Category Archives: Characters

Quirky. Eccentric. Unique. Whistler.

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.

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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.

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.

Toad Hall: The Poster Returns

With the holiday season fast approaching we’ve started taking particular notice of holiday-themed photos in our collections.  These photos can vary from Whistler Mountain ski instructors dressed up as reindeer to Santa finding hidden powder to Season’s Greetings from the Philip family.  One of the more interesting holiday photos shows a roasted turkey in a wood burning stove called “Master Climax” (so named for the make of the stove).

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969! Benjamin Collection.

This stove was part of the kitchen set up at the first Toad Hall, one of Whistler’s most famous (or infamous) lodgings.  This Toad Hall was built by Alta Lake resident Alf Gebhart, who first came to live in the area in 1936.  In the mid-1960s, Alf sold his property to Charles Hillman, a high-school teacher working in Vancouver.  Charles, in turn, rented his property to a “respectable-looking” father with two daughters.  The rent was paid consistently and on time, though after a while the names on the cheques started to change.

By the time Charles Hillman decided to start using his cabin to ski, unbeknownst to him, the property had been renamed Toad Hall and was gaining a reputation across the country.  Charles arrived to find a young resident from Montreal cooking breakfast, evidence of a campfire in one of the bedrooms, and sleeping quarters set up wherever possible, including the chicken house.

The first Toad Hall, 1969. Benjamin Collection.

With help from the RCMP in Squamish and a court order, the residents of Toad Hall were amicably evicted, with enough time given for a farewell party.

By the 1970s, the Soo Valley Logging Camp, near the northern end of Green Lake, was no longer in use by the forestry industry.  This became the second incarnation of Toad Hall.  Perhaps the best known image of Toad Hall, the Toad Hall Poster, was taken here.

The second Toad Hall was scheduled for demolition in the summer of 1973.  (Though no buildings remain today, some photos of Parkhurst donated by the Clausen family show the in-use camp across the lake.)

The Toad Hall Poster.

That spring, knowing their time there was limited, residents gathered with their ski gear and little else for a memorable photo shoot set up by photographer Chris Speedie – 10,000 copies of this poster were printed and sold for two to three dollars each.  Copies were distributed along the World Cup ski circuit by Terry “Toulouse” Spence.

Over the decades, copies of these posters became harder to obtain.  Then, in 2013, Terry brought a box to the museum.  The museum officially sold out of the original run of Toad Hall posters this past January, almost 45 years after it was first printed.

The first official reprint of the Toad Hall Poster is now available to purchase at the Whistler Museum.

This Week In Photos: July 19

We’ve got quite a few photos for this week – that’s because we happen to have this week represented in almost every year of the Whistler Question Collection!

1978

Kayakers are dwarfed by the Daisy Lake Dam.

Werner Furrer (third place K1) explodes over waves, heading for gate 28.

The finished product – a distinctive Zurbrugg chalet.

First the chasm over the river…

… then the stringers.

Asphalt oil heater is lifted off a lowbed at Malloch & Mosley on Friday as Doug Muir looks on.

1979

The new municipal waterworks tank above the Town Centre.

FIRE on Blackcomb! The scene from Alpine Meadows at 11:30 pm on Sunday.

The Whistler Volunteer Firemen practice – John Howells up a ladder.

Architect’s drawing of the new Whistler Tri-Service Building.

1980

Parcel 16 will have a clock tower rising from the right hand side and will feature retail outlets on the first floor and residential on the second.

Most work in town centre is construction but some is destruction. These two workers pound away at steel-reinforced concrete. A day long job for sure.

The giant twin-propellor Canadian Forces Rescue helicopter used to help rescue crews get to the crash site of a small plane on Whistler Mountain.

Roof gone and the rest going, this old mill is deteriorating along the Green River north of Whistler. Only ghosts and rodents inhabit it now.

1981

Whistler Village parking! Wagon misses the parking lot on Wednesday evening, ending up in the newly landscaped garden.

Herb and Jean Hepburn of Okanagan Produce, Vernon, managed to get in a few fruit sales before being asked to leave by municipal authorities.

Bob Dawson and Neil Mawdsley unsuccessfully try to get a fly ball.

Chris Green, Laura d’Artois and J.G. Luckhurst at the Fireplace Inn opening party.

And here he is! The mysterious Mr B.A. Bell of Whistler slowly unpeels his talent – much to the giggles and appreciation of his audience at the first Jock Contest held at Mountain House, July 20. With competition from Fast Eddie and Schultz, things looked mighty tough – but then Peter Lamare took the floor and the $100 first prize.

