Category Archives: Environment

Our greatest asset.

Driving the Sea to Sky (when it was mostly dirt)

If you’ve ever taken a look at the Whistler Museum’s YouTube channel you might have seen a short film from the Petersen Film Collection that features the drive to Whistler in 1958.  The footage makes it clear that the drive was an interesting one, full of steep hills, narrow roads and bumpy track.  At one point the car obviously overheated, a problem solved with the help of a nearby river.

The footage from the Petersens is only one account of coming to Whistler by car when the area was still known as Alta Lake.  Another well-known figure in Whistler, Don MacLaurin, also made the journey up the “highway” in 1958.

At the time Don was working in the forest service and was part of a cruising crew staying in Pemberton (cruising crews measure volume and quality of timber before it is harvested).  In a 2007 with John Hammons and Karen Overgaard, Don shared photos of his trip that are now part of the Whistler Museum archives.  As Don recalled, it took “two crews, two land rovers, winches, prayers and eight hours to go from Squamish to Pemberton.”

The road through the Cheakamus Canyon. MacLaurin Collection.

One shows a portion of the original road through the Cheakamus Canyon.  When asked to describe the drive, Don chose the word “precarious.”  The one-way road had a cliff on one side and, according to Don, “logs cabled through the road into the cliff… trying to hold the road in.”  Another photo shows a cable running back to a land rover.  It was a good thing the crews had two, as one would frequently be used to pull the other out when stuck.

A land rover is pulled up the road by another land rover – it’s handy to have two. MacLaurin Collection.

The road through what is now the Tapley’s Farm neighbourhood (and at the time would have been around the actual Tapley’s Farm) was “very, very wet and very soft and you were lucky to get through that as well.”  Once past Alta Lake the crews still had to get past what they called “suicide hill” which was located “under the power lines on the railroad side of Green Lake when you made the descent back down to the Green River.”  With a “so-called road” and “baseball-sized boulders” it’s no wonder Don described that section as “very, very tricky.”  Despite these challenges, the crews did eventually make it to Pemberton.

The “roads” in Whistler. MacLaurin Collection.

This was not the first time Don had come through the Whistler valley.  In 1951 he travelled through on the PGE on his way from Quesnel to Vancouver.  By 1961, when he returned with Isobel and a couple of neighbours, there was still no dependable road, and certainly not one that could sensibly be used in the winter, so again they came by rail.

Going through the Cheakamus Canyon on the PGE. It still has quite the drop. MacLaurin Collection.

By 1964 visitors to Whistler could come along a gravel road called Highway 99.  Two years later Highway 99 was paved from Squamish to Mons Station and to Pemberton in 1969.  With changes made over the decades and work done prior to the 2010 Olympics, the road Don, the Petersens and others travelled in 1958 is almost unrecognizable in the road we travel today.

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Growing Up at Brandywine Falls: From Resort to Provincial Park

We’re all familiar with Brandywine Falls, but did you know that it used to be a thriving resort?  Julie Gallagher, whose parents Ray and Ruth Gallagher ran the resort, will be with us this Saturday (April 28) to share her family’s stories and photos and to discuss how Brandywine Falls went from a bustling fishing destination to the provincial park you see today.

Tickets for the talk are $10 ($5 for Museum and Club Shred members) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

To complement our Speaker Series, Julie will be offering guided walks through the area on Saturday and Sunday.  We’re very excited to announce that Sea to Sky Parks will be opening the park gates a few days early and parking will be available.

The walk, which will tour the area once occupied by Brandywine Falls Resort, will last around an hour.  If you’ve ever wondered about the remains of buildings or other things you’ve found at Brandywine this walk may just answer all your questions!

Dogs are welcome to attend but must be leashed.  Tours will meet at noon at the entrance to Brandywine Provincial Park off Highway 99.

For more information, please call the museum at 604-932-2019

 

 

Discover Nature at Family Après

If you’ve been at Family Après in Olympic Plaza over the past couple months, you might have recognized a tent from the Discover Nature summer program at Lost Lake.  In July and August the Discover Nature team shared its knowledge of Whistler’s natural history through touch tables, activities and nature walks around Lost Lake.

Discover Nature at Family Après focuses on some of the animals that are active in Whistler during the winter.  The challenge is to identify eight mammals in Whistler that neither migrate nor hibernate using replicas of their skulls, tracks and claws.  This may not sound like a whole lot to go on but the teeth can give you clues about what an animal eats and the shape of the skull can indicate traits such as a keen sense of smell or better than average night vision.  Hints and help are also on hand if you get stuck.

The touch table at Discover Nature in the summer. Some of the same skulls, pelts and tracks are on display this Monday in Olympic Plaza.

While hiking, biking and even skiing around Whistler I have encountered over half of the animals featured at the Discover Nature tent, but one that I have never seen is the wolverine.  After learning about an encounter John Millar once had with a wolverine, I’m not so sure I want to.

Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel family, which also includes martens, mink and river otters.  Sometimes described as a mixture of a dog, a bear and a skunk, wolverines have short legs, long hair and distinctive markings, including a dark mask around their eyes and a light stripe on each side running from their shoulders to the base of their tails.  Although wolverines are typically about the size of a medium-sized dog they are effective predators and can even smell prey hibernating beneath six metres of snow.  Their diet can range from berries, rodents and ground squirrels to mountain goats and moose.

John Millar outside his cabin (today the area of Function Junction). Millar Creek was named for this early settler. Photo: Philip Collection.

Millar is perhaps best known as the trapper who introduced Myrtle and Alex Philip to Alta Lake.  A Polish immigrant, Millar arrived in the valley sometime before 1906 by way of Texas, where he worked as a cook at a cow-camp.  He purchased some land along the Pemberton Trail near the junction of Millar Creek and the Cheakamus River (today the area of Function Junction) and built a roadhouse for travellers, supplementing his income from trapping by charging 50 cents for a bed (meal not included).

From the account of Dick Fairhurst, Millar may not have always been the most successful trapper.  He regularly caught marten, rabbit, mink, muskrat (the basis for a memorable stew), and beaver.  Once, however, while out on his trap line Millar caught a wolverine.  Thinking it was dead he added it to his pack and walked on.  Unfortunately for him, the wolverine was still very much alive and came to while still on his back.  It ate a hole through Millar’s pack and “grabbed John by the seat of the pants.”  While Millar managed to extricate himself from the angry wolverine it was awhile before he could sit comfortably again.

Discover Nature will be back at Family Après in Olympic Plaza this Monday, March 5.  If you think you can tell a wolverine from a bobcat, come by and say hello.

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.

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!