Category Archives: Arts & Artists

George Benjamin’s Candid Whistler

The Whistler Museum’s archive houses many documents, printed material, films, oral histories, and photographs from Whistler’s rich cultural past, from the arrival of Whistler’s earliest pioneers to the journey of hosting the Olympic Games.  It’s a treasure trove of interesting facts and unique stories that are unapologetically Whistler.

One of the first major collections I (Brad Nichols, Executive Director/Curator) catalogued while working in the archives as an intern at the Whistler Museum in the summer of 2011 was the George Benjamin photograph collection.

George Benjamin, originally from Toronto, Ontario, first came to Whistler in 1968 on a ski vacation, staying at the infamous Toad Hall.  George, on “Benji,” as he was more commonly known, would move to Whistler in 1970.

George was a semi-professional photographer.  His family back in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, and this allowed him to develop his photographs for free – a handy asset in the days before digital photography.

George Benjamin himself holds his catch at the dock of Tokum Corners. Benjamin Collection.

The George Benjamin Collection consists of 8,236 images from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.  Photos in the collection include images of early Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol, Soo Valley Toad Hall, Gelandesprung ski jump competitions, summer days spent at many of Whistler’s lakes, parties, and everyday shots of living and working in Whistler.  This might be the most candid representation of Whistler during this era in our collection.

Photos don’t usually get more candid than this. Benjamin Collection.

Folks living in Whistler during this time would have had more in common with Whistler’s early-20th century pioneers than with the Whistler of today.  Many residents were still using outhouses, had little-to-no electricity, and relied on wood stoves for their cooking needs.  George’s photos capture this pioneer lifestyle, but with the added element of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s – and, of course, people that loved to ski.

George’s residence in Whistler was the infamous Tokum Corners.  This cabin – which was once home to Whistler Museum Board Chair John Hetherington, had no running water, and was often repaired with found materials – would become one of the cornerstones of social life in the valley.

Tokum Corners, as seen across the tracks in 1971. Benjamin Collection.

George, who had access to 16mm film equipment, would often shoot on Whistler Mountain, capturing his days following ski patrol blasting and partaking in avalanche control.  These film vignettes would be screened at Tokum Corners, usually with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing over top to ever-growing crowds.

The Photocell, covered in snow. Benjamin Collection.

George opened the Photo Cell photography store in Creekside around 1973.

He later became a commercial fisherman in the late-1970s.  He moved from Whistler back to Toronto in the early 1980s and now lives in Port Perry, Ontario.

George generously donated his collection of photographs and negatives to the museum in 2009.  The bulk of George Benjamin’s photos are available on the Whistler Museum’s website here.

If you  have any interesting stories, films, or photographs from Whistler’s past, we would love to hear from you.

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Remembering Jane Burrows

The integral role Jane Burrows played in the founding and operations of the Whistler Question, Whistler’s first newspaper, came through clearly at the opening of the museum’s temporary exhibit in September 2017 featuring photographs from the Question.  In the Question, as in so much else, Jane and Paul Burrows were equal partners.

Jane and Paul Burrows with their dog Simba upon their return from their world travels in 1984.  Whistler Question Collection.

Born Doris Jane Burrows in Kirkland lake, Ontario in 1941, Jane moved west to Vancouver in the 1960s after completing a degree in Marketing Research at Ryerson University and taking time to travel the world with a few friends.  While living in the city Jane obtained her teaching degree from the University of British Columbia and, in 1968, met Paul at the Dev Pub.

Jane began her teaching career with the Howe Sound School District (today Sea-to-Sky District #48) soon after her marriage to Paul.  After teaching for a time in the two-room school at Britannia Beach Jane transferred to Signal Hill Elementary in Pemberton where she taught primary grades.  Commuting from Alta Lake, where Jane and Paul lived in their Alpine Meadows A-frame, and Pemberton in the early 1970s was not for the faint of heart.  In a 2000 interview with Whistler Cable Paul recalled that stretch of Highway 99 as “nothing more than a glorified logging road.”  A spot was decided upon by the Burrows as “the point of no return” and if conditions became questionable Jane would decide to turn back or forge ahead depending upon whether she had passed that point or not.

