Category Archives: Pioneers

Stories from the Alta Lake days.

It’s Women’s History Month!

October may be more widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but in 1992 the Government of Canada also designated October as Women’s History Month to “celebrate the achievements and contributions of women and girls across the country and throughout our history.”

Though any month could have been selected, October includes two important dates: the International Day of the Girl on October 11 and Persons Day on October 18.

Persons Day commemorates the decision Edwards vs Canada (AG) – also known as the Persons Case.  On October 18, 1929, Canada’s highest court of appeal (which at the time was in England) ruled that women are considered “persons” under the British North America Act of 1867 and should be eligible for appointment to the Canadian Senate.

Countless women have contributed to Whistler’s community over the years.  Some, such as Myrtle Philip and Nancy Greene (whose own appointment to the Senate was made possible by the Persons Case), are well known while others are less acknowledged though no less important. To celebrate Women’s History Month we’ll be sharing the stories of a few of these women, beginning with a group of young women who first came to the valley in the 1950s.

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

Eunice “Kelly” Forster, Better Gray, June Tidball, Jacquie Pope and Florence Strachan were all teachers in the Lower Mainland when they first visited Alta Lake.  Together, the five managed to purchase a lot along the railway from the Massons.  While the asking price was $2,500, the group was able to get a reduced price of $1,500 due to their obvious love of the area and offer to pay in cash.  This price included a furnished summer cottage, dock, rowboat and toolshed.

The cottage, named Witsend after a particularly long and rain-soaked voyage up from Vancouver, became the women’s summer home for the next 10 years.  In 1956, some of them even bought the lot next door.  Sadly, Witsend burned down in November 1965.

June Tidball sold her shares after the fire, but by this time most of the women had ties to Alta Lake and the others remained in the valley, at least part-time.  Kelly Forster had married Dick Fairhurst in 1958 (the same Dick Fairhurst who would later recall Paul Golnick) and moved to Cypress Lodge.  She and Dick were active members of the growing community and Cypress Lodge acted as the base for the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

In 1965, Jacquie bought another lot on Alta Lake and, with help from friends, had a house built in 1965.  She kept this house, nicknamed the Vatican, until 2001 when she moved to Squamish.

This left Witsend and the other shared lot to Betty and Florence.  Betty kept the site of Witsend until 2000.  Next door, Florence had the lot cleared and a house built under the supervision of Andy Petersen.  She and Andy married in 1967.

Even before retiring and moving to the house on the lake permanently in 1983, Florence was active in many of the community groups in first Alta Lake and then later Whistler.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.  Petersen Collection.

In 1986 she founded the Whistler Museum & Archives Society and, with a group of volunteers, gathered the beginnings of our current collection.  While serving as a marriage commissioner Florence performed over 1,000 services.

In recognition of her volunteer contributions, Florence was made Citizen of the Year in 1986 and awarded the Freedom of the Municipality of Whistler in 2012, the second woman to receive this honour (the first was Myrtle Philip).  Florence passed away in 2012 and is remembered today in Florence Petersen Park.

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Dick Fairhurst’s Memories: Paul Golnick

Many people know Dick Fairhurst as the owner and operator of Cypress Lodge on Alta Lake, now occupied by the Whistler Sailing Association and the Point Artist-Run Centre.  When he first moved to Alta Lake in 1943, however, Dick spent the springs working for Alf Gebhart at the Rainbow Lumber Company Mill.  After Cypress Lodge opened in the late 1940s Dick continued to work as a logger and, through his work, got to meet many different characters that came through the valley.

In Dick’s short collection of “Whistler Stories” some are mentioned only briefly while, others, like Paul Golnick, seemed to make life at Alta Lake exciting and memorable.

Paul Golnick arrived in the valley in 1952 and was assigned to work under Dick at the Van West logging camp.  Paul, a young German immigrant, was described as a “very husky, burly, no nonsense man” who “looked like he could carry the logs out on his back.”

