Category Archives: Museum Musings

These articles have also appeared in the Whistler Question or Pique Newsmagazine in the Whistler Museum’s weekly column.

Learning to Ski Whistler

Through the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lynn Mathews filled various roles for Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. She worked in the office and, in addition to the more typical office work, her responsibilities also included creating ski passes with a polaroid camera and a crank-turned laminator and putting together editions of Garibaldi’s Whistler News to help spread the word of what was going on at Whistler Mountain. As well, every so often, she would teach a ski lesson.

When Lynn and her husband Dave came to Whistler Mountain for the winter of 1966/67, they intended to be there only part-time to teach skiing on the weekends. Instead, Dave was brought on by the lift company as operations manager and Lynn began working in the office. When the mountain was short ski instructors, however, Lynn would sometimes be asked to teach.

Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. offices were located at the base of the Gondola. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection

Lynn had previously taught skiing at Grouse Mountain for a season and before that at Gray Rocks Inn in Quebec, where she met Dave. According to Lynn, those mountains did not prepare her for the amount of snow that Whistler Mountain could get.

Lynn would get called out when all the other instructors were busy or hurt, often with dislocated shoulders. In a series of interviews in 2019, she recalled the first time she was asked to teach on a big powder day with fresh snow that got as high as her hip.

In the 1960s and 70s, Whistler Mountain could get very, very big snowfalls and had very little in the way of grooming equipment, so most runs were ungroomed. George Benjamin Collection

After being called in and getting her boots on and gear together, Lynn discovered a problem. Lynn had been raised an eastern skier and, though very comfortable on ice and hard-packed snow, she didn’t know how to ski in that much powder. Unfortunately, neither did her class of beginners.

After a long trip up the mountain, Lynn took her class into the Roundhouse. According to Lynn, she found her husband Dave, Garibaldi Lifts president Franz Wilhelmsen, and Dave Brewer there. She went up to them and told them, “Ok you guys, help. How do I get off this mountain? I can’t ski this.” Their response was to laugh at her, apparently finding the situation “hysterical.” Dave Brewer did, however, giver her some helpful advice, explaining that she should lean back on her heels, keep her arms forwards, and keep her tips up.

Students in Lynn’s class may have looked a bit like this by the time they arrived at the Roundhouse. George Benjamin Collection

Lynn and her class headed out to make their way down the mountain. She began by doing a demonstration of how they were going to ski down, despite never having done it herself. Preparing herself mentally, Lynn said a prayer and pointed her skis down the hill. Keeping Dave Brewer’s tips in mind, her first few turns worked and she began calling her students down one by one. They did, eventually, make it back to the gondola.

Lynn also filled in to teach weekly school programs and, under special circumstances, was called on to coach at the summer ski camp on Whistler Mountain. One year, Lynn recalled being a private coach for a camp participant who was really a beginner skier. As the young man had come from California, they didn’t want to send him home, but he couldn’t keep up with the other campers. Instead, Lynn taught him and by the end of the camp he was able to go down the slalom course, even if he was much slower than the others.

An Oasis in the Bushes

A couple of weeks ago (Wednesday, November 17), the Whistler Museum opened Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town, a temporary exhibition about the Parkhurst Mill site. Though the Parkhurst Mill (or Northern Mills, as it was later called) closed in 1956, the site continued to be inhabited and cared for by various people squatting on the privately owned land into the 1990s.

While preparing for this exhibit, we were able to speak with one of the last (as far as we know) full-time residents of Parkhurst. Eric (also known to some as the Sheriff of Parkhurst) lived at Parkhurst from 1995 to July 1996. He first came to Whistler in 1989 and lived in various small cabins before hearing that Parkhurst had become available. He and a friend went over to talk to the previous occupant, who is believed to have lived there for twelve years, and look around the area. At that time, a two-bedroom house and a smaller cabin down the road were still habitable and the pair decided to move in. A few things needed a little bit of fixing up and the structures had no power, but there was an outhouse, gravity-fed running water, a woodshed, and a large garden. Eric and his friend invested a lot of time into the garden by keeping it up, adding a moss garden, collecting wrought iron and decorative ornaments, and making it “a little bit showy for people that were mountain biking in there.” The garden was meant to be shared with those who came by the area.

