Category Archives: Museum Musings

Chilly Days at Toad Hall

Looking back at the early days of skiing in Whistler might make you long for a time when life seemed simpler and cheaper.  Living in the valley in the 1960s, however, was challenging for residents, including those living in buildings like the original Toad Hall.

The first Toad Hall was originally the home of Alf and Bessie Gebhart.  They moved their family to Alta Lake in 1936 when Alf purchased a sawmill and lumber camp.  After operating the mil for some years, Alf built a house by Nita Lake in the 1950s.

Alf Gebhart poses with Ben Dyke and an unknown woman in front of his house at Parkhurst, before he built the house at Nita Lake. Photo: Debeck Collection

Unlike many structures built around Alta Lake at the time, the Gebharts’ was more of a house than a cabin or cottage.  It had four bedrooms (two downstairs and two upstairs), a living room, a kitchen and an adjoining breakfast room, as well as a basement with thick walls of stone.

Alf and Bessie remained in the house until their sawmill closed and they moved out of the valley.  Their son Howard and his wife Betty then took up residence while Howard worked for the railway before they, too, left the valley.  The house was then sold to Charles Hillman who rented it out through the 1960s.

Without the mill, it’s not that surprising the Gebarts chose to leave the house by Nita Lake, especially over the winter.  According to John Hetherington, an early resident of the house when it was known as Toad Hall in the late 1960s, the house could best be described as “cooold.”  Fittingly for the owner of a sawmill, the house was built of wood and used sawdust for the insulation.  Unfortunately, as Hetherington pointed out, “what happens with sawdust is at all settles down in the bottom, in between the studs, and provides no insulation whatsoever.”  The old, single-pane windows didn’t help retain heat either.

Though the living room may look cozy, winters could be harsh. Benjamin Collection.

Hetherington and three other Whistler Mountain employees, Jim Burgess, Drew Tait and Mike Wisnicki, moved into the house the winter of 1967/68.  Luckily for the four, they got their firewood split and stacked the day before the snow came that year as the wood became their main source of heat.

The house came with a woodstove, a furnace in the basement and a fireplace, all of which shared the same chimney.  For their first winter in the house, the four covered the windows with plastic and slept in sleeping bags on cots in the large upstairs bedroom, which the chimney ran through providing some radiant heat.

Master Climax, the woodstove that tried to keep Toad Hall warm. Benjamin Collection.

Though at first the woodstove was used mainly for heat, the four also began learning to cook on it.  Food was kept in the walk-in fridge and freezer at the lift company in Creekside or else sat through the temperature fluctuations of the kitchen.

In an effort to keep warm, they would throw occasional parties when, with most of the people in the valley inside the house and the fireplace and woodstove going, it would “get warm for a few hours,” said Hetherington.

These parties also highlighted another challenge of life at Toad Hall – there was no electricity.  Tait had a stereo system (a turntable and two speakers), but in order to use it a generator had to be borrowed and a mechanic friend had to be invited over to keep it running.  Light was provided by kerosene-burning Coleman lamps.

The front porch of Toad Hall, lit by a kerosene-burning lamp.  Benjamin Collection.

After a season or two, all four of these residents moved on from the house, leaving it to other residents until its owner decided to take possession.  Despite needing “a sawmill to keep the place heated,” Toad Hall was considered by its residents a “sort of legitimate place to live” at a time when there were not many places to live in the valley.

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Trail Names Celebrate History: Own A Piece Thursday

On Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, names are often used to tell a story.  Even names that began as simple descriptions of a place have evolved over time to share a part of Whistler’s history (after all, there is nothing round about the Roundhouse these days).  Names of trails, lifts and structures on the mountains are recorded on trail maps, in operational lists and, most visibly, on the signs that direct skiers and snowboarders around Whistler and Blackcomb.

The trail names of the two mountains have hundreds of stories behind them, some hotly contested and some documented.  Because we’ve got names on our minds, we’re sharing the meaning behind a few here.

One of the best-known stories is likely the tale behind Burnt Stew, which actually occurred before Whistler Mountain even opened for skiing.  During the summer of 1958, museum founder Florence Petersen and friends Kelly Fairhurst and Don Gow were camping on Whistler and, forgetting to stir the dinner left cooking in an old billycan, the smell of burning stew began to waft through the air, setting up the moniker we still use to this day.

