Before Opening Day

One of the most-talked about topics in Whistler each November is opening day: when it will be, what the conditions will be like, and how the rest of the snow season looks.  Often this causes us to look back at previous opening days, but this week we thought we’d look further back, and see what the community of Alta lake was talking about 60 years ago, years before lifts started operating on Whistler Mountain.

 

 

Alex Philip stands on the snow he’s been clearing from the door. A fascination with snow and weather was just as popular in the early days of Whistler. Philip Collection.

According to the Alta Lake Echo, the (more or less) weekly newsletter of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), those living at Alta Lake in 1959 found the topic of November weather just about as fascinating as we find it today.  The newsletter of November 3 reported clear skies, a brisk north wind, and snow within a couple hundred metres of the lake, with a chance of flurries int he afternoon.  Don Gow was even reported to have said, “This is the year of the big snow.”

The next few weeks didn’t seem quite as promising.  A lack of snow, however, didn’t seem to be as unwelcome as the thawing ice on Alta Lake.  By the beginning of December, there was reportedly “beautiful” ice forming on the lake, but rain and warmer temperatures washed it away with the snow.  This, it would seem, was particularly frustrating for some “would-be skaters who got their Christmas presents early.”

Though ice stock sliding came later in the 1970s, Alta Lake residents spent many winter days out on the frozen lake. Petersen Collection.

Unlike today, when many people arrive for the season in November and businesses are busily preparing for a bustling winter, Alta Lake residents were looking ahead to a slower pace after a full summer.  Rainbow Lodge officially closed for the season soon after the Armistice Day Holiday, and the fishing season would appear to have been finished.  Bill and Phyllis House, who visited Alta Lake each November to fish, determinedly went out in the snow but reportedly caught nothing, a first in 20 years.

Some Alta Lake residents took the slow winter season as a chance to take a holiday, visit friends and family, or even return home after seasonal work, such as Ivor Gunderson who returned to Norway once Valleau Logging ceased operations for the winter.  Alex and Audrey Greenwood, the owners of Rainbow Lodge, left for two weeks to San Francisco, and Russ and Maxine Jordan, the proprietors of Jordan’s Lodge, left to wait out the cold season in warmer climes.

Many of the cottages and lodges on Alta Lake were built for the summer, and were not always winterized to keep occupants warm through the winter. Photo: Mitchell

There were few evening entertainments at Alta Lake once the summer guests left and the days grew shorter.  The ALCC began organizing poker sessions in November.  Participants took turns hosting, and some games were played at the Alta Lake School building.  Though scores and winnings were not printed, the Alta Lake Echo did give a fair impression of how the games went, reporting on December 8 that, “Last week saw a good turnout at Cruickshank’s Casino.  This week, Kelly & Dick [Fairhurst] are going to win their shirts back.  They’ll use their own cars.  Come one, come all…”  Interestingly, these reports were printed in the newsletter’s “Wildlife” section.

We, and many others, are looking forward to a busy winter, but it was not so long ago that winters meant something very different in the Whistler valley.

Whistler Mountain’s Early Operations

As we approach another opening day for Whistler Blackcomb, we’ve been looking back at the early days of operations on Whistler Mountain.  Much of the information we have on these early years comes from oral history interviews, some lift company records, and Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN).

Earlier this year, a volunteer for the museum conducted a series of interviews with none other than Lynn Mathews.  Lynn was the editor, and so much more, of GWN, and she shared a wealth of knowledge about both the paper and her experiences at Whistler.

The Skiers Chapel was still under construction when the Mathews first came to town. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Mathews was born on Staten Island, New York.  She is a journalist and writer by profession, and before moving to Whistler worked for magazines and at Harshe-Rotman & Druck, one of the leading PR firms in New York City.  In the early 1960s, Lynn spent a winter in Quebec, teaching skiing at Gray Rocks Inn.  It was there she met Dave Mathews, who was involved in resort business in the area, and the two were married the following year.  The couple soon moved west to Vancouver, and Dave planned to leave the ski business to work full-time for an irrigation company where he had previously worked summers.  The ski industry, however, would prove hard for the pair to leave behind.

During their first winter in BC, Lynn taught skiing at Grouse Mountain, while also working for various magazines and publications.  The irrigation business was slow in the winter, and so for the season of 1966/67, Dave and Lynn planned to spend their weekends teaching at a new ski area north of Vancouver that was just opening for its first season of full-time operation.

