Category Archives: Museum Musings

Whistler’s Past Institutions

The Rainbow Ski Hill in 1980. Today this slope is the sight of Whistler’s Rainbow neighbourhood. Photo: Whistler Question

Yesterday (Friday, January 26) we opened our 2018 Speaker Series season with an evening dedicated to the Rainbow Ski Village, presented by Tom Jarvis, John Lee and Tommy Thompson.  The three told stories of Rainbow from three different perspectives: the owner trying to make the small ski hill a going concern, the former liftee in his first kitchen job, and the teenage ski jumper who got his start jumping on the BC circuit.  We’d like to thank all of our speakers as well as everyone who came out!

As we’ve been preparing for this event over the past few months we’ve gotten the chance to talk to some of the people, like our speakers, who worked, skied, owned and jumped at the Rainbow Ski Village, as well as Beau’s Restaurant, and have been gathering their stories.

Recently the museum was fortunate to speak with Andy Clausen, whose family managed the Rainbow Ski Village when it first opened and whose memories include not just Rainbow but also life in the Whistler valley in the 1960s and 70s.  Along with an article from the fall 1970 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Andy’s memories five us a much clearer picture of the early years of the Rainbow Ski Area.

The sign for Beau’s Restaurant. After the ski hill closed the restaurant continued to be a popular gathering place. Photo: Whistler Question

Andy’s stepfather, Vic Christiansen, worked for Jim McConkey at Whistler Mountain and had an impressive reputation as a skier.  In the late 1960s Vic was approached by Norm Paterson of Capilano Highlands Ltd. to operate a small ski area at Rainbow.

Vic Christiansen and his family ran the Rainbow Ski Hill until 1978. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Rainbow Ski Area first opened in the winter of 1969/70 with one 400-foot tow lift servicing a beginners’ slope.  After that first winter Capilano Highlands added a new 1,200-foot towrope and cleared four beginner/practice slopes leading off the lifts.  They also began construction of a day lodge and a parking area.

In the 1970s many people had their first skiing experience on Rainbow before moving onto the bigger Whistler Mountain. Photo: Cliff Jennings

In 1970 Rainbow opened five days a week (Wednesday – Sunday) under the management of Vic and his family.  Night skiing and reasonable rates (an adult pass for day and evening was $3, a child’s was $1.50) made Rainbow a popular place to learn to ski.

Over the next few years another towrope was added and the Rainbow Mountain Ski Club was formed.  Vic and Andy built Whistler’s first ski jump and Rainbow became a stop on the BC ski jump circuit.  The café was a popular stop for coffee and before he became Whistler’s first mayor Pat Carleton, a Nabob rep, could be found there frequently.

The Rainbow Ski Jump was a 30-40 metre Nordic ski jump and hosted competitions as part of a BC circuit. Photo: Clausen Collection

Being able to draw from both personal recollections and published articles helps to create a more colourful and complete picture of any given time and place.  Memories provide detail and a personal experience while publications, such as Garibaldi’s Whistler News, often record specific dates, names and even lift rates that an individual may not recall.  We are lucky to be able to refer to Whistler’s many publications, including Whistler News, the Alta Lake Echo and The Whistler Answer, when looking for information about this area’s past.

Paul Burrows, the founder of The Whistler Question, teaches a ski class on Rainbow Mountain. Photo: Cliff Jennings

For the past 41 The Whistler Question has provided a record of life in and around Whistler, chronicling a rapidly changing community and growing mountain resort.  From covering the opening of Blackcomb Mountain on its front page in 1980 to announcing the marriage of Bob Daniels and Kashi Richardson in “Notes From All” in 1985, The Question has been an important source of local news in our town.

This past week we wrote our last article for The Question as it published its last edition on January 23 (Museum Musings will be appearing in the Pique beginning next week).  We would like to thank The Question for providing the Whistler Museum with a space to share Whistler’s stories, as well as an archive from to gather them.

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20 Years of Whistler Secondary School

Whistler Secondary School has a central role in the Whistler community.  This school, along with the many extracurricular activities offered in Whistler, is the basis to encouraging the athletic, creative and academic minds that flourish in this town.  It’s hard to imagine that just over twenty years ago there was no secondary school in Whistler.  Instead, the 135 students from Grade 8 to 12 had to make a 70km round trip to Pemberton Secondary School every day.

Whistler Secondary School at the time of its opening in 1996 – if you look today you might find it a bit larger.

Due to this unnecessary and inconvenient commute, funding of $12,095,987.00 was confirmed in 1994 for the building of Whistler’s own secondary school.  This budget accounted for 200 students, leaving a bit of wiggle room from the 135 who currently made the commute.  However, in the summer of 1996, just before the school was to open, enrollment had reached 315.  There had been plans to physically expand the school in the coming years, but no had expected the space to be needed quite so soon.  This left each student about $20 short in funding, particularly affecting the Grade 11 and 12 students.