Florence Petersen and friend Don Gow enjoy a (possibly overcooked) meal in Burnt Stew Basin.  Petersen Collection.

Other trails were named by or for people who loved to ski them.  Chunky’s Choice was the favourite run of Chunky Woodward, one of the founding directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. and a member of the Vancouver department store Woodward family.  Over on Blackcomb, Xhiggy’s Meadow was named for Peter Xhignesse, one of the original ski patrollers on Blackcomb Mountain.

A Whistler Mountain trail map from simpler days. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Many of the names on Blackcomb reference the valley’s forestry history, which was active into the 1970s.  A catskinner, for example, is a tractor driver, a cruiser is a logger who surveys standing timber for volume and a springboard is a board used to provide a place to stand when hand-felling large trees.

There are also names that describe something about the trail.  According to our sources, Boomer Bowl gets its name from the vibration that rattled windows in Alpine Meadows when the bowl was bombed by avalanche control.  Windows today may not rattle in quite the same way, but it is still noticeable in Alpine when avalanche control is active near Harmony.

While trail names don’t change frequently, the signs they are inscribed on are replaced every so often.  On Thursday, February 7, the museum and Whistler Blackcomb Foundation are offering the chance to own a piece of Whistler’s mountain history with the sale of over 250 unique trail signs taken off of Whistler and Blackcomb as a fundraiser for both organizations.

Some of the signs have quite literally taken over the Whistler Museum.

Whether you love the trail the name signifies or the significance behind the name (or you just really want to let people know when to lower their restraining device) chances are you’ll find a sign that reminds you of days spent on the mountains.

Signs will be available for purchase at whistlerblackcombfoundation.com from 10 am on February 7.  Signs can be picked up from the Whistler Museum during our opening hours on February 9, 10 & 14.

If you want to learn more about the stories behind trail names, take a look here and here.

What’s In A Name?

The names of people, places and things sometimes change.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Whistler Mountain was labelled on maps as London Mountain and, until the creation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975, this area was officially known as Alta Lake.  Even Alta Lake was once called Summit Lake.

Some name changes, such as that of Whistler Mountain, occur gradually, beginning as a nickname and then changing officially to reflect the popular name.  Others change only partially, leaving enough of the previous name to ensure it is still easily recognizable.  An example of this is The Point.

Bert Harrop first came to Alta Lake in 1920 for a short stay at Rainbow Lodge.  Like many before and after him, his first stay in the valley ended up lasting a few decades longer than expected.  Helped by Alex Philip, the Harrops settled on a point of land on the west side of the lake, just south of Rainbow Lodge, which became known as Harrop’s Point.

Bert has been trained as a cabinetmaker in England and he quickly put his skills to use at Alta Lake.  Before winter arrived, he and Sewall Tapley had framed in a small house on the beach at Rianbow Lodge.  Constructed on a raft of cedar logs and later secured to the shore of Harrop’s Point, this became Alta Lake’s first (and possible only) floating cottage.

The floating cottage on Alta Lake built by Bert Harrop and Sewall Tapley.  Fairhurst Collection.

This cottage was followed by a tearoom with a porch extending over the water.  Harrop’s Tearoom became a gathering place for locals and visitors, presided over by Bert’s wife Agnes.  The tearoom was known for more than simply a good meal; Agnes told fortunes by reading tea leaves.  According to Pip Brock, whose family began visiting Alta Lake in the 1920s, Agnes “did it very well, assisted by all the rampant local gossip!  I used to have my cup read so I could see how I stood in the neighbourhood.”

Harrop’s Point as seen from above the PGE tracks. Philip Collection.

Bert continued building, constructing a cottage on his property to rent out to visitors and others for summer residents, including the Brock family.  He also built a workshop for himself.  As the snow fell in winter Bert crafted furniture in his workshop, some pieces of which survive today in the museum.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Photo: Philip Collection.

