Category Archives: Museum Musings

Looking Back On A Busy Year

A special thank you to everyone that came out to our annual general meeting (AGM) held last Wednesday, June 13 to reflect on 2017 (and eat some salmon and salad).  It’s always great to see everybody and to hear from our members!

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society, and it was our busiest year or record.

The museum’s story begins when early pioneer Myrtle Philip and Cypress Lodge owner Dick Fairhurst confessed to Florence Petersen, a retired school teach who started coming to the valley in 1955, their worry that Whistler’s early days would soon be forgotten.  Florence eased their fears by promising them that their stories would be remembered and, true to her word, Florence founded the Whistler Museum & Archives as a charitable non-profit society.

Florence Petersen (left) and Myrtle Philip (right) enjoying a joke together.

Since incorporating on February 12, 1987, the museum’s basic function has been to collect and preserve the history of the Whistler Valley and to display and disseminate information about Whistler’s history and its role in the greater society of British Columbia and Canada.

Last year was the busiest year in the museum’s history in terms of exhibit visits, with a 9.2% growth over 2016 (another record year).  During this period, the museum started developing temporary exhibits using our programming space in the rear of the museum.

Florence Petersen with the new sign for the Whistler Museum and Archives building in Function Junction, opened in 1988.

Temporary exhibits we developed in 2017 include Mountaineering in the Coast Mountains; Collecting Chili Thom; Whistler Question: A Photographic History 1978-1985; The Evolution of Ski Film Technology; and People of Whistler with Eric Poulin.

Paul Burrows speaks to a packed house at the opening of The Whistler Question: A Photographic History.

We had another strong year for our events and programming.  Programs included favourites like our Valley of Dreams Walking Tours (June through August, back again this summer!), Speaker Series events, Mountain Bike Heritage Week, Nature 101 seminars, multiple children’s crafts events, our 21st annual LEGO competition, and school field trip visits.

We also expanded our Discover Nature program at Lost Lake to include an additional day.  Discover Nature featured a manned booth in Lost Lake Park all summer, with interactive natural history displays and scheduled interpretive nature walks.

The touch table at Discover Nature during a chilly day in the summer.

Visitor numbers have continued to increase through the first half of 2018 and we hope that trend will persist through what is sure to be a busy summer.  Still to come are more temporary exhibits and programs for children and adults and planning continues for a new facility in the coming years.

Having limited physical space for our exhibits, we have to rely heavily on our web presence, social media and this very column to help share Whistler’s narratives.  We plan on using these platforms to keep sharing stories and we hope you all enjoy reading them as much as we enjoy researching and writing them.

One of the many photos that have been featured on our social media. Here the Rainbow Ski Jump before it was pulled down in 1984.

A big thank you to everyone who has visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our stories, and otherwise helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating heritage.

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Settling on Wedge

With the successful completion of the Himmelsbach Hut in 1968, the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) began looking for another location to build a Gothic arch hut near Whistler.  They already had a couple of ideas for their next location; one was near Mt. Trorrey along the Spearhead Traverse, the other was an alpine meadow on Mount Brew.  The BCMC decided to ask the mountaineering community for suggestions and advertised through a mountaineering paper and a few leaflets.

Werner Himmelsbach recalled, “So this logger, he contacted me and said, ‘I hiked up the peak beside Wedge Mountain and I saw a nice lake don below,’ so I thought that would be a place.”

The Himmelsbach Hut, named for Werner Himmelsbach, as it appears nowadays. Photo: Jeff Slack

Werner, along with three other BCMC members, decided to hike up Wedge in hopes of finding the lake the logger mentioned.  “It took us five and a half hours to get up there because we got lost in there because it was bush.”

This exploration of Wedge also involved finding a way across the river as there was no bridge access.  “Wedgemount Lake… was beautiful and when you come over the rise… there is this lake, turquoise colour and the glacier right into the lake,” Werner reminisced.