The money fell short when it came to upper year science courses and the necessary equipment for laboratory experiments.   The district asked the ministry to make up the difference but with late notice it was questionable whether the ministry could help in time for the coming year.  The Howe Sound District refused to let Whistler’s students be at a disadvantage.  In the meantime, they planned to either permission to loan money from the bank or, if need be, send the Grade 11 and 12 students back to Pemberton for the year.

This unexpected abundance of students left Principal Rick Smith in a bit of a bind.  Instead of solely preparing the school for its opening, he was left with the task of hiring extra teachers.  This principal was cut out for his job and made do with what they had.  When Whistler Secondary School opened on September 3, 1996, you wouldn’t have guessed that they stretched their budget over the length of the school.

The grand opening of the school included mounties and fruit hats courtesy of Colours on Key.

Resourcefulness was key with this new school, which was set to take full use of every space they had.  A good example of this was the room that branched from the school entrance which they named the Multi-Purpose Room.  This space was to be used as both a classroom and a lunchroom.  Anything that needed a big open space, such as assemblies, was held in the gymnasium.  Making use of every space they had still left the school with less space than students.  To make up that last deficit in space, they parked four portables behind the school to hold various classes (these remained in use for almost ten years).

Despite the budget hiccup, the school and its students were not at any disadvantage.  There was a library stacked with books, an adjoining glass-enclosed computer lab featuring 20 internet-linked terminals, and 10 tv monitors spread throughout the classrooms.  Many of these features were only possible because of the many generous donations to the school from various companies in the community.  The home-ec room was equipped with fridges and stoves and the art room with five potting wheels and a kiln to make sure that no student’s interests were ignored.  The issue with science equipment was bypassed and one lab had the usual gas, water and dissection capabilities for chemistry and biology.  As well as these physical accessories, the school was well equipped with programs.  There was an up and coming work-experience program for the Grade 11 and 12 students.  Instead of working for pay, this program have students real employee experience for school credit.  Since Whistler is home to many sports and activities, this high school also planned to work with athletes’ schedules.  They developed programs for skiers and other athletes to make sure they remained caught up in their schooling.

What is a school without students?

Whistler Secondary has come a long way since it opened just over 20 years ago.  The most notable changes are the physical developments of the school.  After a few years the school expanded the multi-purpose room, getting rid of the portable classrooms.  They also replaced the computers, stocked the library with more books and built an entire new wing with new classrooms.  As well as the physical changes to the school, there have been athletic and academic advancements at Whistler Secondary every year since it opened.  The school has grown to offer programs and experiences that could not be offered anywhere except our beautiful valley.

Article by Sierra Wells.  Sierra graduated from Whistler Secondary School in 2016 and is currently a student at Queen’s University.

Speaker Series: Manufacturing in the Mountains

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When asked to name Canadian manufacturing towns, few people will put Whistler at the top of their lists.  Whistler is far better known as a destination resort than as an industrial centre.

There are, however, some products that can proudly bear the label “Made in Whistler”.  Not surprisingly, these products tend to be very closely connected to the mountain culture that brings so many to this town, more specifically:bikes, boards and skis.

From breweries to bike shops, the neighbourhood of Function Junction is at the heart of manufacturing in Whistler.  It is from here that many local companies have garnered international attention for their products.

John Millar (an early settler in the valley) had his cabin at Mile 34 1/2, today known as Function Junction.

John Millar (an early settler in the valley) had his cabin at Mile 34 1/2, today known as Function Junction.

North Shore Billet, founded by Chris Allen and Peter Hammons, began producing bike components in 2003, starting with a Specialized Big Hit derailleur hanger.  Since moving to Whistler they have continued to manufacture all of their products in house and out of aerospace-grade aluminum on their CNC milling machines and even supply components for another popular local manufacturer, Chromag.  Chromag bikes, also located in Function, designs and test their products here in Whistler and has a large and loyal following.

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Chris Prior in the Prior factory in Whistler.

In 1999 Prior moved to Whistler and introduced splitboards to their selection of products.  Skis followed soon after.  Today, 18 years after the move, Prior continues to manufacture onsite and offers free tours of their factory in Function where curious onlookers can watch skis and boards being made.

Though the products may differ, companies that manufacture in Whistler (like NSB, Chromag and Prior) tend to have at least one thing in common: their founders, employees and customers are passionate about what they make and the place in which they make it.

Join us on February 23 for a discussion with Chris Prior on the history and development of Prior Snowboards and Skis and how design and manufacturing are influenced by location.