Bert and Agnes sold Harrop’s Point in 1948 to Cathy and Ivan Collishaw who continued to run it under that name until they sold it in 1952.  Loyd and Sharen Mansell then renamed the enterprise Bob’s Point and ran it for only a year before selling to their neighbour Dick Fairhurst, who had been operating Cypress Lodge for a few years before purchasing this property, adding three cabins and a tearoom to his business.  Dick’s mother Elizabeth Alice moved up from Vancouver to help run Cypress Lodge on Cypress Point.  Under her, the tearoom became known for its “Hot Dog Friday Night” when a refrigerated rail car bought fresh food and meat on Fridays as well as Ma Fairhurst’s famed butter tarts.

The tearoom and Bert’s cottages were demolished in 1962 and replaced with four new cabins, complete with Alta Lake’s first coloured bathroom fixtures.  Cypress Point became a gathering place for the community, including the Alta Lake Sailing Club and its annual “Regretta.”  The Fairhursts continued to operate Cypress Lodge until 1972 when it was sold to the Canadian Youth Hostel Association.

For the next few decades, the property was known as the Youth Hostel until the hostel moved away from Alta Lake.  Today, the buildings of Cypress Lodge host the Whistler Sailing Club and The Point Artist-Run Centre and is often referred to simply as The Point.

Finding Fun at Parkhurst

We’ve written quite a bit about Parkhurst and life at the mill before, and often these stories tell of the challenges that came with daily life on Green Lake in the ’30s to ’50s.  Some of these challenges included the isolation, lack of running water, or the need to haul buckets of sawdust in order to keep the stove going.  For children such as Ron and Jim Kitteringham, living at Parkhurst also meant a long commute to and from the Alta Lake School.

According to the mother Eleanor, however, life at Parkhurst also had its share of entertainment and fun.

Parkhurst when the mill was operating in the 1930s, taken before the Kitteringham family’s time at the site. Debeck Collection.

The Pacific Great Eastern Railway may not have been the most convenient method of travel through the valley, but it did provide some excitement for young children at the mill site.  When the Kitteringhams first came to Parkhurst most of the trains were steam engines, or “steamers”.  The engineers would blow the whistle on their approach to Parkhurst and Ron and Jim would run out to wave, even during supper.

Later, the “steamers” started to replaced by diesel engines, which, though a lot louder, continued to announce their arrival.

The steam engines would announce their arrival at Parkhurst to the delight of the two Kitteringham boys.  Philip Collection.

Despite all the whistles of trains, Eleanor described life at Parkhurst as peaceful, lacking the traffic or crowds of a city.

Without more common forms of entertainment, such as television, the Kitteringhams spent time listening to their battery-powered radio and shows such as The Shadow and the racing programs.  While the family enjoyed the radio programs, Eleanor regretted the lack of Sesame Street and other educational shows when she thought back on teaching her children.

The journey from Vancouver, though it could be long and inconveniently timed (the train only ran north on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), was also a chance for a social occasion.  After taking the steamship to Squamish, the Kitteringhams and other passengers would have time to head to the Squamish Hotel for a 10-cent glass of beer, ice cream for the kids, and a chance to chat until the train headed out.

More social gatherings around Parkhurst happened each summer and fall.

In the summer, the logging camps played regular baseball games at what was then Charlie Lundstrom’s farm at the end of Green Lake, an area that today is still full of mosquitoes and long grass.  Parkhurst even had a building used as a community hall where families and other workers could gather.

With no stores, Halloween at Parkhurst was sure to produce some creative costumes. Clausen Collection.

The last big “do” of the year that families would attend was usually Halloween.  As Eleanor recalled, the lack of stores to buy costumes meant coming up with some pretty ingenious outfits.  After Halloween most of the families would leave Parkhurst for the winter.

Neighbours could be scarce at Parkhurst, especially in the winter when the Kitteringhams were often the only family left at the mill.  Parkhurst was located at Mile 43 and some evening the Kitteringhams would walk over to Mile 45 for a “musical evening” with the Greens.  Bob Green would play first fiddle, Olie Kitteringham second, and Helen Green would play the banjo while Eleanor played the kettle drum.

They even formed a band, the Valley Ramblers, and played for benefit concerts to raise money for the Squamish Hospital.

