A Dairy at Alta Lake

When Alfred Barnfield first came to the Sea to Sky area he likely wasn’t planning to one day be delivering milk and cream by canoe.  After arriving in Canada, Alfred spent a few years working various jobs before settling in Squamish in 1891.  Around that time, the provincial government paid him $1,000 to inspect the condition of the Pemberton Trail, which had not been widely used since its construction in the 1870s.  The result of his inspection allowed the Pemberton Trail to reopen to packhorse traffic and would have provided Alfred with his first views of Alta Lake.

Alfred Barnfield atop Wedge Mountain, with what appears to be a rock pick, while working as a prospector.  Barnfield Collection.

In 1903 Alfred formed a group with a few other Englishmen, imaginatively named The London Group, and prospected around the Garibaldi and Black Tusk area but never made any substantial finds.  Two years later he returned to the Alta Lake area to preempt and clear land on the northeast end of the lake.

That same year, Daisy Hotchkiss came to Brackendale with her sister and brother-in-law at the age of fifteen.  Alfred and Daisy were married five years later and the pair continued clearing the land at Alta Lake.

Daisy Hotchkiss was 23 years younger than Alfred Barnfield, but by all accounts the pair had a very successful marriage.  Barnfield Collection.

As Alta Lake gained a reputation as a fishing destination and summer resort, Alfred and Daisy and their four children (Fred, William, Vera and Charles) established a dairy farm on their land to supply the lodges and cottage around the lake with fresh milk, cream, eggs, and butter.  While grocery orders could be delivered from Vancouver by train, fresh dairy products would have been hard to come by on a daily basis.  At one point the Barnfields kept fourteen cows, as well as chickens and a few pigs.

Daisy Barnfield feeds the chickens with some help from the children, seemingly at the Brackendale property.  Barnfield Collection.

In an interview with the museum in 1993, Vera Merchant remembered her father loading his canoe with boxes of milk and delivering it around the lake.  According to Vera, he made his deliveries every morning, even when the weather was questionable.  She recalled, “He never missed a morning and sometimes it would be so stormy he just couldn’t hardly make that canoe go.”  Luckily for Alfred, he was able to end his deliveries with a visit in the kitchen at Rainbow Lodge, where he would be brought up to date on all the local news and gossip.

The Barnfields moved their dairy farm to Brackendale in 1926 but the family continued to spend their summers at Alta Lake, delivering milk and cream by canoe.  Vera remembered that every summer they would rent a cattle car and load up the cows, crates of chickens, and pigs for the rail journey to Alta Lake.

For the Barnfield children, summers weren’t all about work.  Their father taught them to swim and apparently they took to the water like fish.  The Barnfields kept a horse for working on the land and as a small child Vera would take him for rides, going so far as Green Lake where she would visit her friend at the Lineham Mink Ranch.  She recalled that she never worried about the bears and cougars known to be in the area, feeling safe atop the large horse.

Vera Barnfield returned to Alta Lake in the 1930s and worked a couple of summers at Rainbow Lodge.  Philip Collection.

Even after the Barnfields topped bringing their dairy up to Alta Lake for the season they kept ownership of the land at the northeast end of the lake until after Alfred’s death in 1960.  In the 1970s Daisy sold most of the property to Robert Bishop and Bernard Brown and it was developed as Adventures West and the Whistler Cay neighbourhood.  She gave each of her three surviving children (Charles had been killed in the Second World War) about an acre of lakefront property.

Though there are no traces of a dairy left, in 1988 the last of Alfred’s property was sold and the family can be seen in the addresses of those who live there: Barnfield Place and Daisy Lane.

Alta Lake Speeders

Transportation in the Whistler valley takes many different forms; people walk, bike, rollerblade, skateboard, bus, drive, and even ski in some seasons from one place to another.  In the early 20th century Alta lake residents had another way to get around the area: the railroad.

