We’ve written quite a bit about Parkhurst and life at the mill before, and often these stories tell of the challenges that came with daily life on Green Lake in the ’30s to ’50s. Some of these challenges included the isolation, lack of running water, or the need to haul buckets of sawdust in order to keep the stove going. For children such as Ron and Jim Kitteringham, living at Parkhurst also meant a long commute to and from the Alta Lake School.
According to the mother Eleanor, however, life at Parkhurst also had its share of entertainment and fun.
The Pacific Great Eastern Railway may not have been the most convenient method of travel through the valley, but it did provide some excitement for young children at the mill site. When the Kitteringhams first came to Parkhurst most of the trains were steam engines, or “steamers”. The engineers would blow the whistle on their approach to Parkhurst and Ron and Jim would run out to wave, even during supper.
Later, the “steamers” started to replaced by diesel engines, which, though a lot louder, continued to announce their arrival.
Despite all the whistles of trains, Eleanor described life at Parkhurst as peaceful, lacking the traffic or crowds of a city.
Without more common forms of entertainment, such as television, the Kitteringhams spent time listening to their battery-powered radio and shows such as The Shadow and the racing programs. While the family enjoyed the radio programs, Eleanor regretted the lack of Sesame Street and other educational shows when she thought back on teaching her children.
The journey from Vancouver, though it could be long and inconveniently timed (the train only ran north on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), was also a chance for a social occasion. After taking the steamship to Squamish, the Kitteringhams and other passengers would have time to head to the Squamish Hotel for a 10-cent glass of beer, ice cream for the kids, and a chance to chat until the train headed out.
More social gatherings around Parkhurst happened each summer and fall.
In the summer, the logging camps played regular baseball games at what was then Charlie Lundstrom’s farm at the end of Green Lake, an area that today is still full of mosquitoes and long grass. Parkhurst even had a building used as a community hall where families and other workers could gather.
The last big “do” of the year that families would attend was usually Halloween. As Eleanor recalled, the lack of stores to buy costumes meant coming up with some pretty ingenious outfits. After Halloween most of the families would leave Parkhurst for the winter.
Neighbours could be scarce at Parkhurst, especially in the winter when the Kitteringhams were often the only family left at the mill. Parkhurst was located at Mile 43 and some evening the Kitteringhams would walk over to Mile 45 for a “musical evening” with the Greens. Bob Green would play first fiddle, Olie Kitteringham second, and Helen Green would play the banjo while Eleanor played the kettle drum.
They even formed a band, the Valley Ramblers, and played for benefit concerts to raise money for the Squamish Hospital.
Daily life at Parkhurst and Alta Lake did come with challenges, but the people who lived here also made sure to enjoy themselves, whether listening to radio shows, playing sports or simply spending time with their neighbours.
My first trip to Whistler (then Alta Lake) was in 1956. I was six years old. I’m pretty sure the trains then were still steam, because I remember at the back of the train, there was an open “observation car” (more of a flatcar with sides and bench seats). If you sat out there long, your skin would be all grimy from the smoke, and I remember once getting a cinder in my eye that my mother had to attend to. The train also had a dining car, and I remember them serving homemade pies – cherry and lemon meringue were my favorites. The passenger cars were single compartments with a wood stove at one end. They were wood paneled with lots of chrome hooks and luggage rails (which, if the train were full, we children would lie in. It was a slow journey, and many of the adult passengers passed the time partying. I remember once the train stopping in the middle of nowhere and the conductor putting off a particularly obstreperous passenger to fend for himself. There was also the night a trestle in the Cheakamus canyon was badly damaged by flooding. The engineer decided it would not bear the weight of the train, so another train was brought up from Squamish (or by that time, it might have been North Vancouver), and we, the passengers, were all ferried across the trestle in the middle of the night by speeder.
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