Category Archives: Museum Musings

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

Happiest in the Mountains: Stefan Ples (Part Two)

There is an often told story of the first meeting of Stefan Ples and Franz Wilhelmsen of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. on Whistler Mountain.  Apparently Franz arrived at the top of the mountain by helicopter to find Stefan there on skis.  Franz asked, “What are you doing on my mountain?”, to which Stefan replied, “What are you doing on mine?”  Though we do not know exactly how their first meeting occurred, the story certainly demonstrates Stefan’s love of the mountain and his preferred way to navigate it.  (For more information on Stefan’s life before coming to Alta Lake, check out last week’s article here.)

Stefan and Gerda Ples sit on their hearth at Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Bareham family.

Although Stefan didn’t understand why people would prefer going up on lifts and skiing only a short distance down, he became greatly involved in the development of Whistler Mountain.  By the mid 1960s he had been exploring the mountain on his skis for years and knew the are perhaps better than anyone at the time.  Stefan began working for the lift company in 1963, going up to Alta Lake every weekend for over a year to climb up to a meadow at the bottom of the T-bar, where he would record the temperature and snowfall and other information (his handwritten reports were donated to the Whistler Museum & Archives by his daughter Renate Bareham in 2013).

When construction of the runs and lifts began Stefan moved up to Alta Lake full time to work.  Part of his responsibilities was to bring the horses up the mountain with supplies to a work camp that was set up in what may have been the same meadows he gathered his reports from.  Renate accompanied him on one of his trips up with the horses and told the museum, “It was just magical, because we went up through the forest and everything and we ended up in this meadow.  Oh, it was so beautiful up there.”

During one particularly bad snow year, Stefan also introduced the sport of Ice Stock Sliding to the valley.  “The old master, Stefan Ples, who introduced ice stock sliding to the Whistler area, sending one of the “rocks” down the recently blacktopped course next to the school at Whistler.” (Garibaldi Whistler News Fall 1977)

Though Gerda had continued to run their rooming house in Vancouver when Stefan first started working for the lift company, the rest of the family moved to Alta Lake in 1966.  According to Renate, not many people lived in the area at the time, and those who did either worked for the lift company or worked construction around the gondola base.  Renate attended high school in Squamish and worked for the lift company on the weekends and breaks.  At fourteen she began by stapling lift tickets and then handing out boarding passes, moving on to teach skiing for Jim McConkey when she turned sixteen.  She also babysat, caring for the Bright and Mathews children whose parents worked for the mountain.

Stefan continued working for the lift company and led ski tours to areas the lifts didn’t access.  One summer Renate even remembered helping him paint the top of the Red Chair.  Despite working for the lift company and receiving a lifetime pass in 1980, Stefan continued to prefer walking up, occasionally taking a lift as far as midstation before beginning his climb.

According to Renate, the only person who could go up the mountain on skis faster than her father was Seppo Makinen: “It took my dad three hours, probably, to get to the peak.  Seppo made it in an hour and a half.  I think he actually ran, you know, on his cross country skis, and my dad walked on his cross country skis, but Seppo ran.  He was also considerably younger than my father.”

Stefan Ples, long-time resident of Whistler, receives a lifetime pass from Garibaldi Lifts President Franz Wilhelmsen in recognition of his long involvement with Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Parts of Stefan’s legacy can be seen throughout the area though many may not know of his role in creating it, from the Tyrol Lodge to the two runs off Whistler Peak that bear his name (Stefan’s Chute and Stefan’s Salute).  He was a founding member of the Alta Lake Volunteer Fire Department in the 1960s and helped start Whistler’s first Search and Rescue Team in 1973.  His name can also be found on the Stefan Ples trophy, the prize for the overall winners of the Peak to Valley Race, as he like to climb to the peak and then ski all the way down.

Though some people may come to Whistler to build a career or make it rich, Renate said of her father that, “All he wanted to do was be in the mountains,” a goal it would appear he certainly accomplished.