The Van West Logging Camp in the 1950s, set up closer to today’s Function Junction. Noyes Collection.

Paul’s time at the logging camp stuck in Dick’s memory from his first loggers’ breakfast.  Before coming to Canada Paul had lived in post-war Germany and then worked in the coal mines in France.  The breakfast tables at the camp were piled with food and, as Dick recalled, in one sitting Paul made it through a dozen eggs, a plate of bacon and hot cakes and a finisher of toast and jam.  Paul later told Dick he had never seen so much food before.

Though Paul quickly proved to be a hard and capable worker, his time at Alta Lake was not without mishap.  While getting a drink from a creek one day he accidentally dislodged a small pole which came to stop of the head of a coworker (a chaser) getting a drink slightly down the creek.  The chaser’s head was pushed down and when he came back up mud streamed from his mouth and was lodged behind his glasses.  This wouldn’t have been so terrible but, in his temper, the chaser tripped over another log and fell into more mud.  While Dick hid behind a tree laughing and Paul tried to explain the accident the chaser gathered his things and left.

Logging donkeys, caterpillar tractors with arches and mobile loaders were used by Van West. It was hard work but an improvement over the hand logging of the 1920s. Green Collection.

There were few opportunities for driving in the valley but by the 1950s a rough tote road had been made by the logging camp on the old Pemberton Trail.  Dick bought three Ford Model As and, though his was a “real lemon” and good only for parts, Paul’s was good enough to get them to work.  Unfortunately, according to Dick, Paul wasn’t the best driver and he wouldn’t let anyone else behind the wheel.  On steep hills the motor would stall and Dick would have to jump out to put a rock behind the wheel – apparently Paul couldn’t yet handle the brake and gas at the same time.  On one occasion the rock failed and Paul, thinking he’d hit the brake, went back down the hill in reverse at full speed.  Dick described it as “the fanciest bit of steering I ever saw in my life.”  Despite two flat tires, the car was back on the road in just a couple of days.

After a year at the camp Paul took over Dick’s job hooking for the catskinners and brought his bride Marianne to join him from Germany.  A wedding party for them was held at Dick’s house and went well until, just moments after Paul had commented that he “had never seen so many happy people,” a fight broke out leaving Dick with a smashed window and a bloody wall.  Dick never asked what he thought about the “happy people” after that.

When Marianne was seven months pregnant a group from the Van West logging camp went to visit at Parkhurst.  This journey involved driving over the “road” to the log dump at the south end of Green Lake where they got a ride on the Queen Mary across the lake.  Visits to Parkhurst were great socializing opportunities and by the time the group left it was getting dark.  The Queen Mary brought them back to the log dump where there was so much bark and debris floating that, in the dusk, the debris could be mistaken for solid ground.  Unfortunately the first one out of the boat was Marianne who went straight through the debris and into fifteen feet of cold water.  Paul and the others still onboard quickly grabbed her and hauled Marianne back into the boat.  Luckily there were no ill effects from her dunking.

The settlement at Parkhurst in the 1950s, across the lake from where Marianne fell in. Clausen Collection.

Two months later Paul and Marianne created more excitement when, at 3 am, Marianne went into labour.  With no scheduled train, the section foreman had to be called to bring his speeder with a trailer to take Marianne to Squamish.  At Brackendale Marianne was loaded into an ambulance and a daughter was born before they made it to the hospital.

We’re not sure what happened to Paul and his family after they left Alta Lake and Dick doesn’t include any details on their later years.  This is not uncommon – so many people pass through the valley that it’s hard to keep track of everyone.  Paul’s time here, however, was certainly memorable to those who knew him.

Verner Lundstrom

We are incredibly lucky at the museum to have stories from a myriad of different people who lived, worked or visited the valley over the past 100 years.  Most of the narratives from the era of Alta Lake tend to belong in one of two categories: summer resort life or logging and railroad work.  The same names are often mentioned in both, as would be expected in such a small community, but very few people really lived in both categories.

