The Saga of the Brew Hut Part I

A couple weeks ago we took a look at how the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club built their cabin in Whistler before it was taken over by the AMS.  We’re continuing our look at the VOC this week with the construction of the Brew Huts.

Following the student referendum in 1980 that awarded the UBC-VOC $30,000 for the materials used to construct the Club Cabin, the VOC decided to purchase two pre-fabricated Gothic arch huts built by a construction company in Richmond.

After two years of negotiations with the Provincial Government, the VOC was granted permission to build a hut on Mount Brew.  The Club decided to use the first of the pre-fabricated huts they had purchased on this site.  The hut was built over two weekends in September 1982.

Flying in materials by helicopter for Brew Hut Construction, September 1982. Photo: Alan Dibb; UBC-VOC Archives.

Jay Page, a former president of the VOC, wrote, “Up on the mountain a lean-to shelter is nailed together as it begins to rain and storm.  The cabin site is picked out by flashlight that night amid the piles of lumber.”

After the fanfare of the construction of the Brew Hut, Club members neglected to visit the hut for a few months.  Upon a visit in late February 1983, Club members noted that the hut was located in a high snow accumulation zone.  This raised alarm bells within the VOC as the last hut they had built on the Garibaldi Neve Traverse (named the Neve Hilton) had been completely destroyed by snow creep and accumulation.

The Brew Hut under construction, 1982. Photo: Jay Page; UBC-VOC Archives.

Over the next few months and into May 1983, members of the Club returned almost weekly to keep the Brew Hut structure free of the heavy wet snow customarily found in the Coast Mountains.  Each time they returned they found more snow had fallen than in the months previous.  The hut structure had sustained damage and the wood was beginning to crack.

Members of the VOC decided the solution would be to move the hut to a new location via a large helicopter.  By the time this solution had been arranged, however, snow had begun to fall.  The Club decided to dismantle the hut and build it in a new location the following year.

Brew Hut II under construction, 1984 (it would seem the Brew Hut was always under construction). Photo: UBC-VOC Archives.

In the fall of 1984 a new site was chosen for the hut on a ridgeline to the west of the old Brew Hut location.  The hut was rebuilt with a few modifications.  One of the changes was to make the hut smaller as some of the arches had been damaged by the weight of the snow the previous year.  This helped the hut retain more heat.  Snow fell again, disrupting the completion of the hut until the following year.  The Brew Hut in its new location opened in 1985 and was renamed Brew Hut II.

Stay tuned next week for more on the challenges face by Brew Hut II.

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Remembrance Day in Whistler

This Saturday marks the 34th year of Whistler’s Remembrance Day observances, and the first not to take place at the Whistler Village Fire Hall.

Yesterday (Friday, November 10) Whistler’s cenotaph was revealed at its new home in Olympic Plaza in the monument’s second dedication ceremony.

Remembrance Day Ceremonies at the Fire Hall in the 1980s were small but supported by the Whistler community. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, 1984

The history of Whistler’s cenotaph is surprisingly murky – not much about its installation made it into the Whistler Question; far more has been written about moving the cenotaph than building it.  As part of the campaign to have the cenotaph moved, Anne Townley and GD Maxwell searched for any reference to the origins of the cenotaph but were still left with more questions.

The cenotaph was first installed outside of the fire hall in 1985.  It was commissioned by the Rotary Club of Whistler to “honour the soldiers of World War I, World War II and the Korean War.”

The stone came from a quarry off the Duffey Lake Road and was installed by Art Den Duyf and someone by the name of Wilson.  (If anyone knows more about the commissioning and installation of the cenotaph please don’t hesitate to contact the museum.)  The monument was unveiled on November 11, 1985 by Mayor Terry Rodgers and was originally dedicated by then-Rotary Club president Floyd Leclair.  The ceremony occurred just three days after the cenotaph’s installation was completed.

Before the installation of the cenotaph, wreaths were placed dug into the snow in the same location. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, 1984

Although Whistler’s cenotaph was not installed until 1985 the community had been holding Remembrance Day Services for at least two years previously.  These ceremonies also took place outside of the fire hall and wreaths were laid in the future site of the cenotaph, even if a spot for them had to be dug out of the snow.

Since 1985 Whistler’s Remembrance Day observances have grown to include the Colour Party and Parade, the Service of Remembrance, a helicopter fly over, and coffee and hot chocolate in the fire hall courtesy of the Rotary Club.

