Fall getaways

Even paradise can get stale. Here in Whistler, locals often speak of the “Whistler Bubble” and their desire to escape this bubble from time to time. Fall is traditionally a time when many locals take extended holidays out of town, as the tourist trade quiets down substantially and, if ski bums get their wish, Whistler weather can get quite gloomy this time of year.

Sun-drenched surf retreats to Latin America or Indonesia are probably the current favourite Whistler escape, but Whistlerites are well-travelled people by nature. Come October you can find our locals scattered across the far corners of the globe.

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Myrtle hunting near Mahood Lake, circa 1950s, perhaps searching for a big stag deer like the one depicted on her rather fashionable hunting vest. 

This tradition of Whistler residents turning the tables and becoming tourists in the Fall is older than many might think. Our valley’s original vacation hosts, Myrtle and Alex Philip of Rainbow Lodge fame, were always keen to pack their bags and get out of town once their busy summer season wound down.

The Phillip’s were avid anglers, and thus many of their getaways focused on fishing. They made several autumn excursions to visit their friends Baldwin & Grace Naismith, who had a cabin on Mahood Lake in the Cariboo region of central British Columbia.

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Myrtle casting out into Bridge Creek, southwest of Mahood Lake, 1929.

 

Not only did the Mahood Lake area offer much larger fish than Alta Lake, lake trout in particular, it must have been a pleasure for the Philip’s to switch roles and be guests rather than hosts in this beautiful setting.

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Myrtle with her close friend Grace Naismith and the day’s catch, 1949.

The images span the decades and include a wonderful colour photo from 1961 of a smiling Myrtle (now 70 years young) piloting a small boat across Mahood Lake’s glass-calm waters with vivid fall colours framing the shoreline.

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Myrtle on Mahood Lake, 1961.

But just like today’s Whistlerites, Myrtle & Alex also pined for tropical shores to relax and rejuvenate. Here’s a photo from a month-long vacation they took to Tahiti in 1930-31:

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The annotation on the back reads: “Mr & Mrs Philip with their catch of Barracuda, Bonita and Miare.”

Just like Myrtle’s hunting vest shown above, in this picture the Philip’s once again demonstrate their fashion sense with their striking white outfits, Alex even wearing his trademark pith helmet.

Do you have plans to skip town this fall? Which would you prefer, fishing in Northern BC, or fishing in the South Pacific?

An Ode to the Beaver

A report on the ecology of the Alta Lake region by naturalists Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart-Cowan from 1935 depicts a Whistler we all are familiar with. They reinforce the picture of a diverse and eco-rich valley with an abundance of species of animals and vegetation alike. Today the Whistler Biodiversity Project has documented over 2500 species in the area, expecting that number to be up to 3000 when new records have been finalized.

Despite the whopping number of species in our fertile little valley, there are a few things that have changed since Racey and McTaggart Cowen collated their data back in the 1930’s.

The two men provided the provincial museum with a detailed overview of the species we have in Whistler. This overview included a description of the state of the Castor Canadensis Pacificus, or Pacific Beaver. It states “The Beaver has been completely trapped out in the district for over twenty years.” It goes on to mention that even though the Beaver has been hunted to nonexistence, proof of their lifestyle still exists in the form of dams left behind.

With the halt of killing beavers for their pelts came the slow re-emergence of a creature whose activities literally shaped the waterways of our country. When water depth or quantities are not suitable the extraordinary beaver will transform a stream in a forest into a large pond with nothing more then gnawed wood, sticks and mud. Several plant species rely on such water sources for habitat, so beavers can also be credited to many a saved plant.

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Canada, in the form of a swimming rodent.

Beaver lodges and dams can be enormous. The largest on record spans 850 meters. It was found in Northern Alberta in 2007. It is possible that humans got the idea of a “nuclear” family from beavers, whose lodge consists of a pair of parents, their babies and yearlings. Monogamy anyone?

Their lodges can only be accessed from underwater. Beavers are great swimmers; with an extra, transparent eyelid that’s helps them see underwater. They have large webbed feet, which they use as flippers, and a paddle-shaped, rudder-like tail. Their tail is leathery and large growing up to 38 centimeters. The sound of these large tails slapping the water also acts as an alarm to warn of a predator. On land the tail can prop up a sitting beaver and add extra balance while they are carrying supplies.

Our main industry, tourism has to give thanks to the beavers as well for assuring that tour companies can operate in hot and dry years. With the improved management of this inspiring species we can assure their continued existence and in turn the continued flourishing of the Whistler valley.

 

Who can resist falling in love with this little guy?

 

By Shayna Ross-Kelly

Sailing Alta Lake in 1966

Sailing on Alta Lake is one of the most time-honoured and pleasant ways to pass a summer day in the Whistler Valley.

