Category Archives: Museum Musings

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

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Everything is Connected

You never know when you’ll find a connection in Whistler’s history between two seemingly unrelated subjects.  A recent donation to the museum showed an unexpected connection between the Chateau Whistler Resort and the topic of last week’s post, Toad Hall.

While clearing out some offices, staff at the Chateau came across a large book full of press clippings dating from 1987 to 1993.  This book was donated to the museum and provides a pretty comprehensive picture of the proposal, development and opening of the Chateau Whistler Resort, as well as Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler Village and the resort in general (it even includes an article on the historical bus tours that used to run in Whistler).

From the contents, the book appears to have been compiled by Debbie Williamson, then the director of sales at the Chateau.

In 1987, when the clippings begin, Intrawest Properties Ltd. was actively developing the 254-acre (103-hectare) site at the base of Blackcomb, now known as the Benchlands.  As part of this larger development, Canadian Pacific Hotels had plans to build what would become Whistler’s biggest hotel.

The Chateau Whistler Resort in 1996, after the addition of 221 rooms and the well-known Macdonald Ballroom. Whistler Question Collection.

With a budget of $50 million, the Chateau Whistler Resort was to include a ballroom, banquet room, meeting rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, six tennis courts (including two covered courts), a dining room, restaurant and a 200-seat discotheque, all scheduled to be open for the 1989-90 ski season.  An 18-hole golf course was also to be built, though it was not expected to open until the summer of 1990.

The Chateau Whistler Resort was officially given council’s conceptual approval in August 1987.  Despite some problems with the asphalt tiles of the roof (John MacKenzie, in the Whistler Question, thought that “The roof looks like it was designed by Jimi Hendrix, with the mottled green and white”), the Chateau was ready to open on schedule in November 1989, with almost everything from the original plans (unfortunately there was no discotheque).

The Chateau’s opening on November 17 was well covered by The Province, and it is here that the connection between the grand hotel and Toad Hall appears.  The first guest to be presented a key by general manager Dave Roberts was a Mrs. Winnifred Mather Hillman, who was given the stay at the hotel as a surprise birthday gift by her husband Charles.  Charles Hillman (as mentioned in last week’s article) was the owner of the first Toad Hall, a small cabin originally built by Alf Gebhart.

The first Toad Hall, 1969. Benjamin Collection.

The clipping continue on until 1993, including a piece from August 1990 about the issue of the roof.  There had been concerns about the use of asphalt tiles instead of slate or another material from the beginning, and council was not too happy with the resulting “mottled green colour”.  The Chateau had been ordered to re-shingle, but the process was deferred and the hotel was later given the option of paying a “fine” of $140,000 to be used for community projects instead.

The museum would like to thank the Chateau for their donation.  If you find a piece of Whistler’s history while clearing out an old office, garage or attic come visit us at the museum.

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.

Saunas of Whistler

Looking through Whistler publications from the 1970s, it’s easy to see that building and design in Whistler has changed a lot over the decades.  It’s rare today to see a newly constructed A-frame, Gothic arch cabin or a condo advertised using wall-to-wall shag carpeting as a selling point.  Like the shag carpeting and A-frames, saunas also seem to be disappearing from town.

Not all saunas built in Whistler necessarily met the criteria of H.J. Viherjurri, one of the founding members of the Suomen Saunaseura (Finnish Sauna Society), to be considered a true sauna.  He and other members defined a sauna as a room or hut built of wood and containing stones heated by some kind of stones.  These stones heat the air to upwards of 160°F and water can be thrown on the stones to produce steam, called löyly.  Viherjuuri explains that, unlike steam rooms, the air in a sauna remains dry as the moisture is instantly absorbed by the wooden walls of the room.

It’s not clear whether the products in this 1980 California Pool & Spa ad from the Whistler Answer would meet the requirements of a sauna.  Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Also important to be considered a true sauna is the multi-round process of alternately heating and cooling, whether by a cold shower, jumping in a lake or even rolling in snow.  The process often also includes light beating with leafy birch branches to clean the skin.  Without known how saunas built in Whistler were used in the 1970s it is impossible to assume they met the requirements of this definition.  The term sauna was, however, used to attract buyers and visitors to various properties.

In advertisements placed in Garibaldi’s Whistler News the Christiana Inn, Highland Lodge, Cheakamus Inn, Ski Boot Lodge and Whistler Inn all featured the word sauna among their various assets.  The Whistler Inn, described as “an ultra modern, yet rustic lodge” listed their sauna first among their attractions “available for your added enjoyment and comfort”.

Many of the condominiums built around Whistler at the time also included saunas, whether private or shared, for the use of guests and residents.  Blackcomb Condominiums, Telemark Townhouses and Alpenforst condos all had saunas available and the “very deluxe units” of Adventures West included “dishawashers, saunas, washing machines and dryers”.

This living room was used to sell Tamarisk units in 1973; see the massive fireplace and wall-to-wall shag. Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Fall 1973.

