Category Archives: Museum Musings

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

News for the community, by the community

Just how many communities can boast that their first reporters were a group of schoolchildren? Like most of Whistler’s history, the history of print news in Whistler is far from conventional, and relied heavily on community input, support, and organization.

The Whistler Question was published for the first time in 1976 from the basement of the Burrow’s home in Alpine Meadows, and, although it was the first newspaper about the valley, it was not the first source of community news.

The Burrows’s home in Alpine Meadows. Whistler Question Collection.

Early reporting in Whistler (circa 1930-1960) often centered around events that many would no longer consider newsworthy. Reports of gatherings for tea and details of newcomers in the valley featured prominently in Whistler’s (then Alta Lake) early newsheets. Whistler is by no means a roaring metropolis now, but the small community of Alta Lake was a fraction of the size, and the reports showcase the quiet life many residents led.

The first news-sheet in the valley was the Alta Lake School Gazette, a single page publication put together by a group of students at the Alta Lake School. It had a total of six issues, and ran from February to June, 1939.

Students at the Alta Lake School, some of which contributed to the publication. Jardine Collection.

The second news-sheet was published by the Alta Lake Community Club from 1958 until 1961. The single page publication changed names a few times before the Club settled on the Alta Lake Echo. As of its second issue, it featured a subtitle that read “published for fun”, which highlights the nature of the sheet. It was never intended to be a serious newspaper, and it never became one. Rather, it was a way for members of a small community to be kept up to date with the goings on of the past week, and informed of upcoming events.

By the time the Question was introduced, the community had changed significantly. Its first edition was published mere months after the Alta Lake community had been incorporated as the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Despite the significantly larger readership warranting a different approach than earlier publications in Whistler (just imagine if an article was written for every new arrival or departure from the valley), the Question nevertheless still encouraged, and relied on, community involvement.

The Question featured many different columns, some more conventional than others. A perennial favourite, called “Bricks and Roses,” was published from 1981 until 1998, and was in some ways reminiscent of an earlier and quieter time in Whistler when community happenings made up all of the news. The idea for the article was suggested to Glenda Bartosh (editor of the Question) by Gary Raymond, who at the time was the treasurer at the RMOW and had seen a similar column in a Quebec newspaper. A few months before it was introduced, the editor’s column had encouraged readers to send in their input in order to “make this community paper a dialogue – rather than a monologue.” The Bricks and Roses column set out to do just that. It created a forum for readers to express their gratitude for the good deeds of individuals and organizations by bestowing roses, or to call out and (rather publicly) condemn what they considered bad behaviour. More importantly, it gave people a direct path to the publication that did not require a comprehensive letter to the editor.

As you can imagine, people seized the opportunity to submit either a Brick or a Rose, and a wide variety of colourful submissions began to pour in. Some submissions were phoned in, while others were given verbally to one of the Questionables (name given to the staff at the Question) while they were out and about.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program.  She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

Beer Woes of Whistler

The summer of 1978 was a dry one for British Columbia, though not because of the weather. In early June 1978, workers at the three major breweries in the province were locked out during contract negotiations. For the next few months, beer became a limited commodity in BC, including in Whistler.

That spring, Labatt, Molson, and Carling O’Keefe, each of whom employed about 500 workers in BC, decided to negotiate jointly with the Canadian Union of United Brewery, Flour, Cereal, Soft Drink and Distillery Workers. Talks began in May but by June little progress had been made and workers at all three breweries were locked out. With few craft breweries in the province and labour disputes with breweries also occurring in Alberta and Manitoba, liquor stores and customers turned to American breweries to try to meet demand. While the Liquor Administration Branch (LAB) imported products through official channels, individuals were not always so dutiful. On June 14, the Whistler Question informed residents that, “with Alberta now dry, all mercy missions must be directed towards dangerous smuggling operations to the US,” and Macleans reported that “Petty smuggling became an art form, and a customs inspector at the Washington border allowed that ‘Canadians are becoming pretty proficient liars when it comes to making declarations.” (“No rest for the beer,” Dan’l Larocque, Macleans, July 24, 1978)

Paul Burrows picks up his two cases of Olympia. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Within Whistler, the state of beer in the area was discussed almost every week throughout the summer. On June 28, amid predictions that the “near-drought (beer-wise) seems to be sticking around,” the Question reported the supply of local establishments such as the Highland Lodge, the Boot, and L’Après like they would sporting statistics, with the Highland Lodge “checking in” at 25 domestic cases of beer. Though the Liquor Store implemented a two-case limit and tried to buy imported and American brands, the Whistler store was just one of many stores in the province competing for a limited supply. By the end of June, the Liquor Store had no beer at all and did not expect to get any in until July 5 at the earliest, well after the long weekend ended.