One exception is Verner Lundstrom.  In the late 1920s, at the age of 18, Verner left Sweden to join his brother Charlie at Alta Lake.  Charlie had arrived in 1927 and made his living as a logger and pole cutter, finding the tall, straight cedars that could be used as telephone poles.  The brothers lived in a cabin close tot he railway and near Fitzsimmons Creek, about a mile away from Lost Lake.  Together they logged cedar poles around the northeast area of Alta Lake.

Verner Lundstrom hard at work. Photo: Lundstrom Collection.

As Verner recalled in an oral history done in 1992, all of their work was done by hand.  With no power saw, trees were usually felled using a two-person saw.  The brothers used horses to help move the poles to the eastern shore of the lake by what Verner described as “skid roads”.  From there the poles were floated across Alta Lake to the railway station at the south end and loaded onto flatcars.

Verner and Charlie worked together for 8 to 10 years before Charlie moved on.  During that time there were various logging operations within the area and Verner knew many of the people we’ve written about before, including the Jardine-Neiland family, the Barrs, Denis DeBeck, B.C. Keeley, the Gebharts and the Woods family.

Life in Alta Lake wasn’t all work – here Alf Gebhart poses with Ben Dyke and an unknown woman in front of his house at Parkhurst. Photo: Debeck Collection.

In his first few years at Alta Lake, Verner also worked at Rainbow Lodge as a seasonal handyman and experienced life centred on summer tourism as well.  Verner recalled that, at the time, Rainbow Lodge would have up to 120 guests and he and some others spent a lot of time swimming during the day and dancing at night.  For Verner, who enjoyed swimming and hiking, his job at Rainbow Lodge sounds ideal.

With the mountains and lake nearby, working at Rainbow Lodge was ideal in the summers.  Photo: Philip Collection.

When Verner wasn’t working at Rainbow Lodge or cutting poles with Charlie, he and his brother would often head up the surround mountains.  Verner thinks they must have gone up Whistler Mountain “hundreds of times,” either to hunt or “just to walk up to the lake.”  The lake in questions, Cheakamus Lake, had an old cabin that had been used by trappers and many weekends Verner would hike up, with or without Charlie.  Though Verner didn’t recall hiking up Blackcomb or Wedge, he did remember time spent hiking up Sproat and Red Mountain, known today as Fissile.

Verner stayed in the area even after Charlie had moved on.  In 1942, when he married Lauretta Arnold, Verner was living further up the rail line at Mile 43 between Alta Lake and Pemberton.  The couple then moved up to Mile 48 where Vern did the logging for the sawmill of John Brunzen and Denis DeBeck.

After their first child, Verner and Laurette moved to Birken, then later to Pemberton where their daughters could attend school.  In 1950 the family left the Sea to Sky and moved to Chilliwack where Verner continued to work in logging camps.  Even after he retired, Verner continued to fell trees for his friends until the age of 85.

Like Verner’s story, each oral history, letter or memoir in our collection provides a unique perspective on life in the valley.  Having access to so many different memories allows us to form a more complete picture of Whistler’s past.  Come visit us at the museum if you’re interested in adding your own perspective to the mix.

Riding at Rainbow

Looking back on past summers (even ones that haven’t quite ended yet) it’s easy to remember the good parts: days at the lake, hiking around the valley and camping under clear skies.  At the museum we’re lucky to have the written records of various people’s memories of summers at Alta Lake, including one Douglas W. Barlow.

Douglas worked with the horses at Rainbow Lodge for the summer of 1930.  Though the lodge started as a fishing resort, horseback rides were a popular pastime for guests.  Douglas was in charge of the lodge’s 17 horses and the various trail rides throughout the week.  As he remembered, his charges kept him busy.