Even by 1970, the Creekside area was a little empty. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Lynn’s first trip to the Whistler Valley in August 1966 didn’t necessarily impress her.  As she put it, “There was nothing here.  There was the gondola, that was there, the daylodge had been built, there were two A-frames on the hillside,” and not too much else.  Due to extensive logging and burning, Lynn said that without snow, the Creekside area “looked like a war zone.  It wasn’t a pretty alpine village at all.”

For about $125, Lynn and Dave rented one of the log cabins at Jordan’s Lodge for the season.  Lynn chose the cabin “that tilted the least,” and the self-described “city girl” prepared for a winter with no electricity, no plumbing, and a wood cookstove.

In the 1970s, this was more likely to be the scene at Jordan’s Lodge. Benjamin Collection.

Lynn recalled that in December, Franz Wilhelmsen, who was acting as a combination of general manager, CEO, and chairman of the board, got very sick with pneumonia, right when Whistler Mountain was heading into its first full season.  Two managers were brought on board, Dave Mathews as operations manager and Jack Bright as mountain manager.  According to Lynn, Dave was responsible for “anything that moved,” and Jack was in charge of ticket sales, administration, image, publicity, and much more.

Lynn worked in the mountain’s office as well.  Though some ski passes were sold at the Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. offices in Vancouver, others were sold at Whistler Mountain and Lynn was in charge of making those passes.  Without any computer systems, she used a polaroid camera and a hand-cranked laminating machine.  Each person got two photos, one for their pass and one for the files, and a lift ticket to go skiing.  At the end of the day they could pick up their pass at the office.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing more tales from Lynn and others who have told their stories to the museum.  Have a story about Whistler to contribute to the Museum’s collection?  Please come see us!

The Beginnings of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway

If you’ve ever been out hiking near the train tracks on the western side of Whistler, you know how difficult the terrain can be.  The cliffs, creeks, and rivers running through the valley make for beautiful scenery and photographs, but they can make travel very difficult.  As a result, building a railway from coastal British Columbia to the Interior was an expensive, difficult venture, and it took a long time to build the rail line that exists today.

The first company that was meant to build a railway from coastal BC to the BC Interior was incorporated in 1891, but not much came of it.  Once the Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company (HSN) was incorporated in 1907, however, things really started moving in the right direction.  Surveys from Squamish through the Cheakamus Canyon were conducted in secret by the Cleveland and Cameron engineering firm, and the demand for a railway into the BC Interior was very high.  When a feasibility report was published by the HSN Railway Company in 1909, it was the talk of the town, making headlines in the Daily Province newspaper.  The feasibility report announced that the construction of a railway through the Cheakamus Canyon was possible, and the first rails were laid that very same year.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

The HSN Railway was taken over by the Foley, Welch, and Stewart Firm in 1912.  They renamed the company the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE), and within a year of the new company’s incorporation, track was being laid on two separate sections of the route.  The PGE Squamish Line finally reached Pemberton in October of 1914.  The new railway brought many opportunities for people in the Whistler valley, especially Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Their Rainbow Lodge opened the same year the railway reached Pemberton, and they received a lot of encouragement from the PGE workers to host fishing tours.  The first tours were held in May of 1915, and fishermen, with rods and tackle in hand, arrived by train to stay at Rainbow Lodge.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

Expansion of the rail line continued, but not without difficulty.  The PGE line from Squamish reached as far as Lillooet, but going further was a financial problem.  The BC Provincial Government stepped in, and the PGE received a loan of $10 million ($200 million adjusted for inflation today) in order to continue extending the rail line in 1916.  The money didn’t help much, through, and in 1918 the PGE was forced to default on the loan.  The Provincial Government took over the PGE Railway Company, but, again, building a railway was very expensive.  The Provincial Government even listed the PGE for public sale in 1924, but there were not takers.

A southbound PGE train pulling in to Rainbow Lodge. J Jardine Collection

Despite everything, the railway pushed on.  The Provincial Government undertook a $10 million redevelopment program for the PGE in 1949 (over $110 million today).  It took a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of time, but the PGE did eventually reach its destination.  Finally, after over 50 years of planning and development, the PGE Railway reached Prince George on September 11, 1952.

If you would like to learn more about the influence the PGE had on Whistler, stay tuned for future articles!

Charlie Chandler and the Runaway Bannock

This week, we thought we’d take a look at the life and legacy of Charles Ernest Chandler, one of Whistler’s earliest European settlers.  Locally known as Charlie, he was a trapper during the beginning of the twentieth century.  He came to the Whistler valley from Wisconsin in 1908 to pre-empt about 160 acres on the northern end of Alta Lake.