Jane Burrows and her class show off their Halloween costumes. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Alta Lake officially became the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975 and the next year brought great changes for both the Burrows and their growing community.

Following an unsuccessful run for Whistler’s first mayor on Paul’s part, the two sat down to decide on their next project.  They came to the conclusion that Whistler was in need of both a bus company and a newspaper.

Without the funds to purchase the requisite vehicles, the Burrows decided upon the latter.  The first edition of The Whistler Question was produced in their basement and published in April 1976.  Jane was an important influence on the Question, both in what was covered and who was hired.  When Glenda Bartosh (who would buy the paper in 1982) applied for a job as a reporter she had to pass two interviews, one with Paul at the Creekside office (by then the paper had moved out of the basement) and one with Jane at their home.

The staff at Myrtle Philip School, 1978.  Whistler Question Collection.

Five months after the Burrows became publishers Myrtle Philip School opened in September 1976.  Jane transferred from Signal Hill to form part of the school’s original staff.

At Myrtle Philip Jane was not only a kindergarten but the kindergarten teacher in Whistler, a position which held a great influence over an entire generation of Whistler children.  When the growth of Whistler’s population led to the need for a second kindergarten class there was great consternation that, for the first time at the school, students would start their schooling with a teacher who was not Mrs. Burrows.

Jane and Paul were also incredibly active in their community outside of the school and paper.  Both were involved in the Alta lake Ratepayers Association before there was an RMOW, joined the Whistler Ice Stock Sliding Club, sang in the Whistler Singers, contributed to the Whistler Museum and Archives and sat on the Whistler Public Library’s first Board of Trustees.  Despite these and many more commitments, the pair made time for extensive travels to almost every continent (as far as we know the Burrows did not got to Antarctica).

Publisher Paul Burrows and his wife Jane prior to a well-earned visit to the Caribbean.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

In 2000, now both retired, Jane and Paul moved to their dream home in Salmon Arm and quickly became involved in their new community.  They continued to travel, even after Jane was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2012, taking their 60th cruise in 2015.  Jane passed away December 29, 2018.

This past Saturday (April 27) there was a Celebration of Life held for Jane at the Myrtle Philip Community School.  This was an opportunity for everyone who felt her influence to remember an amazing woman who, whether teaching five-year-olds about Stone Soup, instructing Question employees on what to keep in their car for winter driving or helping shape the Whistler we know today, impacted so many people.

Singing Through Whistler’s History

For this week, I decided to write about something that has always defined Whistler for me.  No, not skiing, but choir!

I first came to Whistler with my high school choir for the 2010 Whistler Music Festival, and returned again in 2013.  I joined the Whistler Singers when I came to town last September, and we received a donation at the museum of concert programs, membership lists and song listings from a choir member several months later.  With all this in mind, I set to work scouring the archives for anything that could help construct a history of choirs in Whistler.

The Whistler Singers under the direction of Molly Boyd.  Whistler Question Collection.

The earliest reference found was a photograph of the Myrtle Philip School Choir in the December 20, 1978 edition of The Whistler Question.  As the school had only opened in 1976, this shows that musical education was available from the very early years.

Another Question photo, dating from 1979, shows a group of young vocalists referred to as the “Community Club Christmas Carol singers.”  Various BC choirs gave performances in Whistler in the 1980s, including the Squamish Youth Chorale, a Vancouver a capella group Vox Humana, and the Kildala choir from Kitimat.

Whistler’s first adult choir – the Whistler Singers – began in 1982 with just nine people.  It may have started small, but the members’ shared passion for music would carry them on to become Whistler’s longest-running community arts group.  Welcoming “anyone aged 13 to 113,” it regularly performs at Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve carol services and performs an annual spring concert.

It was an Easter sunrise service without sunshine, but that didn’t stop approximately 80 people from attending the special 7 am service Sunday morning on the shores of Lost Lake. Molly Boyd, playing the organ, led the Whistler Singers who also turned out in full force.  Whistler Question Collection.

