Category Archives: Beyond Skiing

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

A Glimpse into the Don MacLaurin Collection

As with many newcomers, I only know the basics of Whistler’s history when I moved here, and I hadn’t even though about the influence forestry has had – and still has – on the community, development, and economy of the area.  I have been working on the Don MacLaurin archival collection for the past few months, and it has shown me an important side of Whistler that I may not have discovered otherwise.  I know more now about forestry and sustainable ecology than I ever could have imagined, and it’s becoming very clear to me just how much MacLaurin and the rest of Whistler’s fantastic long-term residents have shaped the way the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has developed.

For those of you who don’t know, MacLaurin was instrumental in the promotion of sustainable forestry and recreation within the RMOW and the Sea to Sky corridor.  He spent many years – decades, in fact – working on the development and maintenance of the Whistler Interpretive Forest, from creating interpretive signs and self-guided tour pamphlets, to organizing the installation of a suspension bridge over the Cheakamus River.  That suspension bridge is now known as MacLaurin’s Crossing in his honour.

Members of the Whistler Rotary Club working to fill remaining orders are, left to right: Bill Wallace, Don MacLaurin, Bob Brown, Paul Burrows, Richard Heine, Brian Brown, Sid Young and a visiting Rotarian from New Zealand. Whistler Question Collection.

MacLaurin also acted as a consultant for many other projects in the region, and was very involved in the Whistler Arbour Day Committee during the 1990s, which was responsible for organizing tree planting events and other environmental awareness activities during National Forest Week.

I could go on listing MacLaurin’s many accomplishments, but there’s not enough room for that in this article.  These are only a few of the many roles he took on (the entirety of his résumé could fill a very interesting book, I’m sure) and the documents in his archival collection are a brilliant, detailed illustration of his extensive involvement.

Among the donations from the MacLaurins over the years are a series of photos of the “highway” between Squamish and Whistler around 1959. MacLaurin Collection.

Archival collections (and donations to the archives, of course) are extremely important in the preservation of a community’s history, especially in a place as flowing and dynamic as Whistler.  Collections like MacLaurin’s are an invaluable resource for researching the industries, events, and programs that have influenced Whistler, even in recent history.

As of 2017, 23 per cent of British Columbia’s exports were forestry-related, so the documents in this particular collection are not only invaluable to the history of Whistler, but they also provide an important insight into the history of the province.  MacLaurin’s collection is a wealth of information on sustainable forest management that will aid forestry researchers for decades to come, and this is only one of the many magnificent collections housed within the Whistler Museum and Archives.

Don MacLaurin, Isobel MacLaurin and friends hiking in the mountains. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

If you’re interested in learning more about MacLaurin and his dazzling wife, Isobel, I would highly recommend checking out Pique’s online articles, as well as articles on this blog and the Arts Whistler website.  They are easily accessible through a search on each organization’s website, and paint a beautiful picture of these lovely Whistler locals.

Hailey Schmitke is the current Collections Coordinator summer student at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She recently received a Bachelor of Arts from Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Archaeology and Religious Studies.

The 2019 Building Competition with LEGO Bricks!

Back by popular demand (and because it’s just so fun!), this year will mark the 23rd Annual Building Competition with LEGO Bricks!

This year’s theme is “What makes Whistler awesome to me?”  Basically, you can build anything that you thinks makes Whistler awesome.  Maybe you think bears are awesome, or marmot, or fishing, hiking, skiing or biking – anything you think is awesome goes!

Every participant will walk away with a treat-filled goody bag and you might even win one of our amazing prizes, generously donated by Whistler businesses!

The competition will be held on Saturday, August 10 from 2-4pm.  In Florence Petersen Park.  Kids ages 3 and up are welcome!

We fill up every year, so register now!  $10 per kid, payable by cash or credit.  Contact us at 604-932-2019 or events [@] whistlermuseum.org.

Opening the Delta Mountain Inn

A while ago the museum received a donation of a scrapbook from the Fairmont Chateau detailing the construction and opening of what is still Whistler’s largest hotel.  Before the Chateau, however, another big hotel built in Whistler opened July 23, 1982: the Delta Mountain Inn.

