Category Archives: Museum Musings

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

A Bizarre Fundraiser

There are many options when it comes to holiday shopping in Whistler and, for many, craft fairs and markets are looked forward to as an opportunity to fine something unique while supporting local artists. For many years, the best known craft market in Whistler was the Bizarre Bazaar.

Ten years before the first Bizarre Bazaar was organized by the Whistler Community Arts Council (now called Arts Whistler) in 1987, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began hosting their annual Fall Fair fundraiser for the Club where local artists could sell handmade crafts among other activities. The first Fall Fair in 1977 was held in the gym of Myrtle Philip School and was so successful that it made a profit in its first year. By 1985, the Fall Fair had grown large enough that it moved into the recently opened Conference Centre.

Christmas decorations are sold at the Alta Lake Community Club’s Fall Fair in 1984. Some tables at the Bizarre Bazaar would have looked similar. Whistler Question Collection, 1984

Like the Fall Fair, the Bizarre Bazaar began in the Myrtle Philip School gym as a fundraiser, this one to support the Whistler Children’s Art Festival. At the time, the Arts Council was still young (Arts Whistler celebrated their 40th year of operations this year), had no office space, and was run by a group of dedicated and hands-on board members and volunteers, including Gail Rybar who coordinated the first Bizarre Bazaar in 1987.

Held on December 5, 1987 the first Bizarre Bazaar included sales of local arts, crafts and food, a raffle, live entertainment from flautist Dorothy Halton and Celtic harpist Theodore Gabriel, lunch and dinner, a “beverage garden,” children’s craft workshops with Pene Domries, and photos with Santa. Like the Fall Fair of the ALCC, the first year of the Bizarre Bazaar was reportedly a success and raised enough money to fund the Children’s Art Festival in 1988. According to long time Arts Council board member Joan Richoz, however, the first year was not without its challenges.

Gail Rybar, organizer of the first Bizarre Bazaar in 1987. Whistler Question Collection, Bonny Makarewicz, 1993

Looking back over 25 years of Bizarre Bazaars in 2013, Richoz recalled that the volunteer organizers had to put long hours and a lot of effort into the first market. They had borrowed tables from the Delta Mountain Inn (now the Hilton) and, though the hotel was located not far from the school had to transport the tables over snowbanks. A heavy snow on December 4 meant that some vendors from outside of Whistler were not able to make it, while others left the market early in order to make it home. Volunteers set up stalls and workshops and even made chili so that everyone working the market would have dinner to eat.

In the following years, the Bizarre Bazaar grew and also came to include a bake sale fundraiser for the Whistler Museum & Archives Society. Museum volunteers including Florence Petersen, Joan Deeks, Lil Goldsmid, Isobel MacLaurin, Kathy Macalister, Shirley Langtry, Viv Jennings, Darlyne Christian and more would spend weeks ahead of the market baking in order to raise money for the organization. Other community groups also got involved, with the Girl Guides running activities, the Whistler Community Services Society operating the food concession, the Whistler Public Library selling tickets to their own annual fundraiser, and both the Whistler Singers and the Whistler Children’s Chorus performing seasonal numbers.

When a new Myrtle Philip Community School opened on Lorimer Road in 1992, the Bizarre Bazaar moved with it and continued to run out of the school gym until 1996 when it moved into the Conference Centre. In the 2000s, the market continued to expand and change, moving to a weekend in November, partnering with Bratz Biz (a youth artisan market for local young entrepreneurs) in 2006, occasionally switching location to the Westin Resort, and changing its name to the Arts Whistler Holiday Market.

Mary Jones inspects one of the delicate and exquisitely crafted small wood boxes by Mountenay of Squamish at the 1994 Bizarre Bazaar. Whistler Question Collection, Bonny Makarewicz, 1994

This winter, though there is no Bizarre Bazaar or Arts Whistler Holiday Market, Bratz Biz and the Whistler Artisan Market will be taking place in the Upper Village on November 26 & 27. If you’re in search of archival images of Whistler, we will be at the Whistler Artisan Market and can’t wait to see you there!

Paying with Borgal Bucks

For many businesses that involve retail or food services, staff discounts are a common benefit for employees. Staff discounts can take many forms, with some offering more savings than others. In the 1980s, staff discounts on food at Whistler Mountain had a physical presence in the form of “Borgal Bucks.”

