Category Archives: Museum Musings

Singing Through Whistler’s History

For this week, I decided to write about something that has always defined Whistler for me.  No, not skiing, but choir!

I first came to Whistler with my high school choir for the 2010 Whistler Music Festival, and returned again in 2013.  I joined the Whistler Singers when I came to town last September, and we received a donation at the museum of concert programs, membership lists and song listings from a choir member several months later.  With all this in mind, I set to work scouring the archives for anything that could help construct a history of choirs in Whistler.

The Whistler Singers under the direction of Molly Boyd.  Whistler Question Collection.

The earliest reference found was a photograph of the Myrtle Philip School Choir in the December 20, 1978 edition of The Whistler Question.  As the school had only opened in 1976, this shows that musical education was available from the very early years.

Another Question photo, dating from 1979, shows a group of young vocalists referred to as the “Community Club Christmas Carol singers.”  Various BC choirs gave performances in Whistler in the 1980s, including the Squamish Youth Chorale, a Vancouver a capella group Vox Humana, and the Kildala choir from Kitimat.

Whistler’s first adult choir – the Whistler Singers – began in 1982 with just nine people.  It may have started small, but the members’ shared passion for music would carry them on to become Whistler’s longest-running community arts group.  Welcoming “anyone aged 13 to 113,” it regularly performs at Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve carol services and performs an annual spring concert.

It was an Easter sunrise service without sunshine, but that didn’t stop approximately 80 people from attending the special 7 am service Sunday morning on the shores of Lost Lake. Molly Boyd, playing the organ, led the Whistler Singers who also turned out in full force.  Whistler Question Collection.

In April 2003, the Whistler Singers – now 45 strong – released its debut CD, Ascend.  The album included Canadian classics, folk anthems, traditional scores, and songs in Hungarian, Welsh, Japanese, Korean and Swahili.  Juno-award-winning sound engineer Don Harder lent a hand with the recording and local photographer Leanna Rathkelly designed the album’s cover.  This milestone was celebrated with a release party at the Maury Young Millennium Place (now the Maury Young Arts Centre).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus is another time-honoured staple of the Whistler musical scene.  This group began in 1991 when a Vancouver orchestra performing Noye’s Fludde, an operatic version of the story of Noah’s Ark, sought a children’s choir to sing with them.  Whistler Singers director Molly Boyd rose to the occasion and assembled a group of youngsters aged six and up.  The following year it formally became known as the Whistler Children’s Chorus.  In addition to regularly yearly concerts (including Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve services with the Whistler Singers), the Chorus has performed in Ottawa for the 2002 Canada Day and at events leading up to and including the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (they got very good at singing O Canada!).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus performing Hakuna Matata, 1995 Photo courtesy Whistler Childrens Chorus

Another children’s choir, the Moving Chords Youth Showchoir, was also active in Whistler in the 1990s.  Information about this group has proved hard to find, but it performed at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in the summers of 1998 and 1999.  A thank you card from the choir directors to their sponsor, the Whistler Community Arts Council, can be found in the museum’s collection.

Since the turn of the millennium, Whistler has drawn in musical talent from around the world.  Choirs and small vocal ensembles from outside Canada that performed here in the early 2000s included the Cwmback and Dunvant Male Choirs from Wales, the Dursley Male Voice Choir from Gloucestershire, the British quartet Cantabile and Huun Huur-Tu, throat singers from the state of Tuva in Siberia.

Wherever you are from, Whistler is sure to bring a little music to your life.

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).

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Remembering Whistler’s Downhill World Cups

This year marks a few important anniversaries for ski racing on Whistler Mountain: it has been 40 years since the ski hill almost hosted the World Cup in 1979 before it was cancelled due to weather and safety concerns, and it is 30 years since Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup downhill event on Canadian soil.

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

Whistler Mountain also held other successful World Cup events in the 1980s and ’90s starting with a World Cup downhill in 1982.

By the last week of February 1982, Whistler had undergone some major changes since a World Cup was last attempted in 1979.  Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, giving Whistler Mountain nearby competition, and the first phase of Whistler Village construction was, for the most part, wrapped up.

The course for this World Cup downhill was changed as well.  Rather than follow the traditional route that used what is now known as Dave Murray Downhill ending in Creekside, the 1982 course ended in Whistler Village.