While mountain biking, hiking, golf, and several other activities might be more popular today, sailing remains a cherished and time-honoured was to pass a summer day in Whistler.

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Sewell & Jean Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father & sister) sailing on Alta Lake, circa 1920s.

It was a favoured activity of Myrtle & Alex Philip, as well as other residents and visitors of Alta Lake going back a century. But it wasn’t until the creation of the Alta Lake Sailing Club, founded in 1966, that an organized sailing community came to be. Based out of Dick Fairhurst’s Cypress Lodge, the same building that the Whistler Sailing Club operates out of today!

In our collection of home videos recorded by Florence Petersen, we have footage from a sailing regatta on Alta Lake from this period. It’s quite possibly their first ever regatta, held in 1966, and playfully dubbed the “Regretta.”

The video provides a wonderful scene of a timeless Whistler activity. With the current blast of pleasant summer weather we are experiencing, hopefully you get out on the water soon as well!

Peak to Peak

The Peak to Peak Gondola between Whistler and Blackcomb was built in 2007 and 2008. The idea for the gondola was conceived so that skiers and snowboarders could ski both mountains without having to go through the village or take multiple lifts to get to the other mountain. The original idea was to have lifts that went down the sides of the mountains and over Fitzsimmons creek but the land on the slopes in between them is unsuitable for skiing, not to mention it is protected land. In order to build a gondola that would not go all the way to the ground they needed to take in to account the enormous costs. Intrawest, who owned both mountains at the time was able to receive the funding and the project was set in motion.

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Whistler-Blackcomb broke ground in late May of 2007 after having to delay the project by a year. Most of the components of the system including the Gondola cabins themselves were made in Switzerland and then shipped over to Canada once completed. The Peak to Peak includes 4 towers, 2 of which were completed in the first summer of construction and the second 2 were added after the winter.In June of 2008 the 5 cables arrived in Whistler from Switzerland and had to be winched down Blackcomb Mountain to the valley floor then up Whistler Mountain.

Peak2PeakposterfinalA total of 28 cabins were constructed and the first 12 crossed the span for the first time on September 19 of 2008. After successfully making it across the span the rest of the cabins were added and the whole system was tested rigorously till the grand opening that December.

The whole system was built by the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group and is the first tri-cable lift by Doppelmayr in North America. The only other gondola’s like it in the world are ones in Switzerland, Austria, France and Germany but none of them can match the scale of the Peak to Peak.

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The Peak to Peak holds 2 world records, one for longest free span between the towers, which is just over 3 kilometres (3.3 to be exact), and one for highest point above the ground, 436 metres.  It can hold over 4000 people in an hour and only takes 11 minutes to cross between the mountains. The total cost of building the gondola came to $51 million Canadian.

To celebrate the unveiling of the Peak to Peak, Red Bull Air Force Members base jumped from the middle of the gondola. Since then, in 2014 1 man carried out an illegal base jump from the tallest point of the Peak to Peak and cause some $10,000 worth of damage to the gondola car from prying open the doors. His accomplice was arrested shortly after and the act was condemned by many.

The Peak to Peak is a great attraction all year round to let athletes enjoy both mountains but also to allow sightseers to experience the beauty of the Valley and the hikes and views both mountains have to offer.

 

by Michaela Sawyer

Grassroots Galleries – Olive’s Market

What is now Olive’s Community Market in Function Junction used to be The Burnt Stew Café and was originally owned by Colin Pitt-Taylor. Not to be mixed up with Burnt Stew Computing that is still in Function Junction. Colin is now one of the board members for the Whistler Museum but before that he began a collection of his very own on the walls of the café. The collection is mostly made up of photos from Whistler’s early 70’s days and includes a lot of local characters. Though it also includes an old sled (that is no longer there due to needing room for inventory), skis and ski poles as well.

According to one of the managers of the market the artifacts inside the store are on loan from an antique shop in Squamish. Unfortunately this means there is no surefire way to know the history of them, aside from the fact they were probably used on Whistler Mountain in the early days.

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Some of the photos on the wall are the same ones from collections that the museum was given as well, including some of Cliff Jenning’s and Jim Kennedy’s photos as well as a few photos from the Soo Valley.

One of the stand out photos they have on display is the famous Toad Hall poster that is the most popular item in the Museum’s gift shop. It’s fun and quirky attitude perfectly embodies the 70’s era in Whistler and fits right in amongst the other photos in Olive’s.

Colin Pitt-Taylor used a lot of photos from his own collection and gathered the others from his friends. He started the process because after the village was completed there was not much left that recognized what Whistler had been like pre-village life; back when the local community was even smaller than it is today and when there were not as many tourists visiting the area. Colin wanted to commemorate that time in Village history and did so on the walls of the Burnt Stew café. Fortunately for the community it is still there in Olive’s even after the café was closed.