The Remembrance Day service starts at 10:30 am today (Saturday, November 11) in Olympic Plaza.

Crevasses & Crags: Tales from the Coast Mountains

Join Glenn Woodsworth and Arnold Shives at the Whistler Museum for a discussion of mountaineering in the Coastal Mountains in the 1960s and 70s and the career of Dick Culbert.  Some of Arnold Shives’ paintings will also be on display at the Audain Art Museum as part of their upcoming exhibit Stone and Sky, opening November 11.

Doors open at 6 pm and the talk begins at 7 pm.  Tickets are $10 ($5 for Museum Members and Club Shred) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

Feeding the Spirit 2017

The Whistler Museum, with the support of Whistler’s Creekside Market, will again be hosting Feeding the Spirit as part of Connect Whistler!

Each year we invite newcomers to town as well as anyone who wishes to join us for some food and to explore our exhibits.  Feeding the Spirit aims to provide a sense of place and community, as well as a general knowledge of Whistler’s past.  With free admission, Whistler trivia and prizes donated by local businesses, everyone is encouraged to learn about our town’s unique history!

Special thanks to all of our sponsors:

  • Creekside Market
  • Purebread Bakery
  • Farfalla Hair & Esthetics
  • Nibz Bandanaz
  • Whistler Roasting Co.
  • Splitz Grill
  • Misty Mountain Pizza
  • Coastal Culture Sports
  • DavidsTea

How the VOC Built Its Club Cabin

In the mid-1960s the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) was looking for a place to build a new Club Cabin as the Parks Board was opposed to privately owned cabins operating on Mount Seymour.  The Club set its sights on the newly developing outdoor recreation area, Whistler.  They saw the opportunity as a chance to further the club’s mandate by providing members with new mountaineering, hiking and skiing opportunities.

The VOC Cabin, located in Nordic. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand.  Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions.  It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The VOC used their own funds and labour, including the services of architect Byron Olson, to build the new Cabin.  The construction of the Cabin took two years from 1965 to 1967.  The Cabin was an instant hit for VOC members and other budget conscious skiers.

The construction of the VOC Cabin involved many of the club members. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

By the early 1970s the VOC was struggling to keep up with the increasing operating and upkeep costs and an internal debate began with the Club on letting go of the Cabin.  Some members wanted to build smaller cabins like the Sphinx (later renamed Burton, after Roland Burton who was instrumental in its construction) Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Others wanted to create a sub-section of the Club that focused on downhill skiing that would takeover operating the Cabin but still keeping it as a Club asset.

To further complicate matters, the UBC Alma Mater Society claimed ownership of the Cabin because the Club had used the AMS, in name only, to acquire the land for the Cabin.  The VOC attempted to obtain $30,000 for the construction costs and efforts made to to build new huts and relinquish ownership to the AMS and ultimately the UBC Ski Club.  The Club battled for five years until a student referendum passed in their favour in 1980.

The VOC Cabin even made it into Ski Trails, a Vancouver based publication all about skiing in the 1960s and 70s.

With the money received from the AMS, the VOC built two Gothic arch huts.  The first hut was built on Mount Brew, located 40km south of Whistler, and the second hut, the Julian Harrison Memorial Hut, was built near Overseer Mountain, north of Pemberton.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for stories related to the construction and use of these two Gothic arch huts.

Nita Lake’s First Hotel: Jordan’s Lodge

Just as today many of Whistler’s hotels and lodges are centrally located in the Village, the lodges built in the 1920s through 1950s tended to be located on or close to the shores of Alta Lake.  One outlier was Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.

Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.  Photo: Barber Collection

Russ Jordan first came to Alta Lake with his wife Laura and their two sons, Eugene and Stanley, in 1915 when he began working at a a logging mill at the south end of Green Lake.  The family then bought the Alta Lake Hotel on the southwest shore of Alta Lake.  After this purchase, the family’s story takes an unusual turn for its time: Laura divorced her husband and took their two sons to live with her in Vancouver.  Russ continued to operate the Alta Lake Hotel until it was destroyed in a fire in 1933.  He then went to sea as a barber on the ‘Empress of Japan’, an ocean-liner.

Russ Jordan with his catch, c.1922.  Photo: Jordan Collection

In 1936 Russ returned to Alta Lake and bought a quarter section of land (about 160 acres) from Harry Horstman.  For $2000, Russ’ property stretched from the south end of Nita Lake to the current location of the highway.  He hired Bill Bailiff to help construct his lodge on the lake.  Named Jordan’s Lodge, the property included the main lodge building, cabins, a barn for storing equipment, and a plot of land for Russ’ gardens, including a large vegetable crop and flower gardens.  Russ’ granddaughter Wilma Cates remembered “each cabin had its own rowboat so guests could go out on the lake… It was all water by pump and kerosene or gas lamps.”