Happiest in the Mountains: Stefan Ples (Part One)

Well before people started to pay for lift access and a day’s skiing, skiers were climbing Whistler and the surrounding mountains, either in search of skiable terrain, such as the George Bury expedition in 1939, or simply to spend time outdoors exploring, such as Pip Brock in the early 1930s.  One person who spent countless hours ski touring on Whistler Mountain was Stefan Ples.

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1912, Stefan Ples spent much of his life surrounded by mountains.  When he was a young man it was common to work until noon on Saturdays, leaving Saturday afternoons and Sundays as his free time.  According to his daughter Renate Bareham, Stefan would work until noon and then get on a train or his bicycle and head for cabins in the mountains.  Ski lifts were still relatively new and uncommon at the time (the first recorded ski lift was built by Robert Winterhalder in Germany in 1908) and so Stefan would spend his time climbing up the mountain, skiing down only once at the end of his trip.  This would remain his preferred way to ski for the rest of his life.

Stefan and Gerda Ples sit on their hearth at Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Bareham family.

During the Second World War Stefan lived in Hallein, a town outside of Salzburg, where his wife sadly passed away, leaving him with their young son.  After a move to Sweden Stefan met Gerda.  She came from Leipzig, Germany and had lost her fiancé in the war.  Like Stefan, Gerda was planning to come to Canada.  The pair got married and Stefan, Gerda and Steve came to to Canada together, docking in Halifax and then going by train to Montreal.  In Montreal, Stefan would hike up Mount Royal whenever he got the chance, though it couldn’t compare to the mountains he grew up in.  The family spent some time there before moving on to Vancouver.

In Vancouver, Stefan and Gerda ran a rooming house in the West End, a Victorian building located on Denman and Davie Streets, right across the street from English Bay.  Renate, who was born in Vancouver, remembered that their house became the first stop for Austrian immigrants coming to the city.  In 2013 she told the museum, “I think I met just about every Austrian that came to Canada in the first ten years that I was born.”

Settling in Vancouver also meant Stefan was once again living amongst mountains.  In the early 1950s he, along with Norbert Kamnig, Fips Broda, and Erhard Franks, instructors at Hans Brunner’s ski school on Hollyburn Mountain, became founding members of the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club.  The Club soon built a cabin on Mount Seymour, where Stefan and his family would often go in the summers.  Renate learned to ski on rope tows on both these mountains, though she remembers Seymour more clearly.

The Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club enjoyed the area so much they even decided to build a lodge in the 1960s. The Tyrol Lodge still stands above Nita Lake today.  Tyrol Lodge Collection.

According to the Club, it was a chance meeting with an Alta Lake resident at a cobbler that first introduced Stefan to the area around Whistler Mountain.  He and a few other Club members took the train up to Alta Lake and were impressed with the location, returning afterward to continue ski touring around the area.  In 1959, Stefan and Gerda went further and bought a property on Alta Lake next to Cypress Lodge.  This became their own cabin in the mountains, though it would be a few more years before the family moved to Alta Lake full time.

Next week we’ll be continuing with a look at Stefan Ples and his family’s time at Alta Lake and Whistler Mountain.

Bill Bailiff’s Records of Alta Lake

Living in a place with such a beautiful landscape, where people spend a lot of time enjoying activities outdoors, environmental concerns are always relevant.  One of the first residents to voice concern for the environment was Bill Bailiff, back in the 1950s.

John William Bailiff moved to Alta Lake from England and lived in the area for 45 years.  Reportedly, his fiancé had died and left him heartbroken, so he picked up and moved to British Columbia.  Bailiff joined a construction crew for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, but in 1913 he had an argument with the foreman over the safety conditions of his work and ended up quitting.  He then moved to settle at Alta Lake permanently.

(L to R) Bill Holloway, Jimmy Fitzsimmons, Bill Bailiff, Bill MacDermott, Alex Philip Sr. and Tom Wilson prepare to head out to Fitzsimmons’ mine, about 1916. Philip Collection.