Daily life at Parkhurst and Alta Lake did come with challenges, but the people who lived here also made sure to enjoy themselves, whether listening to radio shows, playing sports or simply spending time with their neighbours.

What do canoeing and powder skiing have in common?

With the beginning of the new year, we have been spending some time looking back at what 2018 brought to the museum (new records, new exhibits and many new donations of artifacts and archival materials!) as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Each year January marks the beginning of our annual Speaker Series.  We’re very excited to start off our 2019 series Thursday, January 17 with Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard River.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard River containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike Stein not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the trip.

While looking through a copy of Garibaldi’s Whistler News published three years prior to the trip down the Liard River, I found an article written by another participant in the canoe trip, Jim McConkey.  McConkey came to Whistler Mountain to take up the position of Ski Director in the spring of 1968 and began writing instructional articles about ski techniques for the publication during his first season.  In early 1969, Whistler Mountain received weeks of what he described as “beautiful, deep powder snow.”  This led to “Learning Powder Snow Technique,” an article in which McConkey instructs skiers on the proper way to ski powder.

‘Diamond’ Jim McConkey’s official Whistler Mountain portrait.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article begins by defining true powder snow as “very light snow that flies out from underneath the skis, sometimes bellowing up over the skier’s head.”  Once the skier found the right snow, they also had to ensure they had the right equipment, meaning flexible deep snow skis, with little camber and soft heels.

When the skier was ready to head for the hill, McConkey recommended starting with a long, gently slope to practice the “continuous, flowing motion of linked turns straight down the hill” that is powder skiing.  According to the article, there is no room for traversing a run on a powder day as “traversing like a cautious old woman is Taboo.”

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972 (the same year as the trip).  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article ends with hints that still hold up well today, such as “establish a rhythm”, “keep your head and shoulders facing down the fall line,” and “keep your feet locked together.”  Especially useful is McConkey’s last reminder:

Be sure to laugh when you take a giant clobber in the deep snow.  You will get your chance to laugh with your friends when they fall.  Powder snow and clobbers too are for everyone.

We may not be able to promise weeks of powder skiing this January, but you can join us at the museum Thursday, January 17 for a unique look back at an incredible journey from 1972.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum; $10 or $5 for museum or Club Shred members.  Doors open at 6:30 pm, the talk and film will start at 7 pm.  See you there!

Whistler Museum: Year in Review

The past year has been one of great exhilaration, vision and accomplishment for the Whistler Museum & Archives Society.  Together with the Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers, the museum continued to advance its mission to collect, preserve, document and interpret the natural and human history of mountain life in Whistler, and broaden our program offerings.

2018 marks the busiest year in the museum’s history, with over 12,800 exhibit visits and an additional 10,600 people partaking in the museum’s many events and programs.  These programs included our long-running Valley of Dreams Walking Tour, which educates guests and locals alike on the pioneer history of the region, tales behind the development of the mountains, and the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The tour is currently in its 22nd year and runs daily throughout June, July and August.

Walking tours have been run by the museum for 22 years, making it our second longest running program (beaten only by the Annual LEGO Building Competition).

The museum’s Discover Nature program was another highlight from the past year.  This program, which runs in July and August, included a Discover Nature Station at Lost Lake Park and a nature-based walking tour.  Our friendly interpreters used the touch table items to engage participants and to encourage questions about the marvels of natures.  Participants also had the opportunity to dig deeper into any of our items on display (or things not on display) to discover fun facts about some of Whistler’s local organisms.

Other museum program highlights this year included Kids Après, Crafts in the Park (in partnership with the Whistler Public Library), Nature 101 training seminars, our 3rd annual Mountain Bike Heritage Week, Feeding the Spirit and, of course, our long-running Speaker Series.

Brandywine Falls, now a provincial park, was once the Conroy family homestead and then a bustling resort run by the Gallagher family. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

My personal favourite Speaker Series event we held this year was with Julie Gallagher, who grew up at Brandywine Falls, and whose parents Ray and Ruth Gallagher ran a resort in the current location of Brandywine Provincial Park.  After delivering a riveting talk on April 28th, Julie offered to take staff and guests on a walk through Brandywine Falls the following day, describing where many lost structures were located, and even showed us a few remnants of structures just off the main viewing area that I personally have walked past many times but would never have noticed if she had not pointed them out.

