Early Dining, Whistler Style

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The first Alta Lake Community Club picnic in 1923 was a chance for residents to share a meal. Photo: Philip Collection

Whistler hasn’t always been a resort town. In the 1920s and 30s, Whistler was a a collection of permanent and part-time residents on the shores of Alta Lake. In those days, storing and preparing food was a little different than it is today. There were no grocery stores- instead, most food and supplies were brought up on a train from Vancouver, that came once every two weeks. Residents depended on this supply train for their meat and other essentials into the 50s. Since the deliveries were so infrequent, the food needed to be well-stored. Florence Petersen and the others living at her cabin, Witsend, kept their meat and butter fresh in a crock- a hole dug in the ground about three feet deep, lined with planking, which kept the food cool and the bugs out in the hot summer. Some residents, such as Bill MacDermott, used an ice box to keep meat fresh. Ice was cut from one of the lakes in February and stored year-round in an ice house, insulated with sawdust. Eleanor Kitteringham, who lived in Parkhurst with her family, remembers using a sawdust-filled root cellar, under the kitchen. “Later on, we got a fridge run by kerosene,” she recalls. “It was beautiful.”

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Canned food kept for long periods and was easy to store and serve- even on top of a mountain. Photo: Carter Collection

The only other ways for families to get their food besides the train were to make it, grow it, or buy local. Trout and salmon could be fished from the lakes, and ducks and deer caught in the woods. Most people kept vegetable gardens, and picked blackberries and blueberries in the summer. Phil and Dorothy Tapley owned a farm on Alta Lake, with an orchard, cows, chickens, and turkeys. As well, Alfred and Daisy Barnfield ran a summer dairy farm, and sold milk to the locals, which Alfred and his son Fred delivered in a dugout canoe. Many prospectors also brewed their own beer.  Like most area mothers at the time, Eleanor Kitteringham baked her own bread, and remembers making ten loaves every other week. She baked it in a big sawdust-burning stove, which used up as many as eight pails of sawdust a day.

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In Whistler’s early days, trail cooking was an important skill. Photo: Myrtle Philip

Some creativity and flexibility were often needed to get everyone fed. Bannock, was a popular food- an unleavened bread traditional to Indigenous people and adapted with the introduction of European flour and cooking tools. The usual recipe required only water, flour, and lard, which could be mixed together and pan-fried for a quick meal on the trail, providing fat and carbohydrates inexpensively and easily.  Both J’Anne Greenwood and Louise Betts Smith, residents of the valley in the 30s, made a buttermilk chocolate cake with sour milk as one of it’s ingredients- a good way to get the most out of your milk, even if it had curdled. Many recipes were also used that worked around the occasional inavailability of eggs and dairy. Edna Stockdale’s Oatmeal Cookies consisted mainly of margarine, oats, and sugar.

Many also employed some unconventional cooking methods, such as Alta Lake resident Kokomo Joe, who was known to make a meal of soup and toast with his airtight heater. He would set the soup on top to boil, and stick the bread to the heater’s sides. You knew the toast was done when it fell off. Says Dick Fairhurst, “A lot of [people] copied him, but we put something on the floor to catch the toast.”

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One response to “Early Dining, Whistler Style

  1. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of June 24, 2018 | Unwritten Histories

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