Searching the Callaghan

1956 was the year that a T33 military jet mysteriously disappeared over the Callaghan Valley area. The two pilots inside were never found and 60 years later only a few pieces have been found that would give us any clue as to what happened to the two men inside the plane when it went down.

The two men were First Officers James Miller and Gerald Stubbs of the 409 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Their flight was only scheduled to take an hour and a half and be within a hundred mile radius of the Comox base on Vancouver Island. Yet just seventeen minutes into their flight they were documented by radar as entering bad weather and were never seen again.

That is until eighteen years later in November of 1974 when the canopy of their plane was found in the Callaghan Valley, nowhere near where the search teams had been looking for the men. Forty-two years after the plane disappeared its fuselage was found not far from the Callaghan Country lodge, and then twelve years later in October 2010, remnants of one of the pilot’s helmets was found and identified by its colours.

Google Earth image of the location of the T33 crash debris. GPS data courtesy Whistler Search & Rescue.

Google Earth image of the location of the T33 crash debris. GPS data courtesy Whistler Search & Rescue.

The Whistler Museum now preserves those fragments of helmet in our archive room. It is likely they will have to be sent off to be cleaned at the Royal BC Museum though as our small museum does not have the resources to properly clean them. Archival-level preservation becomes especially challenging when you have multiple types of materials in a single artifact, like, for example, the plastic, foam, metal, and leather in a pilot’s helmet. Fifty-four years in the elements has not been kind to the pieces of the flight helmet and it will take a lot of care for them to be able to be displayed in the future.

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The remnants of the flight helmet.

The Whistler Museum also has what we can only assume is a piece from the windshield of the plane as well; a large jagged piece of curved plexiglass as well as a chunk of metal tubing. These pieces along with the helmet fragments were donated to the Museum from the RCMP after they were found in 2010.

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Callaghan Valley in the 1960s.

A television show called “Callout: Search and Rescue” even did an episode on this mysterious crash for the first episode of their third season. The episode covers the Search and Rescue team scouring the Callaghan Valley looking for any missed clues as to what may have happened to the pilots.

In October the Search and Rescue team does an annual search of the Valley and they continuously look for things like ejection seats, helmets or boots. Things that will withstand the elements and will also stand out in the forest. As of the last search in October 2015 nothing else has been found but the search still continues.

For more information check out this feature article written by Pique Newsmagazine in 2015.

By Michaela Sawyer

 

The Pacific Great Eastern Railroad

The construction of Rainbow Lodge in 1914 is recognized as a seminal moment in our valley’s history, and deservedly so. But something else happened that same year that is equally important to the creation of a tourism industry and Whistler’s early history.

When Alex & Myrtle Philip first visited Alta Lake in 1911, it famously took them three days to get here from Vancouver, by boat and on foot. That all changed with the completion of the first leg of the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Railway in 1914.

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The route to Alta Lake, pre-PGE. Myrtle & Alex Philip coming up the Pemberton Trail on their first visit in August 1911.

Now, somebody leaving Vancouver early in the morning could ride a steamship to Squamish, transfer to the passenger car on the train right by the waterfront, and be at Rainbow Lodge in time for dinner. Not quite the speed of today’s Sea-to-Sky Highway, but a drastic improvement nonetheless.

This was not just a nice creature comfort; this was essential for the nascent tourist trade.

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The rugged Cheakamus Canyon, roughly halfway between Squamish and Alta Lake, was the main engineering challenge confronted by the new railway.

The railway was not built with tourism in mind. Linking Lillooet to Squamish (but not Vancouver), the PGE railway was built to service the heavier industries in the interior, particularly mining and forestry. Providing access to the coast was crucial for the development of a resource-based economy, as it allowed these heavy goods to be shipped overseas to market. Here in the valley, the railway led to an immediate increase in logging activity (think Parkhurst), and some mining operations (particularly iron and copper) got substantial enough to make use of the train as well.

Despite its seminal role in our valley, the PGE was mis-managed from the start. In 1915 the owner’s of the privately-held railway began missing bond payments, and the province of BC took over ownership a few years later.

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Riders were treated to a spectacular view of Brandywine Falls.