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Many of the photos feature well-known people from Whistler’s history as well as friends of Colin and he has a good recollection of the exact photos he hung up over the years. He can recall exact photos of friends that are on the walls and even where and when they were taken.

One of the managers of Olive’s recounts how people often come in to look at the photos and the occasional visitor points out their younger selves or other people they know in the photos. Quite a few of the images have the names of the people in the photos on them, which means anyone who comes in is able to tell if they may know whoever is in the photos.

The history of Whistler is what makes it the town it is today, and you can find that history all over, not just at the Museum. All you have to do is look.

 

by Michaela Sawyer

A Hike to Russet Lake with Dick Fairhurst

While some may lament August as the end of summer, it is primetime for alpine hiking. The winter snowpack is completely gone (or nearly so) bugs are becoming less of a bother, and crowds are starting to diminish.

This week we’ve decided to share a series of photographs that were in s photo album belonging to local pioneer Dick Fairhurst. The photo album contains dozens of beautiful images presumably taken by Dick of the Alta Lake valley and surrounding mountains, in winter and summer.

We will likely share more of these images on this blog in the future, but for now we are posting a series of images from a hike he took to the Russet Lake area, likely in the early 1960s.

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Enjoying the view of Black Tusk (back right) from the Singing Pass area.

 

With ski lifts up on Whistler Mountain still several years away, the main access-point to Russet Lake was via the historic Singing Pass trail up the Fitzsimmons Valley. Even though the area had been part of Garibaldi Park for at least a half century, it seems like the “no dogs” rule had not come into effect yet (or simply wasn’t enforced) as Dick and his hiking partner brought along two canine companions.

 

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Taking a break on the shores of Russet Lake.

 

At this point there was still no formal campsite or mountaineer’s hut at Russet Lake (the Himmelsbach Hut was completed in 1968), but the prospector’s cabin in Singing Pass was still standing. Without a photo of their campsite, we can’t be sure if they stayed at the cabin or pitched a tent elsewhere.

 

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Hiking around Russet Ridge, close to Adit Lakes. The flanks of Fissile Mountain are visible to the left.

 

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Hiker standing on the lower Overlord Glacier. Adit Lakes are visible below the clouds on hte right-hand side.  

 

 

 

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Hiking above Russet Lake, near where the first instalment from the Spearhead Huts Project is set to be built, perhaps starting summer 2017. The flanks of Fissile Mountain are visible to the left, with Whirlwind Peak at back right. 

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On the summit of Fissile Mountain, with sections of the McBride Range and the heart of Garibaldi Provincial Park off in the distance. Check the feather in that cap!

 

Today, Russet Lake is a very popular hiking and camping destination, which can be accessed via the Singing Pass trail or over the Musical Bumps from Whistler Mountain. Next time you’re planning an alpine hike around Whistler, consider following in Dick Fairhurst’s footsteps!

Wrapping up Crafts in the Park

Last Friday the Museum wrapped up it’s Crafts in the Park event that it teams up with the Whistler Library for. The event has been running for three years now. Every year we are given a different theme to base all the crafts off of and this year’s was “How do you connect to Whistler”.

This year we ran it for a total of seven weeks and included a different craft every week. Week one had the kids making foam bear masks because nature and especially the bears are very important to Whistler. Week two was a special week because the Museum teamed up with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center to talk about the importance of the Indigenous history of the area as well as make cedar rope bracelets. Week three was a cardboard tube train engine because one of the first ways to efficiently get into Whistler was by railway. Week four we talked about the Olympics because they were so important for the development of Whistler into what it is today, so the kids made clothespin skiers. The following weeks the kids made screen printed t-shirts from scratch, a pipe cleaner mountain bike and bridge as well as a mini version of the Peak to Peak.

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Some of the mountains kids made in our last week of Crafts in the Park

The Museum had a lot of success with each week and kids really enjoyed themselves each time. Kids were able to be really creative and we saw a lot of great crafts from the kids every week. Each week varied in attendance but on average we had between 20 and 30 children show up each week and had a lot of fun meeting and hanging out with everyone.

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Two of our Crafts in the Park participants showing off their creations

Each week our summer student Michaela would start off the event with a bit of history as to why each craft was chosen and how they related to Whistler and then Kristina from the Library would read a book to the kids after which everyone would participate in the craft together. Sometimes our helpers would even participate along with the children so everyone involved had lots of fun. We even had a couple of kids who consistently came every single week!

This event was a lot of fun for everyone involved, the people who made it possible by helping out, the parents of the kids who came, and of course the kids themselves. The Museum loves putting this event on every year and we cannot wait to do this again and again because we have received a lot of praise from parents grateful to have something artistic for their children to participate in and making something that brings kids and the community together. The children loved getting to make different things with their friends and the help of their family.