Category Archives: Pioneers

Stories from the Alta Lake days.

Jenny Jardine at Alta Lake

In the museum collections is one photograph of a New Year’s celebration held at the Alta Lake School in 1937.  We don’t know who all of the people in the photo are, but a few names are written on its back, including the name of Jenny Jardine.  Although Jenny and her family attended social events at the school (Jenny was even in charge of the refreshments for a time), she never attended the school as a pupil.  We know a lot about Jenny’s life in the valley through her memoir, letters with Florence Petersen, and oral history interviews with the museum.

New Years celebrations held at the Alta Lake School House – Jenny Jardine is pictured far right.  Philip Collection.

Jenny was born in Kelowna in December 1912.  Her parents, Lizzie Laidlaw and John Jardine, had met aboard the ship that brought their families from Scotland to Canada and married a few years later.  Jenny was their first child, followed by Jack eighteen months later.  Lizzie and the children remained in Kelowna when John went to fight in the First World War, moving to Vancouver after he was wounded at Mons and sent to Vancouver General Hospital.  When he was released, John found work on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) and the family settled in Squamish.

John was killed when a speeder he was riding on collided with a train and Lizzie moved her family back to Kelowna, where their third child, Bob, was born.  They soon relocated again, moving to North Vancouver where Lizzie was offered work keeping house for Thomas Neiland, a friend of John’s.  In 1921, the entire household moved to Alta Lake, where Neiland planned to start his own logging business.

Formal portrait of Thomas and Lizzie Neiland taken in the 1940s.  Betts/Smith/Jardine Collection.

Jenny was only 8 1/2 when here family moved to Alta Lake.  She had attended school in Squamish, Kelowna, and North Vancouver, but at the time there was no school in Alta Lake.  She and her brother Jack were enrolled in correspondence courses, but learning by correspondence in the 1920s was frustrating to say the least.  After Lizzie married Thomas Neiland and had another son Tom Neiland, keeping Jenny and Jack at their studies became more of a struggle.  According to Jenny, however, her mother did ensure they all learned how to read and that became “the road to other things.”

Left to right: Jenny Jardine, Flossie the dog, Jack Jardine, Tom Neiland Jr. and Bob Jardine in Lizzie Neiland’s garden at 34 1/2 mile, about 1930.  Betts/Smith/Jardine Collection.

In her memoirs, Jenny said that, during her early life at Alta Lake, most employment in the valley was “cutting railway ties, making and shipping telephone poles, prospecting, trapping, and renting a few cabins to summer visitors.”  There was also some work at an iron ore operation and on the railway.  By the time she was 12, Jenny was working for her step-father out in the woods, driving horses, cutting poles and ties, and hauling and piling the lumber.

(L-R) Sue Hill, Kay Hill, Charlie Chandler, Wallace Betts holding daughter Louise, Charlie Lundstrom, and ‘Sporty’ the dog on Alta Lake docks, 1939. J Jardine Collection.

Jenny met Wallace Betts through her brother Tom, who had met Betts at one of the logging camps in the area.  After their marriage in 1937, Jenny and Wallace moved quite a few times, often in the Alta Lake area.  They lived for a time at Parkhurst, and at the Iron Ore Spur where Jenny remembered she learned to knit socks.  Their first two children, Louise and Sam, were born in Vancouver but spent time with their grandmother Lizzie at her house in what is now Function Junction.

The Jardine/Neiland children hauling logs to the portable sawmill at 34 1/2 mile with the aid of horses, 1926. From left to right: Jenny, Jack, Bob and Tom Jr.  Betts/Smith/Jardine Collection.

Jenny’s life at Alta Lake, like that of the rest of her family, was not easy.  She later wrote that as children, “We loved living at Alta Lake, but those [logging] outfits and NSF (non-sufficient funds) cheques and no schools were not what we needed.”  Jenny felt education was very important and, according to her daughter Louise, learning became “one of the most important activities of her lift.”  She passed on this belief to her children, and was very proud that all four of her children graduated from universities.

Tourists, Trains, and the Cariboo Prospector

A few weeks ago, we wrote an article about the history of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.  Today, we’d like to continue that journey, so to speak, and take a look at the history of the PGE passenger trains, which were invaluable to the history of tourism in the Whistler area.

