Category Archives: Museum Musings

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

The annual Alta Lake ‘Regretta’

For many people, the Labour Day long weekend marks the end of the summer; school holidays are over and the days are getting noticeably colder and shorter. Knowing the warm days are coming to an end may bring a sense of sadness to some. This feeling was even more palpable in the community of Alta Lake, where the population increased in the summer months and life revolved around the lake – fishing, swimming and sailing. The biggest community celebration ran over the September long weekend and was named the ‘Regretta’ because the community regretted that summer was coming to an end.

The Alta Lake Sailing Club ran out of Cypress Lodge and regattas were held each long weekend throughout the summer. Opening the sailing season was the Jelly Fish Race held on the May long weekend, then the Dominion Day Derby was held on July 1, and the biggest event of them all was the annual Regretta held on Labour Day weekend starting in 1965.

Many different sailing craft participated in the annual Alta Lake Regretta. Peterson Collection.

The Regretta was a day-long celebration that incorporated sailing races, as well as fun contests and activities for children and adults alike. Alta Lake became a colourful display of sailing craft with Sabots, Davidson D12s, Flying Juniors, Enterprises, Hobie Cats and Catamarans all popular. Sabots were the first boat of choice as the 8 foot sailing dinghies were light enough to carry up the bank for storage at the end of the summer.

Along with the regular regatta races, fun races and obstacle courses kept both participants and spectators entertained. ‘Repel all boarders’ was an obstacle race with up to five people on board vying to get through the course the fastest without any ‘pirates’ boarding the boats or losing any crew members. There were also ‘free-for-all races’ that allowed splashing and tipping – any tactics to delay the other racers were encouraged.

There were many amusing activities for the “landlubbers” too, often organised by Florence Peterson. In a recent oral history with Carol Fairhurst, whose parents owned Cypress Lodge, she remembered fondly, “We would have the three legged race where two people tie their inside leg together and you have to run. The sack race where you’d get in a potato sack and you had to hop. Then there would be egg-throwing contests, pie-eating contests, tug-of-wars where they had two wharves and two teams and the losing team got pulled into the water. The pie eating contest was always huckleberry pies so it was hilarious because people would end up with blue faces. It was a good time. The sail boat races were a big deal.”

A pie-eating contest in front of Cypress Lodge, an important part of the summer regattas. Fairhurst Collection.

Another activity from the Regretta that should definitely be brought back in the interests of entertainment is the Alta Lake pole vaulting contest. The aim of this competition was to launch yourself high into the air over the lake and land in an inner tube.

Prizes and trophies were presented for both the serious and not so serious competitions. Renate Bareham, née Ples, grew up in Alta Lake and remembers winning a hand mirror in the log rolling competition.

Karen Gow (left) and Renate Ples (right) during the log rolling competition in 1967. Bareham Collection.

This celebration of summer brought as many as 100 residents and weekenders together for a day in the sun, which was quite the turnout for a small community. Throughout the ten or so years that the Regretta ran it certainly left an impression on all those lucky enough to take part.

Shaping the landscape with fire and ice

In the weekly Museum Musings column in Pique Newsmagazine, we mostly explore and share stories of the past. Rarely, however, do we go back thousands or millions of years as is required when talking about the geological history of our region. In celebration of the Sea to Sky Fire and Ice Aspiring GeoRegion, the Museum is showcasing the landscape in the new exhibition Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice.

Throughout time, fire and ice have played an important part in shaping the land. Whistler sits in the subduction zone of converging tectonic plates, where the Juan De Fuca plate is being pushed under the North American plate, creating the Coast Mountains. All of the volcanoes considered active in Canada are found in BC and the Yukon along tectonic plate boundaries, and all are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Garibaldi Provincial Park is named after Mount Garibaldi, the largest mountain in the park and a potentially active stratovolcano. While the last eruption was around 13,000 years ago, this is still relatively recent in geological time (Black Tusk, on the other hand, likely erupted approximately 170,000 years ago). Volcanoes can erupt again after being dormant for thousands of years. Thankfully, if Mount Garibaldi was to rumble back life to we would start seeing warnings such as hot springs, hot spots and seismic activity in the region from rising magma.

