Category Archives: Beyond Skiing

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

Whistler’s Lakes: Records of Environmental Change in Alta and Lost Lakes

*Due to generous private support, this event will now be offered with FREE ADMISSION

Dr. Ian Spooner (Acadia University, Nova Scotia) is an environmental scientist who uses lake sediment records to determine how development, atmospheric pollution and local geology influence lake water quality and chemistry.  Over the past seven years he and his students along with staff at Cascade Environmental Resource Group have studied the sediment records in Alta Lake and, more recently, Lost Lake.

Both lakes have provided detailed and complex records of environmental change dating back to the 1700s.  Research to date has indicated that both natural processes and anthropogenic influences have had a significant impact; the data provides some guidance for future development in both watersheds.

Thursday, April 11 Ian will be at the museum to show how the lake records were obtained and analyzed and discuss what they can tell us about both the resilience and vulnerability of these lakes to future environmental change.  Local context (written records, personal experiences) is critical to effective interpretation of the lake sediment records and he hopes that everyone who has an interest in or a story about our lakes can attend.

Dr. Ian Spooner (Department Head, P. Geo) has been a professor at Acadia in the Earth and Environmental Science Department for 25 years.  His primary research interest is using lake sediment records to investigate environmental impact and he has active research programs in Atlantic Canada, Alberta and British Columbia.  His secondary research interests include applied geomorphology (fluvial, coastal) and landslide hazard assessment.  He also has consulted in the areas of environmental risk assessment, groundwater and surface water contamination, coastal erosion and has been involved in hazard assessments for resource companies in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.
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The Village’s Oldest Building

What is the oldest building in the Whistler Village?

This is a question we have been asked many times, especially when leading Valley of Dreams Walking Tours through the village during the summer.  While some questions about Whistler’s history have very simple answers, the answer to this one is not entirely straightforward.

Municipal Hall could be considered the oldest.  The structure was built in the early 1970s and opened its doors in 1974, a year before the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed and a full five years before construction began on plans for the stroll-centred village we know today.  At the time the building was home to a Keg ‘N Cleaver restaurant, better known as The Keg.  It was not, however, located in the village.

One section of the Keg makes its way slowly up Lorimer Road. Note the rocks blasted off the corner and the BC Hydro employee on the roof. Photo: Whistler Question, 1981

The original location of the Municipal Hall building was in Adventures West on the north end of Alta Lake.  Over the May long weekend of 1981, the building made a well-documented move to its current location.  Despite its earlier construction, the Keg was moved beside another building that could also claim the title for oldest Village building by opening in the Village a year earlier: the Public Safety Building.

Construction of the Public Safety Building (PSB) began some time in 1979.  During this period it went by various names, including the Public Service Building and Tri-Service Building.  An image of the architect Raymond Letkeman’s drawing of the building was published in the Whistler Question in July and by the council meeting of October 5, when approval for a development permit for construction of the building was given after a public hearing, the progress on the PSB was reportedly “up to the roof line.”  The building was predicted to be closed in by early November and ready to occupy in the early winter.

The new Public Safety building starts to take shape as the snow creeps down Whistler Mountain behind.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1979.

Many other buildings were under construction at the time.  In November new access roads into the town centre were poured.  Photos from 1979 show the town centre as a large construction site with a school, the first Myrtle Philip School, along one edge.  The school relocated to Tapley’s Farm in 1992 and the old building was torn down, taking it out of the running for oldest village building.

The PSB was officially opened by Mayor Pat Carleton and a lineup of officials on May 3, 1980.  Representatives from the three services to be housed in the building (the RCMP, the BC Ambulance service and the Whistler Fire Department) were present, as well as approximately one hundred onlookers from the public, a good crowd for such an event in 1980.  Once the ribbon was cut and the fire doors and flag raised, the public was invited inside to view the fireman’s slide pole and the new jail cells.

The new Public Service building has its finishing touches added and new cells installed.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

The building was not completely finished by May 3.  The smell of fresh paint still lingered and some parts were still in the “dry-wall” stage.  A heli-pad behind the building had been completed only the day before.

The PSB was put to good use within weeks of it opening.  On May 11 a fire at the municipal landfill led to the first call out of the Whistler Volunteer Fire Department from their new home and by May 22 the RCMP reported that six people had spent some time in the new cells.

The new Public Service Building looks sharp with its new paint and brown and white decor. Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

Not all of the space in the PSB was assigned when it first opened.  There was talk of rooms being used as a courthouse, meeting rooms or council chambers.  Over the years the services housed in the PSB have changed, as has the building.  The ambulance service moved to its own building on Lorimer Road and space was added behind the PSB to house the RCMP service.