Schlitz and Olympia, American beers, attempted to fill the gap left by the breweries being shut down. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

When the July 5 shipment did arrive, Whistler’s Liquor Store received only 135 cases of imported European beer our of an expected 500. The beer, which was priced between $11.50 and $13 per dozen (between $45 and $50, when adjusted for inflation), went on sale at 1pm and was sold out by 6pm, even with a one case/customer limit. According to store manager Dennis Lemarche, a couple of local restaurants tried to circumvent the limit by asking people in the parking lot to pick up a case, but this was quickly stopped.

Not all beers brought in to fill the gap were American – imported European beers were also popular that summer. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Through August, rations of Olympia, Schlitz, Heineken and other brands continued to arrive in Whistler periodically, usually selling out within a day or two. In the lodges and hotels around the valley, supplies of American and imported beer were kept on hand but, as the weather in Whistler got hotter, prices were also reported to rise.

Negotiations between the breweries and the union had progressed and by the fall employees were able to go back to work. In the stores, however, a new problem developed; the LAB announced that it had a backlog of around 2 million cases of American beer that needed to be sold before they could begin stocking Canadian brands as usual. Brands that during the summer had been in high demand were put on sale at prices comparable to Canadian beer in an effort to reduce stockpiles in warehouses and store but it was not until mid-October 1978 that Whistler’s Liquor Store once again sold Canadian beer. The summer, however, had changed some people’s habits and, according to the LAB, one case in four sold continued to be imported.

Cooking at Mons

While a disused logging camp may not seem like the most likely place to find a great meal, that is exactly what could be found at Mons Crossing from 1978 to 1981. The Cookhouse, described as a “little hut by the tracks,” opened in June 1978 to provide breakfast and lunch to local contractors, workers, and any residents or visitors who chose to stop by.

The Cookhouse at Mons. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Everett Valleau moved Valleau Logging Ltd. to the Alta Lake and Green Lake areas in 1955. The company was a family affair, with Everett’s sons Laurance, Eugene, Bob, Howard, Ron and Lindsay all working there; over the years, at least ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren would also work for Valleau Logging Ltd. As Whistler Mountain, and then the Resort Municipality of Whistler, grew, the Valleaus expanded their business to include excavation work, road building, and more. They established a logging camp at Mons near the railway and offered space to the community to build a firehall, operate a post office, play horseshoes, and even pave an area for ice stock sliding. The logging camp was in use until the Valleaus decided to move their business to Pemberton in the 1970s.

In 1978, the RMOW granted Jan Systad and Helene Allen temporary permission to operate the camp’s cookhouse as a home-made breakfast and lunch food service. Before they could open, however, the building needed some work done. The building inspector reported that the interior of the building required a thorough cleaning, the installation of two fire extinguishers and a new sink, and repairs for the rear porch in order to make it the main entrance instead of having customers enter through the kitchen. Given these changes, the health inspector gave the business the go ahead.

The Cookhouse had separate entrances for those doing the cooking and those doing the eating. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

From accounts we’ve seen, the Cookhouse was a big success with Whistler residents. In August 1978 the Whistler Question food column called the Cookhouse’s pancakes “a dream” and “a perfect cure for the Monday morning blues,” describing them as “light and fluffy with a deep, rich flavour… served last week with a pinch of raspberry and maple syrup.”

The Cookhouse operated as a seasonal restaurant, opening in the spring and then closing in November. With no social media, opening and closing dates traveled partially by word of mouth. In 1979, Question staff and other hungry customers arrived at the Cookhouse only to find that it had been closed for the season since the Friday before. When the Cookhouse opened back up in April 1980, it reportedly opened “with an air of secrecy about the operation.” Systad and her assistant Donna (if anyone knows Donna’s last name, please let us know!) told the Question that they “didn’t want to get overwhelmed on a Monday morning by a crowd whipped into a home-cooking frenzy due to advertising,” instead opting for a slower start as word of its opening was passed around Whistler. Despite the lack of formal advertising, there was a steady stream of customers at the Cookhouse, a testament to the quality of the food.