Annette Ducharma, accompanied by Jamie Boyd, strummed out many a fine tune at JB’s July 16 – 20 while Betsy Chaba took a temporary leave to entertain folks at the Folk Festival in Vancouver.

Crews replace railroad crossing on the highway by the Whistler Industrial Park.

1982

Workers repair damage done to the Lillooet bridge, which received unwanted alterations Tuesday from a truck too tall for a bridge too small.

Hanging high, window washers polish up the Delta Mountain Inn for its July 23rd opening.

Rotarians enjoy their Bravery Luncheon July 16. They were guests of Delta Mountain Inn, which was giving its Twigs Restaurant staff a taste of the dining room in action.

Virginia Meachin enjoys an early morning cup of java with two hikers who joined her Saturday hike down Whistler Mountain.

Whistlerites enjoy some of the gourmet treats served by the Gourmet, which recently completed its patio eating area outside of the Rainbow building in Sunshine Place.

Halt! A barrier blocks the drive of an Alpine Meadows residence after the ditching crew passed by.

Fresh off the assembly line is the Municipality’s 4×4 multi-purpose truck. Among other chores the vehicle will tackle the job of plowing Whistler streets this winter.

1983

Sunny skies and the colourful show put on by the Estonian Folk Dancers of Vancouver brightened up the Whistler Village Sunday, July 17.

Paul Gibson of Selkirk Cable Vision turns a final screw to get Alpine Meadows booked into Whistler Cable Television’s system. Besides six channels, subscribers can now enjoy a host of FM radio stations.

When weekend temperatures soared to the mid-20s, sun worshippers who had been denied their pleasure for nearly six weeks flocked to Lost Lake like the swallows to Capistrano. The new forecast, after four days of sun? Get out the ark, and don’t ask again.

Isobel MacLaurin.

Thuy Read admires a shirt from Whistler Tops in her role asa shopper in “Getaway to Whistler”, a promotional film being made by Curtis Petersen of Petersen Productions.

1984

You put your knees up and you toss the cool drinks down when the sun comes out at Whistler. Temperatures climbed as high as 30.4 C in the past week. Even at the Toni Sailer Ski Camp there were hot times. On Monday at noon the temperature at Midstation on Whistler Mountain was 21 C.

Despite their best efforts, Stoney’s lost 14-1 to the Suds squad.

It was the annual Rotary Installment last Wednesday at Sid Young’s house in Alpine Meadows overlooking 19 Mile Creek. Rotarians and guests were feted with steak prepared by Rudi Hoffmann and lobster, flown in from Nova Scotia, boiled by Ted Nebbeling. District Governor Ralph Crawford also installed Sid Young as the service organization’s new president, taking over from Geoff Pearce. As well, Floyd Eclair becomes vice-president, Doug Fox secretary, Nick DiLalla sergeant-at-arms, Walter Zebrowski treasurer, Arv Pellegrin club service director, Brian Brown youth and international service director and Jon Paine vocation service director.

Paul Burrows’ Early Years in Whistler

This past September we were lucky enough to welcome Paul Burrows, founder of the Whistler Question in 1976, to the museum to talk about the early days of the paper.

The stories he told of The Question then are amazing, but while looking through our collection of oral histories we came across an interview Paul did with Whistler Cable nearly 20 years ago in which he described his early days in Whistler, back when it was still known as Alta Lake.

Paul first arrived in Canada in 1960 on a flight that hopped from London to Scotland to Iceland to Greenland to Newfoundland to Toronto.  He came west because “that was the place to be” and he and his friends started skiing.  It was thanks to some bumps and twists on the mountains that he first met and became friends with members of ski patrol in Vancouver.  They soon heard about a new ski area in Alta Lake and in 1965 Paul came up by train to take a look.

When Paul Burrows first came to the area Whistler Mountain was still under construction. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The second time he came up he was with a group in a Volkswagen and they brought their skis.  It was August.  As Paul recalled, “we put our skis on our back and walked up through the trees and we walked right up the west ridge of Whistler and we peered over the edge of Whistler Bowl and then we got to see them building the chairlifts on the Red Chair and cutting the ski runs.  So then we skied down and we got mixed up and ended up on a cliff and we got stuck there for a while.”  The group did eventually make it down the mountain.

Bill Southcott and Paul Burrows sport snow beards after a few run on Whistler in the 1970s. Whistler Question Collection.