Spearhead Huts: Whistler’s Backcountry Hut System

Looking back at the construction of the gothic arch huts of the Coast Mountains in the fall has also had us thinking of the current and future use of the backcountry, and what better way to explore this topic than in our very own backyard?

Thursday, February 21 Jayson Faulkner of the Spearhead Huts Project and highly experienced guide Eric Dumerac will be at the Whistler Museum to discuss the progress of the Spearhead Huts, the growing popularity of the backcountry, how this project fits in a more global context and what this could mean for the future.

Doors open at 6:30 pm and the talk will begin at 7 pm.  Tickets are available at the Whistler Museum.  $10 or $5 for Museum or Club Shred members.

Trail Names Celebrate History: Own A Piece Thursday

On Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, names are often used to tell a story.  Even names that began as simple descriptions of a place have evolved over time to share a part of Whistler’s history (after all, there is nothing round about the Roundhouse these days).  Names of trails, lifts and structures on the mountains are recorded on trail maps, in operational lists and, most visibly, on the signs that direct skiers and snowboarders around Whistler and Blackcomb.

The trail names of the two mountains have hundreds of stories behind them, some hotly contested and some documented.  Because we’ve got names on our minds, we’re sharing the meaning behind a few here.

One of the best-known stories is likely the tale behind Burnt Stew, which actually occurred before Whistler Mountain even opened for skiing.  During the summer of 1958, museum founder Florence Petersen and friends Kelly Fairhurst and Don Gow were camping on Whistler and, forgetting to stir the dinner left cooking in an old billycan, the smell of burning stew began to waft through the air, setting up the moniker we still use to this day.

Florence Petersen and friend Don Gow enjoy a (possibly overcooked) meal in Burnt Stew Basin.  Petersen Collection.

Other trails were named by or for people who loved to ski them.  Chunky’s Choice was the favourite run of Chunky Woodward, one of the founding directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. and a member of the Vancouver department store Woodward family.  Over on Blackcomb, Xhiggy’s Meadow was named for Peter Xhignesse, one of the original ski patrollers on Blackcomb Mountain.

A Whistler Mountain trail map from simpler days. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Many of the names on Blackcomb reference the valley’s forestry history, which was active into the 1970s.  A catskinner, for example, is a tractor driver, a cruiser is a logger who surveys standing timber for volume and a springboard is a board used to provide a place to stand when hand-felling large trees.

There are also names that describe something about the trail.  According to our sources, Boomer Bowl gets its name from the vibration that rattled windows in Alpine Meadows when the bowl was bombed by avalanche control.  Windows today may not rattle in quite the same way, but it is still noticeable in Alpine when avalanche control is active near Harmony.

While trail names don’t change frequently, the signs they are inscribed on are replaced every so often.  On Thursday, February 7, the museum and Whistler Blackcomb Foundation are offering the chance to own a piece of Whistler’s mountain history with the sale of over 250 unique trail signs taken off of Whistler and Blackcomb as a fundraiser for both organizations.

Some of the signs have quite literally taken over the Whistler Museum.

Whether you love the trail the name signifies or the significance behind the name (or you just really want to let people know when to lower their restraining device) chances are you’ll find a sign that reminds you of days spent on the mountains.

Signs will be available for purchase at whistlerblackcombfoundation.com from 10 am on February 7.  Signs can be picked up from the Whistler Museum during our opening hours on February 9, 10 & 14.

If you want to learn more about the stories behind trail names, take a look here and here.

What’s In A Name?

The names of people, places and things sometimes change.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Whistler Mountain was labelled on maps as London Mountain and, until the creation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975, this area was officially known as Alta Lake.  Even Alta Lake was once called Summit Lake.

Some name changes, such as that of Whistler Mountain, occur gradually, beginning as a nickname and then changing officially to reflect the popular name.  Others change only partially, leaving enough of the previous name to ensure it is still easily recognizable.  An example of this is The Point.

Bert Harrop first came to Alta Lake in 1920 for a short stay at Rainbow Lodge.  Like many before and after him, his first stay in the valley ended up lasting a few decades longer than expected.  Helped by Alex Philip, the Harrops settled on a point of land on the west side of the lake, just south of Rainbow Lodge, which became known as Harrop’s Point.

Bert has been trained as a cabinetmaker in England and he quickly put his skills to use at Alta Lake.  Before winter arrived, he and Sewall Tapley had framed in a small house on the beach at Rianbow Lodge.  Constructed on a raft of cedar logs and later secured to the shore of Harrop’s Point, this became Alta Lake’s first (and possible only) floating cottage.

The floating cottage on Alta Lake built by Bert Harrop and Sewall Tapley.  Fairhurst Collection.