Fire and ice shaped this region, creating the unique mountains that are popular for recreation. Greg Griffith Collection.

While Mount Baker is instantly recognisable as a volcano, Mount Garibaldi is harder to distinguish because it is not a typical cone shaped volcano. When Mount Garibaldi erupted during the last ice age, one half of the volcanic cone formed on a rock foundation, while the west side settled on top of a glacier. As the glacier melted and receded the mountain collapsed, changing shape. Giant landslides spread the volcanic debris across the Squamish Valley.

We can thank this active volcanic region for the formation of Garibaldi Lake. Also around the end of the last glaciation, Clinker Peak on the shoulder of Mount Price erupted. The Cheakamus Valley had been full of ice over 1.3 km above sea level that was rapidly melting. Lava from the Clinker Peak eruption flowed towards the valley below where it hit the Cheakamus Valley glacier. There it cooled rapidly against the wall of ice, solidifying to create a dam across the mountain valley. As snow and ice melted from the mountains above it became trapped behind this wall, known as The Barrier, creating Garibaldi Lake.

Garibaldi Lake. Cliff Fenner Collection.

The only water that leaves Garibaldi Lake year round gushes from springs coming through the scree slope below The Barrier. This consistent flow of water lubricates the bottom of the naturally unstable dam and poses a significant geological hazard, with some scientists worried it could one day collapse. It is not uncommon to see rocks fall from The Barrier, hence the name of Rubble Creek below, and according to indigenous oral histories a major landslide occurred 1855 when a slab of rock fell from The Barrier. With approximately 1.28 trillion litres of water trapped by an unstable dam wall at 1400 metres of elevation, a collapse could be catastrophic. It is for this reason that an evacuation order of Garibaldi Townsite was issued in 1980, with the last residents leaving the town in 1986. Today the Garibaldi Townsite no longer exists. 

Hikers looking at The Barrier around the 1960s or 1970s. Cliff Fenner Collection.

Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice is on now at the Whistler Museum, open from 11am every day except Wednesday. Entry is by donation, and you can further support the Whistler Museum by becoming a Museum Member.

What do you love about summer vacation?

The months of July and August are highly anticipated by many children throughout the year as the time of summer vacation, when daily routines change (or are entirely discarded) and opportunities for adventures can be plentiful. Whistler can be a great place to spend summers as a child, whether as a visitor or a resident. This was also true 95 years ago, when the Matheson family from Vancouver began spending their two months of summer vacation at Alta Lake. These visits were still fondly remembered by Betty Jane Warner (the youngest of the three Matheson children) in 2011.

Alta Lake was an amazing summer retreat for the Matheson children, who spent a good part of the time in and on the lake. Philip Collection.

Beginning in 1927, Violet Matheson, her three children (Jack, Claudia, and Betty Jane), and often a maid, would board the Union Steamship in downtown Vancouver at the end of June. After the trip by boat to Squamish, the family would travel to Alta Lake aboard the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Once there, they would stay at a cabin they referred to as their “summer cottage,” owned by William “Mac” MacDermott, who became a good family friend.

The months spent at Alta Lake by the Mathesons were very different from their daily lives in Vancouver. The cabin had a “cranky” wood stove, coal oil lamps, a copper tub, and an outhouse. The children would go swimming, go hiking with Mac, pick ripe blueberries, row around the lake among the waterlilies, spend hot afternoons reading in the shade, and visit Rainbow Lodge to pick up the mail and sometimes make purchases from the store. Claudia and Betty Jane had to get dressed up only once over the summer for their annual visit to Mrs. Harrop’s tearoom. They also looked forward to their annual picnic excursion with the Ford family, who lived at Alta Lake.

The Matheson family stopped coming to Alta Lake in 1935 after the death of Betty Jane’s father Robert, who had spent the summers working in Vancouver and visiting Alta Lake occasionally. Looking back on the summers spent there as a child, however, Betty Jane fondly recalled their “happy summers.”

