Category Archives: Characters

Quirky. Eccentric. Unique. Whistler.

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 Sundarys, 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 Philip, provided memories that stayed with her until her death in 2014, just seven weeks before her 99th birthday.

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Summer Adventures of Mollie Stephenson

It’s a story everyone in Whistler has heard – young person comes to the valley to work for a season, but ends up staying a few years longer than expected.  What makes the story of Mollie Stephenson unique, however, is that she first came to the Whistler valley in the summer of 1926.

Mollie Stephenson at Rainbow Lodge, 1929.

In 1924, after having graduated from Ladysmith High on Vancouver Island, Mollie moved with her parents to Victoria where her father served as the reverend at St. Saviour’s Church in Victoria West.  Mollie spent the next two years enjoying life in Victoria as a young woman, including swimming at the Crystal Garden and attending tea dances at the Empress Hotel where she and her friends would try to outdo each other at the new dance the Charleston.  As Mollie said, she adored the Flapper Age with its “beads, feathers and best of all the short skirts.”

Mollie enrolled at Normal School (what teacher college used to be called) but was unable to attend as a bad chest cold turned into bronchitis and her doctor prescribed a drier climate.  Alex and Myrtle Philip were advertising for girls to work in the dining room and Mollie left for Alta Lake in May of 1926 intending to attend Normal School in the fall.

Life at Alta Lake soon cleared Mollie’s cough and in July she transferred from the dining room to work as a wrangler and guide for the rest of the summer.  Each day she would spend 12 to 14 hours out in the forest with the 15 horses Rainbow Lodge had use of.  Trail rides were popular with Rainbow Lodge guests and Mollie would often take groups for breakfast at Lost Lake, Green Lake or near a stream.  Lam and Sam, the cooks, would pack ingredients and every rider was given a job, whether building a fire, making the coffee or preparing the pancake batter.  By the time the food was ready everyone in the group would have a hearty appetite.

A picnic during a ride included a tablecloth and china as well as jobs for every guest.

When September arrived Mollie was already looking forward to her next season at Rainbow Lodge and instead of returning to Normal School in Victoria accepted a temporary job at the Uppingham School kindergarten in Oak Bay.

Mollie Stephenson pretending to ride a foal at Rainbow Lodge.

By June Mollie was once again en route for Alta Lake where she found a few changes: George Thompson was now manager of Rainbow Lodge and Pearl Thompson had taken over the post office.  (Over 60 years later Mollie and George married – she was 83 and he was 90.)  Luckily George had bought the horses Mollie had previously worked with for continued use by Rainbow Lodge.  Again Mollie worked as a wrangler and guide.

Early in the season a man arrived at Rainbow Lodge asking about an abandoned copper mine.  Mollie had found the mine the previous year while exploring the trails on the mountains and offered to guide him there.  He brought in a crew and made a deal with George to use packhorses to bring in mail and supplies.  Three from Mollie’s group were picked: Danger, Ginger and Dark Devil.

While taking the horses up to the mine one day Ginger, who happened to by carrying the explosives, got caught between two trees.  Mollie had been warned by one of the PGE rail crew to be careful of any sudden blows or jolts to the packs containing the dynamite and she was terrified while working Ginger out from the trees.

Mollie arrived at the mine and recounted her harrowing adventure over lunch, proud of having gotten herself out of a dangerous situation.  What she didn’t expect, however, was for her tale to be greeted with laughter from the men at the camp.  She soon discovered that the warning of the PGE rail crewman had been a joke at her expense; the sticks of dynamite and the caps were kept in separate packs and Ginger had never been in danger of exploding.

Bill MacDermott, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. As well as working as a wrangler, Mollie hiked, swam and attended Rainbow Lodge events.

Though Mollie spent the majority of her time at Rainbow Lodge working as a wrangler, she also participated in other aspects of life at the resort including dances, masquerades, tennis, hiking and swimming.  She once even out-swam visiting naval officers, a tale that is perhaps best told through her own words:

I loved swimming, although racing never appealed to me.  Swimming for miles was like an interesting hike but on the water.  I had been swimming across the lake all summer, although never the length of the lake.  One day a couple of naval officers staying at the Mons Hotel asked Alex Philip if any of his guests would join them in a friendly race from McDonald’s cabin, at the south end, to the River of Golden Dreams, at the north end.  Alex approached me.  I explained that I wasn’t into fast swimming or racing, but as there were no other contenders I would swim along with them, on condition that they didn’t expect me to win.  Soon they were ahead, but when we were more than half way across we hit an unexpected glacial current that took one’s breath away.  At this point the fellows had had enough and headed to the beach.  The “tortoise” kept on going until I walked onto the beach at the River of Golden Dreams.  There was a huge bonfire burning and Myrtle had a warm blanket to wrap me in.  My prize came after dinner when the two officers asked me to dance with them!