Heading out on the trail from Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

Some morning guests could go on breakfast rides to the Green River.  Douglas would take a packhorse over the day before with all of the food and dishes for the early breakfast and guests would book their ride in the main lodge.  Douglas did not exaggerate when describing the trip as an early morning ride: the call time was 4 am.  By that time all the horses had to be saddled and ready to go and Douglas had the job of knocking on cabin doors to wake up the guests.  Not surprisingly, some guests would opt out.  When that happened Douglas would unsaddle the horses and send them back to roll around in the dirt of the stables, only to have a guest change their mind and run up at the last minute.

On the other end of the spectrum from breakfast rides, Douglas led midnight rides as well.  he described these rides as “where you took a group out on the trail, built a campfire, toasted marshmallows, played the guitar and sang.”

While Douglas Barlow led each ride that summer, sometimes Myrtle, or even Alex, would join in the fun. Philip Collection.

Not all of the rides went smoothly.  By the end of the summer, when many of the guests were getting more comfortable on horseback, a group headed down to a long sandbar on the river where they could race.  One horse got spooked, jumped to the side and threw its rider into the path of the other horses.  Luckily, the girl’s glasses were broken but she was left uninjured though pretty shaken.

As Douglas recalled, these were “good days at Rainbow.”  When not riding, he had time to hike up the surrounding mountains and “play in the snow” and some nights he and a group of others would take a boat out with a gramophone, cushions and pie and milk from the kitchen.

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

The busiest days were Sundays, when the railway ran an excursion train up to Rainbow.  Trainloads of visitors from Vancouver would descend on Rainbow Lodge for about two and a half hours where staff would serve afternoon tea, cake, sandwiches and ice cream.  Those who were inclined could be taken on short rowboat rides on the lake.  With all this going on it’s no surprise the horses were not taken out on Sundays.

Douglas only worked at Rainbow Lodge for the one summer.  He then worked in the forestry service in the province but every time he was on a train that stopped at Rainbow he would get off for a minute to look for the Philips on the platform.

This Week In Photos: August 30

While every year is different, some weeks have a recurring event or theme that shows up year after year.  For this week, it would seem Whistler used to be taken over by Porsches and those who love them.

1978

The Chilliwack Motorcycle Sports Club visited Whistler this weekend and got some sunny weather for their travels.

An iconic Whistler structure: the Whistler Post Office.

And the Whistler Firehall.

Whistler Mountain was well represented at this recent tradeshow…

Which also featured the Avalauncher, a tool no ski hill can be without.

1979

Whistler Creek Lodge rises up as construction forges ahead.

Myrtle Philip casts her referendum ballot, supervised by Kris Shoup at the school on voting day.

New faces in the valley – Editor’s assistant Bob Este…

… and BC Ski Co-ordinator Dan Mathews.

“Porsche Party” at Alpine Way on Sunday!

1980

Windsurfers head out across Alta Lake as summer’s last few waning rays dapple the mountainside.

Don Willoughby puts out the remainder of a small fire in Blackcomb Estates.

This youngster visiting Pemberton’s favourite swimming hole is trying to forget that summer vacation is almost over.

1982

Murray Coates, marathon runner, and Myrtle Philip, Whistler legend.

Whistler’s in stride, Willie Whistler arrives at the awards ceremony for the First Annual Whistler Marathon Sunday, where he presented medals and prizes and entertained a crowd of over 200 runners and volunteers.

A slick new coat of asphalt has been a welcome addition to Alpine Meadows in recent weeks. Except for a few roads in the subdivision, paving will be completed by mid-September at a cost of $535,000.

Porsches, Porsches everywhere. Crowds of people wandered through more than 100 Porsches that congregated on Whistler Village Saturday for the Western Canada region of the Porsche Club of America’s Concours d’Elegance.

1983

Jack Jorgensen took the People’s Choice award for his immaculate 1957 Porsche 1600 Speedster. Jorgensen did all the restoration work on his car.