In April 2003, the Whistler Singers – now 45 strong – released its debut CD, Ascend.  The album included Canadian classics, folk anthems, traditional scores, and songs in Hungarian, Welsh, Japanese, Korean and Swahili.  Juno-award-winning sound engineer Don Harder lent a hand with the recording and local photographer Leanna Rathkelly designed the album’s cover.  This milestone was celebrated with a release party at the Maury Young Millennium Place (now the Maury Young Arts Centre).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus is another time-honoured staple of the Whistler musical scene.  This group began in 1991 when a Vancouver orchestra performing Noye’s Fludde, an operatic version of the story of Noah’s Ark, sought a children’s choir to sing with them.  Whistler Singers director Molly Boyd rose to the occasion and assembled a group of youngsters aged six and up.  The following year it formally became known as the Whistler Children’s Chorus.  In addition to regularly yearly concerts (including Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve services with the Whistler Singers), the Chorus has performed in Ottawa for the 2002 Canada Day and at events leading up to and including the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (they got very good at singing O Canada!).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus performing Hakuna Matata, 1995 Photo courtesy Whistler Childrens Chorus

Another children’s choir, the Moving Chords Youth Showchoir, was also active in Whistler in the 1990s.  Information about this group has proved hard to find, but it performed at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in the summers of 1998 and 1999.  A thank you card from the choir directors to their sponsor, the Whistler Community Arts Council, can be found in the museum’s collection.

Since the turn of the millennium, Whistler has drawn in musical talent from around the world.  Choirs and small vocal ensembles from outside Canada that performed here in the early 2000s included the Cwmback and Dunvant Male Choirs from Wales, the Dursley Male Voice Choir from Gloucestershire, the British quartet Cantabile and Huun Huur-Tu, throat singers from the state of Tuva in Siberia.

Wherever you are from, Whistler is sure to bring a little music to your life.

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).

Kids Après: March Break 2019

Our popular Kids Après is back for March Break!  This is a great chance to bring your youngsters by the museum to experience a bit of history with colouring, button-making, LEGO and more.  Entry is always by donation.  Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Crafts in the Park is starting up again!

We’re super excited to announce that Crafts in the Park are starting up again! Every  Thursday starting July 5th, the Whistler Museum and the Whistler Library will be hosting fun and free craft activities in Florence Petersen Park from 11 to 12 am. Kids of all ages can learn about Whistler’s history, enjoy a story, and get creative with one of our amazing crafts.

Our theme this year is “Whistler Through the Ages”. People have been coming to Whistler for over one hundred years in the pursuit of seasonal fun- from the first visitors to Rainbow Lodge in 1914, who came out to ride, fish, and sail, or the crowds that gathered in 2010 to cheer on the Olympic athletes. Our crafts this year are based on activities enjoyed in Whistler past and present.

July 5th

The first settlers in Whistler came here to hunt and trap animals for food, and for their furs. We’ll  be making multimedia animal collages, using foam, felt, paper, magazines, tissue paper, fake fur, and more.  Whistler has an amazing variety of wildlife (bears, squirrels, and everything in between) so what animal will you make?

Animal Collage Craft.jpg

July 12th

Alta Lake became a popular fishing destination in 1914. People caught fish of all kinds.  Just like those early tourists, we’ll be making our own mini fishing rods and fish. You’ll even be able to catch these fish with your rod. Design these fish however you want – rainbows are never a bad idea!

Fish Craft.jpg

July 19th

For this craft, we’re collaborating with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. We’ll learn about the relationships between animals and people in Pacific Northwest First Nations culture, and the ways we can identify with animals to understand the world around us. The children will make their own animal headdresses, and participate in a drumming song.

July 26th

Sailing has been popular in Whistler since its early days and Alta Lake residents enjoyed taking all kinds of boats out in the summer. We’ll be making our own sailboats out of sponges, corks, and paper. Just like real boats, these really float, and you’ll even get a chance to try them out on the water.

Boat Craft.jpg

August 2nd

Rainbow Lodge at one time had a stable of 20 horses, and many visitors enjoyed trail rides and trail picnics during their stays. We’ll be making cut-out paper horses with moveable joints. Though you can’t take these horses out for a ride, they’re a fun, poseable homemade toy. And although Whistler’s never been home to any unicorns (as far as we know) you can go ahead and make one of those too.

horse craft2.jpg

August 9th

Whistler boasts several beautiful golf courses and this craft is a fun spin on one of Whistler’s favourite sports. We’ll be making kinetic golf ball paintings, using golf balls to roll the paint across the paper. These painting are fun to do and look even cooler.