Mollie spent several summers at Rainbow Lodge and, like many who have come after her, unexpectedly fell in love with the area and its outdoors lifestyle.  Though she went on to marry and live elsewhere, Mollie will always be remembered as one of the first seasonal workers who just couldn’t keep away from the Whistler valley.

The Nancy Greene-Raine Connection

We recently announced our upcoming Speaker Series on May 6th, celebrating 50 years of summer camps. The inclusion of Nancy Greene-Raine on the speaking panel quickly made it apparent that, although we have decent coverage of her husband Al Raine’s contributions to Whistler on this blog (plus here), up until now, Nancy’s presence is notably lacking. This blog post will start to fix that problem.

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Though Nancy was born in Ottawa, grew up in the Kootenay ski haven of Rossland, BC with its historic Red Mountain Resort, and has lived in Sun Peaks for roughly two decades, her connection and contributions to Whistler remain strong.

Nancy, of course, is one of the most recognized and celebrated Canadian athletes of all-time, regardless of discipline, even earning the title of Canadian Female Athlete of the Century!  She was the most dominant female ski racer of the 1960s, earning 13 World Cup victories, 2 overall world titles, and her gold medal (and silver, all while battling a severe ankle injury) performance at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, alongside French legend Jean-Claude Killy, is the stuff of legend.

Here’s a complete run-down of her ski-racing accomplishments. 

 

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1969 Toni Sailer Summer Camp staff. Nancy is front row, 2nd from left, Toni Sailer is back row, 2nd from right, both wearing cowboy hats.

Nancy retired at the top of her field and a global celebrity after her dominant 1968 season. Retirement from ski racing was no permanent vacation, as the pervious winter she had already launched her Nancy Greene Ski League, Canada’s national, grassroots-level ski racing program. In the nearly 50 years of operation, virtually every single Canadian ski racer of note, from Steve Podborski to Ashleigh McIvoor, and countless thousands of others, started competitive skiing in Nancy’s program.

In 1969, she began coaching at Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps on Whistler Mountain, a position she maintained for several years and which she will be recollecting at this Friday’s Speaker Series.

Al and Nancy first built a cabin in Whistler in 1970, which was their summer home while Nancy coached on the glacier. Once Al retired as a ski coach in 1975, they moved to Whistler full-time and set out to help Whistler become a leading international ski destination.

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Nancy skiing on Blackcomb, circa 1980s

Nancy and her husband Al Raine also played a huge role in the early success of Whistler and their legacy carries on to this day. Nancy became an spokeswoman and ambassador for the resort, using her celebrity to promote the upstart ski area. As such, she was one of Whistler’s original “Celebrity-Athletes” that played such a pivotal role in Whistler becoming, well, Whistler.

Al sat on the first municipal council and was a leading figure in the planning, design, and construction of Whistler Village and Blackcomb Mountain.

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Nancy and husband Al, representing Blackcomb Mountain (note the matching Blackcomb Mountain outfits, and Nancy’s Blackcomb logo name tag). circa 1980s.

In 1985 they built Nancy Green’s Olympic Lodge in the heart of the Village, and despite having long since sold it, the building bear’s Nancy’s name to this day. In the 1990s, Al and Nancy moved on to Sun Peaks in the B.C. interior, but they still maintain close ties to Whistler.

We are truly honoured to have Nancy join this Friday’s  panel, and we hope you can join us. Get your tickets in advance, it will sell out!

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Rob Boyd is God

February 25, 1989 is a date that any long-time Whistlerite should remember, because on that day Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup Downhill event on Canadian soil.

It remains not only one of the most memorable days in our community’s history, but for Canadian ski fans as a whole. Not too long ago, we even had some visitors here to the Whistler Museum who recalled watching the race live on a black-and-white television in the lodge at Luggy Lump Ski Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland. If that does not warm your heart with old-fashioned Canadian nostalgia, nothing will.

Canadian National Ski Team. Boyd is far right. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Canadian National Ski Team. Boyd is far right. WMAS, Greg Griffith Photo. 

It was a triumphant moment not only for the historic achievement, but also because Canadian supporters were still reeling from the gruesome and nearly fatal crash that Boyd’s teammate Brian Stemmle had suffered at Kitzbuhel six weeks earlier. By this point Stemmle was back on the long road to recovery and everyone was keen for a reason to celebrate.

If you watch the video clip of the CBC’s coverage of the race (available on YouTube), right after he crosses the finish line Boyd waves the cameraman over to get up close so that he can proudly announce “For you, Stemmle!” There’s also a pretty glorious cutaway to the raucous celebrations going on at Dusty’s.