The Gambling Gourmet of Whistler got a first for costumes but placed out of the money for their chili during the 1983 Canadian Chili Championship at Westin Bayshore Saturday. It seems a picky judge didn’t like vegetables in chili. Oh well, there’s always next year. Congratulations to the Gambling Gourmet Team! Pictured here: Chef Ted Nebbeling, Susan Howard and Valerie Lang.

Kathie Hicks takes a break from dealing blackjack to the throngs of chili aficionados around the Whistler booth.

An Alpine Paving bulldozer tears up pavement on Village Stroll in preparation for drainage work. The paving company has promised the road will be reopened in time for the Fall Festival September 9.

1984

The Whistler Canoe Club hosted a brigade race on Alta Lake during the weekend with the women’s squad (Connie Kutyn, Trudy Alder, Margo Mathews, Sue Davidson, Bev Downie and Tracy Morben) beating the Richmond Fire Department Women’s Brigade Team by six minutes. The Whistler Men’s team (Ken Hardy, Mike Jakobson, Tim Malone, Frank Bartik, Preston Fritz and Brian Allen) came second to a Vancouver team.

Incumbent Conservative MP Lorne Greenaway passed through Whistler, and Tapley’s pub, Friday. Greenaway spent part of the morning and afternoon campaigning for Tuesday’s election.

Mayor Mark Angus was busy campaigning last Tuesday at an informal open house at Jan Holberg and Ted Nebbeling’s home on Alta Lake. D-Day for Angus and all the candidates is next Tuesday.

Friday’s Chamber of Commerce dinner dance at Dusty’s attracted just about every business person in Whistler for a night of socializing and dancing to the tunes of the Peter Carson Trio.

This car has been peering into the Soo Valley stream for a few years now.

District firemen sharpened their skills over the weekend in a course given by the Vancouver Fire Institute.

Porsches from all over the Pacific Northwest visited Whistler for the 4th Annual Porsche Weekend and Concours d’Elegance.

And you thought kids only carry ghetto blasters on their shoulders these days? This racoon was spotted roaming the village Saturday.

Summer Getaways at Alta Lake

Summertime in Canada, especially for children, is often portrayed as a series of long, carefree days spent exploring the outdoors, playing in and on the water and spending time with friends and family.

While this is certainly not how the season plays out for everyone, the Matheson children of Vancouver would seem to have close to the quintessential summer vacation from 1927 to 1934.

In 2011, the Whistler Museum received an account of their summers at Alta Lake from Betty Jane Warner, the youngest of the three Matheson children.  Every year the Matheson family would spend two months renting one of William “Mac” MacDermott’s three cabins (the same cabins later lived in by Bob and Flo Williamson and the descendants of Grace Woollard).

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

The final days of June would see Betty Jane, her siblings Jack and Claudia, her mother Violet and, in some years, a maid board the Union Steamship in downtown Vancouver bound, eventually, for Alta Lake.  The family did not travel light – they brought a steam trunk and five bags – but unfailingly, Mac would meet them at the PGE station and see them and their luggage across Alta Lake to what Betty Jane called their “summer cottage”.

This cottage consisted of a sleeping porch, a small sitting area, a kitchen complete with wood stove, and two bedrooms.  Mac provided use of a shared outhouse and woodpile and each of his three cabins came equipped with its own outhouse.

Mac at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. During his time at Alta Lake Mac took many people hiking through the valley and some of his cabins are still standing today. Philip Collection.

As Betty Jane recalled, “We loved Alta Lake and looked forward to our happy times each summer – no matter how basic our living conditions were compared to our city living.”

It’s easy to see why they looked forward to summer.  The three children took walks around the lake picking ripe blueberries, rowed among the water lilies and dragonflies, and joined Mac on treks to Lost Lake and Green Lake where “there were always rotting old logs to climb over and the threat of lots of bees!”

Over the years they got to know their summer neighbours and packed picnics for train excursions with permanent Alta Lake residents.  With the nearest store at Rainbow Lodge, even going out to get groceries could be an adventure.