Many communities all along the PGE line were very optimistic about how the railway’s services would help expand infrastructure and encourage their communities to grow.  As it turns out, they were right – once the rail line was operational, many towns saw a huge population increase, and the passenger trains were a definite asset for tourism in BC.  From the beginning, the railway was a quick, easy way for people to visit Alta Lake, which later became the booming Resort Municipality of Whistler.  The PGE started advertising travel options for campers, fishermen, and vacationers as early as 1915.  In the early 1930s, a trip along the PGE line was advertised in newspapers as “the perfect vacation,” and by the end of the decade, the PGE had partnered with Union Steamships to provide tourists and travellers with special one-day excursion packages.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

One of the longest running passenger services on the PGE line was called the Cariboo Prospector.  The route was serviced by a dayliner that eventually took passengers all the way from Vancouver to Prince George once the rail line was complete.  It boasted a fleet of the Budd Company’s self-propelled diesel multiple unit railcars, the first seven of which were bought brand-new in 1956.  Those seven railcars cost the PGE $1.5 million, which equates to just over $14 million in today’s currency.  At the time, the coaches were state-of-the-art railcars, the largest of which seated 89 people and provided passengers with the luxury of air conditioning.

BC CABINET AT WHISTLER: Mayor Carleton greets Premier Bill Bennett and Labour Minister Allan Williams as they get off the train.  Whistler Question Collection.

In 2001, BC Rail introduced another passenger service call the Whistler Northwind.  The new, luxury train ran a similar route as the Cariboo Prospector, and many people worried that the new train would prove to be too much competition for the older one.  That concern proved to be unfounded.  In the year that it ran, the Whistler Northwind only carried about 2,000 passengers, which was only a small fraction of people travelling via BC Rail.

Two of many skiers that made use of BCR (BC Rail) passenger service last week.  Whistler Question Collection.

Despite the praises of train enthusiasts world-wide, and the efforts of newspapers in BC to draw more attention to the beautiful, history route, the high costs of running a railway caught up with BC Rail.  After years of struggling to make ends meet, they were forced to shut down passenger services in 2002.  The decision was met with a lot of backlash from communities along the rail line, who argued that they depended on the trains to bring tourists to their communities.  In fact, the Cariboo Prospector served around 81,000 customers in 2001 alone, about 45,000 of whom went to Whistler as their final destination.  Protests were held in an attempt to convince BC Rail to reverse their decision, and Dan Stefanson, the director of the Northern BC Tourism Association at the time, was even quoted in the Houston BC newspaper saying that cancelling the passenger services was “the worst tourism decision made in BC.”  Despite everything, though, the financial consequences of continuing to run the trains were too much.  The beloved Cariboo Prospector made its last trip on October 31, 2002.

Before Opening Day

One of the most-talked about topics in Whistler each November is opening day: when it will be, what the conditions will be like, and how the rest of the snow season looks.  Often this causes us to look back at previous opening days, but this week we thought we’d look further back, and see what the community of Alta lake was talking about 60 years ago, years before lifts started operating on Whistler Mountain.

 

 

Alex Philip stands on the snow he’s been clearing from the door. A fascination with snow and weather was just as popular in the early days of Whistler. Philip Collection.

According to the Alta Lake Echo, the (more or less) weekly newsletter of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), those living at Alta Lake in 1959 found the topic of November weather just about as fascinating as we find it today.  The newsletter of November 3 reported clear skies, a brisk north wind, and snow within a couple hundred metres of the lake, with a chance of flurries int he afternoon.  Don Gow was even reported to have said, “This is the year of the big snow.”

The next few weeks didn’t seem quite as promising.  A lack of snow, however, didn’t seem to be as unwelcome as the thawing ice on Alta Lake.  By the beginning of December, there was reportedly “beautiful” ice forming on the lake, but rain and warmer temperatures washed it away with the snow.  This, it would seem, was particularly frustrating for some “would-be skaters who got their Christmas presents early.”

Though ice stock sliding came later in the 1970s, Alta Lake residents spent many winter days out on the frozen lake. Petersen Collection.

Unlike today, when many people arrive for the season in November and businesses are busily preparing for a bustling winter, Alta Lake residents were looking ahead to a slower pace after a full summer.  Rainbow Lodge officially closed for the season soon after the Armistice Day Holiday, and the fishing season would appear to have been finished.  Bill and Phyllis House, who visited Alta Lake each November to fish, determinedly went out in the snow but reportedly caught nothing, a first in 20 years.