Mountain Inn – as it’s been for two months. New construction should start soon.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The planning process for the Mountain Inn began 40 years ago as Whistler Village was just beginning to take shape.  The hotel was the dream of Peter Gregory of Maple Leaf Developments Ltd., the owners and developers of the property.  Gregory’s previous experience lay mostly in the lumber and sawmill industry and the Mountain Inn was his first foray into the hotel industry.

The foundations for this $25 million project were poured in 1980, while Gregory was still selling the idea to Delta Hotels.  The brand was initially skeptical about the project because of the strata title ownership structure of most hotels in Whistler.  Delta was concerned the restricted use of the unit owners would disrupt the smooth operation of a hotel but were convinced to come on board over the course of two years.

In the spring of 1982, when the Delta Mountain Inn was nearing completion, the Whistler Question reported the project to be the “largest building ever constructed at Whistler.”  The building included retail space, five conference rooms, ski storage, tennis courts, two whirlpools, an exercise room, an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant named Twigs, an “entertainment lounge” called Stumps, and more than 160 hotel suites.

The Twigs patio at the Delta Mountain Inn looks busy on a sunny summer afternoon.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

The suites were categorized into three different layouts.  The A suites consisted of a single room with kitchen, living and sleeping areas; B suites included a separate bedroom and six foot jacuzzi; nine C suites featured a bedroom, separate dining area, two fireplaces, and a double jacuzzi.  One owner paid $600,000 (just under $1.5 million today when adjusted for inflation) for the creation of a D suite, a 2800 sq ft combination of a B and a C suite with a few walls removed.

John Pope, the Mountain Inn’s first general manager, described opening a new hotel as similar to a ship’s maiden voyage.  The first few weeks are full of learning experiences and then it is “full steam ahead.”  Over the spring and summer of 1982, Pope had the task of hiring and training a full staff to service the hotel and the customers who had already booked nights.  Staff from other Delta hotels were to be loaned to the Mountain Inn for the first week of operations, but after that they were on their own.

One of the first customers makes an inquiry at the reception desk of the newly opened Delta Mountain Inn last Friday.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Though the opening of the Delta Mountain Inn was counted as a great success, the summer of 1982 was not the easiest time for Whistler.  The opening took place the same week that the sudden wind down of the Whistler Village Land Co. made headlines in Vancouver, headlines that would reportedly “make one think the gates to Whistler have been locked forever and someone has thrown away the key.”  Whistler was feeling the effects of an international recession, including high interest rates, inflation and high rates of unemployment across Canada.

Despite the timing, people in Whistler were optimistic.  When asked by the Question what they thought of the opening, local residents Lance Fletcher, Keith Inkster and Don Beverley all expected the convention facilities and nationally recognized name to help drive business to the resort.  Their expectations proved correct over the following years and in 1987 a $13 million second phase of the development was built, including 126 more suites, new tennis courts and expanded retail and commercial space.  This expansion completed the structure that is such a familiar view in Mountain Square today.

Getting Fit (& Fun) at Myrtle Philip

Opportunities for continued learning and recreational programming are not always abundant in small communities.  This was especially true before the internet made distance learning and online tutorials commonplace.  In the 1970s and 80s in Whistler, Myrtle Philip Elementary School was the site of learning for more than just school aged kids.

An adult education department began running out of Myrtle Philip School after the school opened in 1976.  It offered various classes and programs, mainly in the evenings, to those living in the area.  Looking at the summer programs offered in 1981, it would seem that there was high demand among the local population for sports and fitness related programming.

Programming in the Myrtle Philip School gym included drop-in sports, including basketball and volleyball. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

That summer, seven different activities were offered out of the school, including gardening, French lessons, basketball, tennis, and karate once or twice a week.  The most popular and frequent classes were named Fun & Fit and Superfit, occurring a total of seven time weekly, almost enough to fulfill the small community’s “seemingly insatiable need for fitness classes.”

The classes were run by instructors Sue Worden and Susie Mortensen, who began the program in the fall of 1980.  According to the Squamish Citizen, the popularity of the program was “overwhelming” and it was regularly attended by at least thirty to forty people, including a core group of five to ten men.  By adding later time slots, the class hoped to increase those numbers even further.  Debbie Cook, the adult education coordinator, attributed the program’s success to its instructors and “the enthusiasm and dedication they have infused into the participants.”