Bailiff kept a whitewashed log cabin near Mons Creek and Alta Lake, as well as additional shelters at each end of Cheakamus Lake.  He became an excellent trapper and would spend five weeks at a time out in the wilderness.  He also had trap lines in the Spearhead Range and Callaghan Creek areas that he tended to over the winters, snowshoeing between them.  The traps would catch wolverine, mink, marten, lynx, and weasel.  One continual nuisance was squirrels that continued to get caught in his traps.  In 1928, Bailiff caught 28 squirrels, so he froze them and stored them in his woodshed, where they were stolen by a marten and then hidden in a rockslide.

The summers were spent by Bailiff putting in railway ties and clearing trails around the lakes for the government.  He was also a prospector, looking for copper on the Fitzsimmons side of Whistler Mountain.  He and Bill MacDermott were looking for a vein that ran north from Britannia but, despite years of looking, they were never successful.

Bill Bailiff (far left) waits for the train at the Alta Lake Station with a group in 1937. Clarke Collection.

Surviving on subsistence living, Bailiff used any food available.  He was known to make the best bread using potato water and Pip Brock, whose family had property on Alta Lake, said he enjoyed his time with Bailiff “sharing his bottled beer and Blue Jay pie.”

Bailiff was often chosen to be Santa Clause at school Christmas parties and the descriptions people remembered him by explain why he was a clear choice for that position.  Brock said Bailiff “had a large belly which shook when he laughed,” and he was also described as a gentle man with round rose cheeks.

An active member of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) and even president in 1958, Bailiff wrote an ongoing series about the history of Alta Lake and preserving the environment in the ALCC newsletter.  He dedicated his column, which included pieces on geography, forestry, topography and more, to the one room Alta Lake School.

This illustration accompanied Bill Bailiff’s article on black bears in the Community Weekly Sunset in July, 1958.

While describing the topography of the area, Bailiff wrote that “Before the advent of the Pacific Great Eastern Rly in 1914 the only access to [Alta Lake] was by pack horse trail which ran from Squamish to Pemberton through a virgin forest of magnificent timber as yet unspoiled by human hands.”  In the next issue, when discussing progress in the area, he described how the construction of the railway led to the “first despoilation (sic) of the forest.”  He also talked about the Hemlock Looper and other insects that attacked the local trees in the early 20th century, the dangers of human caused fires in the area (including a fire by Green Lake supposedly started by a cigarette butt “thrown carelessly into dry slash”), and the decrease in wildlife sightings as human activity began to destroy habitats.

Although he spent a lot of time on his own in the wilderness, Bailiff was a well known and well liked member of the Alta Lake community until his death later in 1958.

Dick Fairhurst of Cypress Lodge: Part Two

This week we’re continuing the story of Dick Fairhurst, who first came to Alta Lake in 1943. (You can read part one here) By 1955, he owned three adjoining lots on Alta Lake, including the property today known as The Point, and was operating a collection of cabins and a tearoom under the name Cypress Lodge.

At Cypress Lodge, guests could participate in many activities, including fishing, hiking, berry picking, and picnics, as well as community events in the summer such as movies and dances.  Luckily, Dick did not have to run the entire business by himself while continuing to work on his traplines and in forestry.

Cypress Lodge, September 1962. Fairhurst Collection.

In the summer of 1955, his mother Elizabeth Alice Fairhurst came up from Vancouver to run the tearoom for him.  She also looked after the cabins, did the laundry, and cooked for guests, running what others would describe as “a tight ship.”  Though she originally came for just one season, she stayed for fifteen years.  Dick added a bedroom to his house on the property and enlarged the kitchen, ensuring his mother would be comfortable at Alta Lake.

Dick also had some new neighbours move in that summer when a group of teachers from the Lower Mainland bought the Masson house.  June Tidball, Florence Strachan, Eunice “Kelly” Forster, Jacquie Pope, and Betty Gray became regular Alta Lake visitors and rechristened their cabin “Witsend.”  According to June, Dick brought them hot water on their first evening at the cabin to welcome them to Alta Lake and became a trusted friend of the group.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen.  Whistler Question Collection.

