First Trips to Whistler

When Hugh and Hilda McLennan first heard about Whistler Mountain in the early 1960s, they didn’t know exactly where it was or what was planned for the area. This, however, did not stop them from buying shares in Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.

Hugh and Hilda McLennan moved to Vancouver with their two children, Catriona and Neal, in 1957, when Hugh took a position at the University of British Columbia as a professor in the Department of Physiology. The family were already skiers before Whistler Mountain became known to them, often skiing at Mount Baker and even thinking about purchasing property there. Despite buying shares in the company, the McLennans didn’t believe that they would ever ski at Whistler, though they thought that their grandchildren might enjoy it. This didn’t stop them from investing further in the area, however, and when Sandy Martin brought his model of Alpine Village to their living room in 1964, the McLennans agreed to buy one of the units of his proposed development.

While we don’t have any photos of Alpine Village from the 1960s, we do have a photo of Alpine 68, condominiums built just a few years later right by Alpine Village. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection

In the summer of 1965, the McLennans decided to take their first trip to Whistler. According to Hilda, the highway around Squamish was still new to them and so they missed a turn and ended up driving into Paradise Valley. After a dusty lunch and new directions, they set off again and eventually came upon a sign on the edge fo the road that read “Site of Garibaldi Lifts.” They continued driving and found another sign that read “Site of Alpine Village.” There wasn’t too much to see at either site, but Sandy Martin had told the McLennans that they could be in their Alpine Village unit by Christmas that year.

The McLennans made their next trip to Whistler on December 17, 1965. It was a short but eventful stay. In an oral history interview in 2016, Hilda recalled that when they moved in, many of the units were frozen. As they were built on a rock cliff, much of the plumbing for the units was housed in cedar boxes above the ground. Before going back to Vancouver, the plumber had wrapped electrical cables around the pipes in the boxes to keep them from freezing. Not only did some of the pipes freeze anyway, but a fire started in one of the boxes in the night.

Hilda McLennan, Richard Heine, and Eleanor Bishop at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club Benefit Dinner. Whistler Question Collection, 1978

That evening, just as Hilda had put dinner on the stove, the water to their unit thawed and began coming up under the toilet. She, Catriona, and Neal were trying to mop up and control the water, but didn’t know where to shut it off. At this point, Hugh, who had been visiting the unit of the Alpine Village architect near the top of the hill, returned. He observed that, in comparison to the architect’s unit where “they’ve got a lovely fire going and the table is all set for dinner with candles,” their place was “a mess.” This was not incredibly well received by those dealing with the flood.

According to Hilda, they didn’t notice the fire until they had no electricity in the morning. She got up to make a cup of coffee and discovered that they had no power. She asked a construction worker who was living in the next unit what had happened, and he told her how the people at the Cheakamus Inn across the highway had seen the fire and come over to put it out. As a precaution, they also turned off the power to the other boxes, especially as some had already shown signs of smouldering. Despite their efforts, Hilda and Neal recalled that some of the units in a different section sustained serious damage. Not surprisingly, the McLennans decided not to stay for another night.

Alpine Village units had another major fire in 1985, though it was reportedly different units that were affected. Whistler Question Collection, 1985

This was just the first of many trips the McLennans made to Whistler, and they returned to Alpine Village with friends for New Years. Though they hadn’t ever expected to ski on the mountain they’d never seen, they became founding members of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, helped run international ski races on the hill, and Hugh even served as president of the Western Division of the Canadian Ski Association in the 1970s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s