Category Archives: From the Archives

Behind-the-scenes insights into the inner workings of a community museum and archives.

Naming Night is Back!

Everyone is invited to the museum to help us add names to the subjects of our mystery photos!  If you’ve got stories behind the photographs, know where they were taken, or can identify any of the people pictured, we want to know.

At our first Naming Night event we were able to add over 250 names to our photographs.  These names get added to our database, making it easier to search for people and places.  We’ll be featuring more photographs on Wednesday, September 18!

Sharing the History of Alta Lake Road

Every so often, we get to take history out of the museum and share Whistler’s past at events around town.  This past weekend, we were invited to attend the Alta Lake Road Block Party held at The Point, and so we spent a few days gathering together any information we have about the neighbourhood.

The history of Alta Lake Road is possible one of the most thoroughly documented neighbourhood histories we have at the museum.  Florence Petersen, one of the founders of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society, even wrote a book entitled The History of Alta Lake Road, which included both the history of the area and a detailed narrative of each individual lot from 1925 to 2006, including her own.

Grace Woollard traverses the Pemberton Trail to Whistler in 1912.

The Alta Lake Road of today roughly follows the path of a section of the Pemberton Trail.  IN 1858, a Joseph MacKay and William Downie were commissioned to plot an alternate trade route between Vancouver and the gold fields of the Cariboo region.  The route went past Alta Lake and, though the grand ambitions of the trail as a trade and cattle route were never fulfilled, it was the path taken by some of the early 20th century settlers of Alta Lake, including John Millar, Alex and Myrtle Philip, and Grace Woollard.

The Pemberton Trail remained the only direct route from the coast to Alta Lake until 1914, when the Pacific Great Easter Railway reached the area.  In 1891, a company was incorporated with the intention of building a railway from North Vancouver to Pemberton.  A feasibility report for the project was published in 1909 by the Howe Sound Pemberton Valley and Northern Railway, which also began acquiring land along the Pemberton Trail as the train was to follow a similar (if less steep) route.  Nineteen kilometres of track had been completed before the money ran out.  In 1912, the PGE took over the project and resumed construction.

A southbound PGE train pulling in towards Rainbow Lodge.

Some of the land along Alta Lake that the railway had acquired was subdivided into lots and put up for sale in 1925.  Summer cottages soon joined Rainbow Lodge and Harrop’s Tea Room (today, the site of The Point) along the western shore of the lake.  Not all of the lots were sold at the time, and in 1956, the remaining lots were sold for a starting bid of $350.  These lots still make up the Alta Lake Road neighbourhood today.

Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, built by Maurice and Muriel Burge in the late 1950s. The house occupying the lots today looks very different.  Photo: Mitchell

As development and forestry increased in the area, the Pemberton Trail by Alta Lake was widened and frequently used by logging trucks.  The “road” ran between the lake and Millar Creek (in today’s Function Junction), giving automobiles summer access to the west side of Alta Lake.  According to Petersen, the Alta Lake Road we know today was constructed in 1965, branching off of Highway 99, running around the south end of Alpha Lake, and joining the Pemberton Trail road.  This early road was made wide enough for two-way traffic and went as far north as Rainbow Lodge.  The road was extended to join Rainbow Drive in Alpine Meadows in 1972 and, some time later, was paved.

Cypress Lodge, today the location of The Point, as seen from the lake.  Some of the building pictured are still standing today. Fairhurst Collection.

Though there have been more changes to Alta Lake Road in the past few decades than just paving, the area still plays a large role in discussions of Whistler’ past.  Many of the houses today bear little resemblance to their summer cottage predecessors, but others harken back to the years when visitors were drawn to the area for the fishing rather than the snow.

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.

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.

Discovering More About the Chefs of Rainbow Lodge

As the museum’s collection grows, so too does our understanding of the people who made Whistler’s early resort days possible.  Some names, such as Myrtle and Alex Philip, are already well known while others are far more obscure.  In this article, I’m going to shine a light on two lesser-known but very important figures from Alta Lake: Rainbow Lodge’s two cooks Lam Shu and Wing Sam.

Lam Shu shown outside Rainbow Lodge in 1926. Philip Collection.

