Category Archives: Environment

Our greatest asset.

Building the Gothic Arch Huts

For almost 50 years the Himmelsbach Hut has sat perched near Russet Lake at the head of Singing Pass.  The hut was built by the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) and named after carpenter and long-time Whistler local Werner Himmelsbach.

Construction of the hut was scheduled in September 1967.  Dick Chambers, a member of the construction party, remembered being flown to Whistler by Helijet at the time (for more about Dick Chambers, check here).

Materials for the Himmelsbach Hut, as well as workers, were flown in by helicopter. Photo: Chambers Collection

“The stuff was all in the parking lot – the old Whistler parking lot.  Blackcomb wasn’t developed then, it was still a garbage dump… so we land at the parking lot and the Park Ranger was there, waiting to organize this stuff, and so he flew me in, and the next morning I waited and waited and nothing was happening,” Chambers recalled.

The helicopter carrying a load of material to the site had lost it somewhere on the northeastern side of the peak of Whistler, across from Blackcomb.  The load had not been properly attached and triggered the release mechanism.

“Eventually we recovered that load of stuff by looking in the bush and it wound up at Werner Himmelsbach’s hut covering his firewood because it wasn’t good for anything, you know, it was beaten up,” Chambers said.

By the time the Club was able to rebuild the lost materials, snowstorms had started and members of the construction party decided to pack it up and store it until the following year.

The Himmelsbach Hut under construction. Photo: Chambers Collection

In August 1968 the Himmelsbach Hut was was built over a period of three days and began the busiest three-years of hut construction by the BCMC in its history.  Other huts built by the club include Wedgemount Lake Hut loacted north of Blackcomb, Pummer Hut on Claw Ridge near the Tellot Glacier and Mountain Waddington, and Mountain Lake Hut that sits east of Brittania Beach.

Along with the huts built by the Club, Werner Himmelsbach lent his laminating jig and expertise to the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club.  The VOC, led by Roland Burton, built a gothic-arch hut near the Sphinx Glacier in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Years later, he assisted the Alpine Club of Canada Whistler Section in the construction of the Wendy Thompson Hut, located in the Marriott Basin.

The Himmelsbach Hut today. Photo: Spencer Jespersen

Over the past several months, I have been tasked with writing, researching and designing a virtual museum exhibit on the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Alpine Huts for the Whistler Museum (for more on the virtual exhibit click here).  Once the exhibit is complete, the virtual exhibit will be hosted on the Virtual Museum of Canada Community Memories website and will tell the complete story of these iconic structures.  Look for the release of the virtual exhibit in Winter 2018.

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The Origins of Whistler’s Interpretive Forest

After the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway in the fall of 1914, logging and other industrial activities started to develop in and around the Whistler Valley.

Logging was a vital industry in the Whistler area throughout the 20th century and evidence of its impact can be found throughout the valley, from the abandoned Parkhurst logging town on Green Lake to various patches of forest in different states of regrowth.

The forestry industry has a long history throughout the Whistler valley and many of the valley’s early settlers worked in logging. Photo: Fairhurst Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest, located off Highway 99 adjacent to Cheakamus Crossing, was created in 1980 as a joint project between the British Columbia Forest Service and Pacific Forest Products Ltd. to provide forest interpretation and education opportunities while demonstrating integrated resource management.  The area is approximately 3,000 hectares.

The earliest logging in the Interpretive Forest began in 1958 and continues into present day.  The area now consists of old growth stands plus a variety of plantations of differing ages.  The Forest Service manages this area to provide benefits for large numbers of people with diverse interests.  Many things are considered in planning for human needs in the forest: hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, biking, as well as continued logging operations.

This photo was taken by Don MacLaurin during his time working in BC’s forestry industry. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest became part of the Cheakamus Community Forest (33,000 hectares) in 2009.  The Community Forest is managed under an ecosystem-based management approach and run jointly by the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and the Ministry of Forests.  This means that indigenous flora and fauna are given a chance to flourish and recreational opportunities and expand, while new sustainable forestry practices are explored and refined.  Under this management regime, an average of 40 hectare per year is harvested.

The area has become a favourite amongst locals and tourists, with many of Whistler’s most popular trails located in the area.  The trail network includes the Riverside Trail, which explores the Cheakamus River with the help of the MacLaurin Crossing suspension bridge.