Perhaps best known is the example of Tamarisk.  The first phase of Tamarisk, built in 1973, included 146 units, each featuring a sunken living area, a “massive stone fireplace”, shag carpet and a private sauna.

Saunas remained a popular part of aprés-ski culture into the 1980s.  For those who didn’t already have their own sauna Wedge Mountain Construction advertised in The Whistler Answer in December 1980 that they could build one for you.  You could also purchase a freestanding sauna kit from California Pool & Spa for $900.

For a price Wedge Mountain Construction would build a sauna for you. Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Though houses may still contain saunas, many of these rooms are now used for purposes other than bathing.  Growing up in 1980s house built with one of these wooden rooms, some small children thought sauna was just another word for storeroom.  Rather than attract buyers with the promise of their own private sauna, house listings today are more likely to advertise a Tamarisk unit with a converted sauna.

While saunas may not be nearly as prevalent as during their 1970s ’80s heyday, they can still be found in Whistler at Meadow Park Sports Centre, various hotels, the Scandinave Spa and even some private residences.

Over 20 Years of Whistler Welcomes

November has traditionally been a time of arrivals in Whistler: the snow arrives in the valley (we hope) and new faces arrive for the upcoming season.

Over the past week you may have seen some (or been one) of these new residents throughout town getting their scavenger hunt passports stamped, attending classes at Meadow Park Sports Centre or playing board games at the Whistler Public Library.

While many board games can by played at Games Night at the Whistler Public Library, we don’t think the Whistler Challenge will be among those found there.  Does anyone have a copy of this Whistler game? Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

All of these activities are part of Connect Whistler, a weeklong Whistler introduction put on by Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) and community partners.  Though the name may not sound familiar, the idea behind it should be.  After all, WCSS has been officially welcoming new arrivals to Whistler for over a decade.

The first Whistler Welcome Week was put on in November 2003 by WCSS youth outreach workers Tessa McLoughlin and Greg McDonnell.  The week was designed to resemble “a healthier version of a university frosh week” and offered five alcohol-free events attended by over 1,300 people.

Some events, such as a volunteer fair and scavenger hunt, familiarized attendees with services and businesses available in Whistler.  There was also a snowboard film screening and the Moist Pool Party held at Meadow Park.  The week’s festivities culminated in Saturday’s Community Welcome Dinner.

Community meals have been held in the Whistler valley for decades.  Here the Alta Lake community gathered to ring in the new year.  Philip Collection.

Held at the conference centre, the Community Welcome Dinner sat new residents and old at a table together to share a meal provided by some of the town’s top chefs.  Whistler’s then-Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and his wife got to know eight young Australians the first year, discussing travel and the upcoming season.

The following year, the dinner was renamed in honour of Jill Ackhurst, a long-time community member and chair of the WCSS board of directors who died in 2003.

With the support of community partners such as LUNA, Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the RMOW, most of these events would remain Welcome Week staples over the next 12 years.

Other events were also added, ranging from a community rummage sale to workshops on tenants’ rights.

In 2016, WCSS announced a rebranding of Welcome Week.  The scavenger hunt, which used to be a single afternoon’s activity, has been reformed as a week-long opportunity to find and get familiar with local businesses and services, including the new WCSS building, the Re-Use-It Centre, the Whistler Library and even the Whistler Museum, with the incentive of some pretty great prizes.

Participants are also offered a chance to try out classes at Meadow Park, devour Rotary pancakes and ensure a good winter season by taking a plunge in Lost Lake.

With a few variations in dress, this photo easily could have been taken at the Whistler Museum last night. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Last night the Whistler Museum hosted Feeding the Spirit, the last in a long list of Connect Whistler events.  Thank you to everyone who joined up and we hope you learned something about Whistler’s history (if not, we’re open daily!).

A huge thank you to Creekside Market for their ongoing support of Feeding the Spirit, as well as all the local businesses that generously provide prizes.

Childhood Days at Parkhurst

When we post images on social media it’s hard to predict which will be particularly popular and start conversations.  Recently we posted a few photos of Parkhurst on Instagram and the response we received showed that while many people find the history of the area interesting, many are also surprised to learn the stories behind the ghost town.  (If you aren’t already following the museum, you can find us @whistlermuseum.)

The photos we shared, some of the first colour images of the mill site we have received, were brought to the museum by Ronald Clausen who lived at Parkhurst with his parents in the 1950s.  Along with the photos Ronald also provided an account of his childhood memories from Parkhurst.

Ronald and his father pose above the Parkhurst mill site. Clausen Collection.

John (Aage) and Birthe Clausen emigrated to Canada from Denmark in 1950 and, after some time in Vancouver, arrived at Parkhurst in 1954.  The family lived there seasonally for two years, returning to Vancouver over the winters when the mill was closed.

When they arrived the first spring the family found a house infested with vermin, quickly dealt with using a “disinfectant bomb”.  After a thorough cleaning and some repairs the home appeared neat and tidy and even had a small garden added in the front.

