The Mysterious Harry Horstman

One of the most mysterious Whistler characters is Henry ‘Harry” Horstman.  The details are pretty slim.  We know that he moved to Alta Lake sometime around 1913 from Kansas.  He pre-empted two pieces of land – one between Nita and Alpha Lakes and another at the end of Alpha Lake.

He came to the area with dreams of striking it rich through mining.  He mined on Sproatt Mountain for copper, but always had a hope of finding gold.  Horstman had a small farm near Nita Lake on which he raised chickens and grew vegetables. He would haul his goods on the train tracks using a cart he built himself.  Harry would supply fresh produce and eggs to Rainbow Lodge and was of course willing to sell to anyone willing to pay.

Harry Hortsman on Sproatt Mountain, probably not far from his mining claim. Harry first came to Alta Lake with dreams of finding a rich copper vein. Unfortunately, this dream never came true.

Jack Jardine recalled visiting Harry and having bacon and eggs with him – Horstman kept his greasy frying pan in the woodpile, of all places.  In an interview conducted in 1991 Jack recalled:

[…] we’d go to old Harry Horstman’s place there and he’d be having bacon and eggs for breakfast or something like that and he would just take his frying pan and he’d walk over and he turned it upside down on the woodpile, that’s what he did to his bacon grease.  He just turned it upside down on his kindling pile.  And then when he used his frying pan he just picked it up and put it in the stove. […] I mean the bacon used to hang on the wall on a piece of string!  You went to hang it from the wall, the same as a ham would hang from the ceiling, three or four hams hanging from the ceiling!

 Other residents didn’t really get to know Hortsman very well – often referring to him as an odd man, or only every seeing him and his beard from a distance.

Harry Hortsman at his cabin.

Horstman often led a solitary life, which is probably why we know so little about him.  Pip Brock, who often visited Alta Lake, remembers passing Horstman’s cabin on a hike one day and Harry remarked “ Gosh all Dammit. This hiking is getting to be quite a fad.  You’re the second party this year!”

In the summer of 1923 the Alta Lake Community Club held their fist official gathering at Rainbow Lodge.    It was an informal picnic and Horstman was designated as the official coffee provider.  He took this position of responsibility so seriously has actually wore a suit, tie and fedora to the picnic!

First official meeting of the Alta Lake Community Club in 1923. Harry is pictured here on the right carrying the coffee pot, as part of his duties as ‘Official Coffee Provider.” Check out the full suit and fedora!

Although Harry dug many tunnels on Sproatt Mountain, looking for copper, there of course came a time when he just couldn’t take the physical labour any longer.  He retired to his cabin on Alpha Lake.  Eventually he moved to Kamloops to live the remainder of his life in a nursing home.

While we don’t really know much about Harry Horstman, his memory lives on in the name of the Horstman Glacier.  In fact, the remnants of his cabin at the 5300-foot level on Sproatt Mountain can still be found.  Harry would no doubt be very impressed indeed by the number of hikers passing by these days.

Image of the Hortsman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain.

6 responses to “The Mysterious Harry Horstman

  1. Pingback: Hard Times in Whistler: the Jardine-Neiland Family – (pt.1) | Whistorical

  2. Another excellent post.

    Can the story that Harry Horstman arrived in this area pushing all his belongings in a wheelbarrow be verified?

    For that matter, how about the naming of Blackcomb?

    As a member of the Whistler Sailing Association, it was great to see the short video of sailing on Alta Lake.



    • Hi Alan,

      Thanks for the support!

      The story about the wheelbarrow came from an oral history interview, so the truth is as accurate as the interviewees memory. Oral histories are never a perfect source of information, but they add richness and colour.

      Blackcomb Mountain was almost certainly named by the famous BC mountaineer, Don Munday. For a long time the Museum believed it was named by Alex Philip, but recently we have worked together with the BC Geographical Names index and are as sure as you ever can be with place names, that Don Munday named it. Check out the GeoBC database to see more details:

      Glad you liked the sailing video too, we were so excited to find it! We have some archives of the Alta Lake Sailing Club, so if you ever want to delve deeper, come on by!

  3. Enjoyed reading about Harry Horstman…he sounds like a very interesting (and crusty) character. And he couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place to live. I hope to make it up there someday to see it!

  4. In today’s Sun and Province there is an article about the grave yard around the Old Man’s Provincial Cemetery in Kamloops. I believe Henry Horstman is buried there. Dr. Naismith of Kamloops had a summer home on Alpha Lake across from Henry’s last cabin. Henry was getting dementia and Dr. Naismith took him to the Provincial Home for Old Men in Kamloops. This would be in the later 1940ies.
    I remember Henry well as we always stopped to see him when we walked from 34 1/2 Mile to Alta Lake. He always gave us oranges to eat. He also visited my Granny’s place at 34 1/2 Mile (Function Junction). The museum has pictures of my brother Sam and I at the Neiland/Jardine place with Henry.
    On one visit Henry told us the Canteria girls were coming down from Alta Lake and stealing his wood. Mr. Canteria was the section forman stationed at Alta Lake.
    Louise Smith (Jenny Jardine’s daughter)

  5. The Jardine Neiland family lived in Horstman’s cabins when they first went to Alta Lake area in 1922 or 23. There is a picture of Lizzie Jardine and her three children by the cabins. The snow is quite deep. The museum has the picture. Lizzie had not married Tom Neiland yet.

    Louise Smith (Jenny Jardine’s daughter)

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