The idyllic Wedgemount Hut, with Wedge Mountain looming above left.  The glacier has noticeably receded as Werner remembers the glacier coming right into the lake.   Photo: Jeff Slack

The BCMC held a meeting to decide the new location and the vote was decidedly in favour of building the hut near Wedgemount Lake.  At Mount Brew, as mentioned in a previous article in The Whistler Question, the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club would later struggle with their own Gothic arch huts in the 1980s and the Spearhead Traverse would be revisited in the future by the BCMC.

The BCMC was granted building permission by BC Parks on October 9, 1970 and quickly organized a work party to construct the hut over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Werner was away on a trip to the Kootenays, so “master-builder” Manfred was in charge of putting the hut together.  The majority of the hut was built on the Saturday and the finishing touches and aluminum siding were added on Sunday.  The outhouse was built on the Monday but no trench was dug because the snow had already started to fall.

The Wedgemount Lake Hut. Photo: Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia.

Brian Wood, a BCMC member and former President of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia, recalled the BCMC assembled a work crew to go back to Wedgemount Lake to complete the construction of the hut in 1971.  When the crew arrived wind and snow creep had pushed the hut off of its foundations.  The crew used fallen logs to help maneuver the hut back into place and attached a couple of guy wires to help keep the hut on its foundations.  The crew dug the pit for the outhouse and the hut was ready to officially open that summer.

The Wedgemount Lake Hut remains a popular destination for hikers, rock-climbers and ski mountaineers to this day.  Because the hut only accommodates eight people. BC Parks has build camping spots and a bear cache nearby.  Reservations are required to camp or use the hut year-round.  If you’re interested in heading out, visit the BC Parks website for more details.

Condo-mania Hits Whistler

Today the term “condo” can be heard pretty much every day throughout most of Canada.  When Whistler Mountain first opened in the 1960s, however, condominiums were almost unheard of.  The first official condominium in Canada was Brentwood Village in Edmonton, Alberta in 1967.

After Whistler opened for skiing the valley experienced a boom in construction.  While many ski cabins were built, the condominium took hold as a vacation home, both to own and to rent.  In the fall of 1969 Garibaldi’s Whistler News even published an article by Ian Douglas entitles “What is a Condominium?” for those unsure of what exactly was for sale.  In it he mentions “some new condominiums” located “across from the base of the Gondola at Whistler” which all have their own separate entrances, real estate taxes and mortgages, unlike the Whistler Alpine Village co-operative, which does not technically operate as a condo.  Douglas lists the benefits of owning a condo, such as the security of owning rather than renting and being able to do renovations (within limits).

These condos in Nordic were still under construction in 1968. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

From the coverage of the Garibaldi’s Whistler News it would seem housing and real estate were as much a topic of conversation in the 1970s as they are today.  Almost every issue contains news of a planned or completed development as well as real estate listings and updates on the progress of Alpine Meadows, Emerald Estates and Whistler Cay.

One condominium development that gets quite a few mentions is Tamarisk.  Still a part of Whistler today, construction began on Tamarisk in 1973.  The plans for the $15 million development, located about a mile away from the base of Whistler Mountain, included over 400 units, a “condo-lodge” containing a cocktail lounge and dining facilities, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and pools and squash handball courts, all to be built over two phases.

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

The first included 140 units, an outdoor tennis court and the heated outdoor swimming pool.  By the spring of 1974 all first phase units were sold and a tennis pro, Australian Lex Vinson, had been hired.  A 1974 advertisement (meant to attract buyers for phase two) announced “All apartments feature massive cut-stone fireplaces, wall-to-wall shag, private sauna (every apartment has one) and a furniture selection that’s an interior decorator’s dream.  There’s more but you’ll have to see it to believe it.”  It being the 1970s, wall-to-wall shag carpeting was a selling point, rather than a deterrent.

The units were designed by Vancouver architect Asbjorn Gathe, the same architect who had designed the twelve units of Edelweiss Village near the Creekside gondola in 1968.