Speeders, maintenance vehicles used by inspectors, work crews, and other employees to travel along the track, are often mentioned in oral histories about Alta lake.  Speeders could be dangerous (in 1918 John Jardine was working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) alongside Thomas Neiland when the speeder he was riding on collided with a train and John was killed) but they could also be very convenient.  In the 1950s, when there was still no easy road access to Alta lake, those with speeders were some of the first to be called in the event of an emergency, such as when a section foreman and his speeder were called on to transport a labouring Marianne Golnick to the hospital in Squamish.

Especially when snow was piled high, the tracks offered a clear path through the valley.  Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection.

Eugene Jordan, the son of Russ Jordan who operated Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake, spend some summers living at Nita Lake with his wife Lorraine and their children while he worked in fire suppression for the BC Forest Service.  Fire Suppression meant following the train on a speeder and putting out any fires found along the way.  According to Lorraine, “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.”

The BC Forest Service and fire suppression also brought Walt Punnett to the valley in 1947.  Walt had served in the navy during the Second World War and, after being discharged, began working with the Forest Service.  Like Eugene, Walt followed the trains on the PGE on a speeder as a “spark-chaser.”  He was stationed at Mile 83 (today known as Devine) but his section extended south to the Alta Lake Station and he would sometimes be entertained by Alex Philip at Rainbow Lodge in between runs.

These handcars (powered by pumping the lever at the front) were popular before speeders were introduced, and were sometimes used for fun by those who lived at Alta Lake since they were much faster than walking

Walt explained that he and his partner would wait ten or fifteen minutes before following after the train, as “by that time if there was gonna be anything, a fire, it would have got started but not had time to do any damage.”  Most of the fires would start in rotten ties and could be smelt while passing.  According to Walt, the summer of 1947 was a quiet fire season and the worst part of the job was filling out paperwork, which all had to be filled out in triplicate by hand.

A covered speeder traveling on the PGE tracks in wintertime.  Some speeders were larger than others and could carry an entire crew.  Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection.

Despite a quiet summer, Walt’s last day of work for the Forest Service demonstrated both the danger and the convenience of speeders.  A millworker had run his fingertips through an edger and the fastest means of transportation to reach medical care was by speeder.  Walt phoned Squamish to find out what trains were running that day and the pair set out.  Only one freight trains was expected and it was meant to be quite a ways off.  Near Anderson Lake, however, while heading downhill and northbound, Walt rounded a bend and found the steam engine coming straight at him.  The speeder was moving too fast to jump off of so Walt held onto his passenger, threw on the one-wheel brake, and at the last second, Walt and his passenger jumped off either side and watched the speeder flip high in the air.

Speeders have now largely been replaced by trucks using flanged wheels to travel along tracks, but they were an important mode of transportation for Alta Lake residents, especially in case of an emergency.

Whistler Mountain’s Expressions

Over the last year we’ve written about some of the newsletters we’ve come across in our collections, including one written by the Whistler Museum in 2001 and a whole series of newsletters published by Blackcomb Mountain (the Blabcomb) in the 1980s and 90s.  While the museum was closed to the public from March through June we continued to receive donations to our archives, including a few issues of The Whistler Expression, Whistler Mountain’s counterpart to the Blabcomb.

Copies of the Whistler Expression, presumably named after the Whistler Express gondola.  Whistler Museum Collection.

The issues donated come from the 1990/91 ski season, Whistler Mountain’s 25th Anniversary season.  Much of the content of the newsletters is what you would expect to find in a company publication – a start of the season welcome from Executive Vice-President & COO Don Murray, an end of season message from President Charles Young, announcements of new programs (for example, a paper recycling program that featured prominently for two months) and introductions to new staff members (such as Bruce Warren, then the new Controller for Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC)).

Though today many visitors and even residents may not know that Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains were once competitors, there are a few references to a seemingly friendly rivalry throughout the newsletters.  At the time Charles Young served as the President of the Fundraising Committee for the Dandelion Daycare Centre and made a promise that Whistler Mountain would match any donation made by Blackcomb Mountain, who promptly donated $10,000, showing that this competition could be good for the community.

