Category Archives: Museum Musings

It’s Women’s History Month!

October may be more widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but in 1992 the Government of Canada also designated October as Women’s History Month to “celebrate the achievements and contributions of women and girls across the country and throughout our history.”

Though any month could have been selected, October includes two important dates: the International Day of the Girl on October 11 and Persons Day on October 18.

Persons Day commemorates the decision Edwards vs Canada (AG) – also known as the Persons Case.  On October 18, 1929, Canada’s highest court of appeal (which at the time was in England) ruled that women are considered “persons” under the British North America Act of 1867 and should be eligible for appointment to the Canadian Senate.

Countless women have contributed to Whistler’s community over the years.  Some, such as Myrtle Philip and Nancy Greene (whose own appointment to the Senate was made possible by the Persons Case), are well known while others are less acknowledged though no less important. To celebrate Women’s History Month we’ll be sharing the stories of a few of these women, beginning with a group of young women who first came to the valley in the 1950s.

(Left to right) Florence Strachan, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.  Petersen Collection.

Eunice “Kelly” Forster, Better Gray, June Tidball, Jacquie Pope and Florence Strachan were all teachers in the Lower Mainland when they first visited Alta Lake.  Together, the five managed to purchase a lot along the railway from the Massons.  While the asking price was $2,500, the group was able to get a reduced price of $1,500 due to their obvious love of the area and offer to pay in cash.  This price included a furnished summer cottage, dock, rowboat and toolshed.

The cottage, named Witsend after a particularly long and rain-soaked voyage up from Vancouver, became the women’s summer home for the next 10 years.  In 1956, some of them even bought the lot next door.  Sadly, Witsend burned down in November 1965.

June Tidball sold her shares after the fire, but by this time most of the women had ties to Alta Lake and the others remained in the valley, at least part-time.  Kelly Forster had married Dick Fairhurst in 1958 (the same Dick Fairhurst who would later recall Paul Golnick) and moved to Cypress Lodge.  She and Dick were active members of the growing community and Cypress Lodge acted as the base for the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

In 1965, Jacquie bought another lot on Alta Lake and, with help from friends, had a house built in 1965.  She kept this house, nicknamed the Vatican, until 2001 when she moved to Squamish.

This left Witsend and the other shared lot to Betty and Florence.  Betty kept the site of Witsend until 2000.  Next door, Florence had the lot cleared and a house built under the supervision of Andy Petersen.  She and Andy married in 1967.

Even before retiring and moving to the house on the lake permanently in 1983, Florence was active in many of the community groups in first Alta Lake and then later Whistler.

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.  Petersen Collection.

In 1986 she founded the Whistler Museum & Archives Society and, with a group of volunteers, gathered the beginnings of our current collection.  While serving as a marriage commissioner Florence performed over 1,000 services.

In recognition of her volunteer contributions, Florence was made Citizen of the Year in 1986 and awarded the Freedom of the Municipality of Whistler in 2012, the second woman to receive this honour (the first was Myrtle Philip).  Florence passed away in 2012 and is remembered today in Florence Petersen Park.

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Dick Fairhurst’s Memories: Paul Golnick

Many people know Dick Fairhurst as the owner and operator of Cypress Lodge on Alta Lake, now occupied by the Whistler Sailing Association and the Point Artist-Run Centre.  When he first moved to Alta Lake in 1943, however, Dick spent the springs working for Alf Gebhart at the Rainbow Lumber Company Mill.  After Cypress Lodge opened in the late 1940s Dick continued to work as a logger and, through his work, got to meet many different characters that came through the valley.

In Dick’s short collection of “Whistler Stories” some are mentioned only briefly while, others, like Paul Golnick, seemed to make life at Alta Lake exciting and memorable.

Paul Golnick arrived in the valley in 1952 and was assigned to work under Dick at the Van West logging camp.  Paul, a young German immigrant, was described as a “very husky, burly, no nonsense man” who “looked like he could carry the logs out on his back.”

The Van West Logging Camp in the 1950s, set up closer to today’s Function Junction. Noyes Collection.

Paul’s time at the logging camp stuck in Dick’s memory from his first loggers’ breakfast.  Before coming to Canada Paul had lived in post-war Germany and then worked in the coal mines in France.  The breakfast tables at the camp were piled with food and, as Dick recalled, in one sitting Paul made it through a dozen eggs, a plate of bacon and hot cakes and a finisher of toast and jam.  Paul later told Dick he had never seen so much food before.