Some Alta Lake residents took the slow winter season as a chance to take a holiday, visit friends and family, or even return home after seasonal work, such as Ivor Gunderson who returned to Norway once Valleau Logging ceased operations for the winter.  Alex and Audrey Greenwood, the owners of Rainbow Lodge, left for two weeks to San Francisco, and Russ and Maxine Jordan, the proprietors of Jordan’s Lodge, left to wait out the cold season in warmer climes.

Many of the cottages and lodges on Alta Lake were built for the summer, and were not always winterized to keep occupants warm through the winter. Photo: Mitchell

There were few evening entertainments at Alta Lake once the summer guests left and the days grew shorter.  The ALCC began organizing poker sessions in November.  Participants took turns hosting, and some games were played at the Alta Lake School building.  Though scores and winnings were not printed, the Alta Lake Echo did give a fair impression of how the games went, reporting on December 8 that, “Last week saw a good turnout at Cruickshank’s Casino.  This week, Kelly & Dick [Fairhurst] are going to win their shirts back.  They’ll use their own cars.  Come one, come all…”  Interestingly, these reports were printed in the newsletter’s “Wildlife” section.

We, and many others, are looking forward to a busy winter, but it was not so long ago that winters meant something very different in the Whistler valley.

The Beginnings of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway

If you’ve ever been out hiking near the train tracks on the western side of Whistler, you know how difficult the terrain can be.  The cliffs, creeks, and rivers running through the valley make for beautiful scenery and photographs, but they can make travel very difficult.  As a result, building a railway from coastal British Columbia to the Interior was an expensive, difficult venture, and it took a long time to build the rail line that exists today.

The first company that was meant to build a railway from coastal BC to the BC Interior was incorporated in 1891, but not much came of it.  Once the Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company (HSN) was incorporated in 1907, however, things really started moving in the right direction.  Surveys from Squamish through the Cheakamus Canyon were conducted in secret by the Cleveland and Cameron engineering firm, and the demand for a railway into the BC Interior was very high.  When a feasibility report was published by the HSN Railway Company in 1909, it was the talk of the town, making headlines in the Daily Province newspaper.  The feasibility report announced that the construction of a railway through the Cheakamus Canyon was possible, and the first rails were laid that very same year.

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

The HSN Railway was taken over by the Foley, Welch, and Stewart Firm in 1912.  They renamed the company the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE), and within a year of the new company’s incorporation, track was being laid on two separate sections of the route.  The PGE Squamish Line finally reached Pemberton in October of 1914.  The new railway brought many opportunities for people in the Whistler valley, especially Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Their Rainbow Lodge opened the same year the railway reached Pemberton, and they received a lot of encouragement from the PGE workers to host fishing tours.  The first tours were held in May of 1915, and fishermen, with rods and tackle in hand, arrived by train to stay at Rainbow Lodge.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

Expansion of the rail line continued, but not without difficulty.  The PGE line from Squamish reached as far as Lillooet, but going further was a financial problem.  The BC Provincial Government stepped in, and the PGE received a loan of $10 million ($200 million adjusted for inflation today) in order to continue extending the rail line in 1916.  The money didn’t help much, through, and in 1918 the PGE was forced to default on the loan.  The Provincial Government took over the PGE Railway Company, but, again, building a railway was very expensive.  The Provincial Government even listed the PGE for public sale in 1924, but there were not takers.

A southbound PGE train pulling in to Rainbow Lodge. J Jardine Collection

Despite everything, the railway pushed on.  The Provincial Government undertook a $10 million redevelopment program for the PGE in 1949 (over $110 million today).  It took a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of time, but the PGE did eventually reach its destination.  Finally, after over 50 years of planning and development, the PGE Railway reached Prince George on September 11, 1952.

If you would like to learn more about the influence the PGE had on Whistler, stay tuned for future articles!

Charlie Chandler and the Runaway Bannock

This week, we thought we’d take a look at the life and legacy of Charles Ernest Chandler, one of Whistler’s earliest European settlers.  Locally known as Charlie, he was a trapper during the beginning of the twentieth century.  He came to the Whistler valley from Wisconsin in 1908 to pre-empt about 160 acres on the northern end of Alta Lake.