Borgal Bucks took their name from Lorne Borgal. Borgal had first come to Whistler as a teenager and spent weekends volunteering for ski patrol on Whistler Mountain. In 1980, he was hired by Hugh Smythe to work in administration at the soon-to-open Blackcomb Mountain, where he got to wire telephones and direct traffic. After three years, Borgal left Blackcomb Mountain and went to Europe for a long-awaited vacation. While on his vacation, he received a call from Mike Hurst at Whistler Mountain letting him know that Franz Wilhelmsen was retiring and Borgal was being considered as his replacement. Borgal joined Whistler Mountain as President and CEO in 1983, a role he kept for six years.

Lorne Borgal poses outside the Blackcomb “offices” soon after his arrival in Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

During his time there, Whistler Mountain replaced multiple triple chairs with the Village Express gondola, built Pika’s Restaurant at the Roundhouse, added the Peak Chair, and celebrated Whistler Mountain’s 20th birthday. He also tried introducing new programs and initiatives to update and improve Whistler Mountain’s customer service and management. Members of management were required to spend one day a month during the ski season working in a frontline position, which could lead to improvements for both customers and employees as management experienced the difficulties of different jobs and were sometimes more willing to spend money or try new things to fix them.

One benefit that was introduced for employees was the “Borgal Buck” or “Dusty Dollar”. Whistler Mountain staff could pay for the physical coupons, which could then be used to purchase food from Whistler Mountain at a discounted price. On the coupon itself, the name of the coupon appears to be “Dusty Dollars,” no doubt a reference to Dusty’s at the base of Whistler Mountain where the coupons could be used. Prominent on the paper coupon, however, was also a photo of Lorne Borgal.

According to a recent interview with Janet Love Morrison, Borgal Bucks entitles staff to 40% off food from Whistler Mountain and could also be purchased against one’s next payday “if you were hungry and couldn’t make your paycheque.” It would seem that these coupons became quite popular, as Janet claimed, “Everybody had Borgal Bucks.”

Janet Love Morrison and Gordy Harder pose with Sidney Poitier, who they met while they were living on Whistler as alpine caretakers and he was filming a scene from Shoot to Kill on Whistler Mountain. Photo Courtesy of Janet Love Morrison & Gordy Harder.

Janet recalled other staff discounts offered by Whistler Mountain in the mid-1980s as well, including significant discounts on ski equipment and the offer of a payment plan spread over multiple paycheques, which Janet remembered using to purchase banana yellow Atomic downhill skis for her boyfriend Gordy Harder.

Like Lorne Borgal, Janet Love Morrison filled various roles at Whistler Mountain during her years working there, including cleaning the volunteer cabin, working at the daycare, and living at the top of the mountain with Gordy as alpine caretakers.

Today, staff discounts are still a popular way to provide benefits for employees, though they vary from organization to organization. As far as we are aware, however, there are current no discounts in Whistler that feature the face or name of the company President and CEO.

Best in Snow – The Volkswagen Beetle

Snow tire season is upon us! Even through snowy and icy conditions you will see all types of vehicle tackling the Sea to Sky Highway today. Fifty years ago, however, one car dominated the snow, and that was the Volkswagen Beetle.

In the 1960s, Volkswagen touted the VW Beetle as the best car for driving in the snow, and North America listened. In one famous commercial a Beetle is seen driving through snowy conditions. The narrator asks “Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snowplow, drives to the snowplow? This one drives a Volkswagen, so you can stop wondering.”

George Benjamin’s Volkswagen Beetle on Alta Lake. George Benjamin Collection.

At this time, most American-made cars were rear-wheel drive and had their heavy engines at the front, resulting in little weight over the drive wheels and thus less traction. Despite also being rear-wheel drive, the Beetle did better in the snow because the engine was also in the rear, giving the drive wheels more traction for slippery conditions. Somewhat surprisingly, the narrow wheels also seemed to help because the Beetle cut through the snow rather than riding on top.

In 1965, Cliff Jennings bought his 1957 Beetle before heading out west to Alta Lake. It was not a straight forward journey. “When I arrived in Vancouver, nobody had heard about this new area, so I just headed blindly north. Two hours later, in Squamish I got directions and headed up a steep gravel road, arriving eventually at a dead end with a trailhead signposted to Diamond Head. Back in Brackendale, I hung a right and headed blindly north again on what would now be called a 4×4 road. The first sign of civilisation was Garibaldi and Daisy Lake Dam, which the road proceeded over onto a detour around Shadow Lake through huge puddles that nearly drowned my Beetle. Finally, five hours after leaving Vancouver, I arrived at a big slash clearing and a swampy parking lot in pouring rain.” Cliff had made it to the ski resort!

The Volkswagen Beetle is a little harder to recognise in this photo. George Benjamin Collection.