Lam Shu was born in China around 1896 and immigrated to Canada in 1908 aged about 12.  It is unknown whom, if anyone, he was travelling with.  While living in Vancouver, he was hired by Alex Philip to work at the Horseshoe Grill.  Alex was running this restaurant to raise money for the newly established Rainbow Lodge, which Myrtle was operating on Alta Lake.  By 1916, Rainbow Lodge had become so successful that Alex sold the grill and moved up to Alta Lake full-time.  Lam Shu, now a young man of about 20, accompanied him to become the lodge’s chef.

Although little is known about Lam Shu himself, historical accounts give us a glimpse of a hardworking, talented and well-liked man.  His cooking skills were among the many draws of Rainbow Lodge, giving guests from across the country yet another reason to look forward to their visits.

Rainbow Lodge staff with Skookum the dog, approximately 1919. The man in the middle of the photograph is presumed to be Lam Shu. Philip Collection.

One of his signature dishes was divinity pie, filled with fresh peaches and topped with custard meringue.  In fact, the recipe was so sought-after that Lam Shu offered to teach it to Myrtle if she was interested.  He would also pack the ingredients for popular trail breakfasts, taken by guests on horse rides and prepared out in the bush.

Lam Shu wasn’t the only member of the Rainbow Lodge culinary team – the 1921 census reveals a fellow cook, Wing Sam, living with him as a “lodger.”  According to oral histories given by Whistler pioneers Vern Lundstrum and Vera Barnfield, he may have been Lam Shu’s brother, although this has not been confirmed.  Wing Sam was born in China around 1900 and moved to Canada in 1911.

The census gives some tidbits of info on the men’s personal lives – both were Confucian and could read and write.

At some point before 1932, Lam Shu visited his family in China.  Upon his return to Canada he unfortunately caught a chronic case of influenza.  For the sake of his health and to spend more time with his loved ones, he decided to return permanently to his birth country.  The museum has recently been given a letter, dated December 15, 1932, from Lam Shu to fellow Rainbow Lodge staff members George and Pearl Thompson.

In it, he states: “I am very sorry to say that I leave for China owing to my sickness.  I miss the Rainbow Lodge very much.  Hoping you are well and Kathleen (the Thompsons’ daughter) too.  Wishing everybody to have Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, so good bye to you all.  Sincerely, your friend, Lam Shu.”

After Lam Shu’s departure, Wing Sam took over as Rainbow Lodge’s head chef.  He remained in this position until the lodge was sold in 1948.

Wing Sam remained the chef at Rainbow Lodge until it was sold by the Philips in 1948. Philip Collection.

After this, Lam Shu and Wing Sam seem to have disappeared into history.  It is unfortunate that more is not known about these two men and their contributions to Whistler’s not-too-distant past.  If you know of any information on Rainbow Lodge’s chefs, the museum would be more than happy to hear from you!

Holly Peterson worked as the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She was here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ont.).  She is now moving on to a new contract at another museum and we wish her all the best!

Newsletter Reflects Two Decades of Change (and how some things stay the same)

April might seem a bit early to be thinking of summer; there is still snow melting in parts of the valley and you’re just as likely to see someone walking through the village carrying their skis or board as you are to see a person biking along the Valley Trail.

At the museum, however, we’re looking ahead to summer programming and expanding our staff with summer students.

Summer students end up with varied responsibilities, such as grilling at the museum’s AGM. Here are Lauren, a 2017 student, and Colin, museum Vice-President, at the grill.

We recently came across a Whistler Museum & Archives Society (WMAS) newsletter from the summer of 2001 and, despite the 18 years that have passed since its publication, the newsletter is not all that dissimilar to those we currently send out bimonthly.

Like today, the newsletter from 2001 updates readers on recent events held at or by the museum and introduces new staff members.  That summer, the museum hired three summer students: two to work with the collections and one to work more on programming and community outreach.

Kathy Look, one of the two collections assistants, worked on digitizing the museum’s collection while Eric Cron was to spend his summer cataloguing and doing preliminary work to create a database.  This type of work continues to be carried out by our summer students and interns in the archives today.

The third student, Erin Coulson, had varied responsibilities, including working on the outdoor signs around the museum, assisting with the running of the museum, publishing the museum’s newsletter and searching for information on the train wreck near the Cheakamus River to answer the many inquiries the museum had received.

The Train Wreck was a mystery for hikers near Function Junction for many years.

