Category Archives: Pioneers

Stories from the Alta Lake days.

Frozen Alta Lake

Winters at Alta Lake were a quiet season for the small community without the crowds of summer visitors.  Whistler Mountain did not open for skiing until 1966 and until then downhill skiing in the valley was uncommon.  Instead winter sports centred on and around Alta Lake.  In addition to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides, activities that took place on the frozen lake itself were popular within the small community.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Photo: Philip Collection.

With the right conditions skating was a common pastime that could quickly become a community gathering with a bonfire and marshmallows.

In 1924 Sewall Tapley built an iceboat for his daughter Myrtle after she injured her leg.  He used a few boards, old skate blades and a sail and thus introduced a new activity to Alta Lake.  With a good wind the iceboat could easily outpace the skaters.  While the iceboat did have a tiller attached it was not an effective means of steering.  Instead, Myrtle recalled, “we’d crash into the snow bank on the other side of the lake, get out and turn it around to get home.”  In the 1980s a new generation tried sailing on Alta Lake, this time using “windskiers” which hopefully had much better steering capabilities.

Wind skiing was a new sport for Alta Lake. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1985.

The lake continued to be a community gathering spot for Alta Lake residents through the 1950s and into the 60s.  In the January 5, 1960 edition of the “Alta Lake Echo”, the weekly newsletter put out by the Alta Lake Community Club under various named from January 1958 until June 1961, it was noted that “a good crowd turned out Friday night to skate and spectate at Rainbow Rink.  Cabin 8 was cosy and warm for the less hardy types and those whose feed would not fit the available skates.”  The evening ended with hot dogs and hot chocolate provided by Alex and Audrey Greenwood, then owners of Rainbow Lodge.

The same newsletter also reported on the annual New Year’s hockey game that was postponed “due to poor player condition after New Years Eve.  Rescheduled for 2 pm Jan. 2nd, game commenced promptly at 3:30.”  On the side of the Alta Lake Amatoors were Frantic Fairhurst (foreward front and centre) and Non Stop Crankshaft, Capricious Croaker, Gummed Up Gow and Fearless Ferguson (all playing defence).  The Rainbow Rockets lineup featured Sky Scraper Skip (“centre, right and left, fore and back”), Spud Murphy (“goal defence and generally against Alta Lake making a goal”), Gallopping Greenwood, and GoGetter Gordon.

A game of hockey on frozen 19 Mile Creek, November 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Despite having fewer players, Rainbow took an early lead that they kept for a final score of 7-1, though the accuracy of the score is questionable.  According to the sports report, “before the first half of the first quarter was over the judges retired to the warmth of Cabin 8 and the score was rather hard to keep track of.”  Clearly the residents treated this game with the utmost professionalism.

The opening of Whistler Mountain shifted the focus of winter sports away from Alta Lake, though it took only one winter with very little snow to return people to the lakes.  According to the Whistler Question, in January 1977 Whistler Mountain closed due to “adverse weather conditions”.  Instead skating, hockey and even ice stock sliding kept the community busy.

Ice stock sliding, a sport introduced to Alta Lake during a particularly bad snow year, remained popular in Whistler for some time. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1980.

Today, if the lakes have a safe layer of ice, ice skating and hockey games can still be seen on lakes throughout the valley.

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Family Life at Parkhurst: Before the Modern Kitchen

With the holiday season upon us many people will be heading to their kitchens to create the meals and treats associated with this time of year, or, alternatively, enjoying the labours of others who head into the kitchen.

Today the standard kitchen in Whistler usually includes running water (hot and cold!), electric refrigeration and an oven of some kind.  Eleanor Kitteringham, however, prepared meals in a very different kind of kitchen.

Parkhurst when the mill was operating in the 1930s, taken before the Kitteringham family’s time at the site. Debeck Collection.

The Kitteringham family (Olie, Eleanor and their children Ron, Jim and Linda) lived at Parkhurst from 1948 until the mill shut down in 1956.  During that time Parkhurst employed about 30 men, including millwright Olie.

For the first few years the Kitteringhams were the only family to stay at Parkhurst through the winter.  They made extra money shovelling the snow off the mill’s buildings so that they wouldn’t collapse in the spring when the rains made all that snow very heavy.  According to Eleanor, Olie hated snow for years after their time at Parkhurst.

Though the Debecks lived at Parkhurst before the Kitteringhams, their photos are some of the few we have of the site as an operational mill. Debeck Collection.

The Kitteringham kitchen was equipped with a sawdust-burning stove, a convenient fuel when living at a sawmill.  Sawdust was loaded into the hopper attached to the side and then fed through the hopper into the burn pot.

