You might not have heard of it, but this Monday, March 19 is a holiday unique to Whistler. On March 10, 1986 the council of the day voted to declare March 19 “Myrtle Philip Day” in honour of Myrtle Philip’s 95th birthday.
Myrtle and Alex Philip first came to the Whistler valley, then still known as Alta Lake, in 1911 and opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914. Over the next 30 years their success at Rainbow Lodge helped turn Alta Lake into a summer destination. When the pair sold the lodge in 1948 they had planned to move on but, like many who came after them, they never quite left.
After Alex’s death in 1968, Myrtle remained at her cottage on Alta Lake and continued to take an active part in community life. She moved into Hilltop House in Squamish for only the last few years of her life.
Recognizing Myrtle’s birthday was nothing new for Whistler: almost every year her birthday celebrations were reported in the local papers, including The Whistler Question and The Citizen of Squamish. Myrtle’s 90th was marked by a grad celebration at Myrtle Philip School attended by about 200 well wishers, including her two sisters and nephews and nieces. The students of the school presented Myrtle with 90 daffodils and the Gourmet Bakery prepared a 99-inch cake for the occasion. Presentations were also made by Pat Carleton, the Whistler Rotary Club, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, School Board Chairman Jim McDonald and the staff of Myrtle Philip School. Pat Beauregard, on behalf of the Alta Lake Community Club, presented a plaque representing the newly created “Myrtle Philip Award,” awarded each year to a student demonstrating academic excellence. This award is still presented today.
Given the community’s respect for Whistler’s “First Lady,” it is no surprise that her 95th birthday warranted her very own day. This was not, however, the first Myrtle Philip Day celebrated in Whistler.
On October 13, 1974, friends, former guests of Rainbow Lodge and others who knew Myrtle gathered at the still-standing Rainbow Lodge to remember their days at Alta Lake. Officially called “Myrtle Philip, This Is Your Life” day, the event was described as a “time when old friends and former guests of Rainbow return to the lodge” for a party that lasted from the train’s arrival to its departure. The railway even planned to reserve an “old-time railway coach” to transport the party guests.
The official declaration of “Myrtle Philip Day” in 1986 was only one of the gifts Whistler gave Myrtle that year. She also received a birthday cake, flowers, gift baskets and even a special Myrtle Philip cookie from Germain’s. Tapley’s, which bears her family’s name, put up a birthday banner for the day and Mayor Terry Rodgers made a trip to see Myrtle in Squamish.
Unfortunately, this was also Myrtle’s last birthday. That summer she died of complications following a stroke and was buried in the Whistler Cemetery. The community continued to celebrate Myrtle Philip Day, hosting fundraisers and handing out birthday cake in her honour.