The original plan was for the railway to extend all the way to Prince George, the commercial centre of northern BC, where it could connect to the broader, nation-wide rail system. Even with provincial control however, this wan’t achieved until 1950, earning it tongue-in-cheek nicknames like “Province’s Great Expense” and “Prince George, Eventually.”

Regardless, it was a lifeblood of the early community of Alta Lake, not only bringing tourists, but provisions and supplies, transported locals to the city, and connected them to essential services that weren’t available here, like hospitals and (sometimes) schools.

And Rainbow Lodge was right in the centre of it all. There were several designated stops in the valley, but “Alta Lake,” adjacent to Rainbow Lodge’s front gate, was certainly the liveliest. You get a strong sense of the growth of the Philip’s retreat by simply comparing images of the train station over the years:

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Waiting for the train with a full load of passengers, circa 1915.

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Myrtle (waving, in black dress near centre) and Alex (plaid shirt, to her right) greeting visitors at the train station, circa late-1920s. 

 

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Coming or going? We’re not sure here, but either way, the Alta Lake train station was a welcoming place. Alex Philip at far left, in his trademark safari suit.

Even with the completion of the highway from Vancouver in 1965 (finally paved in 1976), passenger service continued on the PGE until 2002, by which point it had long been renamed as BC Rail.

Nowadays, there are frequent calls to restore and upgrade passenger rail service to Whistler and beyond, but there are a whole host of technical, logistical, and financial barriers making it an unlikely prospect.

 

Summer is the Season to Discover Nature!

Enjoying nature is a year-round activity, but summer is the best time to experience our natural environment in its full splendour. Many species have adapted to our harsh mountain landscape and long, snowy winters by laying low for much of the year. This conserves energy for the flourish of activity and abundance we see in summer.

Bears are probably our most beloved hibernators, waking from their slumbers in spring and chasing plant foods like berries up the mountainsides as the snowline recedes.  Once they reach the alpine in late summer, bears, along with hikers and other visitors, are welcomed by vast meadows carpeted in vibrant colours; alpine wildflowers who need to maximize their visibility to ensure they are pollinated by insects during the short, snowless growing season above treeline.

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Moss campion offers a burst of lavender amidst the bleak alpine scree. Photo: Bob Brett/Whistler Naturalists.

When it comes to seasonality, however, the hoary marmot, Whistler’s other mammalian mascot, takes first prize. Unlike bears, marmots live in the alpine year-round, and thus hibernate for 7-8 months of the year! This leaves them with a rather a short window to mate & reproduce, pose for tourist photos, and fatten up for the ensuing winter, so they can be quite loud and excitable.

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The Hoary Marmot dutifully poses for a photo op on Whistler Mountain. Jeff Slack photo.

The giant trees of our temperate rainforest are no different, going dormant through the winter and growing through the summer. In fact, the tree rings that we use to determine the ages of trees only exist because of this seasonal ebb and flow; the rings of light and dark matter coincide with periods of rapid and slow growth, respectively. Trees closer to the equator that lack distinct seasons have less prominent rings, or none at all.

Here at the museum, summer causes a spike in activity as well. First off, our brood of staff grows with the addition of summer students. Secondly, summertime means an increase in our outdoor, family-friendly programming. Our Valley of Dreams walking tours resumed in June and continue daily, by-donation, until the end of August. This past week we saw the return of two more family favourites: Discover Nature, and Crafts in the Park.

Now in its second summer, Discover Nature aims to educate and inspire wonder about Whistler’s amazing natural world. It is offered every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in July and August, from 10am-4pm, at Lost Lake Park. On the lawn above Lost Lake beach we have an interactive table led by professional naturalist Kristina Swerhun. Guests will learn all about Whistler’s rich biodiversity, from bears to bacteria, and the intricate ecological web in which we live. Additionally, guided nature walks will depart from the Passivhaus at the entrance to Lost Lake Park every day at 11am.

See you outside!

Crafts in the Park Returns

Tomorrow, July 8th marks the beginning of the Whistler Museum’s Crafts in the Park event series. This year the theme is “How do you connect to Whistler?” and each week we will cover a different aspect of what brings us to Whistler. This could be nature, history, activities and even transport. Each week we will begin with a story and information activity under the story tree and then create a craft together.