Sue Worden of Body Works puts a group of Corporate Cup die-hards through the paces in Village Square Saturday. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

For $2 (or $10 for ten sessions) participants could engage in an hour-long exercise class including stretches, aerobics, and strengthening exercises.  In 1982 Sue Cameron wrote a review of the program for the Citizen, describing it as a great opportunity to get in shape for the ski season.  According to Cameron, the class began with fifteen minutes of stretching and warming up before turning to twenty minutes of “sweat-out time, running and hopping on the spot intermingled with subtle stretching exercises.”  Pushups and sit ups were followed by another period of stretching, this time concentrating on breathing “so as to get the most out of the pain you just went through.”  All of this was, of course, set to modern music of the 1980s.

Classes were offered daily Monday through Friday, meaning that “if you can walk the next day you can do it again!”

Action! Fitness instructor Sue Worden pedals her heart out for Action BC testing Saturday, March 6 while Kevin Ponnock, fitness consultant, records pulse rate. The government-sponsored program includes flexibility training and a diet analysis so that participants can asses their fitness level. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The demand for fitness programs was not just for the adults 0f Whistler.  Kindergym, a weekly class of basic gym activities and occasional handicrafts sponsored by the Alta Lake Community Club, also ran out of the Myrtle Philip School gymnasium.  Targeting children aged two to five, the class was also an opportunity for parents and caregivers to socialize.

The offerings of the adult education department expanded over the decade.  Instructors were drawn from within the community, calling on anyone who wanted to share a particular skill or hobby.  During the fall of 1986 community members could learn about European cooking from Mark Kogler, first aid from Karen Killaly, and mountain safety and avalanches from Chris Stetham and Roger McCarthy, as well as various crafts such as macrame, glass etching, and dried flower arranging.  Topping the list of programs was still Fun & Fit with Sue Worden.

Whistler has grown quite a bit since the 1980s and today there are numerous classes and programs, some still running out of (the slightly newer) Myrtle Philip School.

Forever and Ale-ways: A History of Brewing in the Sea to Sky

Patio days are upon us, and what better way to spend a sunny summer evening than having a post-work brew at one of our local breweries?  With craft breweries now popping up all over BC like suds in a glass of beer, the Sea to Sky seems to have gotten in on the brewing action quite early.

In the 1970s, the ‘official’ Canadian beer scene was composed of three consolidated large beer producers that basically split the market: Carling O’Keefe, Labatt, and Molson.  With little or no competition among them, frequent strikes, and nearly identical lagers, Canada was ripe for some flavour innovations from new sources.

Apart from these three conglomerates, homebrewing was alive and well in Whistler.  At Tokum Corners in 1971, Rod MacLeod was homebrewing based on knowledge gleaned from Bill Chaplain.  A homebrew contest was begun in Whistler in 1974 (running every year into the 1990s), where the competitors had to fill a case of 7-Up bottles with their own brew to be judged.  The winner received a mug trophy with their name engraved, their beer being drunk first, and the honour of hosting the contest the following year.

Tokum Corners was the site of some homebrew production by Rod MacLeod. Benjamin Collection, 1971.

Homebrewing is credited as inspiring the origins of craft brewing in the Sea to Sky.  In 1978, an article about homebrewing in Harrowsmith magazine piqued the curiosity of John Mitchell, a British expat who was the co-owner and manager of Horseshoe Bay’s Troller Pub.  He contacted the writer, Frank Appleton, and in 1982, the two enthusiasts joined forces in pioneering one of North America’s first modern craft breweries in Horseshoe Bay, using cobbled-together dairy equipment.  Fresh, flavourful, and interesting beer choices were clearly in demand: on opening night, the Troller Pub was packed, and all kegs of their sole craft beer, ‘Bay Ale’, sold out.