The stove took eight large pails of sawdust a day, a daily chore for Ron and Jim.  The winter supply was hauled up before the mill closed in the fall and stored in the back of an old log cabin near the house.

Although a sawdust-burning oven may sound like a lot of work today, when one can just push a few buttons or turn a dial, Eleanor seemed fond of her stove and remembered it making wonderful bread:

This old stove also had a wonderful warming-closet, on top of the back of the stove – perfect place to put the bread to raise.  I used to bake 10 big loaves every other week, between grocery orders.  You could smell the bread baking when coming up the trail from the tracks.  What a wonderful smell on a cold winter day.

The grocery order arrived on the train every second Thursday so any special meals had to be planned in advance.  With their closest neighbours two miles away it was next to impossible to quickly run over through the snow and borrow a missing ingredient.

After the stove, the two most important parts of the kitchen were the icebox and the root cellar.  Ice cut out of the lake in the winter and stored in sawdust provided refrigeration through the summer.  Bins of sawdust underneath the house held potatoes, carrots and other vegetable grown in the summer.

The root cellar also had shelves to hold cases of canned goods (and apparently made an excellent dark room).  Not adverse to advancements, Eleanor wrote, “Later on we got a fridge run by kerosene – it was beautiful.”

Alf Gebhart’s house in the 1930s. The houses at Parkhurst did not change too much between then and the 1950s. Debeck Collection.

Water came from a creek near the house, first using a flume and then piped in by Olie, who could “fix or do anything that was needed.”  He got Ron and Jim to help dig down through the bush at 5¢ a foot.  A water-jacket that lived on the stove provided hot water for washing dishes.  Those washing up after holiday dinners this year should enjoy just how easy running water make it.

People of Whistler: Opening Thursday December 14

The Whistler Museum is excited to be working with local photographer Eric Poulin to present People of Whistler, a new exhibit on some of the many figures who built the Whistler we all know and love.  As a relatively young town Whistler is lucky to have so many people instrumental to its early foundations still here today, some of whom are highlighted in this portrait project.

For a chance to learn more about this project from photographer and creator Eric Poulin and to hear their stories from some of the subjects of his photographs themselves, don’t miss the opening of People of Whistler on Thursday, December 14!

People of Whistler will run through the end of January 2018.

Free admission.  Cash bar.

The Boom and Bust of McGuire

1992 William Jack Biggin-Pound was asked by Ruth Gallagher to write down what he know of the history around McGuire, Brandywine Falls and Alta Lake.

Ruth and Ray Gallagher had owned and operated the Brandywine Falls Resort until 1973 (keep an eye out for more announcements on this subject in the New Year!) and Ruth was collecting information on the history of the area.

McGuire, located about 7km south of Whistler, had its own station on the PGE Railway and has been settled for as long as the area that is now Whistler.  After the construction of the railway, McGuire was the site of several small sawmills until the logging industry began moving out towards the end of the 1930s.  A mall shake mill began operating after the Second World War, employing up to 100 people in the 1950s, but by the time Jack Biggin-Pound and a friend staked some crown land in 1961 McGuire was again a quiet settlement.

“Picnic lunch at McGuire” from the Myrtle Philip Collection. Though probably taken in the 1930s, well before Jack Biggin-Pound lived there, this is believed to be the only photograph of McGuire at the Whistler Museum.

Though most of the old mills were no longer operational, the buildings and machinery (including and “A” frame crane type machine with a large engine and winch, all bolted to tree trunks as skids) were still there, if only for a short while.

Jack recalled, “One weekend I was surprised to find a large flat bed railcar on the mill site siding.  A workman arrived and started up the winch diesel and within two hours had persuaded the “A” frame contraption to ensconce itself on the flatbed railcar, and by the next weekend it was gone.”

Over the next couple of years the machinery left at the mill disappeared piece by piece and the buildings were neglected to the point where a winter storm was able to flatten what was left.

Staking crown land required that $600 in improvements be made to the property over five years.  For years Jack and his sons, Tony and Dennis, travelled to McGuire on weekends, constructing a cabin before moving in full-time in 1963.

Construction did not always go smoothly.  They finished the floor just before winter and left the timber for the walls and roof stacked and covered on the floor.  When they returned in May they discovered someone had used their building materials as firewood.  The timbers had been crisscrossed and burnt in the middle, leaving pieces “about three feet long with one burnt end.”  Not the most useful of building materials.

Jack remembered exploring the area, finding old trails and the remains of an old bridge that once spanned the Cheakamus River.  He also spent time visiting neighbours; during the winters he was invited down to the McKenzie homestead to listen to Hockey Night in Canada on their radio on Saturday nights and would visit Ken and Edna Stockdale who lived near the water tank between Brandywine and Garibaldi.