This cottage was followed by a tearoom with a porch extending over the water.  Harrop’s Tearoom became a gathering place for locals and visitors, presided over by Bert’s wife Agnes.  The tearoom was known for more than simply a good meal; Agnes told fortunes by reading tea leaves.  According to Pip Brock, whose family began visiting Alta Lake in the 1920s, Agnes “did it very well, assisted by all the rampant local gossip!  I used to have my cup read so I could see how I stood in the neighbourhood.”

Harrop’s Point as seen from above the PGE tracks. Philip Collection.

Bert continued building, constructing a cottage on his property to rent out to visitors and others for summer residents, including the Brock family.  He also built a workshop for himself.  As the snow fell in winter Bert crafted furniture in his workshop, some pieces of which survive today in the museum.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Photo: Philip Collection.

Bert and Agnes sold Harrop’s Point in 1948 to Cathy and Ivan Collishaw who continued to run it under that name until they sold it in 1952.  Loyd and Sharen Mansell then renamed the enterprise Bob’s Point and ran it for only a year before selling to their neighbour Dick Fairhurst, who had been operating Cypress Lodge for a few years before purchasing this property, adding three cabins and a tearoom to his business.  Dick’s mother Elizabeth Alice moved up from Vancouver to help run Cypress Lodge on Cypress Point.  Under her, the tearoom became known for its “Hot Dog Friday Night” when a refrigerated rail car bought fresh food and meat on Fridays as well as Ma Fairhurst’s famed butter tarts.

The tearoom and Bert’s cottages were demolished in 1962 and replaced with four new cabins, complete with Alta Lake’s first coloured bathroom fixtures.  Cypress Point became a gathering place for the community, including the Alta Lake Sailing Club and its annual “Regretta.”  The Fairhursts continued to operate Cypress Lodge until 1972 when it was sold to the Canadian Youth Hostel Association.

For the next few decades, the property was known as the Youth Hostel until the hostel moved away from Alta Lake.  Today, the buildings of Cypress Lodge host the Whistler Sailing Club and The Point Artist-Run Centre and is often referred to simply as The Point.

Finding Fun at Parkhurst

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.

Parkhurst when the mill was operating in the 1930s, taken before the Kitteringham family’s time at the site. Debeck Collection.

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.

The steam engines would announce their arrival at Parkhurst to the delight of the two Kitteringham boys.  Philip Collection.

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.

With no stores, Halloween at Parkhurst was sure to produce some creative costumes. Clausen Collection.

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.

What do canoeing and powder skiing have in common?

With the beginning of the new year, we have been spending some time looking back at what 2018 brought to the museum (new records, new exhibits and many new donations of artifacts and archival materials!) as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Each year January marks the beginning of our annual Speaker Series.  We’re very excited to start off our 2019 series Thursday, January 17 with Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard River.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard River containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike Stein not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the trip.

While looking through a copy of Garibaldi’s Whistler News published three years prior to the trip down the Liard River, I found an article written by another participant in the canoe trip, Jim McConkey.  McConkey came to Whistler Mountain to take up the position of Ski Director in the spring of 1968 and began writing instructional articles about ski techniques for the publication during his first season.  In early 1969, Whistler Mountain received weeks of what he described as “beautiful, deep powder snow.”  This led to “Learning Powder Snow Technique,” an article in which McConkey instructs skiers on the proper way to ski powder.

‘Diamond’ Jim McConkey’s official Whistler Mountain portrait.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article begins by defining true powder snow as “very light snow that flies out from underneath the skis, sometimes bellowing up over the skier’s head.”  Once the skier found the right snow, they also had to ensure they had the right equipment, meaning flexible deep snow skis, with little camber and soft heels.

When the skier was ready to head for the hill, McConkey recommended starting with a long, gently slope to practice the “continuous, flowing motion of linked turns straight down the hill” that is powder skiing.  According to the article, there is no room for traversing a run on a powder day as “traversing like a cautious old woman is Taboo.”

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972 (the same year as the trip).  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article ends with hints that still hold up well today, such as “establish a rhythm”, “keep your head and shoulders facing down the fall line,” and “keep your feet locked together.”  Especially useful is McConkey’s last reminder:

Be sure to laugh when you take a giant clobber in the deep snow.  You will get your chance to laugh with your friends when they fall.  Powder snow and clobbers too are for everyone.

We may not be able to promise weeks of powder skiing this January, but you can join us at the museum Thursday, January 17 for a unique look back at an incredible journey from 1972.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum; $10 or $5 for museum or Club Shred members.  Doors open at 6:30 pm, the talk and film will start at 7 pm.  See you there!