Here in Whistler it was a massive community event. Rob had moved to Whistler as a teenager in 1982, so he had huge local support. The medal ceremony drew one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Whistler up to that point and the party kept going for days.

That evening a fundraiser was held at the Conference Center for the national ski team, featuring performances by Colin James and Smokey Robinson. Apparently the $125 event had not been selling well, but Boyd’s dramatic victory put everyone in the celebratory mood and all 1,800 tickets were eventually spoken for.

It was a legendary party that included, among other things, the golden boy being gifted a pair of Dwight Yoakam’s cowboy boots that Boyd proceeded to brandish on the dance floor.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Greg Griffith Photo.

This wasn’t Rob’s first World Cup gold medal, having won twice already at Val Gardena, Italy, but winning on home soil was certainly a career highlight.

Rob still lives in Whistler and remains one of our town’s biggest heroes. Just a few weeks ago there was a huge party at Dusty’s Bar to celebrate Rob’s 50th birthday, a stone’s throw from the finish line where he won gold 27 years earlier.

When he’s not celebrating birthdays you can find Rob coaching for the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. The club’s Creekside headquarters are easy enough to find, address: 2028 Rob Boyd Way.

Some go as far as to say that Rob Boyd is God:

Stephanie Sloan – Freestyle Superstar

Whistler is home to an exceptional amount of ski champions, media stars, and otherwise accomplished athletes. One of the most under-appreciated is Stephanie Sloan. Many people know Stephanie as the wife of the late ski racing legend Dave Murray of Crazy Canuck fame, or perhaps as the mother of Olympic skier-cross competitor Julia Murray. Fewer realize that Stephanie is actually a more decorated competitive skier than either of them, combined!

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Stephanie competing in the bumps, Whistler, late 1970s. Greg Griffith Photo.

From 1976-1981 Stephanie competed on the World Cup freestyle circuit, earning 57 podium finishes and claiming the overall world championship 3 times. Moguls was her strongest discipline, but as the overall title combined results from aerials and ballet as well, she was definitely no one-trick pony!

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Getting upside-down in aerials. Laax, Switzerland, 1979.

Her and husband Dave both retired from the World Cup scene around the same time, and transitioned into post-competitive life as coaches and mentors for the sport. While Dave is well-remembered for his namesake ski camps, Stephanie made a huge contribution to the sport as well through the women’s-specific camps which she launched during the 1982/83 season.

While teaching skiing to women was nothing new, there were few, if any, women-only programs focused on all-mountain techniques and able to cater to advanced skiers. As this newspaper clipping from The Province indicates, these were well-rounded clinics for serious skiers.StephSloan024 - Province article Nov 1986 Women on the March

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Stephanie Sloan (left) leading a group of ladies at one of her 7UP sponsored women’s skiing camps.

With their winter programs established, the next step was to operate year-round carrying on Whistler’s heritage as a premier destination for summer glacier skiing. Stephanie and Dave launched hugely successful summer skiing camps, with friends and colleagues from the Canadian National teams making up a large portion of the coaches. While lots of serious and high-performance training happened on the Whistler Glacier during the summer, Stephanie couldn’t resist a little fun and did photo shoots while skiing in a bathing suit nearly every summer.

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We were fortunate enough to have Stephanie into the museum this past week, sharing her many stories and photos from her life, both competing on the world tour, then growing the sport of skiing with Dave here in Whistler.

To learn more about her storied career, make sure to swing by the Whistler Museum on Sunday February 21st for our next Speaker Series event. The topic will be “Celebrity Athletes and the growth of modern skiing.” Speaking alongside Stephanie will be John Smart, former Olympic freestyle skier and founder of world-renowned Momentum Ski Camps, and Rob McSkimming, VP-Business Development and former Snow School Director for Whistler-Blackcomb. See you there!

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When: Sunday February 21st; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, beside the Library)
Who: Everyone!
Cost: $10 regular price, $5 for museum members

We expect this event to sell out, so make sure to get your tickets early. To purchase tickets stop by the museum or call us at 604.932.2019.

 

 

The Lone Bagel

The Eighties are often remembered, fairly or unfairly, for questionable fashion and pop culture aesthetics, but here in Whistler it was a transformative era that saw the resort reach brand new heights. One of the key figures in Whistler’s rise during this period is Lorne Borgal, and we were lucky enough to have him participate in our recent Speaker Series soiree, plus he recorded an oral history interview with us, which help us outline some of his many contributions to Whistler.