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This year we will run seven of these in total, and each session will highlight a different aspect of what connects us to Whistler. They begin at 11am and go until noon. It is a drop-in program open for children ages 4-12 with a caregiver present. Crafts in the Park will be held in Florence Peterson Park, which is behind the Museum and Library.

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Schedule:

July 8 – This week will be oriented around nature, specifically the bears that are so popular in the area. The craft will be a foam bear mask, and the kids will have a choice to make either a black bear or a grizzly bear.

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Myrtle Philip and Teddy the bear

July 15 – This week will be a collaboration between the Museum and The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center so that the kids can learn a bit more of the First Nations history and the pioneers. The craft is being provided by the Cultural Center and is a cedar rope bracelet.

July 22 – This week focuses on transportation in the early days of Whistler. One of the first methods that made visiting the area easier was the Pacific North-West railway, so this week’s craft will be a cardboard tube train engine.

July 29 – To celebrate Whistler’s history as a ski town and its hosting of the 2010 winter Olympics, week four’s craft is a clothespin skier.

August 5 – Since there are so many activities to do in Whistler and each person enjoys different ones for various reasons the fifth week of crafts will be a screen-printed t-shirt that each child can design and themselves.

August 12 – While Whistler is known for its winter sports, in the summer mountain biking takes over the town. This week the children will get to make a pipe-cleaner bike and a mountain pass made of cardboard.

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photo by Greg Griffith

August 19 – For our final week of crafts the kids will be making a mini replica of the Peak2Peak. To symbolize the coming together of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains that helped Whistler become what it is today.

Whistler Wildfire History, 1919-1999

Last week the Whistler Museum was fortunate to participate in a community forum on wildfires organized by the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and the Sea to Sky Clean Air Society. Officially titled “Our Future with Forest Fires – A Climate Action Symposium,” the event featured a series of expert speakers discussing various public health and safety concerns associated with wildfires, and how these concerns will evolve in the near future.

Topics discussed included the use of controlled burns to mitigate wildfire risk, the public health impacts of wildfire smoke (think back to last July), and the growing risk that wildfires pose to our neighbourhoods (and vice versa), and tourism economy.

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Just a few days after the community forum on wildfire hazards, A lightning storm sparked several small wildfires in the Sea-to-Sky corridor, including this one on the southwest slopes of Whistler Mountain. Photo: Claire Ruddy.

One especially eye-catching comment came from Whistler fire chief Geoff Playfair, who noted that, as the climate continues to change, our wildfire season is growing at an average rate of roughly 2 days per year. Having worked at the local fire department for 30 years now, Playfair corroborated that the wildfire season is roughly 2 months longer now than when he began his career.

Our contribution was a timelapse video showing the extent of wildfires in the Whistler area during the 20th century. The video was made using GIS data from the Whistler Forest History Project, a project that used aerial photographs, historical research and fieldwork, or “ground-truthing”  to build a remarkably comprehensive record of natural an human disturbances to Whistler’s natural landscape over the last century.

Here’s the video:

First of all, the video makes it clear that there have been lots of wildfires over the years, and a significant portion of our valley burned in the last century. As well, while it may seem that burns are becoming smaller and less severe. This may be true, but the number of fires has held fairly steady. Sure, we’re getting better at controlling and mitigating wildfires in our region, but that doesn’t mean that a large, devastating, and potentially dangerous wildfire in Whistler couldn’t happen again.

It should also be noted that this video only goes to 1999. Among the significant fires that have occurred in Whistler since then are at least 3 that occurred on the upper slopes of Blackcomb, imperilling ski-lift infrastructure. You can actually ride through several of these burnt forests today, serving as aesthetically pleasing but no less sobering reminders of the continued risk of wildfire.

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Water bombers fighting wildfire on Blackcomb Mountain, August 2009. Courtesy cbc.ca

All of this theoretical discussion was made all the more real when just a few days later, lightning strikes from an intense thunderstorm triggered multiple fires in the Whistler & Pemberton area. The largest fire, on the southwest slopes of Whistler Mountain, just outside the ski area, required aerial water bombing to get it under control before it became threatening to nearby developments and infrastructure.

To learn more about the risk of wildfires, and practical steps you can take to protect yourself, your property, and our community, please visit our local Firesmart website.