Dick and Kelly Forster (the same Kelly who once sewed her friends’ pyjamas shut) married in 1958 and Kelly moved to Alta Lake full-time, becoming involved in the running of Cypress Lodge.  The pair made a plan to replace the old cabins on the waterfront and build a new lodge building.  They began by clearing the point constructing new cabins, completing four by 1962.  These cabins had the distinction of housing the first coloured plumbing at Alta Lake, though sadly we do not know what colour their plumbing was.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

In February 1963, apparently not an incredibly snowy winter, the Fairhursts laid the forms for the foundations of their new lodge.  Fully booked for the 1965 Victoria Day long weekend, Cypress Lodge was finished just in time, with the furniture arriving on the Saturday and assembled by friends, neighbours, and even guests.

Along with the lodge, the Fairhurst family had grown during these years.  Dick and Kelly had two children, David and Carol, who grew up at Alta Lake, attending the Alta Lake School.

Cypress Lodge became a gathering place for the small Alta Lake community through the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  The wharf was the base for the Alta Lake Sailing Club’s Dominion Day Derby on July 1 and the annual Regretta (named for the regret at the season ending) on Labour Day, where events such as pie eating contests and a fish fry took place alongside boat races.  In the winter Dick and Kelly would also open the lodge for New Year’s Eve parties.

Dick Fairhurst, the owner of Cypress Lodge, was a ski-doo enthusiast, pictured with his children David and Carol. Fairhurst Collection.

The Fairhursts continued to operate Cypress Lodge, renting cabins out to Whistler Mountain employees and highway crews, until 1972 when they sold the property to the Canadian Youth Hostels Association.  In 1973 they moved into their new home built by Andy Petersen on Drifter Way, where they stayed until both David and Carol had graduated from high school in Pemberton.  In 1980 Dick and Kelly moved into a house Dick had built for them in Parksville, where Dick took up golfing, salt-water fishing, and gardening.  Sadly, Dick died in October 1983.

Dick Fairhurst is remembered for many things in Whistler in addition to Cypress Lodge.  He also helped found the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club, maintained the dump site with the Valleau logging family, served as the Fire Chief for the volunteer force, put the barrel out on the lake for the Alta Lake Community Club’s Ice Derby, and was named Citizen of the Year in 1972.

Dick Fairhurst, Stefan Ples and Doug Mansell rafting the Alta Lake fire shelter and its contents across the lake to Alta Vista, 1967. Petersen Collection

Dick Fairhurst of Cypress Lodge

Though his name has come up several times in recent columns, we recently realized we haven’t specifically written about Dick Fairhurst’s story yet.  It was a promise to Dick and Myrtle Philip that led Florence Petersen to found the Whistler Museum & Archives Society in the summer of 1986, as they worried that the stories of life at Alta Lake would be forgotten as skiing became the dominant activity in the valley.  Both had lived at Alta Lake for decades and had already seen many changes.

Though he grew up in BC mining towns, Dick spent many years working in the forestry industry.  He would have logged in very similar conditions to this man pictured here. Fairhurst Collection.

Richard “Dick” Fairhurst was born to Richard and Elizabeth Alice Fairhurst in 1914, the third of five children.  His parents had come to Canada from Lancashire, England in 1906 and at the time were living in East Arrow Park, British Columbia.  Dick’s father was a miner and so Dick grew up in mining towns in the Kootenays, moving first to Michel and then to Sandon before settling in Silverton in 1929.

After graduating, Dick spent a short time working underground in one of the silver mines before he secured a job building tramlines for hauling ore.  In 1940, Dick moved to Vancouver to work at the shipyards in North Vancouver during the war, a job he later said he hated.