Baths in the copper tub were reserved for Saturday nights and few days required dressing up.  Once every summer Betty Jane and Claudia rowed up the lake for tea at Mrs. Harrop’s tearoom, requiring them to “shed our blue denim coveralls for something a little more dressy to wear for the occasion.”

Every summer, Betty Jane and Claudia visited the Harrop’s tearoom where they had a floating cottage right on Alta Lake.

The Matheson family chose Alta Lake after their father, Robert, met Mac and the Philips while staying at Rainbow Lodge with Violet and became “enchanted with the area.”

He was unable to join his family in the summers and remained in Vancouver where he worked as an architect.  His firm, Townley & Matheson, designed quite a few buildings still standing in Vancouver today, including Vancouver Motors, the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Point Grey Secondary and Vancouver City Hall.

It was after his death in 1935 that the Matheson family stopped coming to Alta and, according to Betty Jane, “our happy summers came to an end.”

When Trains Connected People to Alta Lake

When Bob Williamson first arrived at Alta Lake (now Whistler) in February of 1930, he found himself in a valley bearing little resemblance to the bustling resort town of today.  Even getting there was a completely different experience.

Bob came to work as a lineman for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, at the time the most common and reliable transportation to and from the valley, or, as Bob put it, “the only means of transportation with the outside world.”

Bob Williamson at work on the transmission lines, well before Alta Lake was able to access the electricity they carried.  Smith Collection.

For most people, travel was confined to four days of the week: north on Mondays and Thursdays, south on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Passengers travelling from Vancouver would leave on a Union Steamship at 9 am and, after switching to a train in Squamish, would arrive at Alta Lake about 4:30 pm.

The view of Brandywine Falls clearly shows the railway bridge which provided a unique view to passengers. Philip Collection.

When Bob’s wife Florence (Flo) joined him at Alta Lake in September, the pair travelled south, leaving their car in Lillooet and taking the train the rest of the way.

During the summer months a couple of special trains were added to the usual schedule.  An excursion train on Sunday ran from Squamish to Alta Lake and back and a Fisherman’s Special headed north to Lillooet on Saturday and back south on Monday.  Later, a third through train was added going north on Wednesdays and south on Fridays.

Today, the only trains that come through Whistler are either freight or the Rocky Mountaineer.  Those that passed through the valley in the 1930s were mixed trains, carrying a combination of freight and passengers.

They stopped at various restaurants along the way, including Rainbow Lodge when heading south, to provide meals for passengers until dining cars were added later in the 1930s.

 

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

Alta Lake had two railway stations, the Alta Lake Station at Mile 37 and the Rainbow Lodge Station at Mile 38.  Mileages were measured from the Squamish dock, where the railway began (when the railway was extended to North Vancouver in 1956 the mileages were changed to read from there, creating some confusion when looking at older documents).

Bob and Flo rented a cabin from Bill “Mac” MacDermott on the south end of Alta Lake.  As Mac usually rented his cabins out to summer visitors, he had to do a bit of winterizing when the Williamsons moved in year round.

By 1934, with the addition of a generator, a pump for indoor plumbing, a gas-powered washing machine and a propane fridge (possibly Alta Lake’s first refrigerator) Bob and Flo were comfortably settled.

Life at Alta Lake had quiet periods, but Bob remembered some exciting moments as well, one of which arrived on the train from Pemberton.  A woman was on her way to Vancouver to have her baby, but made it only as far as Rainbow Lodge.

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

There she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.  As Bob recalled, the boy was named Philip for Alex Philip and the girl Grace after Grace Woollard, a retired nurse living at Alta Lake who helped with the delivery.

In 1942, Bob and Flo left Alta Lake for Lillooet and a promotion within the railway.  By that time, float planes had started arriving in the valley, but the railway remained residents’ main connection between Alta Lake and the outside world.