What’s in a Name?

We love place names here at the Museum. Researching place names, even seemingly mundane ones, often reveals unique stories about earlier human encounters with the landscape. Apparently you love them too; two of our most popular blog posts ever have listed the meaning behind some of Whistler-Blackcomb’s ski run names (Why is that Ski Run Called Hooker? & Who Burnt the Stew?)

So we were especially excited with the most recent arrival to our archives: a thick folder featuring maps, name lists, and correspondence by prolific local mountaineer/geologist/Olympian father Karl Ricker, dating from 1964 to the early 2000s. Essentially the file tells the official story behind dozens of mountain, glacier and creek names around Whistler (primarily the north half of Garibaldi Park).

In 1964 Ricker was still a student at UBC and an active member of their Varsity Outdoor Club. That spring, along with other VOCers, he had famously completed the first tour of what they dubbed the “Fitzsimmons Horseshoe Traverse” better-known today as the Spearhead Traverse. (The Fitzsimmons Range and the Spearhead Range extend back from Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, respectively, to form the “horseshoe.” Both these sub-ranges’ names were created by BCMC mountaineers in the 1920s, and officially adopted after Ricker’s 1964 application.)

Of course these intrepid ski-mountaineers set out for adventure, first and foremost. They also recognized, however, that with the development of ski lifts less than 2 years away, these hitherto remote and rarely visited peaks were about to become a whole lot more accessible, and popular. It was time to investigate just what they had to offer.

This exploration, mapping and naming of the Garibaldi Park mountains was the continuation of a process begun in the 1920s by pioneer mountaineers like Don & Phyllis Munday, and especially Dr. Neal Carter. Carter was still active in the naming process with Ricker in 1964, more than 40 years after he began his exploration, cartography, and nomenclature work in Garibaldi Park. 

And so on to the names… Let’s start with the big one: Whistler. The story was already known, but it’s pretty important for us to finally have the official documentation in our archives.

Alex Philip and guest "At the summit of Whistle Mountain," 1920s.

Alex Philip and guest “At the summit of Whistle Mountain,” 1920s.

Locally, the mountain was always known to Alta Lake residents as “Whistle” or “Whistler” Mountain in honour of the whistling hoary marmots encountered by hikers in the high alpine. Somehow this name never made it to the survey officials in Victoria and Ottawa. Instead, this mountain was identified on government maps as “London Mountain,” presumably in reference to the mining claims on the mountain’s north slopes, registered to the “London Mining Group” (they were Brits).

By 1964, of course, high-profile efforts by Garibaldi Lifts to develop a ski hill and bring the Olympics to the southern Coast Mountains were already well underway, As Ricker wrote in his application to the Geographic Names Board,

Despite being published on every map since 1928 as London Mountain, it has not stood the test of time; the mountain is still “Whistler” Mountain to the Vancouver newspapers and to all the advertisements put forth on the development of skiing in this portion of Garibaldi Park. Yet when a newcomer or new park user attempts to find “Whistler” on the map he is faced with unnecessary confusion.

The Geographic Names Board was convinced, and the rest is history.

As for some of the more lyrical names one finds towards the back of the traverse route: 1964 marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of “The Bard,” William Shakespeare. As Ricker noted in his application,

His plays are loaded with a diverse lot of characters; the [naming] committee felt that a few of them aptly described some of the features in the area and that we should contribute to the commemoration of this anniversary. 

The mountains resembled Shakespearean characters? Hear him out:

Mount MacBeth: This hulking pyramid marks “the point of no return” for skiers attempting the full traverse. “Similarly, Macbeth reached a point of no return when he began to kill off his friends.”

Mount MacBeth from Whistler Mountain. Source: Bivouac.com.

Mount MacBeth (the glaciated peak at center/right) as seen from Whistler Mountain. In case “MacBeth” wasn’t accepted Ricker proposed as an alternative “The Fox Ears” due to the appearance of the twin summit. Photo: Bivouac.com.

Mount Iago: While on the 1964 traverse, this peak “appeared to be an impossible barricade to our ski touring party. The summit glacier is criss-crossed with hidden crevasses as well, and as a result the 1964 party was coerced into taking a long detour” (hence Detour Ridge). Later, the party realized that the peak was not so hazardous as suspected, and Ricker drew the comparison with Iago, “a very deceptive fellow in Shakespeare’s Othello.”

Mount Benvolio: The report describes how “when viewed from the north, this peak stands out from Mount Overlord and Fitzsimmons… However, its beauty from afar is somewhat dulled in close up views and its ascent is of no trouble. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the character of Benvolio had similar traits.”

Mounts Angelo and Diavolo, by the way, are not part of this Shakespearean celebration. They were named by Neal Carter in the 1920s. Steep, rocky Diavolo proved a hellish ascent. Its twin peak is snowier and more elegant appearing, and thus earned its name in counterpoint. Ricker heartily endorsed these place names out of respect for Carter, but alo because of their “euphony” (today’s word of the day) especially when combined with their similar-sounding Shakespearean neighbours. (For a great contemporary ski-mountaineering tale from Mount Angelo which adds another layer to this poetic place-naming story, click here.)

There you have it. Who said place names are boring?!

This just scratching the surface of all the great stuff in these folders, there are definitely more blog posts to come. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below if you’re curious about a specific name or feature, and we’ll see what we can do.

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4 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. Pingback: A Clean Slate | Whistorical

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  4. Pingback: Halloween Inspiration from Whistler’s Past | Whistorical

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