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

The bridge was named after Don MacLaurin, a local forester who helped develop, map and design the area to help people understand the forest and its importance.  Other popular trails include the Loggers Lake Trail, which climbs a rock bluff to a hidden lake and a wooden pier, and the Cheakamus Trail, which wanders through the forest to the glacier-fed Cheakamus Lake.

Scattered amongst the roads and trails in the area are interpretive displays about the local flora, fauna, geology and logging history, along with details about the forest types of the region and the replanting techniques used in the Interpretive Forest.

Peter Ackhurst and John Hammons at work in the Whistler Interpretive Forest.

The Whistler Rotary Club, with financial help from the Community Foundation of Whistler, have been updating the interpretation displays and signs in the Whistler Interpretive Forest over the past two years, as many have fallen into disrepair.  The Whistler Museum has been a supportive partner in this project, helping with the design and, at times, installation of these new signs.

More information on this project can be found at: cheakamuscommunityforest.com.

2017 Western Toad Migration Begins

This past week the annual Western toad migration began again at Lost Lake Park.  Tens of thousands of these tiny toads gradually emerge form the lake to travel to the surrounding forests, though less than one per cent survive the journey.

The tiny toadlets crossing the trail at Lost Lake Park are about the size of a fingertip.

Western toads are found west of the Rockies between Mexico and Southern Alaska.  They will have three different habitats throughout a year: shallow bodies of water during spring breeding season, terrestrial forests and grasslands in the summer, and underground dens for winter hibernation.

The adult toads will migrate to breeding sites in early spring to mate and lay eggs.  One female can lay between 12,000 and 16,000 eggs.  They will then quickly hatch and become tadpoles in three to twelve days.  The speed of their development is highly dependent on the temperature of the water.  In six to eight weeks these tadpoles will then develop into dime-sized, terrestrial dwelling toadlets.  This is when their treacherous journey begins.

By the end of the summer the toadlets will leave the water to join their adult counterparts in the forests and grasslands.  During this life-stage they are easy prey for garter snakes, birds, small mammals and even other amphibians.  They are also easily trodden on because they are so small and well camouflaged.

The toadlets blend in well with their surroundings, making them easy to miss.

Once they have reached their destination, they will hibernate for the duration of winter, usually using existing animal dens or making their own.  It will take two to three years for these toads to mature, and they can live ten years or more, continuing this cycle throughout their lifetime.

Lost Lake is home to the largest population of Western toads in Whistler.  It is unfortunate for the toads that it is one of the most popular beaches in Whistler; however, it creates an amazing opportunity for people to see and understands this process firsthand.  The migration takes two to four weeks, and environmental technicians and volunteers will be on side to direct pedestrians and vehicle traffic, as well as monitor and help the toads cross safely.  Anyone in the park during this time is encouraged to use caution when walking and to get off their bike when travelling on the trails near the park and the beach entrance.

The toads are helped across the trail by volunteers who also encourage people to walk their bikes and step carefully.

Though Western toads are considered relatively common in BC, it is expected that there will be population declines in southern BC as the species has been disappearing in wide ares of their historic range in the US.  This is believed to be a result of a number of factors, the greatest of them being habitat destruction due to development in and around wetlands.  Other causes include rising temperatures, increased UV radiation, and changing water levels due to climate change, traffic on roads and pollution.  The province in monitoring their habits and tracking populations to learn more about how to support this sensitive species.

They are on the provincial yellow list, which means that they are considered a species of conservation concern, and they are a protected species under the BC Wildlife Act.

By Teah Schacter.  Teah is a summer student with the Whistler Museum’s Discover Nature program at Lost Lake.  She recently graduated from Whistler Secondary School and will be attending university in the fall.

Discover Nature this Summer with the Whistler Museum!

With help from the Whistler Naturalists and the Whistler Biodiversity Project, the Museum will again be offering a public education program throughout July and August at Lost Lake Park.  The program includes a “pop up” museum at Lost Lake, nature walks and an activity booklet for kids.

Our touch tables let you handle things like skulls and pelts that you won’t normally find out in the forests.

Because last year’s was so successful (the Museum interacted with an average of 250 people per day) the “pop up” museum will be at Lost Lake for 4 days per week instead of 3.  It will be open Tuesday through Friday from 10 am – 4 pm beginning tomorrow, July 4th, and running until September 1st.  Find us at our tent outside the concession by the Lost Lake beach.