For many years Russ’ sons spent the school year in Vancouver with their mother and their summers at Alta Lake with their father.  As a barber, Russ would give both boys their summer haircut when they first arrived in the spring.  According to Wilma, “he used to shave their heads and that did them for the summer.”

Nita Lake, with Jordan’s Lodge and Alpha Lake behind.  Photo: Barber Collection

Although Stanley would later live mostly in Vancouver where he had a taxi business, Eugene spent some time living at Alta Lake.  When Eugene was about 19 he built himself a log cabin, reportedly where the Rimrock Cafe stands today, and made a living trapping furs in the Black Tusk meadows.  He later returned to live at Nita Lake with his wife Lorraine and their family for summers while working in forestry, following the train on a speeder and checking for fires.  As Lorraine recalled, “There were quite a few fires, you know, people would throw a cigarette out.  And the trains used to themselves, the brakes would give off sparks and start fires.”  Lorraine also remembered walking to Rainbow Lodge to pick up the mail and gathering with neighbours for dances, cards and socializing.

After the land was sold the cabins remained standing and were used for varying purposes. Photo: Benjamin Collection

With the beginning of the war Eugene and his family moved first to Vancouver, where he worked in the shipyards, and later to Squamish, where he opened some businesses of his own.  Russ Jordan and his second wife Maxine stayed at Nita Lake and eventually the land was sold to John Taylor in 1967.  Much of the Creekside we know today was built on Russ’ property.  The cabins of Jordan’s Lodge continued to stand on the shores of Nita Lake, though in increasingly dilapidated condition, until 2003 when they were torn down before the construction of Nita Lake Lodge.

Building the Gothic Arch Huts

For almost 50 years the Himmelsbach Hut has sat perched near Russet Lake at the head of Singing Pass.  The hut was built by the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) and named after carpenter and long-time Whistler local Werner Himmelsbach.

Construction of the hut was scheduled in September 1967.  Dick Chambers, a member of the construction party, remembered being flown to Whistler by Helijet at the time (for more about Dick Chambers, check here).

Materials for the Himmelsbach Hut, as well as workers, were flown in by helicopter. Photo: Chambers Collection

“The stuff was all in the parking lot – the old Whistler parking lot.  Blackcomb wasn’t developed then, it was still a garbage dump… so we land at the parking lot and the Park Ranger was there, waiting to organize this stuff, and so he flew me in, and the next morning I waited and waited and nothing was happening,” Chambers recalled.

The helicopter carrying a load of material to the site had lost it somewhere on the northeastern side of the peak of Whistler, across from Blackcomb.  The load had not been properly attached and triggered the release mechanism.

“Eventually we recovered that load of stuff by looking in the bush and it wound up at Werner Himmelsbach’s hut covering his firewood because it wasn’t good for anything, you know, it was beaten up,” Chambers said.

By the time the Club was able to rebuild the lost materials, snowstorms had started and members of the construction party decided to pack it up and store it until the following year.

The Himmelsbach Hut under construction. Photo: Chambers Collection

In August 1968 the Himmelsbach Hut was was built over a period of three days and began the busiest three-years of hut construction by the BCMC in its history.  Other huts built by the club include Wedgemount Lake Hut loacted north of Blackcomb, Pummer Hut on Claw Ridge near the Tellot Glacier and Mountain Waddington, and Mountain Lake Hut that sits east of Brittania Beach.

Along with the huts built by the Club, Werner Himmelsbach lent his laminating jig and expertise to the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club.  The VOC, led by Roland Burton, built a gothic-arch hut near the Sphinx Glacier in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Years later, he assisted the Alpine Club of Canada Whistler Section in the construction of the Wendy Thompson Hut, located in the Marriott Basin.

The Himmelsbach Hut today. Photo: Spencer Jespersen

Over the past several months, I have been tasked with writing, researching and designing a virtual museum exhibit on the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Alpine Huts for the Whistler Museum (for more on the virtual exhibit click here).  Once the exhibit is complete, the virtual exhibit will be hosted on the Virtual Museum of Canada Community Memories website and will tell the complete story of these iconic structures.  Look for the release of the virtual exhibit in Winter 2018.