Everyone in Whistler has seen the Toad Hall poster – the iconic picture of Whistler ski-bums posing naked outside the squat they were about to be evicted from, but few people hear of the other side of the story – that of the legal owner of Toad Hall.
The building itself (which was not called Toad Hall at the time) was built by a logger, Alf Gebhart, who first moved here in 1936.
In the mid ‘60s Alf sold his cabin to Charles Hillman, a teacher from Ontario who was working in a high school in Vancouver. Charles rented it to a respectable-looking divorced father with two daughters. The rent kept coming in, but as time went on the cheques mysteriously began to bear different names to the man he had originally rented to. When Charles was ready to use the cabin for himself to ski on Whistler Mountain, he discovered, to his horror, that it had become a squat and renamed ‘Toad Hall’.
When he first re-entered his property one of the inhabitants was cooking breakfast and Charles asked him where he was from. The squatter replied “Montreal”. Charles asked him – “How did you find this place?” the squatter breezily answered “Oh, it is known all over Canada!”
Charles could not believe how many young people had invaded his cabin. He felt: “It was as if the entire ‘Unemployment Insurance Ski Team’* had squeezed into my cabin without even keeping the place clean.” On a night of substance abuse, some had even lit a campfire in the middle of a bedroom floor.
The squatters slept everywhere – in the chicken house, sheds and shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor. To finally get possession of his own place, Charles, with the assistance of the police from Squamish, entered his Nita Lake home with a court order for the squatters to leave. The eviction seemed to be fairly amicable however, as Charles even granted them an extension so they could have a big farewell party.
Charle’s last words on the subject are “Toad Hall was almost a finishing school for the young of that area and many went on to be successful entrepeneurs of world-famous Whistler.”
*‘Unemployment Insurance Ski Team’ was how many ski-bums of the time jokingly referred to themselves.