Highlights this year will include touch tables showcasing a wide range of Whistler’s amazing nature hosted by nature interpreters and a different theme for each week day of operation – forests, bears & berries, wetlands, things with wings – so come back on different days to discover something new!

Discover Nature will also include nature walks meeting at 11 am at the PassivHaus Tuesdays through Fridays and ending at the Discover Nature Station.  Nature walks will run for about one hour.

Don’t forget to fill in the Discover Nature activity booklet!  This self-guided booklet is full of fun activities that teach about the wonders of nature here in Whistler.  The booklet includes illustrations by local artist Kate Zessel and a completion certificate.  Get your own copy of the Discover Nature activity booklet at the Whistler Museum, Lost Lake, Armchair Books and Whoola Toys.

We’re looking forward to to a fun summer discovering nature!

Whistler’s History of Trash

The history of Whistler’s waste disposal is not often told, though some parts of it have become widely known.  Most people have been told about how the Village used to be a dump, but how many know that the first garbage collectors were nor Carney’s Waste Systems but the Alta Lake Sons of Tipplers Society?

Before Whistler was Whistler and the valley was still known as Alta Lake, there was no centralized waste disposal.  Lodges in the area made their own dumps and homeowners were responsible for disposing of their own waste, which often meant burning anything that could be burned.  Recycling as we think of it today was yet to be introduced to the valley, though anything that could be reused often was.

This illustration accompanied Bill Bailiff’s article on black bears in the Community Weekly Sunset in July, 1958.

At the time, the relation between garbage and bears becoming aggressive had already been recognized.  Bill Bailiff, president of the Alta Lake Community Club, wrote a series of articles for their newsletter on the local wildlife and had this to say about bears:

When encouraged it loses its fear of man and comes in close to buildings.  If [a bear] scents anything edible it will use its powerful claws to rip and tear into anything and screening on a meat safe goes like so much tissue paper, so don’t encourage them around if you don’t want trouble.

The Whistler valley did not have a central dumping location until the 1960s.  The Alta Lake Ratepayers Association (ALRA) applied to lease acreage at the base of Whistler Mountain where the Village stands today.  Equipment and labour to dig ditches and cover said ditches once full were donated by the Valleau Logging Company (the same company that moved the train wreck to where it now lies) and families living at Alta Lake were each assigned a week to keep the area tidy, mostly by raking garbage that had been removed by bears back into the ditches.  Clearly, the bears were regular visitors.

Bears at the original dump site, now Whistler Village.

The growth of skiing at Whistler brought large numbers of visitors to the area who often left the garbage they produced lying at the train stations when they departed.  The ALRA placed oil drums at the stations in an attempt to contain the mess.  The oil drums were purchased and painted green using left over tip money from Rainbow Saturday nights and so the barrels were given the label ALSOTS (Alta Lake Sons of Tipplers Society) to celebrate their origins.

Despite the efforts of the ALRA, the garbage dump did not always run smoothly.  In a notice to the community, the ALRA noted that garbage was being found around instead of in the trenches and in the fire prevention water barrels, the signs that read “Dump in Trench Only” were quickly disappearing and, despite the dump being a “No Shooting” area, bullet holes rendered the water barrels useless in case of fire.  More disturbingly, some people seemed to be going to the dump to shot the bears that frequented the area as trophies.

From the Whistler Question, 1982: Fantastic Voyage take a trip into their own special world of choreography at Stumps. Stumps, the nightclub located in the Delta Mountain Inn, was named for some of the natural debris found when excavating the old landfill site in preparation of village construction.

When construction of Whistler Village began in 1977 the garbage dump was moved to Cheakamus.  In 2005, this landfill closed and Whistler’s waste management moved to its current location in the Callaghan Valley when construction began on the Olympic athletes’ village.  Carney’s now operates two recycling centre in Whistler and a compost facility in the Callaghan.  To learn about how Whistler tries to reduce human-bear conflict and keep our garbage away from bears, visit the Get Bear Smart Society.

Signs of Spring

For some places in Canada the beginning of spring in March or April brings the return of migratory birds and the first flowers in gardens.  Vancouver famously heralds spring with the arrival of cherry blossoms and (sometimes) the end of steady rains.  In Whistler, as the last snow in the valley continues to melt, however, signs of spring’s late arrival take a rather different form: skunk cabbage and spring skiers, both of which have a relatively long documented history.