(L-R) Sue Hill, Kay Hill, Charlie Chandler, Wallace Betts holding daughter Louise, Charlie Lundstrom, and ‘Sporty’ the dog on Alta Lake docks, 1939. J Jardine Collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, pre-emption was a method of acquiring Crown Land from the government for agriculture or settlement.  It was formally established by the Land Ordinance in 1870, and was still legal until 1970.  In order to pre-empt land, a person (the pre-emptor) would have to stake out a block of unsurveyed, non-reserved Crown Land and submit an application to the government.  If their application was approved, the pre-emptor would receive a Certificate of Pre-emption, and they would be free to begin “improvements.”  After appropriate development had taken place, the pre-emptor would receive a Certificate of Improvement from the government, which would allow them either to buy the land at a discounted price, or receive the title for it outright.  Pre-emption often did not take into account indigenous claims to land, and the land that was pre-empted by Chandler was part of the unceded territory of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations.

The Rainbow Lodge property was part of the 160 acres pre-empted by Charlie Chandler.  Philip Collection.

For the next three or four years, Chandler spent his time improving the area he had pre-empted in order to gain title for it.  His move to the Whistler valley was meant to give him a fresh start, away from the influences of “the bottle.”  According to Dick Fairhurst, Chandler though the best method to solve such a problem was “to get the hell away – out in the woods, some place it [alcohol] wouldn’t be too handy.”

He also spent his time working on his trap lines, which ran along Wedge Creek all the way to Wedge Pass, and about 1.5 km down Billy Goat Creek on the Lillooet divide.  He occasionally made money taking people on hunting trips along his trap lines, as well, which is how one of his many colourful stories came about.

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

One night, while guiding Alex Philip on a hunting trip, Chandler was cooking his typical fare of bannock for dinner.  The camp they had pitched sat at the top of a steep slope, and when Chandler tried to flip the bannock over in his frying pan, he missed.  The unfortunate bannock flew out of the pan and went cartwheeling down the ridge.  Chandler, the determined man that he was, went chasing after it.  The bannock put up a bit of a fight, it seems, but eventually, with a well-placed stomp, Chandler caught his dinner.  By the time he made it back up to the camp, the bannock looked more than a little worse for wear.  Chandler, however, just looked at the messy ball of dough and said, “You look a little dirty, but we’re eating you anyway.”

Chandler sold ten acres of land to Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1913, which they would quickly turn into the famed Rainbow Lodge property.  Chandler himself moved further north along Alta Lake to settle in the area now known as Alpine Meadows.  He built his homestead there, where he lived until passing away peacefully on his porch in the winter of 1946.

Feeding the Spirit 2019

The Whistler Museum, with the support of Whistler’s Creekside Market and the Whistler Community Services Society, 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 free 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!

Trick or Treating at Tapley’s

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Legends of Whistler… tell the stories last week!

Quite a few of the stories took us back to a time when Whistler was much smaller, and had us thinking about how Whistler has grown over the last few decades.  This growth can be seen in almost every aspect of the community, including the celebration of Halloween.

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

Tapley’s Farm has been a popular place to spend Halloween since the 1980s.  What had begun as an idea in a real estate office in 1979 had (with a lot of hard work) become a neighbourhood by the mid-1980s.

According to Francois Lepine, this neighbourhood was different from other subdivisions in Whistler in that, “It was the only subdivision that looked exactly the same on a Saturday night or a Wednesday night.”

John Robinson puts final touches on his MDC home with help of wife Diane and daughter Kristal.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Tapley’s was lived in by full-time residents, while other subdivisions had a mix of residents and second-home owners.  This made Tapley’s Farm an ideal area for trick or treating.

Like most traditions in Whistler, Halloween in Tapley’s began as an unofficial neighbourhood event.  In 1985, the decision was made to close the streets to cars during the evening so that kids could trick or treat without worry.  This was so successful that the neighbours continued putting up roadblocks and families from other subdivisions came and joined in the fun.

Houses received more than 100 trick or treaters in 1986, and Lee Bennett, a Tapley’s resident who organized the event in 1987, expected about 125 as the populations of the valley grew.  By this time, donations of candy were sought from those bringing their kids to the neighbourhood to lessen the cost for residents of Tapley’s.

Donated candy is sorted and then distributed throughout Tapley’s Farm. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Bennett attributed the popularity of Tapley’s to both the proportion of occupied houses and the layout of the houses.  As she told The Whistler Question, “They also don’t have to climb 100 stairs like in some other subdivisions.  It’s easy for the children to get around.”