The Molson World Downhill came to Whistler, bringing thousands of spectators along with it.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The new 3,810-metre course was expected to result in a winning time in the two-minutes-and-15-seconds range.  Racers began near the top of the Black and Orange Chairs and then headed down through the Double Trouble rollers, the Pony Trail Flats, Tokum Corner, the Elevator Shaft, across Crabapple Creek and to the finish line in view of the spectators waiting in the village.

There was more to Whistler’s 1982 World Cup than raceday on Saturday.  The opening ceremonies began the festivities on Wednesday, February 24 and included a parade of nations complete with flags and local dignitaries.  The following evening was Western Night.  The scheduled events included a display of logger sports such as axe-throwing and chainsaw demonstrations and a square-dancing demonstration for the national teams.  The Lil’wat Nation also hosted an outdoor salmon barbecue.  The Friday evening before the race was a more casual affair with a torchlight ski parade and fireworks display.

A torchlight parade makes its way down Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

According to The Vancouver Sun, prior to Saturday the weather was “the most-discussed element of the whole affair.”  Days of fog and fresh snow leading up to the race meant great conditions for those skiing on the rest of Whistler Mountain but these conditions weren’t great for training runs, causing delays and cancelled practices.  Luckily, on Saturday and weather cooperated and, for the first time on Whistler, the World Cup downhill could go ahead.

Going into the race, the two racers to watch were thought to be Steve Podborski of the Crazy Canucks and Austrian Harti Weirather, the 1981 World Cup downhill champion.  The race was, however, won by Swiss skier Peter Mueller, a two-time World Cup downhill champion (the 1982 season ended with a tie for the title between Mueller and Podborski).

At the awards ceremony after the race on Saturday, the cheers for Mueller were reported to be just as loud as those for the Crazy Canucks.  Mueller appeared to enjoy his second trip to Whistler, having first come to the valley one a five-week camping tour of Western Canada in the 1970s.  When speaking of the area’s hospitality, he told reporters that, “The people here are so friendly.  They come up to me and say, ‘Hi Pete,’ even if they don’t know me.  I would really like to come back here.”

Whistler’s 1982 World Cup was not an unqualified success to everyone.  According to Doug Sack in Whistler Magazine some teams “loathed the new course.”  It ended too slowly, passing over the flats of Lower Olympic, and one Austrian was even heard to say “I should have brought my cross-country skis with me.”

Whistler Mountain hosted more World Cup downhills after 1982, using the Dave Murray Downhill course.  If you’re interested in learning more about Whistler’s World Cups and what it takes to organize and pull off such an event, join us at the Whistler Museum for our next Speaker Series on Thursday, March 29 with guests Rob Boyd and Alex Kleinman.

Whistler Golf…

At the moment, Whistler’s golf courses are an unlikely place to find a game of golf or even a determined played at the driving range.  Instead cross-country skiers, snowshoers and, in the case of the Whistler Golf Club, dog walkers can be found taking advantage of the layer of snow on top of the greens.  In just a couple of months, however, the ski and dogs will be replaced by carts and clubs.

Looking through one of the books on the museum’s reference shelf I came across The Whistler Handbook containing a summary of the courses found in Whistler, written by Doug Sack in 1993.  Sack was the first sports editor for the Whistler Question; he started in 1984 and held the post for 18 years.  During that time he also contributed to other publications, including The Whistler Handbook put together by Bob Colebrook, Kevin Raffler and Jennifer Wilson in the early 1990s.

Work on the Whistler Golf Course as seen from the bluffs where the building lots are situated.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

In the golf section of the Handbook Sack covers all of the courses from Furry Creek to Pemberton, including a few that hadn’t yet opened or were still under construction.  His commentary, like most of the book, is informative while entertaining.

The oldest golf course in the corridor is the Squamish Valley, first opened in 1967.  According to Sack it was built “by community-minded loggers and businessmen” and then renovated under the direction of Robert Muir-Graves in 1992.

The next course to open in the area was the Whistler Golf Course.  Though it originally opened with 9 holes, the full 18-hole course designed by Arnold Palmer officially opened in the summer of 1983.  Ten years later the course was reportedly busy with tournaments and visitors, making walk on tee times almost impossible except for “weekday twilights.”  This course is probably the most photographed in the museum collections as the Question was there to cover all aspects from its construction to the golf lessons Palmer once gave mascot Willie Whistler in 1981 on the 9-hole course to the commercial Sean Connery filmed on the greens in 1984.