Dick’s first trip to the Alta Lake valley was for his honeymoon with his wife Doreen.  The pair stayed at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake.  According to Dick, “I came up here on vacation once in 1943 and I thought, well, this is the place for me.”

George Churchill poses with a day’s catch from Alta Lake. Fairhurst Collection.

Dick and Doreen bought two lots on the west side of Alta Lake the next year and Dick began working for Alf Gebhart at the Rainbow Lumber Mill Company, both in the mill and on the boom.  He supplemented his income by trapping, taking over some of the traplines of Bill MacDermott and Bill Bailiff on Rainbow, Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains and catching mostly marten and beavers.

Life at Alta Lake was very different from city life and was not to Doreen’s tastes.  The couple divorced in 1948 and Doreen left the valley while Dick remained and decided to try his hand in the early tourist industry.  He began by building two log cabins, a workshop, frames for two more cabins, a storage shed, and a garage.  Bert Harrop, who was well known in the area for his carpentry skills, taught Dick to build cedar bark furniture.  Some cabins were rented by loggers so they could bring their families from the city.

Lodge guests aboard Dick’s 1942 Reo pickup truck. The truck was used to transport guests for picnics, hikes, and more. Fairhurst Collection.

In 1954, Dick purchased an adjoining property (formerly known as Harrop’s Point), adding three existing cabins and a tearoom to his business.  He changed the name to Cypress Lodge on Cypress Point and began accepting guests, while continuing to work in forestry in the valley.  The next year, Dick secured the water rights to install a wheel and generator on Scotia Creek, providing mostly reliable power for Cypress Lodge, except when something plugged the nozzle and the lights would go out.

In 1955, two people came to Alta Lake who would play a large part in the next stages of Cypress Lodge and Dick’s life in the valley.  We’ll be bringing you more about Dick Fairhurst, Cypress Lodge, and life at Alta Lake in the 1950s and 60s next week, so be sure to check back!

Pranks at Witsend

When describing summers spent at Alta Lake, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) once explained how she, June Collins, Kelly Fairhurst, Betty Atkinson, and Jacquie Pope (her fellow Witsend residents) would plan their days: “You’d take a walk, and say ‘What’ll I do today?’  Something would happen that would lead to something else.”  Sometimes these walks would lead to days that, though not necessarily the most productive, were still remembered by the Witsend group for their fun nearly fifty years later.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen continue to share a laugh well after their Witsend days. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Florence remembered one walk in particular that ended with an elaborate prank being played on one of the seasonal forestry workers staying at Alta Lake.

She and Julie, a visiting friend, were out walking when Julia accidentally killed a grouse while tossing rocks down the path.  As a biology teacher, Julie had with her all the necessary equipment to skin the bird, after which the pair decided to stuff the skin.  They took it and poultry meant for their dinner with them to the forestry cabin.  They suspended one bird above a door, to fall into the face of the next person to enter, and arranged the other on the table so that it appeared to be sitting cross legged while staring at the door.  This might have been startling enough, but the pair went further and filled the bottom of the sleeping bag with the cabin’s cutlery.

Trail rides had always been a part of summer at Rainbow Lodge, and sometimes the Witsend group would ride along on the extra horses. Philip Collection.

The Witsend group was well acquainted with “the forestry guys,” and knew that the joke would be taken well.  Unfortunately for the occupant of the cabin, his boss from the city happened to be visiting that day and his departure was delayed.  The boss had to stay the night, and the forester kindly offered to take the couch while his boss used the sleeping bag.  After being greeted by flying poultry and finding a fork with his foot while going to bed, this was a stay that the boss would remember.  As Florence recalled, “Of course, all of the forestry kids knew who it had been, but they wouldn’t say.”

Perhaps the best story of a Witsend prank came from June Collins.  The group used to ride horses at Alta Lake, often getting to take the spare horses on Rainbow Lodge trail rides.  One day, there were only four horses and five hopeful riders.  Kelly very kindly volunteered to stay behind and the other four happily went off to spend the day on the trail.  According to June, when they returned to Witsend they found Kelly looking “like she was going to burst.”  When asked what she had gotten up to that day, a sparkling eyed Kelly told them “Nothing.”  When they tried to go to bed, however, the other four discovered just what Kelly had spent her day doing.