By the mid-1990s, more than 600 kids were trick or treating in Tapley’s Farm annually and it had become known as Whistler’s “designated haunted neighbourhood.”

A trick or treater heads down Easy Street. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Residents took an active part, decorating their houses and handing out treats in costume.  A competition had even been introduced for the best decorated house.  Donations of candy for the event could be dropped off at Myrtle Philip School, the Whistler Children’s Centre, or at the house of one of the organizers.

A fireworks display in the lower field, presented by Whistler firefighters and Nesters Market, was the grand finale of the evening.  According to Keith Mellor, one of the firefighters who volunteered for the show, more than 1,000 people were expected to attend the fireworks in 1998, as Halloween fell on a Saturday and Tapley’s was expected to attract Vancouver visitors as well as Whistler residents.

Crowds gather on the field for the Tapley’s Farm Halloween fireworks display. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

As the full-time population of Whistler has grown over the last 30 years, other neighbourhoods have started hosting their own Halloween trick or treating, including Millar’s Pond and Cheakamus Crossing.  New traditions have developed, such as the annual Cheakamus Zombie Walk.

As of last week, however, Halloween at Tapley’s Farm is still going strong.

Whistler’s First Mayor

Pat Carleton became Whistler’s first mayor in 1975 and served four terms until 1982.  Born in Langley, BC in 1920, Carleton was not a career politician.  He played trombone as a band member of the Royal Air Force auxiliaries in World War II and then made a career as a coffee salesman for 25 years.

Kay and Pat enjoy a toast from the goblets given to them at a surprise party on April 3 to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

In 1956, Carleton’s neighbour Ted Harris told him about Alta Lake.  Harris and Carleton went on a weekend fishing trip and stayed at Jordan’s Lodge.  Carleton and his wife Kay later built a cabin along Alpha Lake and in 1958 and, after he retired in 1971, moved to their cabin to live full time.

Kay recalled their first winter at the cabin as a record snowfall.  They thought if they left at any point they wouldn’t be able to get back to Alta Lake until spring, so they stayed full time with no running water and wood heat, which Kay did not particularly enjoy.

A sunny summer day and lush new landscaping – Mayor Pat Carleton and his wife Kay take advantage of Whistler at its finest to enjoy a stroll through Town Centre.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Being retired left Pat Carleton with a lot of free time.  He became very active with the Chamber of Commerce, the Rate Payers Association, and the Technical Planning Committee, as well as participating in community life.  Carleton was also active in advocating for a local government and, when the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act was passed in 1975, he was one of two residents to run for mayor.

Paul Burrows, who later founded the Whistler Question with his wife Jane, ran against Carleton for mayor but lost with 103 votes to Carleton’s 185.  Whistler’s first council was also elected at this time, which included Garry Watson, John Hetherington and Bob Bishop.  Al Raine was appointed to council by the provincial government.  Burrows described Carleton as very conservative, fair and well-liked.  The area previously known as Alta Lake became officially called Whistler at Carleton’s inauguration.

Pat Carleton, ex-mayor of Whistler, came out of the closet Sunday to join aldermanic candidates Paul Burrows and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in celebrating the official opening of Whistler’s new municipal hall. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

In the early stages the council had nowhere to meet and the Carletons offered up their home for some of their meetings.  According to Hetherington, Carleton was instrumental in dealing with the provincial and federal governments to tackle obstacles that faced the development of the resort, such as the lack of a sewer system.

The first council looked to other ski areas in North America to learn from how they had developed.  Carleton wasn’t a skier, but this allowed him to see different needs for the village that others might have overlooked.

Carleton ran for mayor again in 1978 and 1980, unopposed both times.  During his years in office he can be credited with the accomplishments of upgrading the telephone system, a local weather office, the post office, and the train station.  Over the years Carleton spent a lot of time in Victoria keeping ministers informed about what was happening at Whistler.  He worked seven days a week and even remembered holding a council meeting over radio phone during one of his trips to Victoria.

Whistler’s first council. Left to Right: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce (municipal clerk & treasurer), Pat Carleton, John Hetherington, Garry Watson

The Carleton Lodge was named after Pat Carleton by a developer from Vancouver during the construction of Whistler Village and a plaque was made in tribute to Carleton that was placed in the hotel’s lobby.

Carleton retired from public office in 1982 and spent nine more years in Whistler before moving to Chilliwack with Kay.  In 1985 he was awarded the Freedom of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, one of only eight people to have been given the honour.

Pat Carleton passed away in 2004 at the age of 84, but will always be remembered for his legacy in Whistler.