Jan Systad serves Christoper Systad at the final closing of the Cookhouse in November. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The Cookhouse only operated for four years before closing permanently in November 1981. Beginning in January 1982, however, Systad continued to serve her “much-sought after home-cooked goodies” from the Husky in today’s Creekside. She also took over the operation of the deli, grocery store, and laundry facilities at the Husky. The buildings from the Valleau logging camp, including the Cookhouse, were removed from Mons and the area grew into the industrial centre it is today.

The Lost Lake Debate

For residents and visitors alike, Whistler’s parks are a favourite place to spend a summer day. Each park offers something different, whether it’s the playground at Alpha Lake Park or a history lesson from the cabins at Rainbow Park. Lost Lake Park offers swimming, biking, nature walks, and even disc golf. Back in 1982, when the park was still being developed, there was a debate about whether Lost Lake Park should offer even more than it does today.

Lost Lake Park almost didn’t become a park at all. In the 1960s the two timber licenses in the area were set to expire and developers, who knew the licenses were about to expire, had already started preparing to apply for the waterfront property. Don MacLaurin saw what was happening and contacted his friend Bill in the Parks Branch. With help from Bill and other contacts, the area around Lost Lake was assessed and set aside by the provincial government as a potential Use, Recreation and Enjoyment of the Public (UREP) site.

A jumper unfolds their flip into Lost Lake. Whistler Question Collection.

By 1980, residents were regularly using Lost Lake for recreation. In summers freestyle skiers were training and even holding competitions on the ski jump. In the winters the Alta Lake Sports Club was cross-country skiing in the area, having begun work on their first course in 1976. The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) received official approval for the transfer of the UREP surrounding Lost Lake to the municipality for the purposes of creating a municipal park in August 1980 and plans were made to clear a beach area at the south end of the lake and to further develop the trails already in place.

Their plans were still underway in June 1982, when Municipal Parks Planner Tom Barratt was creating a five-year plan for Lost Lake and the surrounding area (500 acres of Crown Land surrounding the lake was also transferred to the RMOW in 1982). Like before, this plan included clearing the beach area and upgrading the trail system while retaining the area’s “wilderness character.” Most people seemed to have accepted these parts of the plan but the idea of including a permanent concession stand offering snacks, drinks, and paddleboard rentals at Lost Lake Park evoked differing opinions from residents.

Grant Cooper cuts through bush on shores of Lost Lake. Miles of X-country trails are being cut as well as a dock and beach for the south end of Lost Lake. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

An editorial in the Whistler Question on June 3, 1982 pointed out that opinions on further development of Lost Lake were “sharply divided.” While not agreeing with those who thought the area should remain untouched by the municipal government, the editor wrote: “We understood that the original concept of Lost Lake was that the area was to be cleared up, landscaped, seeded and generally made more attractive, but we really cannot endorse any plans that could well turn this pristine area into Whistler’s own Coney Island.”

One letter to the editor in June 1982 argued that developing a beach for visitors was enough but offering “paddleboards, rubber rafts, canoes, rowboats, fishing rods, towels and fast food” was going too far and asked the question, “How big do our elected members think the lake is?” Another letter supported the building of a moderate concession that could also be used as a warming hut in winter. The Question asked six residents what they thought about the proposed concession stand for their “Whistler’s Answers” feature and while some accepted the sale of food and drink, most did not support boat rentals. (You can read their responses on our Whistorical blog here.)

When weekend temperatures soared to the mid-20s, sun worshippers who had been denied their pleasure for nearly six weeks flocked to Lost Lake like the swallows to Capistrano. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

By July, the debate appeared to have quieted, most likely because the RMOW would only grant Dave Lalik, who had applied to run the concession stand, a one-year lease while he calculated he would need at least two summers to earn back his investment. Work on Lost Lake Park continued throughout the summer but no concession had opened by the time the park was officially opened on September 11, 1982.

Today the beach at the south end of Lost Lake is incredibly popular, as are the trails that surround the area. There is a concession building that is used as a warming hut for cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winters, but anyone wanting to float on Lost Lake is still required to bring their own boat.