The shape of the Tamarisk buildings remain the same today (apart from one). Garibaldi’s Whistler News

The first phase was completed by 1975 and continues to house residents and visitors today, as was the first outdoor tennis court and the heated outdoor swimming pool.  The plans for Tamarisk, however, were never fully realized, similar to the case of Adventures West from a few weeks ago.

The Alta Lake School Gazette: News Before The Question

The Whistler Question, published from 1976 to the beginning of 2018, was Whistler’s first official newspaper.  The municipality only came into being in September 1975 and Pique wouldn’t begin publishing until 1994.  Well before the first edition of The Question, however, the valley’s first newspaper was put together by a small group of students at the Alta Lake School.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.

The Alta Lake School first opened in the early 1930s with only 10 students spread across Grades 1 to 9.  In 1939 some of the older students established the Alta Lake School Club and the Club then sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette ran from February 11 until June 5.  The paper’s first editor, Bob Jardine, donated an entire run to the archives and the six editions give a valuable insight into the everyday happenings of the small Alta Lake community.

The staff list of The Gazette includes many names that are familiar from stories of Alta Lake’s history.  Bob Jardine and his brother Tom Neiland both acted as editors for the paper and Jack, Helen and George Woods were all involved in reporting.  Helen also held the position of the secretary for the organization.

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers, held in the school.

The first editorial of The Gazette stated the paper’s purpose: “to give a current account of happenings each month as seen by its editor and his staff, it shall try to tell the facts and only the facts.”  The short editorial also thanked those who built the Alta Lake School for allowing the students to start this paper.

Following the editorial of each edition is “Local News Of Interest,” an interesting combination of observations, opinions and local gossip (which may not have been entirely in keeping with the paper’s goal of reporting “only the facts”).  The “Local News” reports on the activities of Alta Lake residents and visitors, whether it is something everyday, such as Mrs. Harrop holding a tea which school teacher Miss Bedford attended, or something a little out of the ordinary, such as William “Mac” MacDermott’s first ride in an airplane in May 1939.

Louise Smith (Betts) with her grandmother Lizzie Neiland, uncle Bob Jardine and Tweed the dog at 34 1/2 Mile.

Alta Lake around the 1930s was not the easiest place to live.  There was no real road or reliable electricity, and families worked hard to make a living in logging and other industries.  What could be thought of as hardships are reported in The Gazette as part of daily life in a small, somewhat remote, community.  For example, on May 28 Bob Jardine and his mother Lizzie Neiland left their home at 11 am to walk the 40 kilometres to Cheekeye, where they stopped for the night.  Mrs. Neiland had received word of the death of her brother and, having missed the Saturday train, was resorting to “shanks mare” (her own legs) to get to Vancouver.

 

Over its six editions The Gazette grew to include letters to the editor, boxing news and even an essay on the state of the Canadian Navy and unemployment in British Columbia alongside the results of the latest Cribbage Tournament.

The Alta Lake School Gazette may have lasted only a few months but it provides a snapshot of the daily lives of the Alta Lake residents.  Its “Local News Of Interest” also supports the idea that in a small community, your neighbours always know what you’re up to.

Driving the Sea to Sky (when it was mostly dirt)

If you’ve ever taken a look at the Whistler Museum’s YouTube channel you might have seen a short film from the Petersen Film Collection that features the drive to Whistler in 1958.  The footage makes it clear that the drive was an interesting one, full of steep hills, narrow roads and bumpy track.  At one point the car obviously overheated, a problem solved with the help of a nearby river.

The footage from the Petersens is only one account of coming to Whistler by car when the area was still known as Alta Lake.  Another well-known figure in Whistler, Don MacLaurin, also made the journey up the “highway” in 1958.

At the time Don was working in the forest service and was part of a cruising crew staying in Pemberton (cruising crews measure volume and quality of timber before it is harvested).  In a 2007 with John Hammons and Karen Overgaard, Don shared photos of his trip that are now part of the Whistler Museum archives.  As Don recalled, it took “two crews, two land rovers, winches, prayers and eight hours to go from Squamish to Pemberton.”