Jim Moodie arrived in Whistler a few months later once the lifts had opened, also driving up in his Volkswagen Beetle. “People remark about the road being bad nowadays but the road then, a lot of it was gravel, and so it was a frightening experience if we were smart enough to think about it but we mostly didn’t. I can remember one day driving up and the car simply stopped moving forward. At least that’s what we thought had happened. When we got out to see what was happening the Volkswagen Beetle was just plowing up a great big snowdrift in front of it so we couldn’t go anymore.” Good in the snow, but not quite a snowplow.

The imagery of the Volkswagen Beetle was so connected to mountain towns that Whistler Mountain’s 20th Anniversary poster featured a red Volkswagen Beetle driving off into the sunset. In the iconic Whistler poster the car is covered in stickers with skis jammed into the bumper.

The iconic 20th Anniversary poster. Whistler Mountain Collection.

With many people sharing similar memories, it is no wonder the photographs of Volkswagen Beetles in the snow are popular prints at the Whistler Museum. You can see some of the Whistler Museum image collection on Smug Mug.

Having a Blast

When talking to people from Alta Lake and Whistler there are many stories that are almost universal- people come to Whistler for a visit and stay for life, and along that journey most people have experienced housing woes. One experience that I did not expect to be shared among so many locals was the stories of working in drilling and blasting. While the rocky, mountainous landscape draws people to Whistler from around the world, it also creates additional engineering challenges. Lots of rock needed to be moved for the rapid growth of Whistler, and blasting was a relatively well paying summer job.

The Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE), also known as the ‘Province’s Great Expense’ arrived in Alta Lake in 1914, bringing tourism as well as an increase in mining and forestry. The earliest known commercial mining in the area was on Whistler Mountain around 1910, with Green Lake Mining and Milling Company running ten small claims between 1000 and 1300 metres elevation.

Some of the first blasting in the valley was for mining. Here a horse is laden with dynamite bound for Jimmy Fitzsimmons’ copper mine on the north flank of Whistler Mountain, circa 1919. Rainbow Lodge can be seen in the background. Philip Collection.

Many other small operations opened and closed over the years but none struck it rich. As a word of caution, after finding an abandoned mine shaft in the mountains, some early mountaineers were pushing rocks down the shaft and set off unexploded dynamite. Nobody was hurt, but it is worth giving abandoned mines a wide berth for the many hazards they pose.

It was a logging company that gave Andy Petersen dynamite in the 1960s to help put a water line to Alta Lake Road for running water. Andy and Dick Fairhurst, owner of Cypress Lodge, had never used dynamite before. “We drilled about 27 holes and put three sticks of dynamite in each hole. Well, this thing went off. Three of them went off and boulders came up over our heads and hit the power lines. We thought we were going to take the power down. That was our experience with dynamite, but we learned.”

There were more hazards than just flying rock. During blasting and clearing of a trail along Nita Lake in 1985, Jack Demidoff and his 25-tonne hoe fell off the trail and through the ice into the lake. Whistler Question Collection.

When skiing arrived Whistler became a tourist destination in the winter but remained very quiet in summer. Many locals who worked on the mountain would have summer jobs in construction and blasting, including Murray Coates who was in ski patrol and had a blasting company. Fellow patrollers, Brian Leighton and Bruce Watt also worked some summers blasting. “There were no safety precautions”, Bruce recalled on his podcast ‘Whistler Stories that Need to be Told’, “It was just get out there and don’t be a wimp”.

Brian Leighton had a similar experience. “I was way over my head in what I was doing. But no one died, no one was hurt.” One memorable moment occurred after loading some explosives into the drill holes while creating Whistler’s sewage system. “I said to Murray, ‘I think the trucks parked a little close here.’ He said, ‘No, no, no, it’s fine.’ So we get underneath the truck and he hits the blasting machine. Sure enough, a rock the size of a soccer ball goes through the rear window of the truck. I mean we were safe, but the truck not so much”.

An dog finds refuge from the rain beneath a Wedgemont Blasting truck parked in village, not unlike Murray Coates and Brian Leighton hiding from the falling rocks. Whistler Question Collection.

Before she became a lawyer and later the Mayor of Whistler, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden also worked as a driller and blaster for the Department of Highways. She wasn’t so worried about rocks landing on her, but as her boss watched closely to make sure she was setting the dynamite correctly, “I was always worried that he was going to spit this horrible chewing tobacco on the back of my head.”

The Whistler Museum has more stories about drilling and blasting than will fit in one article, but nowadays we are much more familiar with the sound of avalanche bombs. Hopefully they are ringing throughout the valley again soon!