Though Paul quickly proved to be a hard and capable worker, his time at Alta Lake was not without mishap.  While getting a drink from a creek one day he accidentally dislodged a small pole which came to stop of the head of a coworker (a chaser) getting a drink slightly down the creek.  The chaser’s head was pushed down and when he came back up mud streamed from his mouth and was lodged behind his glasses.  This wouldn’t have been so terrible but, in his temper, the chaser tripped over another log and fell into more mud.  While Dick hid behind a tree laughing and Paul tried to explain the accident the chaser gathered his things and left.

Logging donkeys, caterpillar tractors with arches and mobile loaders were used by Van West. It was hard work but an improvement over the hand logging of the 1920s. Green Collection.

There were few opportunities for driving in the valley but by the 1950s a rough tote road had been made by the logging camp on the old Pemberton Trail.  Dick bought three Ford Model As and, though his was a “real lemon” and good only for parts, Paul’s was good enough to get them to work.  Unfortunately, according to Dick, Paul wasn’t the best driver and he wouldn’t let anyone else behind the wheel.  On steep hills the motor would stall and Dick would have to jump out to put a rock behind the wheel – apparently Paul couldn’t yet handle the brake and gas at the same time.  On one occasion the rock failed and Paul, thinking he’d hit the brake, went back down the hill in reverse at full speed.  Dick described it as “the fanciest bit of steering I ever saw in my life.”  Despite two flat tires, the car was back on the road in just a couple of days.

After a year at the camp Paul took over Dick’s job hooking for the catskinners and brought his bride Marianne to join him from Germany.  A wedding party for them was held at Dick’s house and went well until, just moments after Paul had commented that he “had never seen so many happy people,” a fight broke out leaving Dick with a smashed window and a bloody wall.  Dick never asked what he thought about the “happy people” after that.

When Marianne was seven months pregnant a group from the Van West logging camp went to visit at Parkhurst.  This journey involved driving over the “road” to the log dump at the south end of Green Lake where they got a ride on the Queen Mary across the lake.  Visits to Parkhurst were great socializing opportunities and by the time the group left it was getting dark.  The Queen Mary brought them back to the log dump where there was so much bark and debris floating that, in the dusk, the debris could be mistaken for solid ground.  Unfortunately the first one out of the boat was Marianne who went straight through the debris and into fifteen feet of cold water.  Paul and the others still onboard quickly grabbed her and hauled Marianne back into the boat.  Luckily there were no ill effects from her dunking.

The settlement at Parkhurst in the 1950s, across the lake from where Marianne fell in. Clausen Collection.

Two months later Paul and Marianne created more excitement when, at 3 am, Marianne went into labour.  With no scheduled train, the section foreman had to be called to bring his speeder with a trailer to take Marianne to Squamish.  At Brackendale Marianne was loaded into an ambulance and a daughter was born before they made it to the hospital.

We’re not sure what happened to Paul and his family after they left Alta Lake and Dick doesn’t include any details on their later years.  This is not uncommon – so many people pass through the valley that it’s hard to keep track of everyone.  Paul’s time here, however, was certainly memorable to those who knew him.

50 Years of Green

When the mountains open this winter things will look a bit different.  Over the summer both mountains have undergone some changes.  On Whistler a new six-person Emerald Express will replace the four-person chair.  This will be the fifth chairlift installed along this lift line, with this season marking fifty years since the installation of the Green Chair.

Blizzard! The scene looking down the Green Chair during a snowstorm in February, 1979. Whistler Question Collection.

The first Green Chair, a two-person lift with an uphill capacity of 1000 people per hour, was installed on Whistler Mountain for the 1968/69 season and opened up new terrain for skiing.  Over the summer of 1968 two new beginner-intermediate runs were cut and groomed, known today as Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant, and advanced skiers were promised fantastic bowl skiing and powder skiing in the evergreens around the lift.

Once open the Green Chair made it possible for skiers to ski down to the valley on the northeast side of Whistler.  A new intermediate run was cut from the top of the Green Chair to what was then referred to as the “gravel pit”, the future site of Whistler Village.  A bus service provided by Whistler Mountain would then run skiers back to the gondola base at Creekside.

The two Green Chairs can be seen heading up towards the Roundhouse. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The Green Chair and the runs it serviced proved popular and in 1970 the lift was extended.  Loading now took place further down the hill where skiers and boarders were still loading when the mountain closed this spring.  At the same time Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant were widened and cleared of trees, stumps and boulders.

