Category Archives: Museum Musings

Records of Environmental Change: Why the Stories Matter

For our last 2018/19 Speaker Series on Thursday, April 11 the museum had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University for his presentation on environmental change in Alta & Lost Lakes.  The head of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Spooner and his students, working with Cascade Environmental Resource Group, have been using lake sediment cores to study Alta Lake for the past five years.  In 2018 Spooner took a core from Lost Lake.

Alta Lake has seen a lot of change over the past 150 years, both around its shores and in its water and sediment. Fairhurst Collection.

Sediment cores provide a record, not entirely unlike tree rings, of minerals and organic matter found in the lake sediment.  The core taken from Alta Lake was about 40 cm long and went back around 500 years.  By dating the different layers, Spooner and his student Dewey Dunnington were able to tell a lot about how the lake has changed over time and, by connecting the dates to historical records and stories told by locals, what might have contributed to these changes.

During his talk, Spooner highlighted the changing presence of copper and arsenic in Alta Lake.  Though there is always some change over time, the presence of both copper and arsenic increased considerably from the 1880s, as the Pemberton Trail and PGE Railway were built and the area became more settled.  While both have shown a decrease in more recent years, a spike in copper sometime around the 1960s illustrates how important stories are to adding context to this data.

The building of the PGE Railway and the development that followed disturbed the landscape around Alta Lake, changing the presence of minerals in its records. Philip Collection.

From the data and records, it had been assumed that the spike in copper was part of the increasing and continued development around the lake.  However, during a talk Spooner did at the museum in 2016 one audience member offered a different reason.  He got up and informed Spooner, “No, you’re wrong.  We dumped that copper in the lake, back in the 60s.  We wanted to get rid of an invasive species.” (Copper is used in some places as a biocide as it effectively kills parasites such as those that cause Swimmer’s Itch.  It also, however, will kill all the fish.)

When asked where one might find records of or a permit for this action, the man told Spooner there was none, they “just did it.”

There is no doubt that as stories are collected to add context to the core taken from Lost Lake, this attitude of “just do it” will come up again.  After all, we already know of some such cases.

In 1977 a group of Whistler freestyle skiers made plans to build their own ski jump on the shores of Lost Lake.  With no development permit or any official permission from the district, Lost Lake offered an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way site.  To go with the lack of permission, the ski jump also had no funding for materials or labour.  Timber was scrounged from a number of sources and the plastic grass ski out from the Olive Chair was taken from the dump and given a second life as the ski jump’s new surface.  Once the materials were gathered construction took only two weeks.

A jumper unfolds their flip into Lost Lake.  Whistler Question Collection,

The finished ramp projected out 20 feet over the lake (not too far from where the sediment core was taken) and willing skiers could launch themselves up to 40 feet above the water.  According to David Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “Injuries were commonplace but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.”

In 1981 the ski jump began hosting competitions and the next summer saw the first Summer Air Camp at Lost Lake.  Freestyle skiers came to Whistler to train with Peter Judge, the national team coach.  Far from being inconspicuous, film crews arrived to record events for television broadcasts.

Stories like these aren’t always included in the official records (permits weren’t always applied for in the 1960s and 70s) and so contributions from people who have been in the area are incredibly important for explaining the data.  As Spooner puts it, “The science isn’t worth anything without the stories.  We get it wrong.”

If you have your own stories to add, you can send them to Dr. Ian Spooner at ian.spooner@acadiau.ca or come visit us at the museum and we can pass them on.

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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 Same, 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.

Singing Through Whistler’s History

For this week, I decided to write about something that has always defined Whistler for me.  No, not skiing, but choir!

I first came to Whistler with my high school choir for the 2010 Whistler Music Festival, and returned again in 2013.  I joined the Whistler Singers when I came to town last September, and we received a donation at the museum of concert programs, membership lists and song listings from a choir member several months later.  With all this in mind, I set to work scouring the archives for anything that could help construct a history of choirs in Whistler.

The Whistler Singers under the direction of Molly Boyd.  Whistler Question Collection.

The earliest reference found was a photograph of the Myrtle Philip School Choir in the December 20, 1978 edition of The Whistler Question.  As the school had only opened in 1976, this shows that musical education was available from the very early years.