Showing that summer fun continued well past the 1920s, four excited kids take part in the 3-legged race at the Summer Recreation sports day. P. Hocking photo. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

There are still a lot of things to enjoy about summer vacations in Whistler today, which is why the theme for the 26th Annual Building Competition with LEGO Bricks is “What do you love about summer vacation?”

We are very excited to be hosting our annual building competition in person this summer on Saturday, August 27. While the past couple of years have seen the competition transition to building at home, this year we will be returning to our previous format where all competitors build their creations in Florence Petersen Park using the LEGO bricks provided. After the building time, our judges will evaluate the creations and then prizes donated by incredible local businesses will be awarded for the different age categories.

To register for this year’s competition and share your creations of your favourite parts of summer, contact us at the Whistler Museum. Ages 3 and up are welcome. Learn more here.

Crankworx Numero Uno

Eighteen years ago the first Crankworx was held in Whistler Village to roaring success. As the Crankworx World Tour is back in town this month we are throwing back to the original Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival, which started in Whistler in 2004.

We cannot talk about the start of Crankworx without first mentioning Joyride and Whistler Summer Gravity Festival. Joyride Bikercross was first organised by Chris Winter and Paddy Kaye in 2001. Four riders simultaneously jockeyed for lead at full speed down the course featuring tight turns and fast jumps. It instantly drew the crowds. Joyride continued in 2002, then was incorporated into the week-long Whistler Gravity Festival in 2003 – combining all the disciplines of gravity-assisted mountain biking including Air Downhill and Slopestyle. In 2004 the Whistler Gravity Festival rebranded to Crankworx.

Crankworx in 2004. Andrew Worth Collection.

Crankworx started as a way to pull together all gravity-assisted mountain bike disciplines and events, bringing all the best mountain bikers together. The idea was also to showcase the bike park. Rob McSkimming who was the managing director of Whistler Mountain Bike Park at the time, approached Mark ‘Skip’ Taylor who had experience working on the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. According to Rob in 2004, “Crankworx was designed so we could strive to be on the progressive edge of mountain biking.”

In 2004, Crankworx took place July 22 to 25, with concerts, pro-rider shows and an expo throughout the four days. Events included the Air Downhill along A-Line which was in its third year. The bike park had newly opened the terrain to the top of Garbanzo and the Garbanzo Downhill was another signature event, along with the BC Downhill Championship and the Biker X.

Definitely the most popular for spectators was the slopestyle. The course, which Richie Schley helped design, featured a road gap, wall ride, massive teeter-totter, step up to scaffolding, and huge gap jumps and drops. Prior to the event Rob McSkimming said of the course, “You should see what they are building for the Slopestyle session. It looks like an Olympic facility. There are some features in there that are hard to imagine riding let alone throwing tricks on.”

There were many memorable moments during the competition. Kirt Voreis left an impression, falling off his bike on top of the teeter-totter. He was able to keep both himself and the bike on the teeter-totter and continue the run after the fall.

Kirt Voreis managed to hang on after falling of his bike on the teeter-totter. Andrew Worth Collection.

Spectators will also remember Timo Pritzel from Germany who went really big, massively overshooting the funbox transition near the bottom of the course and flying over the scaffolding. As the Whistler Question explained, “He did clear the scaffold, but bailed his bike in mid-air and landed the old-fashioned way, which looked to most of the spectators like a guy jumping out of a two story building.” He broke his wrist and ankle in the crash, and placed second in the competition.

In an impressive underdog story, Paul Basagoitia took top honours in the 2004 slopestyle when he was 17 and relatively unknown. He had a background in BMX, no sponsors and no bike, so he borrowed a bike from friend, Cam Zink, and went on to win the contest. In an in interview from Pique Newsmagazine at the time, he said, “It was awesome, it was only like my fifth time on a mountain bike, so I couldn’t be happier.”

Paul Basagoitia during Crankworx 2004 where he came first in the slopestyle. According to an article in The Red Bulletin, following his victory Paul said, “I would like to thank my sponsors, but I don’t have any sponsors, really.” Andrew Worth Collection.

Still on the progressive edge of mountain biking, the evolution of the Crankworx from 2004 to today is evident in the village this week. Whistler has again come alive in celebration of all things mountain biking and no doubt legends will continue to be created.