The road through the Cheakamus Canyon. MacLaurin Collection.

One shows a portion of the original road through the Cheakamus Canyon.  When asked to describe the drive, Don chose the word “precarious.”  The one-way road had a cliff on one side and, according to Don, “logs cabled through the road into the cliff… trying to hold the road in.”  Another photo shows a cable running back to a land rover.  It was a good thing the crews had two, as one would frequently be used to pull the other out when stuck.

A land rover is pulled up the road by another land rover – it’s handy to have two. MacLaurin Collection.

The road through what is now the Tapley’s Farm neighbourhood (and at the time would have been around the actual Tapley’s Farm) was “very, very wet and very soft and you were lucky to get through that as well.”  Once past Alta Lake the crews still had to get past what they called “suicide hill” which was located “under the power lines on the railroad side of Green Lake when you made the descent back down to the Green River.”  With a “so-called road” and “baseball-sized boulders” it’s no wonder Don described that section as “very, very tricky.”  Despite these challenges, the crews did eventually make it to Pemberton.

The “roads” in Whistler. MacLaurin Collection.

This was not the first time Don had come through the Whistler valley.  In 1951 he travelled through on the PGE on his way from Quesnel to Vancouver.  By 1961, when he returned with Isobel and a couple of neighbours, there was still no dependable road, and certainly not one that could sensibly be used in the winter, so again they came by rail.

Going through the Cheakamus Canyon on the PGE. It still has quite the drop. MacLaurin Collection.

By 1964 visitors to Whistler could come along a gravel road called Highway 99.  Two years later Highway 99 was paved from Squamish to Mons Station and to Pemberton in 1969.  With changes made over the decades and work done prior to the 2010 Olympics, the road Don, the Petersens and others travelled in 1958 is almost unrecognizable in the road we travel today.

How to reuse a Keg

Whistler has a history of re-using buildings.  You may remember that before the museum building was the museum it was the post office and then the library (if not, you can read about it here).  You may knot know that before Municipal Hall was Municipal Hall the building was a popular restaurant.

In the 1970s building began on the Adventures West Village which was to provide reasonably priced recreational homes and facilities for families year-round on the north end of Alta Lake.  The original plans for the development were impressive, including 250 condominiums and many amenities.  The full plans were never realized, but in the summer of 1974 its most notable amenity opened, a Keg ‘N Cleaver restaurant.

The Keg building at its original location in Adventures West.  Photo: Garibaldi’s  Whistler News

The building was designed by William Dunn and Associates and included a cafeteria meant to serve breakfast and lunch.  The Keg menu included prime rib, sirloin and New York steaks, salmon and lobster, all within a price range of $5.25 to $6.75.

The Keg quickly became one of the social centres of Whistler.  The restaurant doubled as a nightclub with a DJ booth in the rafters and a dance floor below.  live entertainment was brought in some nights and rumour has it that the Keg was the birthplace of Doug and The Slugs, a band who would continue to play in Whistler through the 1980s.

When construction began on the Whistler Village plans were made to open a new Keg in the Whistler Village Inn building.  The Keg at Adventures West closed and the building began preparing for its new life.

Before the Keg could move the old municipal hall building had to be moved off the site. Photo: Whistler Question

Over the May long weekend of 1981, the 90 ft long building serving as municipal hall was removed from Blackcomb Way.  According to the Whistler Questiostaff kept working Thursday afternoon despite no longer having any power or telephone services.  They were out by the time Nickel Bros. Moving moved the building off its foundations later that day.  On Tuesday, May 19 the town hall reopened in Function Junction, with power but no water or telephones.

The three sections of the Keg building ready to go. Photo: Whistler Question

Moving the old town hall was only the first step in the much more complicated process of moving the Keg building, which had to be done in three sections, on Thursday, May 21.