Part of the buildings and garden that were still present in 1999. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

This garden is also part of a bit of a mystery at the museum. In 2007, guestbooks from the Parkhurst garden ranging from 1995 to 1999 were mailed to the Whistler Public Library and then given to the museum to add to our archives in 2016. We don’t have any information about who sent the books to the library, who removed them from Parkhurst, or where they were kept at the garden. (If you have more information about the books, please let us know.)

Along with messages, visitors would leave drawings in the guestbooks, such as this one left in 1998.

Though some of the earlier entries are addressed to Eric, most of the entries in the books are addressed to a mysterious caretaker named “John.” Friends left messages to let John or Eric know they had been by to water the garden or take out some garbage, and two former Parkhurst residents from the 1970s wrote that they had stopped by. Anyone was welcome to write in the books and many people who hiked, biked, or paddled over to Parkhurst recorded their impressions. In July 1995, a group of Swedish physicists came across the garden and left a note to say hello and, in 1997, a hiker asked how John put up with all the mosquitoes. Occasionally, John would respond, such as when Rachel left gifts including a candle and picture for his walls.

The overarching message through the entries is gratitude for what one person described as a “nice oasis in the bushes.” The garden meant something different to each visitor but was appreciated as a peaceful, beautiful space open to all. In 1996, Christine wrote of the garden, “It has been a haven for me ever since I discovered it,” a sentiment that was expressed by many others as well.

As far as we know, this was the only wedding held in the Parkhurst garden area. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

In September 1999, a wedding was held in the garden and gazebo when Jen and Rob paddled 75 guests over for their ceremony. By that time, it appears no one was maintaining the garden full-time and the pair did some work to the area before their wedding took place. Today, there are few traces of the garden left and the surrounding buildings have become more dilapidated.

Parkhurst: Logging Camp to Ghost Town will run through January 17, 2022 at the Whistler Museum. If you have a story about the Parkhurst area you would like to share, please let us know!

Whistler’s Red Chairs

Many people, when asked about their experiences on Whistler Mountain, tell us stories that include the Red Chair. This is not all that surprising; until 1980, the Red Chair was part of the only lift route up from the valley and almost everyone who skied on Whistler Mountain had to ride the lift (apart from a few hardy individuals like Stefan Ples and Seppo Makinen, who preferred to climb up on their own).

The Red Chair on Whistler Mountain. George Benjamin Collection

On his first trip to Whistler during the summer of 1965, Paul Burrows and a group of friends hiked up the mountain with their skis to test out the area and, though they may have gotten stuck on a cliff for a while on their way down, the memories of seeing the Red Chair under construction stuck with him. Renate Bareham recalled a summer when she helped her father paint the top of the Red Chair.

At an event in 2019, Hugh Smythe described one of his experiences skiing on Whistler Mountain. The weekend after Whistler Mountain first opened in January 1966, Smythe drove up from Vancouver through heavy snow to work as part of the first ski patrol team. After a long journey (the drive through the Cheakamus Canyon took and hour and a half), the trailers at the base of the mountain set up as staff accommodation were full. Smythe and his group spent the night on the floor of the lift company cafeteria. Before going to sleep, however, they were told they would need to be back up at 5 am to shovel the top of the Red Chair so skiers could reach the top of the mountain.

Digging out the top of the Red Chair. Coates Collection

It was still dark when the ski patrol made their way up the gondola to the bottom of the Red Chair. There, they were told to take their shovels and ride up on the back of the chair, holding tight to the lift. As Smythe remembered it, “I was holding on so hard with my one arm and hand, and we actually got to Tower 15 and that was about, oh, fifteen, twenty minute ride at that point to get there, then all of a sudden we hit the snow and the chair tilted back like this, and we’re dragging in the dark.” They unloaded at the top and then spent two hours digging out the chair’s path as it continued to snow in order for the skiing to open to the public. In contrast, when describing the challenging winter of 1976/77, John Hetherington remembers how very limited snow meant skiers had to download on the Red Chair, a slow ride down.

A seat from the original Red Chair sits in Florence Petersen Park.

