Category Archives: Museum Musings

Air Travel to Alta Lake

For most of the year floatplanes overhead are a common sight (and sound) above Whistler.  Today, these planes land and take off from Green Lake – an everyday occurrence.  But in the 1920s floatplanes were an adventurous way to arrive at Alta Lake.

The first record of a floatplane landing on Alta Lake was on August 31, 1922.  While floatplanes were not a common mode of transport, a fair number did arrive and take off from the lake.

The first plane to land on Alta Lake, flown by Earl Leslie MacLeod.

In 2011, Betty Jane (BJ) Warner (nee Matheson) shared her memory of a floatplane landing on Alta Lake in the late 1920s.  She was only four or five years old at the time.

The Matheson children and their mother spent the summers of 1927 to 1934 at a cabin on the south end of Alta Lake.  Betty Jane’s father Robert Matheson stayed in Vancouver to work but sent up letters and supplies, most notably marshmallows.  The cabin was rented from William “Mac” MacDermott and Mac became a close friend to the family.  In the summers he chopped their firewood, checked the oil in the lamps, did general repairs when needed and went hiking with the Matheson siblings Jack, Claudia and Betty Jane; in winter he would spend Christmas Day with the Matheson family in Vancouver.

Mac, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain.

One day, Mac had taken Jack hiking, Claudia was reading n the shade and Betty Jane was paddling by the shore of Alta Lake with the young maid who came to keep an eye on her.  What happened next is best said in Betty Jane’s own words.

Suddenly, a loud thunderous sound and something deafening roared across the sky.  It reached the far end of the lake, seemed suspended, turned, then menacingly approached us, skimming the water like a giant torpedo.  It came lower and lower and as it became closer caused all about us to vibrate and rumble.

I was terrified and along with Evelyn (the maid) and the dog we fled into the cabin, followed by my mother, who, fearful of an overhead crash, ordered us to protect ourselves under a huge canvas that covered our woodpile.

It was my father, of course, and his pilot friend who chose that day to surprise his young family on what was, proudly for him, his first flight… What a let-down it must have been for him to be met by the dismal sigh of his terrified children huddled under a tarp and an upset wife, tearful and near fainting, scolding him for traveling in such a dangerous contraption.  My brother missed it all.

This was the first time Betty Jane had ever seen an airplane, a memory that remained with her for over eight decades.  As she recalled, “The Space Age was upon us, but to this young person the marvel of it all was the gigantic tin of Moonlight Marshmallows that came with it.”

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Celebrating Whistler’s World Cup Downhill Races

Historically, in the month of March, Whistler would be hosting a World Cup Downhill event.  Up to 500 weasel workers would be working 12-hour days preparing the racecourse, installing safety nets and removing and moving snow throughout the course.  These volunteers were as important to the success of the event as the downhill racers themselves.

Thousands of ski-race fans would descend on Whistler, filling up hotels and making reservations a necessity to eat at many of the world-class restaurants in Whistler Village.  Pubs and bars would be full to capacity and the village would be enshrouded in a party-like atmosphere for close to two weeks.

Whistler attempted to host its first World Cup race on March 7, 1979.  Due to weather, the race was cancelled.  Three years later, in 1982, Whistler successfully hosted the World Cup Downhill event.  This race took place on a course on the north side of Whistler and its finish was in the newly completed Whistler Village.

Peter Müller of Switzerland finished in first place and two Crazy Canucks, Steve Podborski and Dave Irwin, finished second and third, respectively.  The 1982 race was capped off with a huge celebration because Podborski tied Müller for the overall Downhill World Cup title.

Thousands upon thousands of spectators jam Whistler Village Square for the World Cup presentations.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

This would be the only race held on this course.  Racers complained the north side course was too flat and Müller even joked that he should bring his cross-country skis to the next one.  The downhill course was moved back to the south-side course and every other World Cup Downhill race held in Whistler was held on this course.  The racecourse was later renamed after Crazy Canuck Dave Murray, who succumbed to cancer in 1990.

Whistler hosted the World Cup Downhill event again in 1984 and two years later in 1986.  In 1989, Rob Boyd became the first Canadian to win a World Cup race on home soil.  If you ask many Whistlerites here at the time, they can tell you where they were when Boyd crossed the finish line.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Prior to the Olympic Games hosted in 2010, the last successful Downhill Men’s event was held in 1995.

