Category Archives: Pioneers

Stories from the Alta Lake days.

Dick Fairhurst’s Memories: Josef Janousek

Many of the people we learn about at the museum are introduced to us through the stories of others.  Sometimes these stories are told as oral histories and others come from documents in our research files at the museum.  One of these documents is a collection of stories, aptly called “Whistler Stories,” from Dick Fairhurst, in which he describes the area during his early years at Alta Lake and provides tales of some of the characters he got to know, or heard about from others.

Dick Fairhurst first moved to Alta Lake in 1943 and began working fro Alf Gebhart at the Rainbow Lumber Company Mill by the Alta Lake Station.  He later opened Cypress Lodge and continued to work in logging.  Because he worked in both the resource and tourism industries, Dick got to know a lot of the people who called the area around Alta Lake home in the 1940s and ’50s.

Dick Fairhurst, the owner of Cypress Lodge, was also a ski-doo enthusiast. Fairhurst Collection.

While some of these people, such as Alex Philip and Alex Greenwood, are well known to us, others we don’t know much about.  One example is a man named Josef “Joe” Janousek.  Dick recorded two stories about Joe, both involving a cold winter, one shifty individual, and examples of Joe’s accurate judge of character.

Though originally from Czechoslovakia where he worked as a game warden, Joe worked at Parkhurst, the logging and sawmill operation on Green Lake, in the 1950s.  In the winters, when most of the seasonal workers had departed for the cold, snowy months, Joe would look after the sawmill.

The settlement at Parkhurst in the 1950s, around the time Josef Janousek would have come to Green Lake. Clausen Collection.

One winter, a member of the crew from the logging camp was staying in one of the cottages by the sawmill, but Joe didn’t think he was entirely trustworthy.  This man was supposed to be looking after the house of Olie and Eleanor Kitteringham (you can learn more about the Kitteringhams and their family’s days at Parkhurst here and here) while they were in Vancouver for a couple of weeks.  In order to keep the pipes from freezing, the Kitteringhams had left their heat on and their taps running just a bit.  Unfortunately, the man entrusted with looking after their house didn’t check on it once, and Joe never got the chance to look in.  By the time the Kitteringhams returned to Green Lake, the oil for the heater had long run out and the water had kept running, welcoming the family home with snow to dig through outside and a thick icy covering inside.

Most activity at the mill ceased over the winter and many of the mill workers and their families went home. Clausen Collection.

Joe’s impression of the man was confirmed again when the man decided to leave the mill.  Tools had been going missing around the camp and the mill and Joe and a couple others decided to check this man’s trunk before he left.  Sure enough, when they opened the trunk they found all sorts of expensive gear that did not belong to him.  Instead of confronting the man who would soon be gone, they decided to refill his trunk, using heavy rocks.  As Dick put it, “He must have felt good when he found out he paid freight for all that!”

Apart from these stories, we know very little else about Josef Janousek.  According to Dick, he earned the nickname “Rocket Fuel Joe” by keeping the residents supplied with alcohol (presumably homebrewed) when their own supplies ran out, he was an experienced fisherman, and he was an excellent shot, even shooting a couple of wolverines around Green Lake.  Sadly, Joe died from drowning in Green Lake at the age of 48.

Traveling to Witsend with June Collins

On March 26, 2013, one of the staff at the Whistler Museum sat down to record an oral history with June Collins.  June Tidball, as she was known during her time at Alta Lake, was one of the original owners of Witsend, a cabin on Alta Lake.

June was born in Banff, AB to Tom and Anne Tidball.  Though she grew up in Alberta, June’s family had strong ties to Vancouver and the west coast.  Her father was a well-known lifeguard at English Bay, where he met her mother who worked as a ticket taker.  The pair married, moved to Alberta, and then returned to British Columbia in 1941.

June attended the University of British Columbia and after graduating went on to teacher training.  Her first teaching job was at Burnaby North High School in 1953, the same school at which Florence Petersen (then Strachan) taught.  The two did not meet during that first year, as Florence was on exchange in England.  June said that the next year, however, “We made an instant friendship.”

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

June, Florence, and three friends began to get together, going on weekend trips and outings.  June’s friend Betty Atkinson taught in Armstrong, BC, and Florence knew Jacquie Pope and Kelly Forster from teaching in Burnaby.  Betty had worked summers at Rainbow Lodge while attending university and Jacquie and Kelly had both stayed there.  When Betty heard of a cabin for sale on Alta Lake in 1955 the group decided to go in on it together.

June had many stories to share about their time at Alta Lake.  She described the long, often rainy, journeys which began with the Union Steamship from Vancouver to Squamish, followed by a train journey.  According to June, the couple of hours spent waiting for the train in Squamish was when everyone would run to the hotel to buy a case of beer.  She described how, when the train was ready to go, “He’d give two toots on the train and eveybody’d come running with their beer.”  With no store at Alta Lake apart from a general store at Rainbow Lodge, Squamish was the last stop for most supplies.

The Rainbow Lodge Post Office & Store was the only shop in the area and didn’t have too much variety.  Philip Collection.