(L-R) Sue Hill, Kay Hill, Charlie Chandler, Wallace Betts holding daughter Louise, Charlie Lundstrom, and ‘Sporty’ the dog on Alta Lake docks, 1939. J Jardine Collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, pre-emption was a method of acquiring Crown Land from the government for agriculture or settlement.  It was formally established by the Land Ordinance in 1870, and was still legal until 1970.  In order to pre-empt land, a person (the pre-emptor) would have to stake out a block of unsurveyed, non-reserved Crown Land and submit an application to the government.  If their application was approved, the pre-emptor would receive a Certificate of Pre-emption, and they would be free to begin “improvements.”  After appropriate development had taken place, the pre-emptor would receive a Certificate of Improvement from the government, which would allow them either to buy the land at a discounted price, or receive the title for it outright.  Pre-emption often did not take into account indigenous claims to land, and the land that was pre-empted by Chandler was part of the unceded territory of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations.

The Rainbow Lodge property was part of the 160 acres pre-empted by Charlie Chandler.  Philip Collection.

For the next three or four years, Chandler spent his time improving the area he had pre-empted in order to gain title for it.  His move to the Whistler valley was meant to give him a fresh start, away from the influences of “the bottle.”  According to Dick Fairhurst, Chandler though the best method to solve such a problem was “to get the hell away – out in the woods, some place it [alcohol] wouldn’t be too handy.”

He also spent his time working on his trap lines, which ran along Wedge Creek all the way to Wedge Pass, and about 1.5 km down Billy Goat Creek on the Lillooet divide.  He occasionally made money taking people on hunting trips along his trap lines, as well, which is how one of his many colourful stories came about.

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

One night, while guiding Alex Philip on a hunting trip, Chandler was cooking his typical fare of bannock for dinner.  The camp they had pitched sat at the top of a steep slope, and when Chandler tried to flip the bannock over in his frying pan, he missed.  The unfortunate bannock flew out of the pan and went cartwheeling down the ridge.  Chandler, the determined man that he was, went chasing after it.  The bannock put up a bit of a fight, it seems, but eventually, with a well-placed stomp, Chandler caught his dinner.  By the time he made it back up to the camp, the bannock looked more than a little worse for wear.  Chandler, however, just looked at the messy ball of dough and said, “You look a little dirty, but we’re eating you anyway.”

Chandler sold ten acres of land to Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1913, which they would quickly turn into the famed Rainbow Lodge property.  Chandler himself moved further north along Alta Lake to settle in the area now known as Alpine Meadows.  He built his homestead there, where he lived until passing away peacefully on his porch in the winter of 1946.

Jacquie Pope’s “Vatican”

Earlier this month, we were invited to attend the Alta Lake Road Block Party.  While sharing information about the neighbourhood’s history with residents, a couple came by to share some history of their friend Jacquie Pope with us.

Jacquie Pope first visited Alta Lake in 1953, when she and Kelly Forster (later Kelly Fairhurst) took a two week vacation at Rainbow Lodge.  After that holiday, Pope remembered that they returned every chance they got, including “the following summer and every long weekend in between.”  At the time travel to Alta Lake was an all-day affair and weekend trips took dedication.

Rainbow Lodge under the Greenwoods in the 1950s.

In 1955 Jacquie and Kelly were part of a group of teachers who bought a cabin together on Alta Lake Road.  The five women were Jacquie, Kelly, Florence Strachan (later Petersen), Betty Gray, and June Tidball.  At Alta Lake they learned to split wood, cook on a wood-burning stove, and lime an outhouse.  Their cabin, soon named “Witsend” after a particularly trying and rainy journey to Alta Lake, was a much-loved summer and weekend getaway for the group.

Jacquie sold her shares in Witsend in 1964 and bought her own lot further along the road.  She paid $1,500 to a PGE employee for Lot 30 and her house, built by Alta Lake Road neighbour Colin Ramsay, was completed in 1965.  In a play on her last name, the house was named “The Vatican”.  At that time it wasn’t uncommon to see names attached to properties, including Valhalla, the Gowery, Whispering Leaves, Woodbine Cottage, Worlebury Lodge, Primrose, the Vicarage, and Kelso Lodge.

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

Jacquie continued teaching in Burnaby and spent her summers at Alta Lake.  After retiring in 1983, she moved to Whistler full-time.