The Red Chair was the first double chairlift installed on Whistler Mountain by Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. in 1965, along with a gondola and two t-bars. It was later joined by the Little Red Chair, which ran mostly parallel to the Red Chair, another double chairlift that helped ease line ups. Both chairs were removed in 1992, replaced by the Redline Express Quad, which was then also replaced in 1997 by the current Big Red Express. In September 2021, plans were announced to replace the current chair with a new high-speed six-person chair for the 2022/23 season. For anyone wishing to relive their memories of the first Red Chair, however, a red chair can be found in Florence Petersen Park that, if it snows enough, might even require some digging.

Remembering Trips to Alta Lake

When the museum conducts oral history interviews, one of the questions asked is how the interviewee first came to the Whistler area. This question is often interpreted in one of two ways, with answers as varied as the individuals. Some interpret it as why they visited or moved to the area, while others answer more literally (one memorable answer was simply “car”). In a 2012 conversation with Kenneth Farley, he provided answers for both variations, including a description of traveling from Vancouver to Alta Lake in the 1940s, featuring at least three different means of transportation.

Kenneth’s parents, Frank and Hilda Farley, first visited Alta Lake in 1943 and rented a cabin at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake for a week in the summer. Frank was a keen fly-fisherman and so the couple decided to buy property along the railroad tracks by Alta Lake from a Mr. Noble, who they knew from their home in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. According to Kenneth, he came to Alta Lake “to see what it was all about” after his parents told him they had already bought the property. This was the first of many visits for Kenneth and his family.

The Farleys’ trips began in Kerrisdale on 49th Ave. From there they would walk eight blocks down to 41st, where the family caught the number 7 streetcar, which would take them downtown. The next step was to walk across the overpass above the fright yards to the waterfront, where the Union Steamship would be waiting.

Grace Woollard on a Union Steamship on the way up to Squamish, a bit earlier than the Farley family’s trips. Clarke Collection.

The trip aboard the Union Steamship was hardly an express route. After sailing through the Narrows, the ship stopped at most of the small colonial settlements along the Howe Sound, including Woodfibre and Britannia, before arriving in Squamish. As Kenneth recalled, it was often so windy in Squamish that the journey was made even longer as the captain faced the challenge of docking. Upon arrival in Squamish, Kenneth recalled navigating around “great big puddles full of water” to the Chinese restaurant, where they would eat apple pie while waiting for the train to be loaded with its freight. Eventually, the engineer would whistle and everyone would run to board the train before it went “rambling off in a cloud of dust and smoke.”

According to Kenneth, the cars used by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway were “real antique,” with sliding windows, a potbelly stove for warmth, and oil lamps suspended from the ceiling. The views along the route, however, made up for any discomfort on the train. Passengers could even disembark at Brandywine Falls to walk over and take a look at the Falls before continuing north.

The view from the train through the Cheakamus Canyon. Traveling to Alta Lake by train provided views that the highway could not. Clarke Collection.

The train usually reached the Alta Lake Station around 5:30pm and the Farleys would leave their baggage there while they walked to their cabin. When making the first trip of the spring, they often had to fix the chimney (which the snow had pushed over) and bail out the skiff made of rough planks. Once the skiff was emptied, someone would have to row back to the station to collect the baggage and then row back, finally completing the journey.

Kenneth remembered one memorable occasion traveling with his wife Shirley and sons Patrick and Greg when an additional stage was added to the journey. As he recalled, “It was raining, rain was slashing against the windows, and the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. And people started to get out of the train and go across the ditch on a 2×12 plank and the conductor was helping them across. And I thought, ‘Gee, this must be some new settlement or something or other,’ and then he came and said, ‘It’s your turn.'” There had been a derailment ahead and the passengers were taken to dump trucks with makeshift benches that took them up rough logging roads to a point further along the railway. There they boarded what Kenneth described as “vintage rolling stock,” with him and his family riding the caboose at the end.

During the Farleys’ early trips, the “road” to Alta Lake wasn’t smooth sailing.. MacLaurin Collection.

The Farley family began driving to Alta Lake after a road was constructed from Vancouver in the 1960s, though the journey could still be eventful. Kenneth Farley’s recollections of earlier trips, however, provide useful information about how visitors used to travel.