The Skunk Cabbage, Whistler’s unofficial official flower. Photo: Bob Brett.

It’s not uncommon to spot a few early daffodils and crocuses around the valley if you’re looking for them (especially outside of Meadow Park Sports Centre, which may have something to do with nearby heat tracing), but it is hard to miss the bright yellow blooms and swampy smell of skunk cabbage that mean spring has truly arrived in Whistler.  In May of 1977 the Whistler Answer declared skunk cabbage, or Lysichiton americanus, to be the official flower of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, claiming that it “best exemplifies the spirit of this young community” and that “its bright yellow flower is as cheery a sign of spring as any Robin Redbreast, cherry blossom or halter top.”  Also known as swamp lantern, skunk cabbage can be found throughout Whistler; one needs only to walk down the Valley Trail or drive along the highway.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Just as easy to spot are the spring skiers and snowboarders heading up Blackcomb for the last few weeks of the season with light or no jackets or, on warmer days, in short and t-shirts.  Spring skiing has been popular on Whistler Mountain since its opening in the 1960s.  At breakfast with my own grandmother, she recalled a day of skiing back when the Roundhouse was still round when one female skier arrived inside the cafeteria in her bathing suit with her skis still strapped on her feet.  Though images of a similarly attired woman were used to advertise spring skiing on the cover of Garibaldi’s Whistler News in 1970, such outfits were not actively encouraged by the same publication’s spring skiing tips.  Instead they warned that “it only takes one fall on hard packed snow to cause painful cuts, scratches and bruises on legs and arms” and advised “lightweight stretch pants and wind shells or light sweaters.”  Garibaldi’s Whistler News also emphasized the importance of two other spring skiing tips that can still be applied today: sunscreen and sunglasses.

A skier demonstrates why shorts and t-shirts may not be the best option, no matter how warm it may be. Photo: George Benjamin collection.

Whether getting a few more days on the mountain or riding the trails in the valley, enjoy spring in Whistler while its lasts.  Summer will be here before we know it.

Exploring Whistler’s Biodiversity: Whistler Nature 101

“When we begin to see how nature works, we are awestruck by the literal beauty of its complexity: a beauty that is more than skin deep.” – Master Naturalist

For the second year the Whistler Museum will be offering our Whistler Nature 101 program.  This three hour training seminar was developed to help elevate the knowledge of Whistler’s natural environment throughout the community.

In short, the goal is to help Whistlerites better understand their home and all of its biodiversity so they can speak knowledgeably about it to other people.

A myriad of amphibians can be found in local wetlands, including the Northwestern salamander. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

 

Without some knowledge about nature, experiencing Whistler is like a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which are turned to the wall.  In this seminar the museum shares valuable knowledge needed to fully experience and appreciate all the “works of art” in our breathtaking valley.

Topics covered in Whistler Nature 101 are wide ranging and include what you need to know about Whistler’s geography, geology, volcanoes and glaciers – and how these physical elements influence the variety of life here.  And Whistler has a ton of biodiversity to cover.

Named for their pungent aroma, skunk cabbage flowers start popping up in damp lowlands soon after the snow recedes, and are a favourite early season snack for the local bears. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

 

Since 2004 the Whistler Biodiversity Project, led by biologist Bob Brett, has added over 3500 species to Whistler’s total list of over 4000 (and growing every year) species.  Biodiversity is the foundation of healthy, functioning ecosystems upon which all life depends.  For anyone who’s curious about the natural world, Whistler is a pretty awesome place to be.

Participants from last year commented: “Whistler is far more interesting (in terms of biodiversity) than I ever imagined,” “There is way more than just a ski hill here” and “Good explanations of biodiversity and geology of Whistler.  Many guests ask about these topics.”

Who said wetlands are ugly? Bog laurel adds a splash of colour along the water’s edge. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

The Whistler Nature 101 seminar is three hours with handouts and other learning materials provided.  Cost is $50 per person, with a special half-price rate for any active nature-based volunteers.

The full outline for the seminar can be found here.  For more information, email Kristina at DiscoverNature@whistlermuseum.org.  To register please call the Whistler Museum 604 932 2019.

The Whistler Museum would like to thank the Community Foundation of Whistler for financial support to develop the seminar.

Kristina is a long-time volunteer with the Whistler Naturalists and is grateful to share information from the knowledgeable naturalists from whom she’s learned over the years during Nature 101.