Doors open at 6pm, talk begins at 7pm.  Tickets are $10 ($5 for museum members and Club SHRED members) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

A Night at the Movies

For some people the long, dark and cold nights of winter are reason to stay warm indoors and catch up on episodes of something on television or watch movies in the comfort of your own home.

Though now a common way to spend an evening, television did not arrive in Whistler – then Alta Lake – until the 1960s and movie nights in Alta Lake began as community events.

In 1954, the Alta Lake Community Club (a social club formed by residents and regular visitors in the 1920s) raised enough money to buy a projector and began holding weekly movie nights in the community hall throughout the year.  On Saturday nights a film was shown using a sheet for a screen and a gas-powered generator for electricity.  In the busy summer season these screening would be followed by dancing.  Alta Lake resident Dick Fairhurst said of the film selection that, “perhaps they were not the most up to date, but they were fine as we had never seen them.”

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse also served as the valley's first community movie theatre.

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse also served as the valley’s first community movie theatre (among other purposes).

In recalling her first year living in the valley in 1968, Trudy Alder provides a description of a winter’s night at the movies: “The films started when it was dark as the hall did not have any curtains.  The shows were usually the social event of the week.  Everyone who could walk would come.  Sometimes there was a large audience of 25 people.  We could buy popcorn and soft drinks from the children.  Dogs were only allowed in the movies when you promised to have them sitting under your seat.  But they found out fast that it was better to snuggle with the children in a cozy pile on the floor in front of the front row.  You should have heard the howling if there was a dog or two in the movie.  For us these movie nights were half an hour walks each way in the deep snow.”

Denis and Pat Beauregard, who ran movie nights as ALCC volunteers, receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain's 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Denis and Pat Beauregard, who ran movie nights as ALCC volunteers, receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain’s 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Pat and Denis Beauregard ran the movie nights for eight years as volunteers in the 1960s and 70s, first in the community hall and then later in the cafeteria at the base of Whistler Mountain using a portable screen donated by Myrtle Philip.  For those who missed a show due to impassable roads, the Beauregards would provide an extra showing in their home.

The building of the Rainbow Theatre during the construction of the Village in the 1980s marked Whistler’s first commercial theatre.  Due to having only one screen and limited show times, however, movies continued in many ways to be community events (without the howling dogs), especially during the slower spring and fall seasons.

Today visitors and residents of Whistler have many options when deciding what to watch; Village 8 Cinemas opened in December 2002 with multiple showings of various films daily, the Whistler Public Library has a large collection of movies that can be borrowed for free and streaming services such as Netflix provide access to films without the need for walking through the snow at all.

Celebrating Peak Chair’s 30th Birthday

To most non-advanced skiers Whistler’s Peak was completely inaccessible before 1986.

No panoramic view, no glimpse of the vast expanse of Garibaldi Park and no feeling of being on top of the entire mountain.  This past month marked the 30th anniversary of the Peak Chair opening on Whistler Mountain.  In 1986, the 1,000-metre lift was imported from Grand Junction, Colorado, at a cost of $900,000, costing $1.48 million overall.

Since 1980, Whistler Mountain had been struggling to make ends meet and part of the strategy behind adding the new lift was to broaden the appeal of Whistler to Lower Mainland skiers.  Additionally, Whistler Mountain intended to keep pace with Blackcomb Mountain, which had opened their new T-Bar System and 7th Heaven in the high alpine in 1985.  Just a year later, Whistler Mountain countered this opening of new high alpine terrain with their opening of the Peak Chair on December 22, 1986.

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The first poster advertising the new Peak Chair.

The official opening of the Peak Chair was attended by a few big names: Premier Bill Vander Zalm, Mayor Drew Meredith, Female Athlete of the 20th Century Nancy Greene-Raine, Mount Everest climber Sharon Wood, Whistler Mountain president Lorne Borgal and the event’s master of ceremonies Jim McConkey.

“For years, people have been climbing and skiing off the peak and hiking to the peak in summer,” said Nancy Greene-Raine in the original December 24, 1986 Whistler Question article.  “It’s wonderful that now they’ll be able to ride p and ski it, with a little caution.”

The mayor cracked a joke at the idea of quick access to all those steep new runs: “I think this is something Lorne dreamed up while riding the Scream Machine at Expo (’86) last summer.”

As we know well today, there are some intense line choices available from Whistler’s Peak, some having gained legendary status in this town, like the cliff drop visible from Peak Chair known as “Air Jordan” and the Peak to Creek run, the longest groomer in North America at 5.5 km.

The chair was first opened only to advanced skiers due to the steepness of the terrain and the early season rock hazards.  More than 70 skiers eagerly awaited the opening of the chair that day.  Unfortunately, intermediate and beginner skiers still missed out on most of the runs coming down from the Peak; the only run accessible for non-advanced skiers was aptly named “Last Chance”.

