Category Archives: Beyond Skiing

There’s so much more to our story than just skiing.

Before Opening Day

One of the most-talked about topics in Whistler each November is opening day: when it will be, what the conditions will be like, and how the rest of the snow season looks.  Often this causes us to look back at previous opening days, but this week we thought we’d look further back, and see what the community of Alta lake was talking about 60 years ago, years before lifts started operating on Whistler Mountain.

 

 

Alex Philip stands on the snow he’s been clearing from the door. A fascination with snow and weather was just as popular in the early days of Whistler. Philip Collection.

According to the Alta Lake Echo, the (more or less) weekly newsletter of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), those living at Alta Lake in 1959 found the topic of November weather just about as fascinating as we find it today.  The newsletter of November 3 reported clear skies, a brisk north wind, and snow within a couple hundred metres of the lake, with a chance of flurries int he afternoon.  Don Gow was even reported to have said, “This is the year of the big snow.”

The next few weeks didn’t seem quite as promising.  A lack of snow, however, didn’t seem to be as unwelcome as the thawing ice on Alta Lake.  By the beginning of December, there was reportedly “beautiful” ice forming on the lake, but rain and warmer temperatures washed it away with the snow.  This, it would seem, was particularly frustrating for some “would-be skaters who got their Christmas presents early.”

Though ice stock sliding came later in the 1970s, Alta Lake residents spent many winter days out on the frozen lake. Petersen Collection.

Unlike today, when many people arrive for the season in November and businesses are busily preparing for a bustling winter, Alta Lake residents were looking ahead to a slower pace after a full summer.  Rainbow Lodge officially closed for the season soon after the Armistice Day Holiday, and the fishing season would appear to have been finished.  Bill and Phyllis House, who visited Alta Lake each November to fish, determinedly went out in the snow but reportedly caught nothing, a first in 20 years.

Some Alta Lake residents took the slow winter season as a chance to take a holiday, visit friends and family, or even return home after seasonal work, such as Ivor Gunderson who returned to Norway once Valleau Logging ceased operations for the winter.  Alex and Audrey Greenwood, the owners of Rainbow Lodge, left for two weeks to San Francisco, and Russ and Maxine Jordan, the proprietors of Jordan’s Lodge, left to wait out the cold season in warmer climes.

Many of the cottages and lodges on Alta Lake were built for the summer, and were not always winterized to keep occupants warm through the winter. Photo: Mitchell

There were few evening entertainments at Alta Lake once the summer guests left and the days grew shorter.  The ALCC began organizing poker sessions in November.  Participants took turns hosting, and some games were played at the Alta Lake School building.  Though scores and winnings were not printed, the Alta Lake Echo did give a fair impression of how the games went, reporting on December 8 that, “Last week saw a good turnout at Cruickshank’s Casino.  This week, Kelly & Dick [Fairhurst] are going to win their shirts back.  They’ll use their own cars.  Come one, come all…”  Interestingly, these reports were printed in the newsletter’s “Wildlife” section.

We, and many others, are looking forward to a busy winter, but it was not so long ago that winters meant something very different in the Whistler valley.

The Beginnings of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway

If you’ve ever been out hiking near the train tracks on the western side of Whistler, you know how difficult the terrain can be.  The cliffs, creeks, and rivers running through the valley make for beautiful scenery and photographs, but they can make travel very difficult.  As a result, building a railway from coastal British Columbia to the Interior was an expensive, difficult venture, and it took a long time to build the rail line that exists today.

The first company that was meant to build a railway from coastal BC to the BC Interior was incorporated in 1891, but not much came of it.  Once the Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company (HSN) was incorporated in 1907, however, things really started moving in the right direction.  Surveys from Squamish through the Cheakamus Canyon were conducted in secret by the Cleveland and Cameron engineering firm, and the demand for a railway into the BC Interior was very high.  When a feasibility report was published by the HSN Railway Company in 1909, it was the talk of the town, making headlines in the Daily Province newspaper.  The feasibility report announced that the construction of a railway through the Cheakamus Canyon was possible, and the first rails were laid that very same year.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

The HSN Railway was taken over by the Foley, Welch, and Stewart Firm in 1912.  They renamed the company the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE), and within a year of the new company’s incorporation, track was being laid on two separate sections of the route.  The PGE Squamish Line finally reached Pemberton in October of 1914.  The new railway brought many opportunities for people in the Whistler valley, especially Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Their Rainbow Lodge opened the same year the railway reached Pemberton, and they received a lot of encouragement from the PGE workers to host fishing tours.  The first tours were held in May of 1915, and fishermen, with rods and tackle in hand, arrived by train to stay at Rainbow Lodge.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

Expansion of the rail line continued, but not without difficulty.  The PGE line from Squamish reached as far as Lillooet, but going further was a financial problem.  The BC Provincial Government stepped in, and the PGE received a loan of $10 million ($200 million adjusted for inflation today) in order to continue extending the rail line in 1916.  The money didn’t help much, through, and in 1918 the PGE was forced to default on the loan.  The Provincial Government took over the PGE Railway Company, but, again, building a railway was very expensive.  The Provincial Government even listed the PGE for public sale in 1924, but there were not takers.