Another Question photo, dating from 1979, shows a group of young vocalists referred to as the “Community Club Christmas Carol singers.”  Various BC choirs gave performances in Whistler in the 1980s, including the Squamish Youth Chorale, a Vancouver a capella group Vox Humana, and the Kildala choir from Kitimat.

Whistler’s first adult choir – the Whistler Singers – began in 1982 with just nine people.  It may have started small, but the members’ shared passion for music would carry them on to become Whistler’s longest-running community arts group.  Welcoming “anyone aged 13 to 113,” it regularly performs at Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve carol services and performs an annual spring concert.

It was an Easter sunrise service without sunshine, but that didn’t stop approximately 80 people from attending the special 7 am service Sunday morning on the shores of Lost Lake. Molly Boyd, playing the organ, led the Whistler Singers who also turned out in full force.  Whistler Question Collection.

In April 2003, the Whistler Singers – now 45 strong – released its debut CD, Ascend.  The album included Canadian classics, folk anthems, traditional scores, and songs in Hungarian, Welsh, Japanese, Korean and Swahili.  Juno-award-winning sound engineer Don Harder lent a hand with the recording and local photographer Leanna Rathkelly designed the album’s cover.  This milestone was celebrated with a release party at the Maury Young Millennium Place (now the Maury Young Arts Centre).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus is another time-honoured staple of the Whistler musical scene.  This group began in 1991 when a Vancouver orchestra performing Noye’s Fludde, an operatic version of the story of Noah’s Ark, sought a children’s choir to sing with them.  Whistler Singers director Molly Boyd rose to the occasion and assembled a group of youngsters aged six and up.  The following year it formally became known as the Whistler Children’s Chorus.  In addition to regularly yearly concerts (including Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve services with the Whistler Singers), the Chorus has performed in Ottawa for the 2002 Canada Day and at events leading up to and including the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (they got very good at singing O Canada!).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus performing Hakuna Matata, 1995 Photo courtesy Whistler Childrens Chorus

Another children’s choir, the Moving Chords Youth Showchoir, was also active in Whistler in the 1990s.  Information about this group has proved hard to find, but it performed at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in the summers of 1998 and 1999.  A thank you card from the choir directors to their sponsor, the Whistler Community Arts Council, can be found in the museum’s collection.

Since the turn of the millennium, Whistler has drawn in musical talent from around the world.  Choirs and small vocal ensembles from outside Canada that performed here in the early 2000s included the Cwmback and Dunvant Male Choirs from Wales, the Dursley Male Voice Choir from Gloucestershire, the British quartet Cantabile and Huun Huur-Tu, throat singers from the state of Tuva in Siberia.

Wherever you are from, Whistler is sure to bring a little music to your life.

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).

Remembering Whistler’s Downhill World Cups

This year marks a few important anniversaries for ski racing on Whistler Mountain: it has been 40 years since the ski hill almost hosted the World Cup in 1979 before it was cancelled due to weather and safety concerns, and it is 30 years since Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup downhill event on Canadian soil.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Whistler Mountain also held other successful World Cup events in the 1980s and ’90s starting with a World Cup downhill in 1982.

By the last week of February 1982, Whistler had undergone some major changes since a World Cup was last attempted in 1979.  Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, giving Whistler Mountain nearby competition, and the first phase of Whistler Village construction was, for the most part, wrapped up.

The course for this World Cup downhill was changed as well.  Rather than follow the traditional route that used what is now known as Dave Murray Downhill ending in Creekside, the 1982 course ended in Whistler Village.

The Molson World Downhill came to Whistler, bringing thousands of spectators along with it.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The new 3,810-metre course was expected to result in a winning time in the two-minutes-and-15-seconds range.  Racers began near the top of the Black and Orange Chairs and then headed down through the Double Trouble rollers, the Pony Trail Flats, Tokum Corner, the Elevator Shaft, across Crabapple Creek and to the finish line in view of the spectators waiting in the village.