The beds had been apple-pied and filled with pop bottle caps, and Kelly had meticulously sewn their pyjamas shut an inch in, making them impossible to put on.

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

They never got mad at each other but took such practical jokes as the fun they were meant to be.  Despite their antics, those who lived at Witsend could also be serious and practical.  As June described it: “All of us had been the same kind of people.  We worked hard, we had always worked hard.  We all had jobs in the summer and we taught in the winter and we went through school.  We did everything right and we never had time for fun.  When we got up there, wow, what a difference.  Why not have it?  So we had a good time.”

Grace Woollard at Alta Lake

While some of the stories we hear or read about at the museum provide only a glimpse into the lives of individuals who lived in the Whistler Valley (such as Josef Janousek, the subject of last week’s article), others provide a much more complete picture of an individual or family.  One such individual was Grace Woollard, a nurse who began visiting Alta Lake in the summer of 1912.

When Woollard first came to Alta Lake, there was not train service to travel by, or Rainbow Lodge to stay at.  She traveled first by boat, and then on foot and by horse with two friends, fellow nurse Grace Archibald and her brother Ernie Archibald, who were looking to preempt land around Alta Lake.  The two Graces stayed at a cabin on the east side of the lake, while Ernie stayed at the survey camp of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway on the west side.  This first excursion introduced Woollard to an area that she would continue to visit for the next six decades.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

Woollard grew up in Ontario, where she met and married Frederick Ray.  The two had twin boys, but after the death of Frederick and of both her sons from whooping cough in 1910, Woollard decided to train as a nurse.  By 1912, she was working at the Bute Street Hospital in Vancouver, where she befriended Grace Archibald.

Two years after her trip to Alta Lake, she married Charles Woollard, a doctor in Vancouver.  The pair returned to Alta Lake and bought their own lot, where they had a summer cabin built.  They were not, however, able to spend much time at this cabin.  In February of 1915, Charles joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps and traveled to England.  He was soon joined there by Grace and their newborn daughter Betty.

Grace stands on the path to the cabin during the winter of 1944/45. Clarke Collection.

 

Grace and Betty stayed in England while Charles went on to serve with the Field Ambulance, a mobile frontline medical unit, in France.  The family returned to Vancouver in 1918, where Charles would become the commanding officer of the Vancouver Military Hospital.

When the Woollards did make it back to their Alta Lake cabin, they found it already occupied.  A family, supposedly from Victoria, had a daughter who was suffering from tuberculosis and had moved into the cabin after a doctor suggested the fresh mountain air might benefit her.  Rather than make a fuss, the Woollards let the family keep the cabin and found a new lot for themselves.  They settled in the area known today as Blueberry Hill, alongside friends of theirs, the Clarke family.

Though she did not live at Alta Lake full-time, Grace often found her nursing skills in demand there.  The nearest doctor was usually a day trip away and until 1948 (when a hospital was built in Squamish), the nearest hospital was in Vancouver.  Grace was called on for help in medical emergencies, such as when a woman in labour unexpectedly disembarked from the train at Rainbow Lodge and Grace delivered her twins.  She even gave advice at community events such as dances.

Betty Woollard (left) and her sister Eleanor along the tracks at Alta Lake. Lundstrom Collection

Charles and Grace had two daughters, Betty and Eleanor.  Grace sold their cabin on Blueberry Hill in 1941 and bought a cabin at the south end of Alta Lake to be close to Betty and her daughter, who were living there while Betty’s husband, Douglas Clarke, was away at war.  Eleanor and her husband Maison Philip, (nephew of Alex Philip of Rainbow Lodge) would also stay at that end of the lake.

Though Charles died in 1924, Grace continued to visit Alta Lake until her death in 1969.