The newsletter also reported on the Canada Day Parade in which the museum won a prize for Best Community Club Entrant, thanks to “the creative talents of Darlyne Christian and the helpful mobile power of Alex Bunbury, both museum trustees.”  Apparently this was the first parade where Darlyne rode in her own creation, an experience she described as “quite exciting.”

After the parade the museum launched its latest cookbook, Festive Favourites, full of recipes from community members.  (As it happens, we no longer have a copy of this book in our reference library – if anyone has a spare copy we would love to take a look.)

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

Recent fundraisers were mentioned, including one held at the Dubh Linn Gate to launch the museum’s first educational website and an Oscar Night that raised over $3,500, along with new additions to the collections (such as two signs for Overlord and Lost Lake that were anonymously delivered to the museum).

Of course, there have been changes in the almost two decades since this newsletter was sent out.

The museum has moved into a different space and our online presence, including our website, has evolved (social media didn’t really exist in 2001).  In the summer of 2001 Paul Jago was announced as the winner of a competition to design the museum’s new logo, a logo that has since changed at least twice.

The museum’s previous home, as it was in the summer of 2000 during our Annual LEGO Competition. Museum Collection.

In case you don’t currently subscribe to the museum’s newsletter, our last Speaker Series for the 2019 season will be this Thursday, April 11.  We are very excited to welcome Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University to discuss his studies of sediment records in Alta and Lost Lakes and what these records can tell us about environmental change dating back to the 18th century.  If you have an interest in our lakes or a story about your own experiences of Alta or Lost Lakes, please join us!  More information can be found here.

Summers Gone By: The Dave Murray Ski Camps on Film

In my last post, I shared the story of Marine World/Africa U.S.A., a California zoo and theme park with an unexpected connection to the museum.  This week, I’ll be talking about a topic that is much more quintessentially “Whistler”: the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp.

Those who attended the camps on Whistler Mountain in the 1980s may have fond memories of summer skiing under the leadership of former Crazy Canuck Dave Murray.  Though the first summer ski camp on Whistler Mountain ran in 1966, the roots of this action-packed camp date back to 1967, when it was helmed by Austrian ski legend Toni Sailer.  Murray attended as a teenager and took over as head instructor in 1984.  The camp’s new name endured past Murray’s tragic death from skin cancer in 1990, before being simplified to The Camp in 2013.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp before Dave Murray took over in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

Over the past several months, I have been working with a large collection of materials related to the Toni Sailer and Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps.  These included a veritable treasure trove of 43 videocassettes and DVDs containing footage from these bygone summers.  Most of these tapes were annual highlight videos set to catchy tunes of the ’80s and ’90s.  Predictably, skiing took centre stage, showcasing everything from the wedge turns of beginners to the graceful freestyle of coaches like Stephanie Sloan.  One oft-repeated stunt saw campers zoom down a hill and through a large slush puddle waiting at the bottom.  Needless to say, this resulted in many painful-looking wipeouts.

The Summer Ski Camps aren’t the only ones to ski through slush – the spring Slush Cup is still going today. Greg Griffith Collection.

The videos also featured many outdoor activities that put the “summer” in Summer Ski Camp.  Once off the ski hill, campers enjoyed biking, swimming, windsurfing, watersliding, canoeing, roller-skating, and more.  Volleyball, tennis and golf seemed to be the most popular sports.  More unusual pastimes also made appearances – including a flying trapeze, an Aerotrim machine and a large, suspended basket carrying passengers over a river.

As per the carefree spirit of Whistler, cheeky and even rude humour abounded in these tapes.  Peppered throughout the videos were scenes of campers making faces, telling jokes and generally clowning around.  The ski camp staff performed and filmed skits such as “Dave Murray Land,” “Timmy’s Dream,” and “The Lighter Side of Coaching.”  They were even kind enough to include blooper reels.  More than one person mooned the camera.

A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s. The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing.

On the other hand, there were also several professionally-edited televised advertisements for the camp, such as a BCTV promo from 1984 and a Pontiac World of Skiing special aired in 1995.

As I watched hour after hour of footage, I was struck with a sense of double nostalgia.  Firstly, for the fun-loving campers whose childhood memories I was vicariously experiencing – and who must now be at least in their 30s.  Secondly, for myself.  Here I was, handling VHS for the first time in a decade and reminiscing about the summer camps outside my own hometown of Edmonton (although I must admit that the skiing scene on the Alberta prairies can’t compare to that offered at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps!).

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).