A southbound PGE train pulling in to Rainbow Lodge. J Jardine Collection

Despite everything, the railway pushed on.  The Provincial Government undertook a $10 million redevelopment program for the PGE in 1949 (over $110 million today).  It took a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of time, but the PGE did eventually reach its destination.  Finally, after over 50 years of planning and development, the PGE Railway reached Prince George on September 11, 1952.

If you would like to learn more about the influence the PGE had on Whistler, stay tuned for future articles!

Charlie Chandler and the Runaway Bannock

This week, we thought we’d take a look at the life and legacy of Charles Ernest Chandler, one of Whistler’s earliest European settlers.  Locally known as Charlie, he was a trapper during the beginning of the twentieth century.  He came to the Whistler valley from Wisconsin in 1908 to pre-empt about 160 acres on the northern end of Alta Lake.

(L-R) Sue Hill, Kay Hill, Charlie Chandler, Wallace Betts holding daughter Louise, Charlie Lundstrom, and ‘Sporty’ the dog on Alta Lake docks, 1939. J Jardine Collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, pre-emption was a method of acquiring Crown Land from the government for agriculture or settlement.  It was formally established by the Land Ordinance in 1870, and was still legal until 1970.  In order to pre-empt land, a person (the pre-emptor) would have to stake out a block of unsurveyed, non-reserved Crown Land and submit an application to the government.  If their application was approved, the pre-emptor would receive a Certificate of Pre-emption, and they would be free to begin “improvements.”  After appropriate development had taken place, the pre-emptor would receive a Certificate of Improvement from the government, which would allow them either to buy the land at a discounted price, or receive the title for it outright.  Pre-emption often did not take into account indigenous claims to land, and the land that was pre-empted by Chandler was part of the unceded territory of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations.

The Rainbow Lodge property was part of the 160 acres pre-empted by Charlie Chandler.  Philip Collection.

For the next three or four years, Chandler spent his time improving the area he had pre-empted in order to gain title for it.  His move to the Whistler valley was meant to give him a fresh start, away from the influences of “the bottle.”  According to Dick Fairhurst, Chandler though the best method to solve such a problem was “to get the hell away – out in the woods, some place it [alcohol] wouldn’t be too handy.”

He also spent his time working on his trap lines, which ran along Wedge Creek all the way to Wedge Pass, and about 1.5 km down Billy Goat Creek on the Lillooet divide.  He occasionally made money taking people on hunting trips along his trap lines, as well, which is how one of his many colourful stories came about.

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

One night, while guiding Alex Philip on a hunting trip, Chandler was cooking his typical fare of bannock for dinner.  The camp they had pitched sat at the top of a steep slope, and when Chandler tried to flip the bannock over in his frying pan, he missed.  The unfortunate bannock flew out of the pan and went cartwheeling down the ridge.  Chandler, the determined man that he was, went chasing after it.  The bannock put up a bit of a fight, it seems, but eventually, with a well-placed stomp, Chandler caught his dinner.  By the time he made it back up to the camp, the bannock looked more than a little worse for wear.  Chandler, however, just looked at the messy ball of dough and said, “You look a little dirty, but we’re eating you anyway.”

Chandler sold ten acres of land to Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1913, which they would quickly turn into the famed Rainbow Lodge property.  Chandler himself moved further north along Alta Lake to settle in the area now known as Alpine Meadows.  He built his homestead there, where he lived until passing away peacefully on his porch in the winter of 1946.

Feeding the Spirit 2019

The Whistler Museum, with the support of Whistler’s Creekside Market and the Whistler Community Services Society, will again be hosting Feeding the Spirit as part of Connect Whistler!

Each year we invite newcomers to town (as well as anyone who wishes to join us) for some free food and to explore our exhibits.  Feeding the Spirit aims to provide a sense of place and community, as well as a general knowledge of Whistler’s past.  With free admission, Whistler trivia, and prizes donated by local businesses, everyone is encouraged to learn about our town’s unique history!

Trick or Treating at Tapley’s

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Legends of Whistler… tell the stories last week!

Quite a few of the stories took us back to a time when Whistler was much smaller, and had us thinking about how Whistler has grown over the last few decades.  This growth can be seen in almost every aspect of the community, including the celebration of Halloween.

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

Tapley’s Farm has been a popular place to spend Halloween since the 1980s.  What had begun as an idea in a real estate office in 1979 had (with a lot of hard work) become a neighbourhood by the mid-1980s.

According to Francois Lepine, this neighbourhood was different from other subdivisions in Whistler in that, “It was the only subdivision that looked exactly the same on a Saturday night or a Wednesday night.”

John Robinson puts final touches on his MDC home with help of wife Diane and daughter Kristal.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Tapley’s was lived in by full-time residents, while other subdivisions had a mix of residents and second-home owners.  This made Tapley’s Farm an ideal area for trick or treating.