Though it seemed everybody else was traveling up with beer, June described how the Witsend group decided that they would be “very elegant” and have a gin and tonic on their porch at 4 o’clock every afternoon.  They bought maraschino cherries and the proper glasses, but ran into a problem getting the gin.  The Squamish liquor store did not stock gin and they had to place a special order to have it brought in.  When they ran out at Alta Lake, they would tell a man they knew who worked on the train, and he would pick it up and bring it to them.  According to June, their gin was delivered in a shoebox, and the man would very discreetly tell them “Here’s the shoes you ordered.”

The group would spend most of their summer at Alta Lake, though June would travel to Vancouver from time to time to visit George Collins, then a dentistry student at McGill back for the break.

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

Though it is not currently business as usual at the Whistler Museum (especially as we are not at the museum, but working from home) we will continue to bring you more stories from Whistler’s past, including a few more stories from June Collins, each week.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@whistlermuseum), where we’ll be sharing photos, trivia and more each day.  We hope to see everyone back at the museum soon!

Fire at Alta Lake

Prior to the formation of the Alta Lake Volunteer Fire Department (ALVFD), the Alta Lake area had no official response to fires – they were put out by the small community.  But after two large fires in the early 1960s, some residents decided to form their own fire department.

The first fire is still a little mysterious.  One a reportedly beautiful morning in April, a single passenger got off the Budd car at the Alta Lake Station.  His outfit, a trench coat and dress shoes, drew the notice of everyone at the station as he asked Don Cruickshank, the station agent, how to get to the other side of the lake.

Waiting for the train at Alta Lake station, 1937. Left to right: Bill Bailiff, Mr and Mrs Racey, Ed Droll, Betty Woollard, Larry, Flo and Bob Williamson.

Later that same day, Dick Fairhurst received a call from Cruickshank to check on smoke coming from the area of an old empty lodge.  Fairhurst and Louis White grabbed a small fire extinguisher and a bucket each and ran to Fairhurst’s boat.  When they arrived at the lodge, they found that the fire had taken hold in some piles of lumber inside the three-storey building and that their buckets and extinguisher would be of no use.  They also found a piece of candle at the back of the lodge, and footprints from dress shoes in the soggy ground.

By the time the evening train arrived, two RCMP officers from Pemberton were aboard and waiting to arrest the stranger in the trench coat, who had been pacing in the station while waiting for the train.  Though we don’t know what happened to this mysterious man after his arrest, we do know that the date of the trial was set for June 6, 1962, the date of the second fire.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

This second fire appears to have been far more accidental than the first.  The provincial government was building a new highway to connect old logging roads, small community roads, and the Pemberton Trail.  The surveyors and their families were staying in cabins and lodges throughout Alta Lake.

One couple, Bruce and Anne Robinson, were staying in a cabin at Cypress Lodge, owned by Dick and Kelly Fairhurst.  Anne chose June 6, a warm day with no wind, to make bread in the old Kootenay Range in the cabin.  Dick was at the trial in Vancouver and Kelly had gone to vote at the Community Hall (it’s not entirely clear what the vote was for, but it is likely it was for the federal election).  She and her children had just arrived home when Bruce arrived at Cypress Lodge to discover the roof of his cabin on fire.  Kelly got on the party line, interrupting Alec Greenwood’s call to his mother-in-low to announce the fire.

Bert Harrop built cedar-bark furniture that was used in Harrop’s Tea Room, later the site of Cypress Lodge.  The museum has some of his creations in our collection, but most were destroyed in a fire.  Philip Collection.

Luckily, Bill and Joan Green and a group of loggers were hanging out at Rainbow Lodge after voting.  Bill radioed to the Van West logging operation to bring their fire pump, and Alex loaded his pump onto his tractor.  Soon everyone in the area know about the fire, and many of them came to help.

The fire, which had started from smouldering sparks in needles on the shake roof, had spread to a storage shed, but the lack of wind prevented it from spreading further.  Someone moved Dick’s truck onto the road, but other vehicles, piles of dry wood, and cans of gasoline, paint, diesel and propane were still around the property.

The two pumps were used to get the fire under control, and then to keep wetting everything down.  The Robinsons lost almost everything in the cabin, and many pieces of Bert Harrop’s cedar-bark furniture that were stored in the shed were lost, along with the two-rope for skiing on Mount Sproatt.

Alex Philip spent the night patrolling the area for sparks, but the fire was truly out by the time Dick arrived home the next day.  The community came together again to help with the clean up.

Dick Fairhurst, Stefan Ples and Doug Mansell rafting the fire shelter and its contents across the lake to Alta Vista, 1967. Petersen Collection

When the ALVFD was formed later in 1962, its members were Dick Fairhurst, Doug Mansell, Stefan Ples, and Glen Creelman.  They held regular practises and, until the formation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975, relied on fundraisers such as the Ice Break-Up Raffle and the Fireman’s Ball to buy supplies.  The residents of the valley relied on them in case of emergencies.

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!