Dandelion Daycare Society president Sharon Broatch and WM Young Foundation Maury Young unveil the special plaque painted by Isobel MacLaurin which lists the sponsors who made possible the creation of the new Whistler Children’s Centre. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

Despite being published almost thirty years ago, many people, organizations, and even events mentioned in the newsletters are familiar today.  In November 1990 the Whistler Mountain social club held a (by all accounts successful) ULLR party to sacrifice skis to the Norse snow god.  In January 1991 Kevin Hodder won the contest to name the staff social club.  His entry was Club Shred (Staff Having Really Excellent Days), a name that can still be found on staff passes.

During this season WMSC introduced Peak Performer Awards “recognizing those employees who contribute to giving Superior Guest Service at Whistler Mountain” (not unlike Blackcomb Mountain’s ICE Awards) and published the names of those who were recognized.  If you worked at Whistler Mountain in 1990/91, there is a good chance you could find your name on the four-page list alongside Pat Beauregard, Ruth Howells, Pat Bader, Viv Jennings, and many more.

The newsletters aren’t all made up of lists and two of the most exciting incidents related in The Whistler Expression featured Bill Duff, fittingly the same person who donated the newsletters to our collections.  One day in December a call to all radios about a pair of stolen skis was promptly resolved when Bill saw a man exit the Express with just such a pair.  He had apparently mistaken the skis for his own and so the incident ended with “one very happy skiers who got their skis back, one very red-faced gentleman who had to wait until his own skis were brought down and one very proud validator who saved the day.”

Whistler Mountain celebrated its silver anniversary with a mountain of cake! Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

That same month, Bill (or “Ticket Validator Extraordinaire”) saw a family tobogganing on the busy run at the base of the mountain and went over to advise them of the danger.  As reported in The Expression, “After speaking with the father, Bill said, ‘Has anybody ever told you that you look like Chuck Norris?’  To which the gentleman replied, ‘I am Chuck Norris!'”

While we have almost a full run of the Blabcomb, we currently have only four issues of The Whistler Expression.  Newsletters are a great source of information about an organization, who worked there, and what was happening in town around them.  If anyone happens to come across copies while cleaning or reorganizing, we would love to see them!

A Variety of Whistler Cooks

Over the past few weeks, while taking some time to prepare the museum to reopen for the summer (yes, we’re open!), we’ve been continuing our perusal of Whistler Recipes, the cookbook put out by the Whistler Museum & Archives Society as a fundraiser in July 1997.  The book brought together recipes from past and (then) present Whistler and Alta lake residents and, by looking into the stories behind the names attached to each recipe, it doesn’t take long to realize just how quickly the area has changed.

Lizzie Neiland and her children (Jenny, Jack & Bob Jardine) came to Alta Lake with Tom Neiland in 1921 and lived in a house on Alpha Lake, where Tom started his own logging business.  In 1923 the family moved into an old cabin at 34 1/2 Mile (an area today better known as Function Junction) where they would live for the next two decades.  From photos of the “Neiland Jardine Ranch,” we can tell that the Neiland family had an impressive garden and even kept chickens and, at times, other livestock.  This was not uncommon for the time, when many households grew their own produce, made their own preserves, and even raised their own livestock.

Jardine-Neiland property at 34 1/2 mile, today’s Function Junction

Whistler Recipes was dedicated to the early residents of Alta Lake “who cooked and baked under challenging conditions.”  This would have included Lizzie Neiland, who kept her family fed at a time when power and running water were not easily come by in the valley, groceries were ordered from Vancouver and delivered by train, and challenging economic conditions sometimes led to the shooting of a “government cow” (deer poached out of season).

There is one recipe in Whistler Recipes attributed to Lizzie Neiland, for “Barney Google Cake.”  Though we can’t find much information on the cake, Barney Google was a character in a daily strip first published in 1919, first called Take Barney Google, F’rinstance, and today known as Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.