From 1996 to 1998, the FIS moved the North American stops to earlier in the race season, leading to three consecutive cancellations of the Whistler stop on the World Cup circuit due to snow and weather conditions.

Will Whistler host another World Cup Downhill race?  Or will it be an event that only appears in Whistler’s past?

The Hills Were Alive… With the Sound of Music

In September 1988 an article written by Joanna MacDonald about a performance by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra appeared in The Vancouver Sun.  This might not seem noteworthy or appear to have anything to do with Whistler’s history except that the concert written about took place 1850m above sea level on Blackcomb Mountain.

This was not a typical concert for the VSO, nor was it a typical year.  From January to July of 1988 the organization’s growing deficit had halted VSO performances.  In July, after creditors had forgiven the deficit and financial assistance was acquired by the symphony, the VSO began a series of outdoor concerts.  Their summer performances included concerts at Ambleside, English Bay and Granville Island, but none of these required transporting a $500,000 sound system, a 14-tonne stage and two tonnes of instruments up a mountain.

While the first performance on Blackcomb took place in the heat of summer, the VSO also played in the rain some years. Whistler Question Collection.

The weather made the stage on Blackcomb Mountain an interesting venue to perform on.  The VSO had though about the implications of wind and low temperatures, but didn’t expect 32 degree heat at the top of the mountain.  While the musicians were under cover and didn’t get too hot (despite wearing formal dress) audience members were encouraged to bring hats and sun screens.

Concertgoers on the mountain sat on hay spread around a 1.4-hectare site within an alpine meadow, a ver different arrangement than the Orpheum Theatre, the VSO’s usual venue.  According to Nancy Spooner, a VSO spokesman, “One family had the full red and white checkered tablecloth and a wine bucket with glasses.  There were families with grandparents and kids, and people were wearing everything from bathing suits to hiking gear.  Some people even brought up some mountain bikes and went riding before the concert.”  5,238 people were recorded as attending the performance.

A mountaintop performance on Whistler, 1995. Whistler Question Collection.

The VSO continued to perform annually on top of the mountain, first on Blackcomb Mountain and then switching to Whistler Mountain.  In 1998 their concert on Whistler was postponed as the mountain was closed for the summer due to the construction of the new Roundhouse Lodge.  This postponement lasted fourteen years.

In 2012, after an absence of over a decade, the VSO returned to perform in Whistler.  Instead of the top of a mountain, performances took place in Olympic Plaza over a weekend in late July.  In 2014 the VSO began performances on Canada Day and announced the creation of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestral Institute at Whistler, both of which have continued each summer.

The VSO performs in Olympic Plaza. Photo: John Alexander

Unlike the first performance in 1988, today’s VSO performances in Whistler are not held in an alpine meadow and the audience does not pay to attend.  In other ways, however, the concerts are still very similar.  The VSO still attracts of crowd of thousands and a mix of visitors and residents.  Groups still bring picnics, families attend with kids and grandparents, people wear bathing suits and hiking gear, and quite a few people look like they just got off their bikes.

Celebrating Myrtle Philip Day

You might not have heard of it, but this Monday, March 19 is a holiday unique to Whistler.  On March 10, 1986 the council of the day voted to declare March 19 “Myrtle Philip Day” in honour of Myrtle Philip’s 95th birthday.

Myrtle and Alex Philip first came to the Whistler valley, then still known as Alta Lake, in 1911 and opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914.  Over the next 30 years their success at Rainbow Lodge helped turn Alta Lake into a summer destination.  When the pair sold the lodge in 1948 they had planned to move on but, like many who came after them, they never quite left.

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

After Alex’s death in 1968, Myrtle remained at her cottage on Alta Lake and continued to take an active part in community life.  She moved into Hilltop House in Squamish for only the last few years of her life.

Recognizing Myrtle’s birthday was nothing new for Whistler: almost every year her birthday celebrations were reported in the local papers, including The Whistler Question and The Citizen of Squamish.  Myrtle’s 90th was marked by a grad celebration at Myrtle Philip School attended by about 200 well wishers, including her two sisters and nephews and nieces.  The students of the school presented Myrtle with 90 daffodils and the Gourmet Bakery prepared a 99-inch cake for the occasion.  Presentations were also made by Pat Carleton, the Whistler Rotary Club, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, School Board Chairman Jim McDonald and the staff of Myrtle Philip School.  Pat Beauregard, on behalf of the Alta Lake Community Club, presented a plaque representing the newly created “Myrtle Philip Award,” awarded each year to a student demonstrating academic excellence.  This award is still presented today.