Grassroots Galleries – Mountain Paint

A few Whistler locals have taken it upon themselves over the years to display their own mini collections of items that show off Whistler’s history. One of these collections covers the walls in “Mountain Paint” located in Function Junction. There are pieces all over the store when you walk in but it is hard to miss the multitude of posters and other paraphernalia that cover the walls at the back of the store.

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Just some of the collection amassed inside Mountain Paint

Dave and Laura Kinney took over Mountain Paint 20 years ago and almost immediately their collection found its home on the walls of their store. When asked, Dave recalled that his daughter, who is an interior designer, did not want her parents’ home looking like a ski bums home, so she had Dave and his wife move the collection into the basement which is where Dave took them from to decorate the shop.

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Since then many more pieces have joined the others on the walls including many things donated by Rob Boyd and Gord Harder. The Whistler Museum and Archives has a few of Gord’s items on display including his old fridge and mountain bike.

Dave and Laura both worked for Whistler Mountain for 10 years between 1979 and 1989, and even lived at the top of the mountain for some time. This was how they became friends with the Boyd family who lived at the base of the mountain. When they started working for the Mountain though, it was still run by the Garibaldi Lift Co. and so the couple saw it through its transition into Whistler. Dave tells of when he used to work in maintenance for the company and when it came time to change the signage on the outside of the buildings, Dave took home one of the old Garibaldi signs rather than throw it away. Coincidentally, he and his wife now live on Garibaldi Way, so Dave has turned it into their address sign. The pair also has a red chair from the old chairlifts hanging from their front deck.

Most of the couples collection is built upon old newspaper clippings from the Whistler Question and Answer as well as posters collected throughout the years as Whistler Mountain grew into what it is today. Yet, Dave’s favourite piece they have on display is two pages of an old Maclean’s magazine article from 1961 entitled “Skier’s Dream.” The article is all about the plans for the Whistler area and how great it was going to be long before the Mountain was actually opened in 1966.

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“Skier’s Dream” out of January 1961’s Maclean’s Magazine

Dave fondly refers to his collection of items as a “community collection” because not only have prominent members of the community donated to it, but it is largely viewed and appreciated by the community as well. It allows people who see it to look back on the growth of Whistler and see how far it has come.

Happy Birthday Whistler Question!

Earlier this year, Whistler’s longest-running newspaper, the Whistler Question, celebrated their 40th anniversary. The Whistler Museum wanted to celebrate in style, so what better present could we give than digitizing nearly 35,000 photographs from the Question’s archival collection and making them available online to the public?

Our archives recently received generous funding from UBC’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre to digitize The Question’s negatives. The project will aim to preserve and share snapshots taken for every week’s newspaper spanning from 1978-1985. These stunning black and white 35mm negatives chronicle such poignant events in Whistler’s history — Village construction, the opening of Blackcomb, 1982 Alpine Skiing World Cup, to name a few. We felt this collection would not only be of the most use to the community, but also the most fun to explore in its entirety online.

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The Keg hits the road, from the week of May 28, 1981. 

 

When the collection’s digitization is complete, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to explore this town’s sporting events, parades, Village construction projects, road collisions, festivals and portraits of locals from the years 1978-1985. Corresponding captions that originally accompanied the photos in each week’s published newspapers will tell the story of Whistler’s transitional years and the day-to-day lives of the people who lived here at the time, all on one snazzy website.

The Question’s negatives were donated to our institution in 1991. When archival documents are donated to the museum, they go through quite the process before we are able to share them with the public. The entire collection must be labelled with an accession number, put into preserver sleeves safe for photographs, and then entered into our online database with full descriptions. It is at this point we are able to make high-quality scans of the photographs.

Once the collection is scanned, we will upload it to our Smugmug photo-hosting website, so that the public can explore and even purchase the photos for personal or commercial use. The Whistler Question collection will join several collections of already digitized material, including the Whistler Mountain collection, the Myrtle Philip collection, the George Benjamin collection, among several others already hosted on this website.

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We have boxes full of binders full of pages of full of strips of negatives. There are A LOT of photos to scan!

We have finally begun scanning, slowly bringing Whistler’s history into the digital world. The project is slated to take roughly six months, at the end of which we hope to present to you the massive Question collection in all its glory, online.

Happy Birthday, Whistler Question — here’s to many more!