The Orange Chair, built in 1972, added more access to the Green Chair area and enabled the building of the Whiskey Jack run, which ran from the top of the Orange to the bottom of the Green Chairs.  By this time the “gravel pit” had been renamed the Olympic parking lot and Olympic Run was a regular ski out for many skiers.

Skiers head up the Green Chair on a sunny day, 1980. Whistler Question Collection.

By 1973, the popularity of the Green Chair and its beginner-intermediate runs already indicated the need for greater uphill capacity.  A second double lift, imaginatively named Green Chair II, was planned for the 1974/75 season.  Running parallel to Green Chair I and transporting 1200 skiers per hour, this new chair promised to eliminate lift lines in the area.

The next few years saw more changes for the Green Chairs.  A new run was cut in 1976 to reduce congestion in the area and the winner of the accompanying contest named the new route Green Acres.  Green Chair I gained a new tower in 1977 to allow the addition of a mid-station loading ramp.  The new loading point was meant to allow for skiing both earlier and late in the season.

Skiers board the Green Express at the bottom of Ego Bowl. Whistler Question Collection.

The two Green Chairs ran side by side until 1989, when both were replaced by the Green Chair Express, Whistler Mountain’s first quad chair.  This Green Chair lasted only eight years before the high-speed Emerald Express, also a quad, replaced it in 1997.

More than 20 years later the old Emerald Express has been disassembled and will reappear on Blackcomb this year, replacing the original Catskinner Chair from 1980.  The new six-person Emerald Express will provide access to the same runs build under the original Green Chair fifty years ago, though it may look a little different today.

Verner Lundstrom

We are incredibly lucky at the museum to have stories from a myriad of different people who lived, worked or visited the valley over the past 100 years.  Most of the narratives from the era of Alta Lake tend to belong in one of two categories: summer resort life or logging and railroad work.  The same names are often mentioned in both, as would be expected in such a small community, but very few people really lived in both categories.

One exception is Verner Lundstrom.  In the late 1920s, at the age of 18, Verner left Sweden to join his brother Charlie at Alta Lake.  Charlie had arrived in 1927 and made his living as a logger and pole cutter, finding the tall, straight cedars that could be used as telephone poles.  The brothers lived in a cabin close tot he railway and near Fitzsimmons Creek, about a mile away from Lost Lake.  Together they logged cedar poles around the northeast area of Alta Lake.

Verner Lundstrom hard at work. Photo: Lundstrom Collection.

As Verner recalled in an oral history done in 1992, all of their work was done by hand.  With no power saw, trees were usually felled using a two-person saw.  The brothers used horses to help move the poles to the eastern shore of the lake by what Verner described as “skid roads”.  From there the poles were floated across Alta Lake to the railway station at the south end and loaded onto flatcars.

Verner and Charlie worked together for 8 to 10 years before Charlie moved on.  During that time there were various logging operations within the area and Verner knew many of the people we’ve written about before, including the Jardine-Neiland family, the Barrs, Denis DeBeck, B.C. Keeley, the Gebharts and the Woods family.

Life in Alta Lake wasn’t all work – here Alf Gebhart poses with Ben Dyke and an unknown woman in front of his house at Parkhurst. Photo: Debeck Collection.

In his first few years at Alta Lake, Verner also worked at Rainbow Lodge as a seasonal handyman and experienced life centred on summer tourism as well.  Verner recalled that, at the time, Rainbow Lodge would have up to 120 guests and he and some others spent a lot of time swimming during the day and dancing at night.  For Verner, who enjoyed swimming and hiking, his job at Rainbow Lodge sounds ideal.

With the mountains and lake nearby, working at Rainbow Lodge was ideal in the summers.  Photo: Philip Collection.

When Verner wasn’t working at Rainbow Lodge or cutting poles with Charlie, he and his brother would often head up the surround mountains.  Verner thinks they must have gone up Whistler Mountain “hundreds of times,” either to hunt or “just to walk up to the lake.”  The lake in questions, Cheakamus Lake, had an old cabin that had been used by trappers and many weekends Verner would hike up, with or without Charlie.  Though Verner didn’t recall hiking up Blackcomb or Wedge, he did remember time spent hiking up Sproat and Red Mountain, known today as Fissile.

Verner stayed in the area even after Charlie had moved on.  In 1942, when he married Lauretta Arnold, Verner was living further up the rail line at Mile 43 between Alta Lake and Pemberton.  The couple then moved up to Mile 48 where Vern did the logging for the sawmill of John Brunzen and Denis DeBeck.

