40 feet above the water.  According to David Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “Injuries were commonplace but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.”

In 1981 the ski jump began hosting competitions and the next summer saw the first Summer Air Camp at Lost Lake.  Freestyle skiers came to Whistler to train with Peter Judge, the national team coach.  Far from being inconspicuous, film crews arrived to record events for television broadcasts.

Stories like these aren’t always included in the official records (permits weren’t always applied for in the 1960s and 70s) and so contributions from people who have been in the area are incredibly important for explaining the data.  As Spooner puts it, “The science isn’t worth anything without the stories.  We get it wrong.”

If you have your own stories to add, you can send them to Dr. Ian Spooner at ian.spooner@acadiau.ca or come visit us at the museum and we can pass them on.

Discovering More About the Chefs of Rainbow Lodge

As the museum’s collection grows, so too does our understanding of the people who made Whistler’s early resort days possible.  Some names, such as Myrtle and Alex Philip, are already well known while others are far more obscure.  In this article, I’m going to shine a light on two lesser-known but very important figures from Alta Lake: Rainbow Lodge’s two cooks Lam Shu and Wing Sam.

Lam Shu shown outside Rainbow Lodge in 1926. Philip Collection.

Lam Shu was born in China around 1896 and immigrated to Canada in 1908 aged about 12.  It is unknown whom, if anyone, he was travelling with.  While living in Vancouver, he was hired by Alex Philip to work at the Horseshoe Grill.  Alex was running this restaurant to raise money for the newly established Rainbow Lodge, which Myrtle was operating on Alta Lake.  By 1916, Rainbow Lodge had become so successful that Alex sold the grill and moved up to Alta Lake full-time.  Lam Shu, now a young man of about 20, accompanied him to become the lodge’s chef.

Although little is known about Lam Shu himself, historical accounts give us a glimpse of a hardworking, talented and well-liked man.  His cooking skills were among the many draws of Rainbow Lodge, giving guests from across the country yet another reason to look forward to their visits.

Rainbow Lodge staff with Skookum the dog, approximately 1919. The man in the middle of the photograph is presumed to be Lam Shu. Philip Collection.

One of his signature dishes was divinity pie, filled with fresh peaches and topped with custard meringue.  In fact, the recipe was so sought-after that Lam Shu offered to teach it to Myrtle if she was interested.  He would also pack the ingredients for popular trail breakfasts, taken by guests on horse rides and prepared out in the bush.

Lam Shu wasn’t the only member of the Rainbow Lodge culinary team – the 1921 census reveals a fellow cook, Wing Same, living with him as a “lodger.”  According to oral histories given by Whistler pioneers Vern Lundstrum and Vera Barnfield, he may have been Lam Shu’s brother, although this has not been confirmed.  Wing Sam was born in China around 1900 and moved to Canada in 1911.

The census gives some tidbits of info on the men’s personal lives – both were Confucian and could read and write.

At some point before 1932, Lam Shu visited his family in China.  Upon his return to Canada he unfortunately caught a chronic case of influenza.  For the sake of his health and to spend more time with his loved ones, he decided to return permanently to his birth country.  The museum has recently been given a letter, dated December 15, 1932, from Lam Shu to fellow Rainbow Lodge staff members George and Pearl Thompson.

In it, he states: “I am very sorry to say that I leave for China owing to my sickness.  I miss the Rainbow Lodge very much.  Hoping you are well and Kathleen (the Thompsons’ daughter) too.  Wishing everybody to have Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, so good bye to you all.  Sincerely, your friend, Lam Shu.”

After Lam Shu’s departure, Wing Sam took over as Rainbow Lodge’s head chef.  He remained in this position until the lodge was sold in 1948.

Wing Sam remained the chef at Rainbow Lodge until it was sold by the Philips in 1948. Philip Collection.

After this, Lam Shu and Wing Sam seem to have disappeared into history.  It is unfortunate that more is not known about these two men and their contributions to Whistler’s not-too-distant past.  If you know of any information on Rainbow Lodge’s chefs, the museum would be more than happy to hear from you!

Holly Peterson worked as the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She was here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ont.).  She is now moving on to a new contract at another museum and we wish her all the best!

Newsletter Reflects Two Decades of Change (and how some things stay the same)

April might seem a bit early to be thinking of summer; there is still snow melting in parts of the valley and you’re just as likely to see someone walking through the village carrying their skis or board as you are to see a person biking along the Valley Trail.

At the museum, however, we’re looking ahead to summer programming and expanding our staff with summer students.

Summer students end up with varied responsibilities, such as grilling at the museum’s AGM. Here are Lauren, a 2017 student, and Colin, museum Vice-President, at the grill.

We recently came across a Whistler Museum & Archives Society (WMAS) newsletter from the summer of 2001 and, despite the 18 years that have passed since its publication, the newsletter is not all that dissimilar to those we currently send out bimonthly.

Like today, the newsletter from 2001 updates readers on recent events held at or by the museum and introduces new staff members.  That summer, the museum hired three summer students: two to work with the collections and one to work more on programming and community outreach.

Kathy Look, one of the two collections assistants, worked on digitizing the museum’s collection while Eric Cron was to spend his summer cataloguing and doing preliminary work to create a database.  This type of work continues to be carried out by our summer students and interns in the archives today.

The third student, Erin Coulson, had varied responsibilities, including working on the outdoor signs around the museum, assisting with the running of the museum, publishing the museum’s newsletter and searching for information on the train wreck near the Cheakamus River to answer the many inquiries the museum had received.

The Train Wreck was a mystery for hikers near Function Junction for many years.

The newsletter also reported on the Canada Day Parade in which the museum won a prize for Best Community Club Entrant, thanks to “the creative talents of Darlyne Christian and the helpful mobile power of Alex Bunbury, both museum trustees.”  Apparently this was the first parade where Darlyne rode in her own creation, an experience she described as “quite exciting.”

After the parade the museum launched its latest cookbook, Festive Favourites, full of recipes from community members.  (As it happens, we no longer have a copy of this book in our reference library – if anyone has a spare copy we would love to take a look.)

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

Recent fundraisers were mentioned, including one held at the Dubh Linn Gate to launch the museum’s first educational website and an Oscar Night that raised over $3,500, along with new additions to the collections (such as two signs for Overlord and Lost Lake that were anonymously delivered to the museum).

Of course, there have been changes in the almost two decades since this newsletter was sent out.

The museum has moved into a different space and our online presence, including our website, has evolved (social media didn’t really exist in 2001).  In the summer of 2001 Paul Jago was announced as the winner of a competition to design the museum’s new logo, a logo that has since changed at least twice.

The museum’s previous home, as it was in the summer of 2000 during our Annual LEGO Competition. Museum Collection.

In case you don’t currently subscribe to the museum’s newsletter, our last Speaker Series for the 2019 season will be this Thursday, April 11.  We are very excited to welcome Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University to discuss his studies of sediment records in Alta and Lost Lakes and what these records can tell us about environmental change dating back to the 18th century.  If you have an interest in our lakes or a story about your own experiences of Alta or Lost Lakes, please join us!  More information can be found here.