Like most traditions in Whistler, Halloween in Tapley’s began as an unofficial neighbourhood event.  In 1985, the decision was made to close the streets to cars during the evening so that kids could trick or treat without worry.  This was so successful that the neighbours continued putting up roadblocks and families from other subdivisions came and joined in the fun.

Houses received more than 100 trick or treaters in 1986, and Lee Bennett, a Tapley’s resident who organized the event in 1987, expected about 125 as the populations of the valley grew.  By this time, donations of candy were sought from those bringing their kids to the neighbourhood to lessen the cost for residents of Tapley’s.

Donated candy is sorted and then distributed throughout Tapley’s Farm. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Bennett attributed the popularity of Tapley’s to both the proportion of occupied houses and the layout of the houses.  As she told The Whistler Question, “They also don’t have to climb 100 stairs like in some other subdivisions.  It’s easy for the children to get around.”

By the mid-1990s, more than 600 kids were trick or treating in Tapley’s Farm annually and it had become known as Whistler’s “designated haunted neighbourhood.”

A trick or treater heads down Easy Street. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Residents took an active part, decorating their houses and handing out treats in costume.  A competition had even been introduced for the best decorated house.  Donations of candy for the event could be dropped off at Myrtle Philip School, the Whistler Children’s Centre, or at the house of one of the organizers.

A fireworks display in the lower field, presented by Whistler firefighters and Nesters Market, was the grand finale of the evening.  According to Keith Mellor, one of the firefighters who volunteered for the show, more than 1,000 people were expected to attend the fireworks in 1998, as Halloween fell on a Saturday and Tapley’s was expected to attract Vancouver visitors as well as Whistler residents.

Crowds gather on the field for the Tapley’s Farm Halloween fireworks display. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

As the full-time population of Whistler has grown over the last 30 years, other neighbourhoods have started hosting their own Halloween trick or treating, including Millar’s Pond and Cheakamus Crossing.  New traditions have developed, such as the annual Cheakamus Zombie Walk.

As of last week, however, Halloween at Tapley’s Farm is still going strong.

The Village that Could Have Been

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been working on our temporary exhibit Construction of Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984, we’ve also been thinking about Whistler Village could have looked like if earlier proposals had gone forward.  Before development of the village we know today began in earnest in 1978, town centres for the Whistler area were proposed in various different styles and locations.  Three of the earliest of these plans predated the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and were proposed by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA), purpose designed to host the Olympic Winter Games.

GODA first put forth an Olympic bid in 1963, with hopes of hosting the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.  At the time, they proposed to build a town centre at the base of the lifts planned for Whistler Mountain, today’s Creekside.  This idea of a planned town centre continued to be developed by further bids.

In 1968, GODA submitted a bid to host the 1972 Olympic Winter Games.  The plans from this bid placed the town centre at the same location as today’s Whistler Village.  According to a painting currently on display at the Whistler Museum, this town centre would have included a large plaza area with a view of the proposed ski jumps on Whistler Mountain, an airport, and a landing area for helicopters, as well as lodgings and retail spaces.

The proposed town centre for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, as they imagined it would have bee seen by skiers. GODA

Neither bid was successful, in part because Whistler Mountain had not yet become firmly established as a ski resort.  By 1970, however, when GODA was putting forth a bid for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, Whistler Mountain had become better known and the available amenities had increased significantly since 1963.  Garibaldi/Vancouver was selected by the Canadian Olympic Committee as Canada’s official national bid for 1976 and a full IOC bid was developed.  This has left behind lots of official material that gives insight into the Canadian Olympic organizers and their vision of the Whistler areas as an Olympic venue, including architectural drawings for a proposed town centre in the official 1976 Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book.

Some of the elements envisioned in the architectural drawings done for the 1976 Olympic Winter Games. GODA

According to the bid book, a prominent selling point for this proposal was the idea of a single-host area, with all events held within four kilometres of the town centre at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

The town centre envisioned in the bid book is not too different from the 1972 bid.  Ski Jump Plaza provided views of the ski jumps on Whistler Mountain and was accessible through a pedestrian concourse.  The concourse was to be lined on either side by tall, angular buildings and lifts beginning at the concourse would carry skiers and spectators up the hill.  Close by would be an ice rink, biathlon course and other Olympic venues.

The ski jump planned for the base of Whistler Museum. GODA

The proposed town site for the 1976 Games was very different from the village that was designed just eight years later, but certain elements, such as a focus on pedestrians and lift access to Whistler Mountain are defining features of the village we know today.

We’ll be learning more about how Whistler Village came to be this Thursday (October 24) during the first of a three-part storytelling event on Whistler’s history.  You can find more information about the Legends of Whistler event here.

Legends of Whistler… tell the stories

We are incredibly excited to announce a three part speaker series cohosted with the Whistler Public Library and the RMOW!

Over three days, twelve very special guests will be sharing their own stories and knowledge of Whistler’s history, including the development of the mountains and the creation of Whistler Village.  Each event is free to attend.