Alex Philip, one of Whistler’s pioneers and the co-proprietor of Rainbow Lodge, was apparently a man who had varied interests. Among these interests was a great passion for romance, and in particular, romantic novels. His first novel, The Crimson West (1925), was turned into a fairly successful film called ‘The Crimson Paradise”. He wrote three novels, the other two are titled The Painted Cliff (1927) and Whispering Leaves (1931). Because of Philip’s important place in Whistler’s history, I was curious to read his books. When I first looked them up online, I found Alex Philip described as a “literary embarrassment” by one reviewer. However, another described The Painted Cliff as “a really excellent yarn”. Leafing through the pages of any of these books, it becomes abundantly clear that Alex was a man of his time. Women are weak and in need of gallant men, racial stereotypes abound, and the heroes enjoy unrealistically favourable outcomes at the end of the books.
For their racial stereotyping, misogyny, and clumsiness, they are perhaps not fine works to be put in the Canadian literary canon, but they do hold a certain charm, especially for people who have familiarity with the landscape around Whistler. These books provide a glimpse into the 1920’s idea of adventure and romanticism.
One of the charms of the books is the archaic expressions and language employed by the characters. Remarking on an acquaintance, one Painted Cliff character says, “An’ we crave his company like a fish craves a shoehorn”. As an expression of exasperation one character cries out, “Suffering cats!”
His books tell stories of men who are redeemed and renewed by their excursions into the wilderness. The Painted Cliff, for example, begins with a near death experience in the city, before the main character takes off into the wilderness with some companions. They have many adventures, and seem to become better men as a result of these events.
Perhaps most valuable in these books are Philip’s descriptions of the landscape; his passion and romanticism is clear in his extensive use of descriptive language. His descriptions convey a true passion for nature, and his belief that there was great value in leaving cities to explore the great outdoors. Several examples of these descriptions are reproduced below to give you an idea of Philip’s attachment to the Western Canadian landscape.
The day was waning. The sun blazed low through an ice-filled notch in the valley ramparts, the sides of the mountains darkened into purple shadows, while above the sky was resplendent with vivid orange hues.
The lake was a shimmer of coppery light; a little brook chuckled; a grouse at the edge of the woods eyed the tent; and then with a soft “prut-prut” glided to shelter. A goldfinch caroled its evening song from a swaying rosebush. Standing on long legs in the shallow water of the lake, a blue heron stood as motionless as if painted on a Japanese screen, watching and waiting to spear some unwary fish.
Peter thought of the desperate dirty cities, of the sooty air brooding above the buildings and dusty pavements. Surely it was difficult to keep one’s soul clean there. Here in the great outdoors it was easy. He felt he could stay in this valley forever. Here one could live with no great physical effort or mental strain, far from the harrowing influences of the conventional struggle for existence.
– All of the above are excerpts from The Painted Cliff.