Golf Ball Craft.jpg

August 16th

Skiing began in Whistler in the early 1960s and has been wildly popular ever since. We’ll be making paper doll skiers and snowboarders, and using paper and fabric to dress them up warmly against Whistler’s freezing winters.

Ski People Craft2.jpg

August 23rd

Whistler was proud to host the Olympics in 2010 when Canada won gold on home turf for the first time. We will be making our own personalized Olympic medals using foam stamp printing and metallic glitter. Win gold in your favourite sport, or even make up your own!

So come out and join us at Crafts in the Park, every Thursday from 11 to 12 in Florence Petersen Park!

This Week In Photos: June 21

This week in the 1980s was apparently all about the kids of Whistler, with the majority of the photos having to do with the Myrtle Philip School sports day, ballet recitals and the Whistler Children’s Art Festival.

1980

Refuse lies scattered all over the Rainbow substation bin site as a result of crows, people and bears. Council has promised to put a compactor in this location.

The buildings and chairlifts on Blackcomb begin to take shape. The mountain is set to open for skiing this winter.

The female half of the 58-member Kildala choir from Kitimat. The school group sang a number of popular tunes.

Carol Fairhurst (left) and Cathy McNaught plan to continue their education – one in Mexico and the other in Calgary.

A classic example of the Gothic arch home. Though not as common today, houses like these can still be found throughout Whistler.

It’s not clear if this is a Whistler Question staff meeting or staff meal. The best part, however, may be the “No Smoking” sign on the table that threatens those who try will be hung by their toenails.

1981

Whistler’s new mascot (the as yet un-named marmot) shows off for students.

John Reynolds, co-owner of Tapley’s Pub, presents Robert Miele, treasurer of the Whistler Athletic Association, with a cheque for $1000. The donation will go towards funding amateur athletics in the valley.

Myrtle Philip Elementary School principal Alex Marshall is surrounded by his Angels at his ‘roast’ on Wednesday night.

Whistler Ballet students who performed in Garibaldi School of Dance production of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” and “Little Matchgirl”. The performance on Sunday, June 21 at The Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver was a complete sell out. Left to right: Brie Minger, Corinne Valleau, Jodi Rustad, Rachel Roberts and Melanie Busdon; Peaches Grant sitting.

Hot Wheels – Students at Myrtle Philip Elementary School show off their creative talents in the bike decorating contest. The event was scheduled in conjunction with Sports Day which was moved inside because of the weather.

A beer bottle was thrown through the window of the information centre.

1982

Competitor in the First Annual Whistler Off-Road Bike Race soars over a bump en route to Lost Lake and 25 miles of heavy pedalling.

1983

Captain Beckon rings out the good word on the Children’s Art Festival.

Isobel MacLaurin shares her sketching talents with larger artists during one of the many workshops.

Martial arts are also included in the Children’s Art Festival at Myrtle Philip School.

The Pied Pear duo, Rick Scott and Joe Mock, perform with a little help from some members of the audience.

Three Whistler divas (l – r) Melanie Busdon, Jodi Rustad and Corinne Valleau took part in the Garibaldi Shcool of Dance performance of “The Sleeping Princess” in Squamish and North Vancouver June 17 and 18. All shows, directed by Lynnette Kelley, were sold out.

Clearing in by a mile Sean Murray (11) heads back to each leaving the high jump pole standing at 100 cm. It was a dripping wet sports day for students at Myrtle Philip School Wednesday but all events went on without a hitch under the eaves and in the school gym instead.

Champion of the Tournament of Champions Brian Sandercock (right) accepts the trophy for low gross score from organizer Don Willoughby. The match first competition on Whistler Golf Course, which opened three days earlier, was held in drizzling rain June 17 and drew 140 swingers.

1984

The Extraordinary Clown Band was one of the highlights of this year’s Children’s Art Festival held Saturday and Sunday. While the band entranced youngsters with feats of juggling and slapstick, 65 workshops featuring pottery, break dancing and writing as well as many other artistic pursuits took place in Myrtle Philip School.