Santa used to put in appearances at Myrtle Philip Elementary around Christmas time each year. Photo: Whistler Question, Week of December 20, 1978

When Whistler Mountain opened in 1966 Jack worked providing refreshments on the mountain (Jack’s son Tony also worked on Whistler Mountain and was the one to push out the first gondola on opening day).

Jack played a very important role in the area: Santa.  Jack closed his recollections of the area with the seasonally appropriate words: “Never again will Myrtle Philip undo my flies, to the great amusement of everyone, to stuff a pillow in to make me a more portly Santa Claus for the school children.  They all tried hard but I don’t think the children ever found out who Santa was.”

Nita Lake’s First Hotel: Jordan’s Lodge

Just as today many of Whistler’s hotels and lodges are centrally located in the Village, the lodges built in the 1920s through 1950s tended to be located on or close to the shores of Alta Lake.  One outlier was Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.

Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.  Photo: Barber Collection

Russ Jordan first came to Alta Lake with his wife Laura and their two sons, Eugene and Stanley, in 1915 when he began working at a a logging mill at the south end of Green Lake.  The family then bought the Alta Lake Hotel on the southwest shore of Alta Lake.  After this purchase, the family’s story takes an unusual turn for its time: Laura divorced her husband and took their two sons to live with her in Vancouver.  Russ continued to operate the Alta Lake Hotel until it was destroyed in a fire in 1933.  He then went to sea as a barber on the ‘Empress of Japan’, an ocean-liner.

Russ Jordan with his catch, c.1922.  Photo: Jordan Collection

In 1936 Russ returned to Alta Lake and bought a quarter section of land (about 160 acres) from Harry Horstman.  For $2000, Russ’ property stretched from the south end of Nita Lake to the current location of the highway.  He hired Bill Bailiff to help construct his lodge on the lake.  Named Jordan’s Lodge, the property included the main lodge building, cabins, a barn for storing equipment, and a plot of land for Russ’ gardens, including a large vegetable crop and flower gardens.  Russ’ granddaughter Wilma Cates remembered “each cabin had its own rowboat so guests could go out on the lake… It was all water by pump and kerosene or gas lamps.”

For many years Russ’ sons spent the school year in Vancouver with their mother and their summers at Alta Lake with their father and his second wife Beatrice.  As a barber, Russ would give both boys their summer haircut when they first arrived in the spring.  According to Wilma, “he used to shave their heads and that did them for the summer.”

Nita Lake, with Jordan’s Lodge and Alpha Lake behind.  Photo: Barber Collection

Although Stanley would later live mostly in Vancouver where he had a taxi business, Eugene spent some time living at Alta Lake.  When Eugene was about 19 he built himself a log cabin, reportedly where the Rimrock Cafe stands today, and made a living trapping furs in the Black Tusk meadows.  He later returned to live at Nita Lake with his wife Lorraine and their family for summers while working in forestry, following the train on a speeder and checking for fires.  As Lorraine recalled, “There were quite a few fires, you know, people would throw a cigarette out.  And the trains used to themselves, the brakes would give off sparks and start fires.”  Lorraine also remembered walking to Rainbow Lodge to pick up the mail and gathering with neighbours for dances, cards and socializing.

After the land was sold the cabins remained standing and were used for varying purposes. Photo: Benjamin Collection

With the beginning of the war Eugene and his family moved first to Vancouver, where he worked in the shipyards, and later to Squamish, where he opened some businesses of his own.  Russ Jordan and his third wife Maxine stayed at Nita Lake and eventually the land was sold to John Taylor in 1967.  Much of the Creekside we know today was built on Russ’ property.  The cabins of Jordan’s Lodge continued to stand on the shores of Nita Lake, though in increasingly dilapidated condition, until 2003 when they were torn down before the construction of Nita Lake Lodge.

Summer Jobs at Rainbow Lodge

The Barnfield family is best known in Whistler as the owners of a dairy farm that once operated where the Barnfield neighbourhood is located today (read more about that here).  The farm was moved south to Brackendale in 1926, though the family continued to bring the cows and chickens back to Alta Lake for the summer tourist season.  Vera Merchant, the only daughter of the Barnfield family, continued to come up for summers even after her family had stopped bringing up the farm and worked at Rainbow Lodge for three seasons.  Her recollections provide a unique view of Rainbow Lodge and Alta Lake during the mid-1930s.

Daisy Barnfield (Vera’s mother) feeds the chickens with some help from the children.

Although Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge in 1934, ’35 and ’36, her experiences seem familiar to anyone who has worked in Whistler’s busy tourism industry.