After their first child, Verner and Laurette moved to Birken, then later to Pemberton where their daughters could attend school.  In 1950 the family left the Sea to Sky and moved to Chilliwack where Verner continued to work in logging camps.  Even after he retired, Verner continued to fell trees for his friends until the age of 85.

Like Verner’s story, each oral history, letter or memoir in our collection provides a unique perspective on life in the valley.  Having access to so many different memories allows us to form a more complete picture of Whistler’s past.  Come visit us at the museum if you’re interested in adding your own perspective to the mix.

The Watersprite Lake Hut

In the past we’ve covered the building of various backcountry huts situated around Whistler, beginning in the 1960s.  Gothic arch huts have a place in much more recent history as well, as the Watersprite Lake Hut proves.

After the completion of the North Creek Hut in the fall of 1986, the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) took a hiatus from building backcountry huts.  Over the next two decades, the BCMC focused their efforts on outdoor education, environmental protection, trail building and trail maintenance and mountaineering training.

In the mid-2000s, attention was brought back to backcountry huts when David Scanlon took on the task of acquiring legal tenure from the Provincial Government and First Nations for the BCMC huts built at both Mountain Lake and North Creek.  The BCMC gained full legal tenure of these hut sites in 2009.

Following this achievement, the BCMC surveyed their membership about backcountry access and building more backcountry huts.  Scanlon formed a committee that investigated sites for a new hut and after careful study they chose to build a backcountry hut near Watersprite Lake.  Watersprite Lake is located just outside the southwestern edge of Garibaldi Provincial Park and is close to Mamquam Mountain and Icefield.

The Watersprite Lake Hut covered in snow this past winter. Photo by David Scanlon.

Prior to the construction of the hut at Watersprite Lake, the BCMC built trail access to the site that opened in the spring of 2016.  BCMC members noticed heavy foot traffic to the lake on the newly built trail.  The BCMC used space at Fraserwood Industries, thanks in part to a club member, to pre-fabricate the glu-lam arches required for the hut.  Scanlon calculated that committee members spent over 1000 man-hours in pursuit of constructing the new hut.

In the fall of 2016, construction of the Watersprite Lake Hut began.  The hut design includes a wood stove for use to heat the hut in the winter, a dedicated cooking area and enough room to accommodate ten people.  In the end, four additional arches were made by Fraswerwood Industries, which enabled the BCMC to built a seven-foot overhang to provide an emergency shelter and prevent snow build up around the front entrance.  Unlike other huts built by the BCMC in the late 1960s, early 70s and mid-80s, the Watersprite Lake Hut is locked to the general public and only accessible to registered users of the hut.  After seven years of planning and construction, the Watersprite Lake Hut opened in the winter of 2017.

The cozy interior of the hut. Photo by David Scanlon.

You may have noticed that, over the past couple of years or so, the museum has had backcountry huts (specifically those of the gothic arch variety) in mind.  You may even have seen a dancing hut as part of this year’s Canada Day Parade float.  This summer the Whistler Museum and Archives Society launched Coast Mountain Gothic: A History of the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Huts, a virtual exhibit with the support of the Virtual Museum of Canada, which can be seen here.

The museum will be opening a physical exhibit to complement our new online exhibit in November 2018.  Keep an eye on our social media or subscribe to our newsletter for upcoming news about opening night!

School Days in Whistler

The community of Whistler has undergone many changes in the last hundred or so years, and nowhere is this more evident than in our elementary schools.

When the first non-indigenous settlers began to make their homes around Alta Lake in the early twentieth century, there was no school- no infrastructure at all, in fact. The first school was built in 1931 as a community effort. Over $300 was raised from the small collection of residents- impressive at a time when a litre of milk cost ten cents! The Alta Lake School was fairly bare-bones.  It was warmed by an iron stove and had a nearby creek as a water source and gas lamps for light.

ARTICLE ALTA LAKE SCHOOL ACCESS WMA_P88_001 R JARDINE

Whistler’s first class photo, at Alta Lake School in 1933. Photo: Jardine Collection.

Ten students had to attend in order for the school to be funded by the government.  Only nine were then available at the time, so one boy, Jack Jardine, was persuaded to come for a half-day every week. Teachers today dream of small class sizes but this lack of students became the Alta Lake School’s curse. The school would close in 1946, reopen in 1951, close in 1962, reopen in 1964 and close for good in 1970 as families moved in and out and the number of children fluctuated. One teacher, Mel Carrico, was even hired on the condition that his four children attend the school.