There was more to Whistler’s 1982 World Cup than raceday on Saturday.  The opening ceremonies began the festivities on Wednesday, February 24 and included a parade of nations complete with flags and local dignitaries.  The following evening was Western Night.  The scheduled events included a display of logger sports such as axe-throwing and chainsaw demonstrations and a square-dancing demonstration for the national teams.  The Lil’wat Nation also hosted an outdoor salmon barbecue.  The Friday evening before the race was a more casual affair with a torchlight ski parade and fireworks display.

A torchlight parade makes its way down Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

According to The Vancouver Sun, prior to Saturday the weather was “the most-discussed element of the whole affair.”  Days of fog and fresh snow leading up to the race meant great conditions for those skiing on the rest of Whistler Mountain but these conditions weren’t great for training runs, causing delays and cancelled practices.  Luckily, on Saturday and weather cooperated and, for the first time on Whistler, the World Cup downhill could go ahead.

Going into the race, the two racers to watch were thought to be Steve Podborski of the Crazy Canucks and Austrian Harti Weirather, the 1981 World Cup downhill champion.  The race was, however, won by Swiss skier Peter Mueller, a two-time World Cup downhill champion (the 1982 season ended with a tie for the title between Mueller and Podborski).

At the awards ceremony after the race on Saturday, the cheers for Mueller were reported to be just as loud as those for the Crazy Canucks.  Mueller appeared to enjoy his second trip to Whistler, having first come to the valley one a five-week camping tour of Western Canada in the 1970s.  When speaking of the area’s hospitality, he told reporters that, “The people here are so friendly.  They come up to me and say, ‘Hi Pete,’ even if they don’t know me.  I would really like to come back here.”

Whistler’s 1982 World Cup was not an unqualified success to everyone.  According to Doug Sack in Whistler Magazine some teams “loathed the new course.”  It ended too slowly, passing over the flats of Lower Olympic, and one Austrian was even heard to say “I should have brought my cross-country skis with me.”

Whistler Mountain hosted more World Cup downhills after 1982, using the Dave Murray Downhill course.  If you’re interested in learning more about Whistler’s World Cups and what it takes to organize and pull off such an event, join us at the Whistler Museum for our next Speaker Series on Thursday, March 29 with guests Rob Boyd and Alex Kleinman.

Whistler Golf…

At the moment, Whistler’s golf courses are an unlikely place to find a game of golf or even a determined played at the driving range.  Instead cross-country skiers, snowshoers and, in the case of the Whistler Golf Club, dog walkers can be found taking advantage of the layer of snow on top of the greens.  In just a couple of months, however, the ski and dogs will be replaced by carts and clubs.

Looking through one of the books on the museum’s reference shelf I came across The Whistler Handbook containing a summary of the courses found in Whistler, written by Doug Sack in 1993.  Sack was the first sports editor for the Whistler Question; he started in 1984 and held the post for 18 years.  During that time he also contributed to other publications, including The Whistler Handbook put together by Bob Colebrook, Kevin Raffler and Jennifer Wilson in the early 1990s.

Work on the Whistler Golf Course as seen from the bluffs where the building lots are situated.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

In the golf section of the Handbook Sack covers all of the courses from Furry Creek to Pemberton, including a few that hadn’t yet opened or were still under construction.  His commentary, like most of the book, is informative while entertaining.

The oldest golf course in the corridor is the Squamish Valley, first opened in 1967.  According to Sack it was built “by community-minded loggers and businessmen” and then renovated under the direction of Robert Muir-Graves in 1992.

The next course to open in the area was the Whistler Golf Course.  Though it originally opened with 9 holes, the full 18-hole course designed by Arnold Palmer officially opened in the summer of 1983.  Ten years later the course was reportedly busy with tournaments and visitors, making walk on tee times almost impossible except for “weekday twilights.”  This course is probably the most photographed in the museum collections as the Question was there to cover all aspects from its construction to the golf lessons Palmer once gave mascot Willie Whistler in 1981 on the 9-hole course to the commercial Sean Connery filmed on the greens in 1984.

Sean Connery seen filming a Japanese commercial for Biogurt on the Whistler Golf Course.  Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

By 1993 the Pemberton Valley Golf Club, designed by Boyd Barr and opened in 1989, was described by Sack as having “two distinctive nines, one in the open with lakes, and one in the trees” and offering a “diverse golfing experience.”  In only four years the course had developed a reputation as “the most popular course for locals and the most relaxed for visitors.”