John Clausen stands in the garden outside the family’s home. Clausen Collection.

The Clausen’s home, like the other houses in the small settlement, was located on an embankment above the train tracks along Green Lake.  Ronald remembers playing outside as a small child and accidentally rolling down the embankment to the tracks below.  As he recalls, “Getting up after the fall, dirty and frightening, and looking up from the tracks, along with my mother and my home out of sight, the world at that moment felt immensely big.”

A small collection of houses stand in a clearing above the Parkhurst mill site. Clausen Collection.

As a child Ronald experienced life at Parkhurst from a different perspective than seen in other accounts of Parkhurst.  His memories include items and events that a child would remember, such as the Sugar Crisp cereal his parents sometimes included in their weekly grocery orders delivered by train, and many of the photos are images of childhood milestones such as birthday parties, Halloween costumes and community picnics.

Ronald and his mother would pick fresh flowers on many of their walks. Clausen Collection.

Ronald and his mother spent a lot of time exploring the area while his father was at work.  They would walk by the shore of Green Lake (where there was sometimes the added excitement of the tugboat at work) or walk out to Lost Lake or the sandbank.  Often they would walk over to visit Lloyd, a friend the family had met in Vancouver who did administrative work at Parkhurst.

For Ronald these visits are remembered fondly.  It was exciting to walk along the trail under the huge trees, and even more exciting to get one of the cellophane wrapped chocolates that Lloyd kept in a jar.  These made a lasting impression, as Ronald claims “Even today, when I open and eat a small wrapped candy, I think of having done the same thing under the fir trees of Parkhurst on my way home from Lloyd’s more than sixty years ago.”

A Parkhurst community picnic on the shore of Green Lake. Clausen Collection.

Though his parents lived there for only two years and later moved back to Denmark in 1971, their memories of the area were cherished and shared with friends through their stories and slides.

Ronald revisited the remains of Parkhurst during his last visit to Whistler and he closed his remembrances with this wish: “Today the buzz of saws at the sawmill and the laughter and conversation of Parkhurst people gathered at picnics, Halloween celebrations, birthday parties and dances sound no more, but hopefully the recollection of the little town will live on.”

You can take a look at the rest of the Clausen Collection here.

Women’s History Month: Part III

As we’ve discussed in the past few weeks, countless women have contributed to Whistler’s success over the past decades.  This week, the last in Women’s History Month, we are featuring Stella Harvey, who over the last 18 years has contributed tirelessly to Whistler’s burgeoning literary arts scene.

Stella Harvey founded the Whistler Writers Festival after moving to Whistler in 2000.

Stella and her husband Dave moved to Whistler in 2000 from Italy.  She left behind a career as an international management consultant and planned to become a writer.  After struggling to to feel connected to the community, she decided to post an advertisement in the local newspaper looking for other aspiring writers.

She recalled, “When we first moved to Whistler, it was very hard to find a feeling of community.  Living in Rome, even though we were in the middle of the city, everyone in the neighbourhood knew who I was.  I felt quite isolated in Whistler, so I had to create me own community.”

The first meeting of the Vicious Circle, her newly formed writing group, attracted 26 like-minded individuals who were hoping to improve their writing skills and ultimately get published.  Stella organized the first Whistler Writers Festival by inviting a guest author to speak to her writing group.  The first year saw 20 participants gather in her living room.

These typewriters must have seen plenty of writing in their lifetimes, though largely replaced by computers today.  Whistler Question Collection.

In 2001 Stella and members of the Vicious Circle formed the Whistler Writers Society.  The Whistler Writers Festival remains the main event put on by the volunteer-led organization, but they have included more programs aimed at providing opportunities for writers and bibliophiles to enjoy the literary arts throughout the year as they grow.

Programs such as the Whistler Writer-in-Residence Program, which started in 2007, provide opportunities for local writers to work with a published author and help hone their skills through classroom sessions and one-on-one meetings.

The Authors in the Schools program began in 2013 and has included authors such as Richard Wagamese, Joseph Boyden, Katherine Fawcett and Eden Robinson.  Its aim is to engage youth in the literary arts and provide the opportunity for students from Squamish, Pemberton, Whistler and Mount Currie to ask questions and hear authors read from books they are studying in class.

Since its first year in 2001 the Whistler Writers Festival has grown into a four-day event with 60 guest authors and roughly 2,000 participants.  The theme for this year’s festival, held earlier this month, was: “No one succeeds alone.”

Stella Harvey has embodied this theme by working selflessly to put on the best possible Writers Festival and other literary events throughout the year for the community.  While living in Whistler she has published two novels, Nicolai’s Daughter in 2012 and The Brink of Freedom in 2015, and in 2015 was also awarded Whistler Champion of Arts & Culture at Whistler’s Excellence Awards.

While this concludes our celebration of Women’s History Month this certainly won’t be the last time we share the stories of women who have contributed to the valley, both in the past and present.