In 1966 Paul returned as a member of the brown-jacketed ski patrol for the season before leaving to work for the ski patrol in Aspen for a year.  When he returned he got a job working on the pro patrol alongside Murray Coates and Hugh Smythe.  In his words, “It was pretty hairy.  We got buried a lot.  The safety procedures we used to knock avalanches down and everything else would not be tolerated today.  We didn’t even talk about the WCB.”

During this time Paul, like quite a few other “residents” at the time, was squatting.  He rented a 15-foot trailer from a place in Richmond for the season for $550 and parked in a lot at the bottom of the mountain.  The trailer was put up on bricks, insulation was installed beneath it and plywood was put around it and the trailer became home to six or seven people.

Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980, a decade after the trailer took up residence.. Whistler Mountain Collection.

With no electricity or water the wash facilities in the day lodge came in very useful, as did a trusty oil lamp.  According to Paul, “I would shut all the doors and windows and you’re in there but the trouble is you keep running out of air.  So when you had a party in there in the winter and there were guys in there you kept running out of air.  So if you had this little oil lamp cranked up, it was a bit like the miner’s lamp, when the light started to flicker and go out you knew you had to open the door and let some more air in.”  Condensation was also an issue in the trailer.  Condensation build up could freeze the doors and windows shut and the lamp would then be used to melt one’s way out of the trailer in the morning.

After that season Paul again left Whistler, this time for Grouse and then work in the printing business.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created.

In 1971 Paul married Jane and when she was offered a job teaching in Pemberton the pair moved back to Whistler, staying in their Alpine A-frame until 2000.

Summer Jobs at Rainbow Lodge

The Barnfield family is best known in Whistler as the owners of a dairy farm that once operated where the Barnfield neighbourhood is located today (read more about that here).  The farm was moved south to Brackendale in 1926, though the family continued to bring the cows and chickens back to Alta Lake for the summer tourist season.  Vera Merchant, the only daughter of the Barnfield family, continued to come up for summers even after her family had stopped bringing up the farm and worked at Rainbow Lodge for three seasons.  Her recollections provide a unique view of Rainbow Lodge and Alta Lake during the mid-1930s.

Daisy Barnfield (Vera’s mother) feeds the chickens with some help from the children.

Although Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge in 1934, ’35 and ’36, her experiences seem familiar to anyone who has worked in Whistler’s busy tourism industry.

During the summer, employees at Rainbow Lodge didn’t get many days off.  Vera was paid $25 a month and was provided with room and board.  This meant that she and another girl (also coincidently named Vera) shared a small two-bedroom cabin at the lakefront.

Though we don’t know which cabin, Vera and other employees at Rainbow Lodge were lucky enough to get lakeside accommodations during the summer.

Vera’s work included cleaning cabins, setting and clearing the dining room and leading activities such as hiking and horseback riding with guests.  On Sundays, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway ran excursions where passengers could come to Alta Lake just for the day.  These excursions were dreaded by Vera and her coworkers as they would have to rush to set up the dining room for lunch for guests and then again for day trippers and then reset the tables in time for dinner.  The staff did not eat until after the guests had finished their meals and the tablecloths, dishes and food had been put away.

Though most of the guests at Rainbow Lodge kept their cabins relatively clean, Vera remembered some cabins were left “an awful mess.”  A few times cabins were covered with “lemon peels and gin bottles and… no broken glass, but liquor all over the floor.”  When Vera showed the cabins to Alex Philip, who she suspected of being in on the previous evening’s party, he assured her that she would not have to clean up the cabin and that he would have the guests take care of their own mess.

Vera Barnfield (far left), Alex Philip and two unidentified women, possibly Rainbow Lodge employees, wait for the train at the station.

Despite working hard in the cabins and dining room, Vera enjoyed the work at Rainbow Lodge.  She and the other girls she worked with would go to the dances at the schoolhouse and the next day employees and guests would ride to the Green River for a picnic breakfast on the bridge.  Mason Philip, Alex Philip’s nephew, would go ahead with the faster riders and the horses with the supplies and Vera would bring up the rear with the guests less comfortable on horseback.  By the time Vera and her group arrived the table was set, the fire was going and food was already being prepared.  A full breakfast was provided, including eggs, bacon and hotcakes.  Vera loved being surrounded by the trees and the glacier water of Green Lake (her personal record for swimming Green Lake was five minutes).

Vera only worked at Rainbow Lodge for three years before her marriage but her summers at Alta Lake, both as a child with her family’s dairy and as a young woman with the Philips, provided memories that stayed with her until her death in 2014, just seven weeks before her 99th birthday.