By the late 1980s, other entrepreneurs were taking notice of the opportunity to bring new beers to the table.  The Whistler Brewing Co. was first established in 1989 by Jenny Hieter and Rob Mingay.  Their permanent brewery was set up in Function Junction by 1991, boasting multiple tanks and a bottling system.  Though Whistler Brewing originally offered only Whistler Premium Lager, they soon added the more flavourful (and still-familiar) Black Tusk Ale to their repertoire.

Whistler Brewing Co.’s tap and production area in Function, 1991. George Benjamin Collection.

Down the highway, John Mitchell helped design the new Howe Sound Brewery in Squamish and was their first brewmaster in 1996.  Unique flavours and recipes were continually developing in the Sea to Sky corridor.  In 1997, High Mountain Brewing Co. (Brewhouse) opened, and was the only option for craft beer in Whistler Village.

Nowadays, the craft beer scene is really taking off.  Coast Mountain Brewing opened its doors in Function Junction in the summer of 2016, Pemberton has welcomed Pemberton Brewing Co. and The Beer Farmers, and Squamish hosts newcomers A-Frame Brewing and Backcountry Brewing.

A woman holding up an empty beer keg peers into the camera outside a lodge on Whistler or Blackcomb.  Whistler Question Collection.

New flavours keep emerging, sometimes on a weekly basis.  Locals have been adamant in their support for our local craft breweries, and local breweries have paid tribute to our local culture with beer names like ‘Death Before Download Pale Ale’, ‘Hazy Trail Pale Ale’, ‘Gaper Juice Hazy Session Ale’, and ‘Lifty Lager’.  The community has a strong advocate in our breweries, and our early innovation in the craft brew scene has provided some absolutely delicious après sessions along the way.  But don’t take our word for it – check our these local breweries for yourself!

The Early Days of Alex & Myrtle

Working at the Whistler Museum we sometimes forget that not everyone has heard of the story of Rainbow Lodge and its owners Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Every so often we’ll be reminded, sometimes by a student on a field trip fascinated to learn that their school was named after a real person or a visitor to Rainbow Park who wants to know why there are old buildings in the bushes.

The story of Alex and Myrtle Philip began far away from Alta Lake, on the other site of the continent in Maine.

The Philip family emigrated to Maine from Scotland when Alex was just a baby.  Some members of the family later traveled and worked in British Columbia and as a young man Alex joined his father to work on the west coast.

The Philip family c. 1891. Alex Philip sits in the centre. Around him are John, William, John (sr.), Elise, Elisabeth (sr.) and Elisabeth. Philip Collection.

In 1906 Myrtle was fifteen, attending school in Maine prior to becoming a teacher, and boarding at the Philip family house.  The two met when Alex returned home to visit his mother.  As Myrtle described it, “I came home from school that day for lunch, dashed into the front door and threw my sweater on the stair rail and dashed through to the kitchen where we were to have our lunch and I ran plumb into his arms in the little hallway… And that was it.”  For four years the pair wrote to each other (Myrtle called it “courtship by correspondence”) and were married in Oregon in 1910 before moving to Vancouver.

Alex and Myrtle Philip, far more dressed up than they tended to be at Alta Lake. Philip Collection.

In Vancouver Alex met John Millar, who was then living near Alta Lake in a cabin on the Pemberton Trail.  Though described as a “funny looking little fellow,” Millar made such an impression on the Philips that the next summer they made the journey up to visit him. (You may have seen John Millar as part of the museum’s parade float for Canada Day yesterday!)

In the archives we have a recording of Myrtle’s account of their first trip to Alta Lake.  After arriving at Squamish by boat they took the stagecoach to Brackendale where they stayed the night at the Bracken Arms, “a quaint hotel.”  They had arranged for the use of a packhorse to carry their supplies and, after getting some help to attach the pack to the horse, they started on their way up the Pemberton Trail.

Myrtle & Alex Philip coming up the Pemberton Trail on their first visit to Alta Lake,August 1911.

By the time they reached Millar’s cabin two days later Myrtle had become proficient in attaching the pack but both were happy to reach the relative comfort of Millar’s hospitality.  His accommodations may have been described as “three or four old shacks” but his cooking more than made up for the structures.  Myrtle, who prided herself on her pies, claimed he made “pastry that would just melt in your mouth and bread that was just out of this world.”  (Millar has also been mentioned by others for his muskrat stew and steller’s jay pie.)