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Lorne arrived in Whistler in June 1980 with a fresh MBA from Stanford University, driving up from California within days of graduating. He had been hired by Hugh Smythe to help manage a nascent Blackcomb Mountain. As he recalls, “from accounting, marketing, sales, to any of the operating entities, ski patrol, lift operations or anything to be ready for opening day, on the operating side fell to me.” Needless to say, the days were long and the learning curve was steep.

All the business school in the world couldn’t have prepared him for having to wire the telephone lines himself when BC-Tel was on strike, or having to play traffic cop to help skiers get home to Vancouver after a busy day on the slopes. As is the case with so many of our resort’s leaders over the years, Lorne had an ingrained determination to get the job done by whatever means necessary.

As the following audio clip demonstrates, recorded during our December 2015 Speaker Series event, there was no shortage of challenges during Blackcomb Mountain’s early days:

After three seasons Lorne was ready to move on, but fate had other plans. While on vacation in Europe (his first vacation in three years), he received a phone call from Whistler Mountain marketing executive Mike Hurst (who, coincidentally, sat beside Lorne at the Speaker Series), informing Lorne that Franz Wilhelmsen was retiring and Lorne was being considered as his replacement as Whistler Mountain President. Lorne happily accepted the new job, but not before completing his Mediterranean tour.

Here he is at the the December 10,1983 ceremony dedicating the newly named Franz’s Run in honour of outgoing President Franz Wilhelmsen.

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For the next six years Lorne oversaw the mountain during a period of intense competition with the upstart Blackcomb. He was at the helm of major projects such as the construction of Pika’s Restaurant – Whistler’s first proper on-mountain eatery, the visionary installatios of the original Peak Chair and the Village Gondola, leading international trade missions to expand the resort’s global reach, and updating Whistler Mountain’s management and customer service to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

Since leaving Whistler Mountain Lorne has served as an executive for a global software company, President of two other resorts, and continues to consult globally for upstart ski resorts around the world. His contributions to Whistler are most notably recognized up in the Whistler alpine, where Bagel Bowl refers to a playful nickname of his, “the Lone Bagel.”

Al Raine – Ski Industry Legend, Visionary, and a Pretty Cool Dude

When ski racing legend Al Raine made the move to Whistler in 1973, he had already established himself as head coach and program director of the Canadian National Alpine Ski Team at the age of 32. Around this time, the provincial government was looking for an individual to provide technical expertise and coordinate provincial ski expansion, as well as oversee the development of Whistler as a tourist destination resort. With his extensive background in the ski industry, Raine was the perfect candidate to act as a liaison between the municipality and the provincial government. Thus, Al was approached about a position and he accepted in May 1974. As acting Ski Area Coordinator of B.C. and alderman for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), one of Al’s first tasks was assisting in the building of a sewer plant that would service the entire valley.

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With the completion of the new sewer system, the Whistler council turned their attention to creating a central village. When the government asked their appointed ski coordinator to report on the realistic achievable goals for Whistler, Al remained positive that it had the potential to become a world-class ski resort, despite the weakness that was B.C.’s coastal climate. He was confident that with good skiing on the upper mountains, solid lifts, and a village, success would be imminent. At the same time, this meant that more lifts were vital, seeing as upward of 2400 people could be seen standing in line for hours at a time, waiting to get onto a mountain with a capacity of 600 skiers per hour.

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The original Resort Municipality of Whistler Council. Pictured from left to right: Alderman Bob Bishop, Alderman Al Raine, Treasurer Geoff Pearce, Mayor Pat Carleton, Alderman John Hetherington, Alderman Gary Watson

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Al Raine and wife, Nancy Greene Raine, enjoying a day out on the slopes

With local government starting to take shape, Al began to look toward the possibility of a future for Blackcomb. In September of 1976, he put out a proposal call to develop the mountain. After months of silence, a bid finally came in from the Aspen Ski Corporation of Colorado in joint venture with the Canadian Federal Business Development Bank. Once final terms were ironed out and the deal agreed upon, investors had the go ahead to complete phase one of development, and on December 6, 1980, Blackcomb Mountain opened with 1240 vertical meters of skiing available.

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Al Raine shaking hands with Whistler’s first mayor, Pat Carleton, ca. 1975

Al’s position as B.C.’s ski area coordinator included more than just Whistler. He also studied 45 areas province wide, giving site evaluations on their probability. In 1980, Al stepped down from his position and took the job of General Manager of the newly formed Whistler Resort Association. The organization was responsible for scheduling events at Whistler while providing basic information, central reservations, and marketing promotions for the resort. Today, Al and his wife Nancy can be seen in Whistler skiing, golfing, and playing tennis. After years of hard work and dedication, Al Raine has the opportunity to enjoy the vision of Whistler that he assisted in creating.