Formal portrait of Thomas and Lizzie Neiland taken in the 1940s

Also included in the book was a recipe for “Warm Chicken Spinach Salad” from Chef Bernard Casavant, who spent his time in Whistler cooking in a kitchen very different form the one Lizzie Neiland would have had.

Chef Bernard grew up on Vancouver Island and knew before he left school that he was going to be a chef.  He became one of the first chefs from BC to earn the highest qualification of Certified Chef de Cuisine and was the first West Coast born and trained chef to represent Canada in the Bocuse d’Or Competition, France.  He moved to Whistler in 1989 to become the executive chef at the newly opened Chateau Whistler Resort.

Chef Bernard Casavant, one of Canada’s most noted culinary maestros. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Chef Bernard is considered to have played an important role in turning Whistler into a culinary destination.  After eight years at the Chateau he left to open his own restaurant, Chef Bernard’s Cafe, in the Upper Village and was voted Best Chef in Pique Newsmagazine’s Best of Whistler for multiple years.  Part of what made Chef Bernard (or “Cheffie” as one article referred to him) so popular was his support for the local farming community and belief in using fresh and local ingredients (in 1993 he was one of the founders of the Whistler Farmers’ Market), and his involvement in the community (he was also the founding chef of Whistler Search and Rescue’s Wine’d Up fundraiser).  He and his wife Bonnie moved to the Okanagan in 2006.

By the time Chef Bernard moved to the area it would have been very different from the Alta Lake Lizzie Neiland first came to almost seventy years earlier, but we love that the recipes of early Alta Lake residents are included alongside those of renowned chefs, all of whom cooked in the same valley.

Canoeing through Whistler’s Past

This evening (Tuesday, July 7) the museum will be hosting our first virtual Speaker Series, an adapted version of the talk and film screening with Mike Stein that we were originally planning to present in March.  Though Whistler is known internationally as a ski resort, the film features a different form of recreation and transportation that is commonly found in the valley: canoeing.

In the 1980s there was even a Whistler Canoe Club, which held races on Alta Lake.  Whistler Question Collection.

Canoeing has a much longer history in the area than snowsports, as canoes are important to both the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations.  The Great Hall of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre features a 40 foot long Salish hunting canoe carved from a single cedar tree which at times is removed from the exhibition and taken on an ocean journey.  Learn more about this canoe and others by visiting the Squmaish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, which reopened last month.

The Whistler Museum also has records of canoes being used to transport people and products around the valley for over a century.

In the early 1900s the Barnfield family established a dairy farm on their property at the northeast end of Alta Lake.  As summer tourism became more popular in the area following the arrival of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in 1914, the Barnfield’s dairy began supplying the lodges and visitors with fresh supplies.  They used a dugout canoe to deliver milk, cream, eggs, news and gossip to the different lodges on Alta Lake.  By 1920 their largest customer was Rainbow Lodge, which had a daily order of 80 quarts of milk, 4 quarts of cream, and 2 quarts of table cream.

This dugout canoe is similar to the one Alfred and Fred would have used. It may in fact be the one they used, but we have no records to confirm or deny that.

Rainbow Lodge itself had a number of boats, including canoes, for guests and staff to use for fishing or paddling down the River of Golden Dreams, one of which now resides in the museum’s collection.  In 2011 the museum, with the generous support of the Province of British Columbia, was able to purchase a cedar canoe bought by Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1916 for Rainbow Lodge.  After the Philips sold the lodge in 1948, Myrtle kept the canoe for her own personal use for the next 25 years.  The canoe and aged and, before coming back to Alta Lake, was restored by Dave Lanthier, an expert vintage canoe restorer and member of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.  The canoe is currently displayed in the Whistler Public Library, as the museum does not have the space to exhibit such a large item.

Myrtle’s canoe, pre-restoration.  The canoe now hangs on the wall of the Whistler Public Library, until such a time as we have space to display it at the museum.

