There aren’t too many people who got the chance to ski Whistler Mountain before the lifts were installed or the runs even cut, but this past week the Museum had a visit from two people who got to do just that. Keith and Jane Horner sat down with our Collections Manager Alyssa for an oral history interview and recounted the times they spent in Whistler during the very early days of the mountain’s development.
Oral histories can be tricky because they do not often come with what some people call “proof”, that is documents, photos or other written reports that support what someone says. The oral histories that we collect at the Museum are often people’s memories and reminisces of events that took place many years ago.
Jane Horner was born Jane Shakespeare, the third daughter of Jack Shakespeare, a chairman of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association and one of the original directors of the Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. Jack was a friend of Franz Wilhelmsen and is believed to have been in the helicopter with Franz and Sidney Dawes while the Canadian representative of the IOC was selecting an appropriate mountain for Olympic development. Her father’s involvement with the development of Whistler Mountain meant that Jane and Keith got to have some unique experiences before its opening in January 1966.
The pair recalled two days in the early 1960s when a small group of about forty people skied Whistler with a man called Peter Bennett. The first day was spent around the base of the mountain but the second day the group was taken up by helicopter to about where the t-bar would later be installed. The skiing about the tree-line was incredible, but once the group reached the forest there was no trail and they had to create their own paths from tree to tree. As Keith explained, there was a “huge variety” in the skiers’ ability; one skier ended up hanging upside down in a tree after getting caught in its branches and from top to bottom took one group member six hours.
Keith and Jane both remember spending the Christmas of 1965 in Whistler as part of a group from Vancouver including Jane’s parents. The gondola and chair had been installed by this time and Jack Shakespeare took a group up to Whistler to see the progress made on the mountain. The group was staying at the newly built Cheakamus Inn when they got snowed in and ended up staying longer than expected. Jack had meetings in Vancouver and tried to drive through the snow but had to abandon his car and come back for it weeks later. This trip had not really been meant as a ski trip so the group found other ways to occupy their time while they waited out the snow. The Cheakamus Inn made them welcome with a champagne breakfast and taught their guests to make hot buttered rum. Bridge was also a popular pastime while snowed in.
Whistler has undergone quite a few changes since the early times Keith and Jane recall spending here, though I’m sure quite a few people in town wouldn’t mind getting snowed in during December. Visits and oral histories like these provide great insight into a Whistler that can no longer be experienced. Though we cannot guarantee that everything we are told is completely accurate (memories are rarely infallible), if you’ve got a tale you’d like to tell, please contact the Whistler Museum; we’d love to hear it!