Unlike the Pemberton Valley course, neither the Fairmont Chateau Golf Course nor the course in Furry Creek, both newly opened in 1993, were described by Sack as “relaxing”.  According to Sack, “You know a golf course is tough when you’re standing on the first tee and you hear one of the assistant pros walking off the 18th green bragging to his co-workers about almost breaking 80.”

As of 1993 Big Sky and Nicklaus North were under construction, set to open in 1994 and 1995 respectively.

Summertime in the Whistler Village in the 1990s.  Greg Griffith Collection.

The golf courses of Whistler are only one aspect covered in The Whistler Handbook, which includes sections on the community, the resort services, winter sports and more.  Anyone who experienced Whistler in the 1990s will find the contents familiar, whether they golf or not.  The 1990s are not often highlighted at the museum (in part because the decade still seems recent, despite ending 19 years ago); having resources like The Whistler Handbook and others in our collection ensure that the 1990s will be preserved as part of Whistler’s history.

The Village’s Oldest Building

What is the oldest building in the Whistler Village?

This is a question we have been asked many times, especially when leading Valley of Dreams Walking Tours through the village during the summer.  While some questions about Whistler’s history have very simple answers, the answer to this one is not entirely straightforward.

Municipal Hall could be considered the oldest.  The structure was built in the early 1970s and opened its doors in 1974, a year before the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed and a full five years before construction began on plans for the stroll-centred village we know today.  At the time the building was home to a Keg ‘N Cleaver restaurant, better known as The Keg.  It was not, however, located in the village.

One section of the Keg makes its way slowly up Lorimer Road. Note the rocks blasted off the corner and the BC Hydro employee on the roof. Photo: Whistler Question, 1981

The original location of the Municipal Hall building was in Adventures West on the north end of Alta Lake.  Over the May long weekend of 1981, the building made a well-documented move to its current location.  Despite its earlier construction, the Keg was moved beside another building that could also claim the title for oldest Village building by opening in the Village a year earlier: the Public Safety Building.

Construction of the Public Safety Building (PSB) began some time in 1979.  During this period it went by various names, including the Public Service Building and Tri-Service Building.  An image of the architect Raymond Letkeman’s drawing of the building was published in the Whistler Question in July and by the council meeting of October 5, when approval for a development permit for construction of the building was given after a public hearing, the progress on the PSB was reportedly “up to the roof line.”  The building was predicted to be closed in by early November and ready to occupy in the early winter.

The new Public Safety building starts to take shape as the snow creeps down Whistler Mountain behind.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1979.

Many other buildings were under construction at the time.  In November new access roads into the town centre were poured.  Photos from 1979 show the town centre as a large construction site with a school, the first Myrtle Philip School, along one edge.  The school relocated to Tapley’s Farm in 1992 and the old building was torn down, taking it out of the running for oldest village building.

The PSB was officially opened by Mayor Pat Carleton and a lineup of officials on May 3, 1980.  Representatives from the three services to be housed in the building (the RCMP, the BC Ambulance service and the Whistler Fire Department) were present, as well as approximately one hundred onlookers from the public, a good crowd for such an event in 1980.  Once the ribbon was cut and the fire doors and flag raised, the public was invited inside to view the fireman’s slide pole and the new jail cells.

The new Public Service building has its finishing touches added and new cells installed.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

The building was not completely finished by May 3.  The smell of fresh paint still lingered and some parts were still in the “dry-wall” stage.  A heli-pad behind the building had been completed only the day before.

The PSB was put to good use within weeks of it opening.  On May 11 a fire at the municipal landfill led to the first call out of the Whistler Volunteer Fire Department from their new home and by May 22 the RCMP reported that six people had spent some time in the new cells.

The new Public Service Building looks sharp with its new paint and brown and white decor. Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

Not all of the space in the PSB was assigned when it first opened.  There was talk of rooms being used as a courthouse, meeting rooms or council chambers.  Over the years the services housed in the PSB have changed, as has the building.  The ambulance service moved to is own building on Lorimer Road and space was added behind the PSB to house the RCMP service.