The popularity of canoeing continued even after skiing came to Whistler.  In 1975 canoes represented the water part of the first Great Snow Earth Water Race, with cyclists passing the baton to canoeists who worked their way up Alta Lake to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams, where they handed off to the runners.  From all reports, the canoeing was the most fun for the spectators.  According to Dave Steers, “Most of the teams had members who could tell the front of a canoe from the back.  A few teams didn’t even have that.”  As you can imagine, quite a few canoes tipped and those watching got to see a lot of splashing.

The canoe portion of the Great Snow, Earth, Water Race heads out on Alta Lake.  Whistler Question Collection.

Three years before that inaugural race, Mike Stein, Adolf Teufele, Wink Bradford, Ferdi Wenger, and Jim McConkey set out on their own journey by canoe on the Liard River.  Teufele captured their adventures in the Grand Canyon, a 20 km stretch of the Liard, on 16mm film and the film has now been digitized, edited, and narrated by Stein.  This evening we’ll be hearing from Stein about the film and the journey, as well as screening Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard, via Zoom.  Visit here to learn more about the event and register.

We’ve Reopened

Over the past few weeks museum and other cultural organizations have begun to re-open around the province, many with new procedures in place and some with reduced hours and services.  Locally the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and the Audain Art Museum both reopened with reduced hours on Friday, June 26.  Over here at the Whistler Museum, we’re taking things a little more slowly and officially reopened to the public on Wednesday, July 1.

We didn’t have any balloons but we have reopened! Whistler Museum Collection

Our reopening comes with a few changes, beginning with our operating hours.  The museum will be open only six days a week and will be closed on Wednesdays (apart from July 1) for the foreseeable future, though we will continue to be open until 9pm on Thursdays.  Visitors to the museum will also notice some physical changes to the space, with a barrier at the front desk and designated pathways through the exhibit area (we have also repainted some areas, which eagle-eyed visitors will notice are a slightly different shade of gray).  You can find more information about changes in our protocols and procedures here.

Our summer programming will also be starting up in July.  Walking tour season will begin July 1, with our Valley of Dreams Walking Tour, a historical tour through the Village, accepting up to ten participants at 11 am and the launch of a digital version of our guided nature walking tour.  This online tour includes videos and images related to Whistler’s rich natural history that correspond to numbered locations along the Nature Trail starting at Lost Lake PassivHaus (more information can be found at whistlermuseum.org/naturewalk).

Discover Nature will look different this year, with “no touch” tables and much more distance between our interpreters and visitors.

This summer our popular Discover Nature program will rotate through different parks around town, bringing visual displays, “no touch” tables, and on-site interpreters to feature different themes and aspects of Whistler’s natural history Mondays through Fridays.

Crafts in the Park, a joint program with the Whistler Public Library, is going virtual this summer, with seven weeks of crafts brought to you from Florence Petersen Park.  Each Saturday, beginning July 11, we will share a video filmed in the park to share a little about Whistler’s history and lead you through a craft project.  Families can sign up with the Whistler Library to receive weekly craft supply packages and craft supply lists for each week will be shared online so everyone can participate.

We are also very excited to be able to announce that we will be presenting a virtual screening of Mike Stein’s film Highways of the Past:Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard, with a Q&A session with Mike, on Tuesday, July 7.  Participants must register for the event, as space is limited.  Go to the Events page on our website to find out how to register.

Though the season will be different than we initially planned, we’re looking forward to a busy summer at the museum, both online and in person, and we are especially excited to welcome our members and friends again (a few at a time and from a safe distance)!

Our First Virtual Speaker Series – July 7!

Registration for our very first virtual Speaker Series opens tomorrow morning!  Spots are limited for this film screening featuring footage from a 1972 canoe trip through the Grand Canyon of the Liard River and Q&A session with Mike Stein.  Registration is by donation and can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/y6wlw9m6

For a taste of what you’ll experience, Mike put together a preview featuring some incredible paddling!