One section of the Keg makes its way slowly up Lorimer Road. Note the rocks blasted off the corner. Photo: Whistler Question

Lorimer Road was closed from 9 am to 3 pm and BC Hydro shut off the power in the neighbourhood.  Crews had blasted off some of the rock on the side of the road but it was still a tight fit.  Telephone lines were taken down and a BC Hydro employee perched on the roof of each section to move the overhead wires as needed.  As the sections moved slowly up the road throughout the day municipal crews stood by to cut down trees if necessary.

Still moving up Lorimer, a BC Hydro employee moves the overhead wires to allow the section to pass below. Photo: Whistler Question

The three sections were left at the entrance to Lorimer Road until 4 am when, just before the sun would be rising, the Keg was moved across the highway and down Village Gate Boulevard to be installed next to the Public Safety building.  More work would be done before the old Keg reopened as our current Municipal Hall.

Another section is moved slowly to Blackcomb Way. Photo: Whistler Question

The new Keg was expected to open in 1982 but was delayed when the building caught fire.  It would be another two years before it was rebuilt and the Keg finally opened in its current location in February 1984.

To see more photos of the Keg building on the move, check the weeks of May 21 & 28 here.

Whistler Junction: The Village that Wasn’t

With Whistler Village now firmly established at the base of Whistler Mountain it’s hard to imagine the town centre anywhere else.  Whistler without Eldon Beck’s plans, the Village Stroll or Skier’s Plaza would be a very different experience for visitors and residents.

Before the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed in 1975 there was already talk of creating a centralized commercial centre for the area, but opinions differed on where to locate it.  Both John Taylor and Norm Paterson believed the centre should be built on their own properties.

Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake, a potential site of the Whistler Village.

Taylor had bought the Jordan’s Lodge property (now Nita Lake Lodge) and proposed building the centre near the Creekside base of Whistler Mountain.  Norm Paterson and Capilano Highlands Ltd. had already developed much of Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates and proposed building a central town site on the shores of Green Lake.

Paterson’s town centre was first announced in the Spring 1969 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News.  Five years later, on September 21, 1974 he and Tom Wells of Imperial Ventures shared their model with the public.  From their plans it is possible to imagine a very different Whistler.

A rendering of the pedestrian mall of Whistler Junction. In some ways the plans were similar to the Village we know today.

The development, called “Whistler Junction”, was to be located on Green Lake, bordered on one side by Highway 99 and on another by the railway tracks.  The entirety of the town centre would be located within the current site of Nicklaus North.  This plan had some similarities to the village we know today.  For example, it included shops, restaurants, plazas, cafes, hotels, commercial and civic buildings and multi-dwelling residential units, all accessible by foot.

Parking would be located on the edges of the development.  Some underground parking would also be located at the transportation terminal on the railway that would service both rail and bus passengers.  This terminal was to be connected to the shopping and residential areas via an overhead walkway.

The Whistler Junction train and bus station.

At their presentation the developers stressed that the natural setting would be disturbed as little as possible.  Wells pointed out that “as many trees as possible would be left standing” and that “the plan is drawn around these and the other natural features.”

With a lakeside location, it’s no surprise that water was to feature prominently in the design.  A lagoon and waterways were to be built into the site, not completely unlike the river that runs through Whistler Village.  A pier would be located at the lagoon and a boardwalk would be built along the shore of the lake.

The townsite master plan for Whistler Junction, showing the proposed lagoon, rivers and boardwalk along Green Lake.

Unfortunately for Paterson and Wells, the provincial government had frozen all commercial development in Whistler in 1973, a year before they unveiled their model.  In 1974 a report by James Gilmour of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs’ planning services department recommended a single town centre located on the central dump and a new form of municipal government.

When the Resort Municipality of Whistler was created, the new council supported a plan to build a town centre at the recommended site of today’s village.  Paterson, Taylor and other members of the Whistler Development Association continued to push for their own vision but the province ultimately approved the central location we see today.