Harley Paul and Bryan Hidi were just a ‘hanging’ around Friday in between events at the Myrtle Philip School sports day. Sports day events included a three-legged race for parents, nail-banging contest, long jumping and, of course, balloon sitting.

A team of BMX freestyler cyclists added to the weekend’s festivities and gave Whistler just a taste of what things will be like here next summer when the BMX World Championships come to town. Two young performers on BMX bikes travelled from Pitt Meadows to represent the Lynx factory team.

Staff of The Whistler Question, who recently received word that the newspaper has won a first-place national award for the second year in a row, are: (bottom row, l to r) Janis Roitenberg (office manager); Shannon Halkett (typesetting and graphics); Pauline Wiebe (typesetting and graphics); (top row l – r) Stew Muir (reporter); Glenda Bartosh (publisher); Kevin C. Griffin (editor).

Rocking Howe Sound

You wouldn’t expect a pulp mill, a pop-rock band and 20th century settlers to have a lot in common, but in the Sea to Sky corridor you can find the unlikeliest of connections.

In 1909, the Conroy family moved west from Ontario and preempted 380 acres of land in the area around Brandywine Falls, including the falls themselves.  The area had previously been used as a rest stop for northbound mule drivers on their way to settlements and gold fields.  Charles Conroy, one of the Conroy sons, made a reputation working 30 to 60 string muletrains.

Brandywine Falls, now a provincial park, was once the Conroy family homestead and then a bustling resort. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Conroy family saw the area through the arrival of the PGE Railway and the construction of a supply road by BC Electric in the 1950s.  Before the highway was finished in the 1960s, Charlie Conroy sold the property to Ray Gallagher but remained close to Brandywine until his death in February 1972.

The Poppy Family was a Vancouver-based music group formed by Terry Jacks and Susan Pesklevits in the mid 1960s.  According to Garibaldi’s Whistler News, February 1968, the group got together “almost by chance.”  Susan needed an accompanist for a performance in Hope and asked Terry.  The Hope show went well and the two decided to form their own group and brought in lead guitarist Craig McCaw to complete the group.  In 1967 Terry and Susan married and through 1968 the Poppy Family performed regularly at Whistler Mountain.  Satwant Singh later joined the group on tablas and they put out their first album, Which Way You Goin’ Billy? in 1969.

The Poppy Family as they appeared in 1968 when featured in Garibaldi’s Whistler News.

Terry and Susan Jacks stayed regularly at the Brandywine Falls Resort.  This is presumably where they met Charlie “Whitewater” Conroy.  Despite an almost 60-year age difference, Terry and Charlie became close friends and fishing buddies.

Sixty years earlier, in 1912, the Woodfibre pulp mill opened a little south of Squamish on the western shore of the Howe Sound.  Accessible only by boat, the remote town site built around the mill housed workers and their families until the 1960s when they began commuting to work by ferry from nearby Squamish and Britannia Beach.  Woodfibre was one of the oldest pulp mills in British Columbia before it closed in 2006.

The Conroy family, the Poppy Family and Woodfibre have a surprising connection – a song, released in 1972 and only just over two minutes long, named “The Ballad of Woodfibre”.

Terry provided the music and the vocals were performed by 82-year-old Charlie.  “The Ballad of Woodfibre” was a comment on the pollution caused by the Woodfibre pulp mill and the smell that lingered along the Howe Sound from Lions Bay to Squamish.  The first verse encourages visitors to Woodfibre by claiming, “If you don’t mind the smell you can have a good time.”  The chorus begins “Woodfibre, Woodfibre, our little town/You’re turning the water all brown in Howe Sound,” and forecasts the mill’s closure due to the pollution of the water. (You can hear the recording of “The Ballad of Woodfibre” here)

This evening (Saturday, April 28) Julie Gallagher, whose parents Ray and Ruth Gallagher bought the land around Brandywine Falls from Charlie Conroy, will be at the museum for Growing Up at Brandywine Falls: From Resort to Provincial Park.  Doors open at 6 and the talk begins at 7.  Tickets are $10 or $5 for museum and Club Shred members.  Julie will also be hosting guided walks through Brandywine at noon both today and tomorrow (Sunday, April 29).  For more information check here.