People of Whistler: Opening Thursday December 14

The Whistler Museum is excited to be working with local photographer Eric Poulin to present People of Whistler, a new exhibit on some of the many figures who built the Whistler we all know and love.  As a relatively young town Whistler is lucky to have so many people instrumental to its early foundations still here today, some of whom are highlighted in this portrait project.

For a chance to learn more about this project from photographer and creator Eric Poulin and to hear their stories from some of the subjects of his photographs themselves, don’t miss the opening of People of Whistler on Thursday, December 14!

People of Whistler will run through the end of January 2018.

Free admission.  Cash bar.

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The Boom and Bust of McGuire

1992 William Jack Biggin-Pound was asked by Ruth Gallagher to write down what he know of the history around McGuire, Brandywine Falls and Alta Lake.

Ruth and Ray Gallagher had owned and operated the Brandywine Falls Resort until 1973 (keep an eye out for more announcements on this subject in the New Year!) and Ruth was collecting information on the history of the area.

McGuire, located about 7km south of Whistler, had its own station on the PGE Railway and has been settled for as long as the area that is now Whistler.  After the construction of the railway, McGuire was the site of several small sawmills until the logging industry began moving out towards the end of the 1930s.  A mall shake mill began operating after the Second World War, employing up to 100 people in the 1950s, but by the time Jack Biggin-Pound and a friend staked some crown land in 1961 McGuire was again a quiet settlement.

“Picnic lunch at McGuire” from the Myrtle Philip Collection. Though probably taken in the 1930s, well before Jack Biggin-Pound lived there, this is believed to be the only photograph of McGuire at the Whistler Museum.

Though most of the old mills were no longer operational, the buildings and machinery (including and “A” frame crane type machine with a large engine and winch, all bolted to tree trunks as skids) were still there, if only for a short while.

Jack recalled, “One weekend I was surprised to find a large flat bed railcar on the mill site siding.  A workman arrived and started up the winch diesel and within two hours had persuaded the “A” frame contraption to ensconce itself on the flatbed railcar, and by the next weekend it was gone.”

Over the next couple of years the machinery left at the mill disappeared piece by piece and the buildings were neglected to the point where a winter storm was able to flatten what was left.

Staking crown land required that $600 in improvements be made to the property over five years.  For years Jack and his sons, Tony and Dennis, travelled to McGuire on weekends, constructing a cabin before moving in full-time in 1963.

Construction did not always go smoothly.  They finished the floor just before winter and left the timber for the walls and roof stacked and covered on the floor.  When they returned in May they discovered someone had used their building materials as firewood.  The timbers had been crisscrossed and burnt in the middle, leaving pieces “about three feet long with one burnt end.”  Not the most useful of building materials.

Jack remembered exploring the area, finding old trails and the remains of an old bridge that once spanned the Cheakamus River.  He also spent time visiting neighbours; during the winters he was invited down to the McKenzie homestead to listen to Hockey Night in Canada on their radio on Saturday nights and would visit Ken and Edna Stockdale who lived near the water tank between Brandywine and Garibaldi.

Santa used to put in appearances at Myrtle Philip Elementary around Christmas time each year. Photo: Whistler Question, Week of December 20, 1978

When Whistler Mountain opened in 1966 Jack worked providing refreshments on the mountain (Jack’s son Tony also worked on Whistler Mountain and was the one to push out the first gondola on opening day).

Jack played a very important role in the area: Santa.  Jack closed his recollections of the area with the seasonally appropriate words: “Never again will Myrtle Philip undo my flies, to the great amusement of everyone, to stuff a pillow in to make me a more portly Santa Claus for the school children.  They all tried hard but I don’t think the children ever found out who Santa was.”

Big Kids LEGO Building Competition Today!

You’re never too old for LEGO building!  Our annual Big Kids LEGO Building Competition is back this evening (Tuesday, December 5).  This year’s theme is “Build Your Dream Backcountry Hut (or Campsite)”, so start thinking about what you’d like to see in your own hut!

Building begins at 6:30 pm and spectators are encouraged!  Registration is $10 and includes 1 drink ticket.  19+.

A huge thanks to our amazing sponsors for prizes:

  • Scandinave Spa Whistler
  • Escape Route
  • Nesters Market

Powering Whistler

If you’ve been in Whistler over the past couple of months you probably experienced or heard about power outages around town, most notably on October 18 when most neighbourhoods experienced a loss of power.

The most common reason Whistler residents lose electricity seems to be from trees coming down on the lines due to rain, wind and snow storms.  The recent outages remind us how dependent we are on electricity today but only 52 years ago using electricity in the Whistler valley was luxury and something of a rarity.

Residents of Alta Lake made do without connecting to the grid for decades.  Ice blocks cut from Alta Lake and covered in sawdust provided refrigeration through the summer months.  Wood stoves and fireplaces, as well as a few oil or coal furnaces, provided heat through the winter.

Hillcrest Lodge was one of the buildings which had its own generators, though the lights went out at 10pm.

Individual properties used generators to provide their own power, though some were more reliable than others.  Bob Williamson installed a wind-powered turbine at the south end of Alta Lake.  As he recalled, “I thought there’d be a lot of wind there, but there was only enough to charge the batteries of the radio, but when the wind was blowing we had lights.”