Florence remembered Jacquie as “the life of many a gathering,” especially when she led the sing-a-longs with her ukulele.  Jacquie had a passion for sports and had even played field hockey for Canada in the Netherlands in 1959.  During her retirement in Whistler she hiked, fished and even sailed her own Sabot, a sailing dinghy that is sailed single handedly, as part of the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Jacquie stayed at “The Vatican” on Alta Lake Road until 2001, when she sold the property and moved to Squamish to enjoy easier winters and a longer golf season.  James Collingwood, who bought Lot 30, demolished the house built by Colin Ramsay.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The sign that hung outside “The Vatican” moved to Squamish with Jacquie and was reportedly displayed in her garden.  After her death in 2011, friends and neighbours of her inherited the sign and kept it in their own garden.

These friends of Jacquie’s attended the Alta Lake Road Block Party and brought with them the sign from her Alta Lake property, surprising us by donating it to the museum collections.  Despite spending decades outside, it is in remarkably good condition and the carved lettering is still easy to read.  The sign represents a period in the area when Alta Lake was a popular summer cottage destination, before visitors traded their sailboats for skis.  Though Jacquie’s house is no longer standing, artefacts like her sign provide insight into Whistler history.

Sharing the History of Alta Lake Road

Every so often, we get to take history out of the museum and share Whistler’s past at events around town.  This past weekend, we were invited to attend the Alta Lake Road Block Party held at The Point, and so we spent a few days gathering together any information we have about the neighbourhood.

The history of Alta Lake Road is possible one of the most thoroughly documented neighbourhood histories we have at the museum.  Florence Petersen, one of the founders of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society, even wrote a book entitled The History of Alta Lake Road, which included both the history of the area and a detailed narrative of each individual lot from 1925 to 2006, including her own.

Grace Woollard traverses the Pemberton Trail to Whistler in 1912.

The Alta Lake Road of today roughly follows the path of a section of the Pemberton Trail.  IN 1858, a Joseph MacKay and William Downie were commissioned to plot an alternate trade route between Vancouver and the gold fields of the Cariboo region.  The route went past Alta Lake and, though the grand ambitions of the trail as a trade and cattle route were never fulfilled, it was the path taken by some of the early 20th century settlers of Alta Lake, including John Millar, Alex and Myrtle Philip, and Grace Woollard.

The Pemberton Trail remained the only direct route from the coast to Alta Lake until 1914, when the Pacific Great Easter Railway reached the area.  In 1891, a company was incorporated with the intention of building a railway from North Vancouver to Pemberton.  A feasibility report for the project was published in 1909 by the Howe Sound Pemberton Valley and Northern Railway, which also began acquiring land along the Pemberton Trail as the train was to follow a similar (if less steep) route.  Nineteen kilometres of track had been completed before the money ran out.  In 1912, the PGE took over the project and resumed construction.

A southbound PGE train pulling in towards Rainbow Lodge.

Some of the land along Alta Lake that the railway had acquired was subdivided into lots and put up for sale in 1925.  Summer cottages soon joined Rainbow Lodge and Harrop’s Tea Room (today, the site of The Point) along the western shore of the lake.  Not all of the lots were sold at the time, and in 1956, the remaining lots were sold for a starting bid of $350.  These lots still make up the Alta Lake Road neighbourhood today.

Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, built by Maurice and Muriel Burge in the late 1950s. The house occupying the lots today looks very different.  Photo: Mitchell

As development and forestry increased in the area, the Pemberton Trail by Alta Lake was widened and frequently used by logging trucks.  The “road” ran between the lake and Millar Creek (in today’s Function Junction), giving automobiles summer access to the west side of Alta Lake.  According to Petersen, the Alta Lake Road we know today was constructed in 1965, branching off of Highway 99, running around the south end of Alpha Lake, and joining the Pemberton Trail road.  This early road was made wide enough for two-way traffic and went as far north as Rainbow Lodge.  The road was extended to join Rainbow Drive in Alpine Meadows in 1972 and, some time later, was paved.

Cypress Lodge, today the location of The Point, as seen from the lake.  Some of the building pictured are still standing today. Fairhurst Collection.

Though there have been more changes to Alta Lake Road in the past few decades than just paving, the area still plays a large role in discussions of Whistler’ past.  Many of the houses today bear little resemblance to their summer cottage predecessors, but others harken back to the years when visitors were drawn to the area for the fishing rather than the snow.