Sean Connery seen filming a Japanese commercial for Biogurt on the Whistler Golf Course.  Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

By 1993 the Pemberton Valley Golf Club, designed by Boyd Barr and opened in 1989, was described by Sack as having “two distinctive nines, one in the open with lakes, and one in the trees” and offering a “diverse golfing experience.”  In only four years the course had developed a reputation as “the most popular course for locals and the most relaxed for visitors.”

Unlike the Pemberton Valley course, neither the Fairmont Chateau Golf Course nor the course in Furry Creek, both newly opened in 1993, were described by Sack as “relaxing”.  According to Sack, “You know a golf course is tough when you’re standing on the first tee and you hear one of the assistant pros walking off the 18th green bragging to his co-workers about almost breaking 80.”

As of 1993 Big Sky and Nicklaus North were under construction, set to open in 1994 and 1995 respectively.

Summertime in the Whistler Village in the 1990s.  Greg Griffith Collection.

The golf courses of Whistler are only one aspect covered in The Whistler Handbook, which includes sections on the community, the resort services, winter sports and more.  Anyone who experienced Whistler in the 1990s will find the contents familiar, whether they golf or not.  The 1990s are not often highlighted at the museum (in part because the decade still seems recent, despite ending 19 years ago); having resources like The Whistler Handbook and others in our collection ensure that the 1990s will be preserved as part of Whistler’s history.

The Village’s Oldest Building

What is the oldest building in the Whistler Village?

This is a question we have been asked many times, especially when leading Valley of Dreams Walking Tours through the village during the summer.  While some questions about Whistler’s history have very simple answers, the answer to this one is not entirely straightforward.

Municipal Hall could be considered the oldest.  The structure was built in the early 1970s and opened its doors in 1974, a year before the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed and a full five years before construction began on plans for the stroll-centred village we know today.  At the time the building was home to a Keg ‘N Cleaver restaurant, better known as The Keg.  It was not, however, located in the village.

One section of the Keg makes its way slowly up Lorimer Road. Note the rocks blasted off the corner and the BC Hydro employee on the roof. Photo: Whistler Question, 1981

The original location of the Municipal Hall building was in Adventures West on the north end of Alta Lake.  Over the May long weekend of 1981, the building made a well-documented move to its current location.  Despite its earlier construction, the Keg was moved beside another building that could also claim the title for oldest Village building by opening in the Village a year earlier: the Public Safety Building.

Construction of the Public Safety Building (PSB) began some time in 1979.  During this period it went by various names, including the Public Service Building and Tri-Service Building.  An image of the architect Raymond Letkeman’s drawing of the building was published in the Whistler Question in July and by the council meeting of October 5, when approval for a development permit for construction of the building was given after a public hearing, the progress on the PSB was reportedly “up to the roof line.”  The building was predicted to be closed in by early November and ready to occupy in the early winter.

The new Public Safety building starts to take shape as the snow creeps down Whistler Mountain behind.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1979.

Many other buildings were under construction at the time.  In November new access roads into the town centre were poured.  Photos from 1979 show the town centre as a large construction site with a school, the first Myrtle Philip School, along one edge.  The school relocated to Tapley’s Farm in 1992 and the old building was torn down, taking it out of the running for oldest village building.

The PSB was officially opened by Mayor Pat Carleton and a lineup of officials on May 3, 1980.  Representatives from the three services to be housed in the building (the RCMP, the BC Ambulance service and the Whistler Fire Department) were present, as well as approximately one hundred onlookers from the public, a good crowd for such an event in 1980.  Once the ribbon was cut and the fire doors and flag raised, the public was invited inside to view the fireman’s slide pole and the new jail cells.

The new Public Service building has its finishing touches added and new cells installed.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

The building was not completely finished by May 3.  The smell of fresh paint still lingered and some parts were still in the “dry-wall” stage.  A heli-pad behind the building had been completed only the day before.

The PSB was put to good use within weeks of it opening.  On May 11 a fire at the municipal landfill led to the first call out of the Whistler Volunteer Fire Department from their new home and by May 22 the RCMP reported that six people had spent some time in the new cells.