At Rainbow and Hillcrest Lodges the Philips and Mansells installed generators that ran until 10 pm when the lights went off.  Cypress Lodge, as well as a few neighbours, was powered by a water wheel and generator installed on Scotia Creek by Dick Fairhurst.  Having a generator meant you could charge a battery-operated lamp to use after the generator was turned off for the night.

Even the Alta Lake School had a gas-powered generator for community use.  It ran the weekly movies and played the records for dances, though dances always ended when the gas ran out.

Amenities such as gas-powered washing machines and propane fridges also appeared in the valley, though as Bob remembered, “In those days there was a lot of red tape to put these sort of things in, you had to get a permit, and in these days there was no one to do the inspecting so it was left to this Walter Giel to do the inspecting and he says to me, ‘I don’t known a damn thing about it, just you inspect it yourself.'”

Bob Williamson at work on the transmission lines, well before Alta Lake was able to access the electricity they carried.

Though Alta Lake had no hydro service, transmission lines did run through the valley as early as the 1930s.  Bob Williamson even worked on the power lines in the 1940s, despite having no home access to the electricity they carried.  More transmission lines were put in by BC Electric in the 1950s, connecting Seton Portage (about 25 km west of Lillooet) to Squamish.  It was this project that first brought long-time resident Peter Alder to Alta Lake in 1956 as part of the construction crew.

It was almost 10 years later, just months before Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, that the Rainbow Substation (near Nesters) was completed and Alta Lake was able to utilize the power running through the valley.

Alex and Myrtle Philip were invited to open the Rainbow Substation in November, 1965, even getting to flip the switch.

Alex and Myrtle Philip were invited to officially open the substation on November 18, 1965, and Ale even got to flip the switch.  Today it has become hard to imagine Whistler operating without power throughout the valley.

Don’t forget, this Tuesday (December 5) is our annual Big Kids LEGO Building Competition!  We’ll provide the LEGO and electricity – you bring you ideas and skills.

The Saga of the Brew Hut Part II

Last week we introduced the Brew Hut, first constructed by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club on Mount Brew in 1982.  This first hut was moved and reconstructed due to snow creep and accumulation.  With the reopening of Brew Hut II in 1985 the VOC thought that the saga of the Brew Hut was over, though this was not to be.

At the time, Tim Booth wrote in the UBC VOC Journal Volume 28, 1985, “At sunset the Tantalus Range and Cloudburst Mountain were silhouetted, and although the lights of Whistler and Squamish could be seen shimmering below at night, the cabin has a feeling of isolation and tranquility despite being easily accessible.”

The construction of Brew Hut II, 1984. Photo: UBC-VOC Archives.

In the years to follow, trip reports and articles written in the UBC VOC Journal describe the challenges of finding the Brew Hut II, even in the best traveling conditions.  Perhaps because Club members forgot about the hut or because they were busy exploring other areas, the Brew Hut II went through a long period of disuse.

Nearly a decade after the hut had been reconstructed, the Club invested in new materials to repair one end-wall that had been completely crushed by the snow, as well as new roofing materials to replace the leaky rood.  According to Markus Kellerhals’ article in the UBC VOC Journal Volume 37, 1994, “over 40 enthusiastic new and old VOC’ers had signed up to come out.”  These renovations were completed over a weekend in September 1994 and the hut was once again on the Club’s radar.

Five years later, in the winter of 1999/2000, over 7 metres of snow fell and completely crushed the Brew Hut II.  Roland Burton, who was responsible for constructing the first Gothic arch hut built by the Club in Garibaldi Provincial Park in 1969, resumed his status as an active member and led the Club in their investigation into a new site for a hut on Mount Brew beginning in the winter of 2000.

Framing of Brew Hut III underway in 2005. UBC-VOC; UBC-VOC Archives

Near the Christmas of 2004, the Club began the process of constructing Brew Hut III on a new site that had been well investigated.  The Club chose to build a hut using a new hut design modeled after a small car garage with an A-frame rood.  By the fall of 2005, the Club had successfully completed the construction of Brew Hut III.

Brew Hut III has proven much easier to find, even in poor weather conditions.  The new location has not had the same snowfall accumulation and snow creep issues as the two previous locations and the Brew Hut II still stands in its location today.  This concludes the Brew Hut Saga.

Brew Hut III in the winter of 2015. Photo: UBC-VOC; UBC-VOC Archives

This won’t be the last time you hear about Gothic arch huts from us.  Our exhibit with the Virtual Museum of Canada is nearing completion and we can’t wait for you all to get the chance to explore it.  Huts will also be the theme for our upcoming Big Kids LEGO Competition on Tuesday, December 5.  Competitors will have the chance to build the hut or campsite of their wildest dreams and win prizes for their efforts!

Big Kids LEGO Building Competition 2017

You’re never too old for LEGO building!  Our annual Big Kids LEGO Building Competition is back on Tuesday, December 5.  This year’s theme is “Build Your Dream Backcountry Hut (or Campsite)”, so start thinking about what you’d like to see in your own hut!

There are only 25 spots for competitors so preregistration is encouraged.  You can drop by the Museum to reserve your spot or give us a call at 604-932-2019.  Building begins at 6:30 pm and spectators are encouraged!  Registration is $10 and includes 1 drink ticket. 19+.

A huge thanks to our amazing sponsors for prizes:

  • Scandinave Spa Whistler
  • Escape Route
  • Nesters Market

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.