As the permanent population grew following the opening of Whistler Mountain, the school was able to stop it’s constant reopening and closing. In 1976 a new school named Myrtle Philip School was built at today’s location of the Delta Village Suites. Though it opened with only 57 students, the students soon began to outgrow the school and an addition and then eight portables were added.  In 1992 the students were moved to the new Myrtle Philip Community School at its current location on Lorimer Road.

The first Myrtle Philip School at the beginning of the school year, 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler was now faced with a constantly growing student population. In 1999, Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half the school’s population. Anyone who’s had class in a portable can tell you that while fine on paper, they’re not ideal – they’re small, are often too hot or too cold, and have no water supply (especially noticeable when walking out to the washroom in a blizzard). Grade 7s  had been moved to Whistler Secondary when it opened in 1996 and soon the high school was in need of portables too. It was decided that a second elementary school was needed, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw boundaries for catchments of the two schools.

This resulted in some conflict – the new school needed half the youth of Whistler to attend, but not everyone lived with easy access to Spring Creek and there were worries about longer commutes and more cars on the road. Boundaries were eventually decided on and building could commence.

This wasn’t as simple as it sounded. The school was initially slated to open September 2001, but this was pushed back multiple times- first to September 2002,  then January 2003, then again to November 2003, then finally January 2004, as funding was secured and construction completed.

The wait was worth it. The new school boasted new science and art rooms, a computer lab, a well-stocked library, and, after a few years, a French Immersion program.

Spring Creek Elementary, Whistler’s newest school.  Photo: Olivia Brocklehurst.

Finding ten children to attend school in Whistler is no longer a problem. Whistler’s students now attend four elementary schools – Myrtle Philip, Spring Creek, École la passerelle and the Whistler Waldorf School. Even now discussions are beginning again about the possibility of a new school as Spring Creek. From the days of one-room schoolhouses to multiple school buildings, education in Whistler has certainly changed, though it remans an important part of community life.

Riding at Rainbow

Looking back on past summers (even ones that haven’t quite ended yet) it’s easy to remember the good parts: days at the lake, hiking around the valley and camping under clear skies.  At the museum we’re lucky to have the written records of various people’s memories of summers at Alta Lake, including one Douglas W. Barlow.

Douglas worked with the horses at Rainbow Lodge for the summer of 1930.  Though the lodge started as a fishing resort, horseback rides were a popular pastime for guests.  Douglas was in charge of the lodge’s 17 horses and the various trail rides throughout the week.  As he remembered, his charges kept him busy.

Heading out on the trail from Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

Some morning guests could go on breakfast rides to the Green River.  Douglas would take a packhorse over the day before with all of the food and dishes for the early breakfast and guests would book their ride in the main lodge.  Douglas did not exaggerate when describing the trip as an early morning ride: the call time was 4 am.  By that time all the horses had to be saddled and ready to go and Douglas had the job of knocking on cabin doors to wake up the guests.  Not surprisingly, some guests would opt out.  When that happened Douglas would unsaddle the horses and send them back to roll around in the dirt of the stables, only to have a guest change their mind and run up at the last minute.

On the other end of the spectrum from breakfast rides, Douglas led midnight rides as well.  he described these rides as “where you took a group out on the trail, built a campfire, toasted marshmallows, played the guitar and sang.”

While Douglas Barlow led each ride that summer, sometimes Myrtle, or even Alex, would join in the fun. Philip Collection.

Not all of the rides went smoothly.  By the end of the summer, when many of the guests were getting more comfortable on horseback, a group headed down to a long sandbar on the river where they could race.  One horse got spooked, jumped to the side and threw its rider into the path of the other horses.  Luckily, the girl’s glasses were broken but she was left uninjured though pretty shaken.

As Douglas recalled, these were “good days at Rainbow.”  When not riding, he had time to hike up the surrounding mountains and “play in the snow” and some nights he and a group of others would take a boat out with a gramophone, cushions and pie and milk from the kitchen.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

The busiest days were Sundays, when the railway ran an excursion train up to Rainbow.  Trainloads of visitors from Vancouver would descend on Rainbow Lodge for about two and a half hours where staff would serve afternoon tea, cake, sandwiches and ice cream.  Those who were inclined could be taken on short rowboat rides on the lake.  With all this going on it’s no surprise the horses were not taken out on Sundays.

Douglas only worked at Rainbow Lodge for the one summer.  He then worked in the forestry service in the province but every time he was on a train that stopped at Rainbow he would get off for a minute to look for the Philips on the platform.