This trip also featured Myrtle’s first time fly fishing.  Using old rafts they found at the lake (also described as “three or four poles tied together with any old thing”) Myrtle and Alex ventured out on Alta Lake.  Thinking that using two flies might mean catching two fish, Myrtle put two flies on her line and, unexpectedly, caught two fish.  Fortunately the fish were small, as Myrtle claimed that “I got so excited that I nearly fell off the raft.”

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

The Philips returned for another visit and in 1913 they purchased property along Alta Lake from Charlie Chandler.  With help from Myrtle’s father Sewall Tapley and her brothers and sister they built the main lodge and were open for business by 1915.  The construction and operation of Rainbow Lodge could (and has) fill multiple articles but the roles of Alex and Myrtle over the decades may have been most succinctly described in “A Short History of the Garibaldi Area” by Ian Barnet: “Alex is the drinker and greeter of guests; Myrtle the business operator.”

Summer Preparations at Alta Lake

With last Friday (June 21) officially marking the beginning of summer, we’ve reached the time when all the plans and preparations for the season come to life.  This change of seasons would have been a particularly busy and expectant time for the residents of Alta Lake in the first half of the 20th century.  Long before Whistler became known internationally as a ski resort, Alta Lake was a popular summer destination that drew short-term visitors and summer residents to join those who stayed in the area year round.

For Alta Lake, summer was the busy season of the year while winters were very quiet. This would change dramatically with the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s. Fairhurst Collection.

Sixty years ago Alta Lake had no local government, no newspaper and certainly no Facebook groups to notify residents of the goings on (official or unofficial) in the area.  Social gatherings and community initiatives were often organized through the Alta Lake School and the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), founded in the early 1930s and 1926 respectively.  When it came to preparing for an eventful summer, the ALCC played an active role in preparations and kept its members up to date on community efforts through its newsletter, the Alta Lake Echo.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow. Philip Collection.

The Echo was published from 1958 to 1961 and ran weekly through the summer months of 1959.  At this time it was edited by Don Gow, who brought a personal touch to the sharing of news, the description of events and updates on comings and goings, seemingly of everyone in the valley – this led to some entertaining issues. (In one issue calling for newsletter subscription renewal, Gow threatened to cut off the circulation or, even worse, “we will print your names in the paper and let everyone know how cheap you are.”)

Members of the Alta Lake community began preparing for summer in May with a dance at the Community Hall to kick off events for those in the area.  Before this could happen members of the ALCC were reminded of a “Hall Clean Up Day,” the main purpose of which was to wash and wax the floor.  Those planning to pitch in were urged to bring their own tools and reminded that “the more who show up the quicker we can get fishing.”

By May preparations and repairs were also also underway at the lodges around Alta Lake as they looked forward to welcoming their first guests.  Jack and Cis Mansell returned from a winter presumably spent in warmer climes to ready Hillcrest for the season, and Russ and Maxine Jordan improved the porches at Jordan’s Lodge.  Smitty and Don (surnames were rarely included in the Echo) had plans to rebuild the Mansells’ raft in front of Alta Lake Station, used to ferry guests across the lake.

The first dance of the season, scheduled to start at 9 pm and end “when we’re dang good and ready” over the May long weekend, was well attended and a good time by all accounts.  While Rainbow Lodge had not yet opened, the other lodges and accommodations around the lake were full.  Though many people returned to Vancouver and other cities after the weekend, the ALCC continued planning events through the month.  Weekly dances and shows were scheduled to begin in June and the annual Fish Derby was set to run from July 1 through September 6.  A $10 prize was on the line for the largest Rainbow Trout caught in Alta Lake “by any legal method.”

This Rainbow Trout came out of Alta Lake in the 1980s but is a good indication of what the Fish Derby was looking for. Whistler Question Collection.

Summer was in full swing by July as families returned to their summer cottages and the lodges were filled with those escaping the city.  Work days such as the “Hall Clean Up Day” would resume in the fall and the lodges might undergo more renovations, but until then those at Alta Lake were too busy enjoying all the area had to offer, and the events they had planned for so long.