The new Public Service Building looks sharp with its new paint and brown and white decor. Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

Not all of the space in the PSB was assigned when it first opened.  There was talk of rooms being used as a courthouse, meeting rooms or council chambers.  Over the years the services housed in the PSB have changed, as has the building.  The ambulance service moved to its own building on Lorimer Road and space was added behind the PSB to house the RCMP service.

Growing Whistler (quickly)

We get asked a lot of questions at the museum, such as “Where did the name Whistler come from?”, “When was the Peak 2 Peak Gondola built?” and “Is this the Audain Art Museum?”  One question that people are often surprised to learn the answer to is “When did people start skiing down Whistler Mountain?”

Visitors to Whistler and to the museum come from all over the world, as flipping through our guest books quickly show, and to many the development of Whistler seems incredibly recent.  After all, when Kitzbühel, Austria hosted its first ski race in 1884 the individuals who would spearhead the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s hadn’t even been born.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Looking back at the Whistler described in Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) of February 1969, only three years after lifts had opened on the mountain, it’s very easy to see that the area has changed a lot in only fifty years.

The winter of 1968-69 was an exciting time in the area.  Though the Resort Municipality of Whistler had not yet been formed, that September Whistler Mountain had been named the Canadian site for the 1976 Winter Olympic Games and members of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) were actively campaigning in the lead up to the International Olympic Committee’s site selection vote in May.

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

Lorne O’Connor, the Executive Director of GODA, and Tadec Barnowski, a former member of the Polish National Ski Team, were even marking the final routes for alpine events before officials from the FIS were to visit in March.  We know now, of course, that it would be another three failed bids and 41 years before Whistler would host the Olympics, but in 1969 and 1976 bid was looking very promising.

That season also saw the introduction of the Green Chair to Whistler Mountain and the opening of new trails that we know well today, including Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant.  With the cutting of a new trail running all the way down to what the GWN referred to as the “gravel pit” (now Whistler Village), the lift company also began running a bus service back to the gondola terminal.  As well as new trails and Whistler’s sixth lift, a service called “Park-A-Tot” was introduced as the company’s first foray into childcare.  For $3/day, skiers could drop off their children in the morning and collect them again after their last run.

The two Green Chairs can be seen heading up towards the Roundhouse. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The area around the gondola terminal was not yet known as Creekside though one article in GWN claimed that it was “gradually becoming a village.”  It already had a gas station and ten lodges alongside older cabins and newly built condominiums.  With more condo projects underway and plans for a grocery store, the Creekside of five decades ago was growing quickly.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Today, the lifts that were announced with such fanfare in Garibaldi’s Whistler News have been replaced by bigger and faster models; the “gravel pit” has become an established town centre and “Park-A-Tot” has evolved to include various programs for all ages.  Though many visitors may be surprised at learning Whistler Mountain only opened in 1966, after perusing the museum’s exhibits these same visitors are often amazed at how quickly Whistler has grown.

Chilly Days at Alta Lake

Unsurprisingly, the sub-zero temperatures and arctic winds have left the museum feeling a bit chilly.  Rather than dream of warmer climes, this weather has inspired us to look back at photos of winters from Alta Lake’s past.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. Here is Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Philip Collection.

Some photos in the Philip Collection were donated to the archives with notes on the back detailing who is in the image and what they are doing.  A few of these photos (such as the one above) portray an activity that you would be surprised to see happening on Alta Lake today: an ice harvest.

Before hydro lines came to the valley (and then for an additional few years before that power could be accessed) most residents kept food from spoiling using cellars dug into the ground or ice houses.

Ice houses were double-walled structures that were tightly insulated and packed with sawdust.  Once filled with blocks of ice, these houses could keep food from spoiling through the hot summer months.  Places such as Rainbow Lodge cut blocks of ice out of Alta Lake in February, when the ice was usually thickest.  As Myrtle Philip noted on the back of one photo, “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw.”  The ice was then dragged to the ice house on a sled, by person or by horse.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake.  Philip collection.

The ice harvest on Alta Lake could be a social event for those spending the long winter in the valley.  William MacDermott, also known around Alta Lake as “Mac,” had his own ice house and once his harvest was done those who helped harvest gathered in his cottage to celebrate with jugs of Mac’s homebrew brought out from under the floorboards.