One of the major accomplishments of the museum this year was the completion of Coast Mountain Gothic: A History of the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Huts, a virtual exhibit with the support of the Virtual Museum of Canada.  This exhibit explores the story, design and construction of Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Huts and the people and organizations who brought them to life.  This was a major endeavour that took over two years to complete and was also the museum’s first fully bilingual exhibit, with all interpretive text available in French.  You can check our the exhibit on our website under exhibits: VMC – Coast Mountain Gothic.

The VOC building the Harrison Hut in October 1983. Photo: Jay Page; UBC-VOC Archives, October 1983.

Given our lack of physical space in our current location, we are glad to have the opportunity to tell Whistler’s stories through our Museum Musings column every week – thanks to the Pique for allowing us to share 52 Whistler narratives in 2018 that would have otherwise been left untold.  We are grateful to everyone who reads our column and attends our events.  Thank you for your continued support and we’ll see you in the new year!

– Brad Nichols, Executive Director

The Holiday Season in Whistler

The holiday season has always been a hectic time in Whistler, as so much energy is spent welcoming and entertaining guests.  The Village Stroll looks magical at this time of year, with the lights glowing on the trees and the snow falling through the air.

Scanning through our archives, photos from many collections show that Christmas has been a major production in the area dating back to Rainbow Lodge in the 1920s.  Alex and Myrtle Philip, the owners and proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, were renowned hosts and pulled out all the stops at Christmas to entertain visitors and residents around Alta Lake.

Here’s the Rainbow Lodge dinner table, Christmas 1923.  Philip Collection.

While we have only a few photos of the interior of Rainbow Lodge during this era, the Philip Collection includes images of the main lodge with a decorated tree and streamers and the dining room set for Christmas dinner.

Other holiday photos from Alta Lake include the Woods family in the snow with party hats and a New Year’s Eve dance at the community hall (also the Alta Lake School) in 1937.

New Year’s Eve celebrations at the community hall for 1937.  Philip Collection.

Dances at the community hall were remembered fondly by Bob Williamson, a lineman working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in the 1930s.  As he recalled, “This was the Hungry Thirties.  Not very many locals were earning much money but many pleasant evenings were spent in this hall in the wintertime… The only cost for the evening was to buy the coffee and that was raised by donations of 10 to 25 cents from those who could afford it.  Alex Philip made the coffee in Granitewood Gallon Coffee pots.  It was excellent coffee.”

Season’s Greetings from Whistler Mountain staff, early 1970s.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

As skiing developed in the valley, winter and the holiday season got busier.  The Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection includes photos of a skiing Santa, ski instructors dressed up as reindeer and Seasons Greetings from Whistler Mountain.

The so-called “ski bums” got into the holiday spirit as well.  Over the past few months Angelus Chouinard has been working on digitizing the complete George Benjamin Collection and we have found some gems showing Christmas dinner being prepared at the first infamous Toad Hall in 1969.

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969!  Benjamin Collection.

John Hetherington, Toad Hall staple, Whistler Mountain ski patroller and current Whistler Museum Board President, reflected fondly on those days:

Christmas at Toad Hall was great… Of course, there was no electricity, so it was just Coleman lanterns and the old ‘Master Climax’ wood stove.  One year we used candles to decorate the Christmas tree.  We only had birthday candles so they burned quick and we had to keep replacing them.  While they were burning it looked amazing, but we were terrified of burning the whole place down.

Many such treasures have been found while digitizing the George Benjamin Collection.  George Benjamin first came to Whistler to ski in 1968 and moved to the area in 1970.  He and John Hetherington co-owned Tokum Corners, a roughly made cabin with no electricity or running water, and lived there with Rod MacLeod into the early 1980s.  George was a semi-professional photographer and, as his family in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, was able to develop his photographs for free.  There are over 8000 images included in the George Benjamin Collection, spanning from his first visit in 1968 to 1991.

To view more of the photos mentioned here, check out our Smugmug page here and keep an eye out for more photos from the George Benjamin Collection to be added in the New Year!

We hope everyone enjoys their holiday season and wish all of you a Happy New Year!