During the summer, employees at Rainbow Lodge didn’t get many days off.  Vera was paid $25 a month and was provided with room and board.  This meant that she and another girl (also coincidently named Vera) shared a small two-bedroom cabin at the lakefront.

Though we don’t know which cabin, Vera and other employees at Rainbow Lodge were lucky enough to get lakeside accommodations during the summer.

Vera’s work included cleaning cabins, setting and clearing the dining room and leading activities such as hiking and horseback riding with guests.  On Sundarys, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway ran excursions where passengers could come to Alta Lake just for the day.  These excursions were dreaded by Vera and her coworkers as they would have to rush to set up the dining room for lunch for guests and then again for day trippers and then reset the tables in time for dinner.  The staff did not eat until after the guests had finished their meals and the tablecloths, dishes and food had been put away.

Though most of the guests at Rainbow Lodge kept their cabins relatively clean, Vera remembered some cabins were left “an awful mess.”  A few times cabins were covered with “lemon peels and gin bottles and… no broken glass, but liquor all over the floor.”  When Vera showed the cabins to Alex Philip, who she suspected of being in on the previous evening’s party, he assured her that she would not have to clean up the cabin and that he would have the guests take care of their own mess.

Vera Barnfield (far left), Alex Philip and two unidentified women, possibly Rainbow Lodge employees, wait for the train at the station.

Despite working hard in the cabins and dining room, Vera enjoyed the work at Rainbow Lodge.  She and the other girls she worked with would go to the dances at the schoolhouse and the next day employees and guests would ride to the Green River for a picnic breakfast on the bridge.  Mason Philip, Alex Philip’s nephew, would go ahead with the faster riders and the horses with the supplies and Vera would bring up the rear with the guests less comfortable on horseback.  By the time Vera and her group arrived the table was set, the fire was going and food was already being prepared.  A full breakfast was provided, including eggs, bacon and hotcakes.  Vera loved being surrounded by the trees and the glacier water of Green Lake (her personal record for swimming Green Lake was five minutes).

Vera only worked at Rainbow Lodge for three years before her marriage but her summers at Alta Lake, both as a child with her family’s dairy and as a young woman with the Philip, provided memories that stayed with her until her death in 2014, just seven weeks before her 99th birthday.

Generations of Alta Lake

Though there are some scattered throughout the valley, not many houses in Whistler have been passed down through generations, and fewer can claim to have been occupied by five generations of the same family.  The cabin of the Woollard/Clarke/Bellamy family, is one such home.

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

Betty Woollard, later Betty Clarke, was the second teacher at the Alta Lake School, replacing Margaret Partridge in 1936.  Betty’s mother, Grace Woollard, first came to Alta Lake along the Pemberton Trail in 1912 with Grace Archibald.  Both nurses in Vancouver, the two Graces came to visit Ernie Archibald (who would later disappear into Alta Lake in 1938) and fell in love with the valley.  After her marriage to Charles Woollard, a doctor, Grace Woollard returned to Alta Lake and the couple preempted a quarter section of land.  Their two daughters, Betty and Eleanor, spent their summers at Alta Lake, along with the Clarkes, family friends of the Woollards who built a cabin on what is now Blueberry Hill.

Betty earned a combined honours in English and History at the University of British Columbia and then attended normal school to become a teacher.  She was visiting her mother at Grace’s cabin in the valley when the search was on for a replacement for Margaret Partridge, the school’s first teacher who had previously been a waitress at Rainbow Lodge, and Betty got the job.

The Alta Lake School where Betty Clarke taught in the 1930s.

Betty Woollard taught at the one room schoolhouse for a couple of years.  While at the school she, like Margaret Partridge before her, was devoted to the students and even went to great lengths to teach the The Sailors Hornpipe, a dance which imitates the life of a sailor and their duties aboard ship.  As her daughter Margaret Bellamy recalled, Betty had to write out the directions for her students but found the only way she could do that was by doing the dance herself.  She would do one step, write it down, do two steps, write down the new step, do three steps, write it down, and so on until she made it through the whole dance.  It took Betty hours and she was completely exhausted.

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

Both Betty and her sister married men they knew from Alta Lake.  Eleanor married Mason Philip, the nephew of Alex Philip, and Betty married Douglas Clarke, one of the Clarke boys she had grown up knowing.  While Doug was overseas during World War II Betty and her young daughter Susanne bought their own cabin at the south end of Alta Lake.  Betty’s mother, Grace, sold her original cabin and moved to be closer to her daughter.  So far five generations of Betty’s family have spent summers in that cabin, including her mother, her daughter, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.