Winter tales from Rainbow Lodge often seem to end in a celebratory drink.

In an audio recording Myrtle relates the story of a railway crew she accompanied through the snow from Rainbow Lodge to the Cheakamus Canyon around 1913 or 1914.  The crew arrived at Rainbow Lodge to rest for a couple days after walking from Pemberton on wooden skis.  Myrtle fed them pea soup and baked beans and then accompanied them to a camp somewhere between Alta Lake and Squamish.  At the camp the group waited for an older and exhausted engineer to catch up.  He arrived two hours late, saying, “I’m all through boys, I can’t go any further.  I’m going to lie right here and die.  I’ve had it.”

Myrtle and her sister Jean Tapley pose with their skis and an unidentified friend outside Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

From the camp they were able to call for an engine and caboose to come from Squamish.  The crew met the train almost 10 km south of the camp; it had run into the snow at the end of a bridge over the Cheakamus River and could go no further.  It was here that they, like the ice harvesters, were rewarded with a drink,

As Myrtle described it: “I’ll never forget the bucket of tea they had sitting on the stove.  A big ten quart bucket and it was full of boiling water and a man came in and poured practically a pound of tea in that pail wanting to give us a nice warm cup of tea.  It could have pretty well stunned a horse it was so strong!”

Though some drank homebrew while others had tea, in the early winters of Alta Lake everyone seemed to welcome a chance to get warm after being out in the snow.

Summers Gone By: The Dave Murray Ski Camps on Film

In my last post, I shared the story of Marine World/Africa U.S.A., a California zoo and theme park with an unexpected connection to the museum.  This week, I’ll be talking about a topic that is much more quintessentially “Whistler”: the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp.

Those who attended the camps on Whistler Mountain in the 1980s may have fond memories of summer skiing under the leadership of former Crazy Canuck Dave Murray.  The roots of this action-packed camp date back to 1967, when it was helmed by Austrian ski legend Toni Sailer.  Murray attended as a teenager and took over as head instructor in 1984.  The camp’s new name endured past Murray’s tragic death from skin cancer in 1990, before being simplified to The Camp in 2013.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp before Dave Murray took over in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

Over the past several months, I have been working with a large collection of materials related to the Toni Sailer and Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps.  These included a veritable treasure trove of 43 videocassettes and DVDs containing footage from these bygone summers.  Most of these tapes were annual highlight videos set to catchy tunes of the ’80s and ’90s.  Predictably, skiing took centre stage, showcasing everything from the wedge turns of beginners to the graceful freestyle of coaches like Stephanie Sloan.  One oft-repeated stunt saw campers zoom down a hill and through a large slush puddle waiting at the bottom.  Needless to say, this resulted in many painful-looking wipeouts.

The Summer Ski Camps aren’t the only ones to ski through slush – the spring Slush Cup is still going today. Greg Griffith Collection.

The videos also featured many outdoor activities that put the “summer” in Summer Ski Camp.  Once off the ski hill, campers enjoyed biking, swimming, windsurfing, watersliding, canoeing, roller-skating, and more.  Volleyball, tennis and golf seemed to be the most popular sports.  More unusual pastimes also made appearances – including a flying trapeze, an Aerotrim machine and a large, suspended basket carrying passengers over a river.

As per the carefree spirit of Whistler, cheeky and even rude humour abounded in these tapes.  Peppered throughout the videos were scenes of campers making faces, telling jokes and generally clowning around.  The ski camp staff performed and filmed skits such as “Dave Murray Land,” “Timmy’s Dream,” and “The Lighter Side of Coaching.”  They were even kind enough to include blooper reels.  More than one person mooned the camera.

A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s. The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing.

On the other hand, there were also several professionally-edited televised advertisements for the camp, such as a BCTV promo from 1984 and a Pontiac World of Skiing special aired in 1995.

As I watched hour after hour of footage, I was struck with a sense of double nostalgia.  Firstly, for the fun-loving campers whose childhood memories I was vicariously experiencing – and who must now be at least in their 30s.  Secondly, for myself.  Here I was, handling VHS for the first time in a decade and reminiscing about the summer camps outside my own hometown of Edmonton (although I must admit that the skiing scene on the Alberta prairies can’t compare to that offered at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps!).

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).