Today we take for granted the opportunity to zip up to Whistler’s peak as easily as taking a seat on a chair.  Give a brief pause to take in the stunning panoramic vistas when you’re up on Whistler’s peak this winter, and perhaps remember the work that went into making those views possible for every skier and snowboarder to experience without a treacherous hike up.

Christmas at Rainbow Lodge: The Musical

If you take a walk along the Village Stroll in December you’re sure to notice signs of the holiday season anywhere you look; there is snow on the ground, tree are lit up, wreaths have been hung, and beneath the voices of crowds of people strains of holiday music can be heard.  As in many communities, music plays an important part in Whistler’s holiday traditions, many of which began in the 1980s when the Whistler of today was still developing.  Events such as the Bizarre Bazaar (now the Arts Whistler Holiday Market) would not be complete without festive music in the background and for thirty-three years the Christmas Eve Carol Service has brought local residents and visitors together to sing carols as one community.  Though rarely performed, Whistler even has its own Christmas musical.

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of "Christmas at Rainbow Lodge".

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of “Christmas at Rainbow Lodge”.

“Christmas at Rainbow Lodge” was written by Bob Daly and Molly Boyd and first performed by the students of Myrtle Philip School in December 1984.  Daly was the principal of the school from 1981 to 1985 and returned to head the school twice more before retiring in 2002.  During her twelve years living in Whistler, Boyd was heavily involved in Whistler’s music scene and its holiday activities – she founded the Whistler Children’s Chorus, was involved in starting the Christmas Eve Carol Service and directed the Whistler Singers.  During December she could often by spotted leading the Singers caroling through the Village with here battery-operated keyboard balanced on a shopping art.  The two were inspired to create a musical by Myrtle Philip’s stories of her life as a pioneer in Alta Lake as told to them over tea and Myrtle’s famous rum cake.

The musical tells the shortened and somewhat fictionalized story of how Myrtle and Alex Philip came to build Rainbow Lodge, beginning with Alex’s chance meeting of John Millar in Vancouver in 1911.  The story includes their first three-day journey to Alta Lake and meeting with loggers, trappers, railroad workers, miners and hunters who already lived or were working in the area.  Each group of people the pair meets helps them in some way as they begin settling and building.  To thank all these people for their kindness they all are invited to share in the Philips’ first Christmas at Rainbow Lodge.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

Unlike many holiday concerts, most of the music in “Christmas at Rainbow” is not about Christmas.  Instead, the majority are folk songs from the Pacific Northwest such as “Acres of Clams” and “The PGE Song”, many of which were collected by Philip J Thomas, a composer, singer, teacher and folklorist who founded the Vancouver Folk Song Circle and instrumental in collecting and preserving the folk music of British Columbia.

Since its inaugural performance in 1984, “Christmas at Rainbow” has been performed only twice more: once by the students of the current Myrtle Philip Community School in the 1990s and once by the intermediate students of Spring Creek Community School in 2012.

Happy Holidays from the Whistler Museum!

The Great Snow-Earth-Water Race Returns!

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The Great Snow Earth Water Race is being revived in 2014. A truly organic Whistler experience, we at the museum are really excited to see the return of this awesome event.

The original race began in 1975 and involved skiing, canoeing, cycling and running. Thirty teams composed of five men and women took part in that first year and the race was won by a dream team made up of Dave Murray, Trudy Alder, D.J. Muzullo, Nancy Greene Raine and Joe Czimazia. In the beginning there were very few rules, so a certain amount of “questionable” tactics were employed, including driving down the mountain!

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Competitors began at the top of Whistler Mountain where they would ski to wherever the snow finished. From there they would have to run the rest of the way down to Creekside (in ski boots, carrying their skis). At Creekside the baton was passed off to a cyclist, who would ride around Alta Lake and pass it off to the canoeists. The paddlers worked their way up the lake to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams. Then they handed off to runners who ran back along the highway to Creekside.

Apparently, Great Race canoeist copythe canoeing was the most amusing part for bystanders. Dave Steers recalls, “Most of the teams had members who could tell the front of a canoe from the back. A few teams didn’t even have that.” Consequently there were plenty of tipped canoes and great hilarity for all.

As the years went on the race evolved to include more sports. In the 2014 revival there will be six stages: ski or snowboard touring, ski or snowboard downhill, downhill mountain biking, running, canoeing and cross-country biking.

If you fancy putting a team together it’s sure to be hilarious fun. Visit http://www.greatoutdoorsfest.com for details. The race is also in need of volunteers to help all go smoothly, so if you have spare time on May 18th and want to sign up for a piece of pure Whistler fun, you won’t regret it!