*Note: this post was originally published in July 2011*
While deep snowpacks, sprawling ski lifts and downhill dirt made Whistler the international mega-resort it is today, it was actually fish that brought the valley’s first fun-seekers. And it was 100 years ago, this summer.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the Whistler Valley–then known as Alta Lake–was home to a handful of trappers, prospectors, and loggers. Life was rough and the only connection to the outside world was the Pemberton Trail, a rugged path leading from Squamish (then Newport) to Lillooet and the interior goldfields.
In the spring of 1911, a local trapper named John Millar (for whom Millar Creek in Function Junction is named) was in Vancouver selling some of his furs and picking up provisions. One day a hungry Millar stopped by Gastown’s Horseshoe Bar & Grill where he struck up a conversation with the restaurant manager, Alex Philip.
Millar’s description of his secluded mountain valley struck a chord with Alex, who had recently moved to BC from Maine with his wife Myrtle. It was the Philips’ dream to one day open a fishing retreat in the Canadian wilderness, so they were enthralled by this string of glacier-fed lakes teeming with trout. They took Millar up on his offer and made the 3-day trek to Alta Lake that August.
It was perfect. They fell in love with Alta Lake, instantly recognizing that this was the place to pursue their fishing-retreat dreams.
In 1913 they returned and purchased 10 acres of land on the west side of Alta Lake from another local trapper, Charlie Chandler. To raise money Alex returned to managing the Horseshoe in Vancouver, while Myrtle’s family, the Tapleys, moved out from Maine to help build their lodge.
The next summer Rainbow Lodge–named after the bountiful rainbow trout in Alta Lake–was ready to go. That same year the PGE railway, running from Squamish into the BC Interior, opened up, making Rainbow Lodge a much more accessible day-trip from Vancouver.
The Philips jumped at the PGE’s offer of running “fisherman’s excursion” packages in partnership with Rainbow Lodge. The first such trip brought 22 men up from Vancouver, who returned to the city raving of the great fishing and grand mountain views. From that moment on the Philips had little trouble attracting business.
Rainbow Lodge quickly became the centre of the Alta Lake community. By the 1930s the Philips had added 45 outbuildings to support their growing operation, including a general store, a horse-stable, tennis courts, and a dedicated railway station. Rainbow Lodge advertisements boasted that it was the most popular tourist resort west of Jasper.
It may seem modest compared to the excess and grandeur of Whistler today, but Rainbow Lodge and the Philips deserve credit for recognizing Whistler’s unique beauty and promoting it to the outside world. They’re one of the biggest reasons why you live here today (or wish you did).
Alex and Myrtle Philip were the first in a long line starry-eyed visionaries to visit the Whistler Valley and encounter a landscape grand enough to fit their dreams. 100 years later, the Whistler Valley continues to be re-shaped by the Philips’ special brand of hard work and bold ambition.