89-year old Myrtle Philip cuts her birthday cake at her party.  Whistler Question Collection.

Given the community’s respect for Whistler’s “First Lady,” it is no surprise that her 95th birthday warranted her very own day.  This was not, however, the first Myrtle Philip Day celebrated in Whistler.

On October 13, 1974, friends, former guests of Rainbow Lodge and others who knew Myrtle gathered at the still-standing Rainbow Lodge to remember their days at Alta Lake.  Officially called “Myrtle Philip, This Is Your Life” day, the event was described as a “time when old friends and former guests of Rainbow return to the lodge” for a party that lasted from the train’s arrival to its departure.  The railway even planned to reserve an “old-time railway coach” to transport the party guests.

Myrtle Philip and Mayor Mark Angus celebrate her 93rd birthday. Philip Collection.

The official declaration of “Myrtle Philip Day” in 1986 was only one of the gifts Whistler gave Myrtle that year.  She also received a birthday cake, flowers, gift baskets and even a special Myrtle Philip cookie from Germain’s.  Tapley’s, which bears her family’s name, put up a birthday banner for the day and Mayor Terry Rodgers made a trip to see Myrtle in Squamish.

Unfortunately, this was also Myrtle’s last birthday.  That summer she died of complications following a stroke and was buried in the Whistler Cemetery.  The community continued to celebrate Myrtle Philip Day, hosting fundraisers and handing out birthday cake in her honour.

The 1976 Winter Olympics: A Dream Almost Realized

In May 1970 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gathered in Amsterdam to choose the winning bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics.  Vancouver/Garibaldi, Denver (USA), Sion (Switzerland) and Tampere (Finland) were all in the running to host the 1976 Winter Olympic Games.

However, Vancouver/Garibaldi ended up being taken out of the running because the IOC chose Montreal to host the Summer Olympics in 1976.  The Winter Games were awarded to Denver, Colorado instead.

The logo for the 1976 bid drew heavily on the design of the relatively new Canadian flag.

But the political climate the changing in the 1970s and in the face of growing environmentalist movements and concerns over the expenditures made to host an Olympic Games, Denver decided to hold a referendum on hosting the mega-event.  The “No Games” side won the referendum – and to this day, it is the only city and state to reject the Olympic Winter Games after successfully winning a bid.

The referendum was held on November 15, 1972.  It left the IOC in a lurch and the Olympic Committee, thinking it easier to have the Games remain in North America, offered them to Vancouver/Garibaldi.

The Government of Canada was willing to chip in $10 million to help Vancouver and Garibaldi host the 1976 Winter Olympics, as long as the provincial government provided matching funding.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.

Dave Barrett, Premier of British Columbia and leader of the first NDP government in British Columbia, had been in office for two months when the issue of hosting the Games came up.  He felt the money would be better spent on other priorities as opposed to hosting the Olympics.

W.A.C. Bennett, who had just lost to Barrett and was the leader of the Social Credit Party, claimed he would have given the Vancouver/Garibaldi Olympic Committee the money.

John Fraser, President of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) at the time, felt that, because of the recent government change and as local support for the Games was at an all-time low following the initial bid rejection, it wasn’t the best time to host the Winter Games.  They too passed on hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Whistler today would look very different if the 1976 bid had been successful.

Other commentators were disappointed, but at the same time relieved that the Garibaldi area and Whistler would be able to develop at a more leisurely pace.

John Jerome wrote an article in Skiing in 1971 titled, “I’m Glad Whistler lost the Olympic Bid – Glad, do you hear?”  In it he said “… I felt their immense disappointment keenly; I knew how bloody hard and long they had worked for that award; I loved them for their effort.  But deep down inside I was glad they failed.”

The IOC ended up reusing a past host site to hold the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the site of the 1964 Winter Olympics.  This was the first time in the modern Olympic Games that a site hosted the Olympics twice.

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.

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.