Category Archives: Pioneers

Stories from the Alta Lake days.

Looking Back On A Busy Year

A special thank you to everyone that came out to our annual general meeting (AGM) held last Wednesday, June 13 to reflect on 2017 (and eat some salmon and salad).  It’s always great to see everybody and to hear from our members!

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society, and it was our busiest year or record.

The museum’s story begins when early pioneer Myrtle Philip and Cypress Lodge owner Dick Fairhurst confessed to Florence Petersen, a retired school teach who started coming to the valley in 1955, their worry that Whistler’s early days would soon be forgotten.  Florence eased their fears by promising them that their stories would be remembered and, true to her word, Florence founded the Whistler Museum & Archives as a charitable non-profit society.

Florence Petersen (left) and Myrtle Philip (right) enjoying a joke together.

Since incorporating on February 12, 1987, the museum’s basic function has been to collect and preserve the history of the Whistler Valley and to display and disseminate information about Whistler’s history and its role in the greater society of British Columbia and Canada.

Last year was the busiest year in the museum’s history in terms of exhibit visits, with a 9.2% growth over 2016 (another record year).  During this period, the museum started developing temporary exhibits using our programming space in the rear of the museum.

Florence Petersen with the new sign for the Whistler Museum and Archives building in Function Junction, opened in 1988.

Temporary exhibits we developed in 2017 include Mountaineering in the Coast Mountains; Collecting Chili Thom; Whistler Question: A Photographic History 1978-1985; The Evolution of Ski Film Technology; and People of Whistler with Eric Poulin.

Paul Burrows speaks to a packed house at the opening of The Whistler Question: A Photographic History.

We had another strong year for our events and programming.  Programs included favourites like our Valley of Dreams Walking Tours (June through August, back again this summer!), Speaker Series events, Mountain Bike Heritage Week, Nature 101 seminars, multiple children’s crafts events, our 21st annual LEGO competition, and school field trip visits.

We also expanded our Discover Nature program at Lost Lake to include an additional day.  Discover Nature featured a manned booth in Lost Lake Park all summer, with interactive natural history displays and scheduled interpretive nature walks.

The touch table at Discover Nature during a chilly day in the summer.

Visitor numbers have continued to increase through the first half of 2018 and we hope that trend will persist through what is sure to be a busy summer.  Still to come are more temporary exhibits and programs for children and adults and planning continues for a new facility in the coming years.

Having limited physical space for our exhibits, we have to rely heavily on our web presence, social media and this very column to help share Whistler’s narratives.  We plan on using these platforms to keep sharing stories and we hope you all enjoy reading them as much as we enjoy researching and writing them.

One of the many photos that have been featured on our social media. Here the Rainbow Ski Jump before it was pulled down in 1984.

A big thank you to everyone who has visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our stories, and otherwise helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating heritage.

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Walking Tour Season Begins Soon!

Ever found yourself lost in Whistler Village?  That unique flow of Whistler Village was actually one man’s specific intention!  This tour will help you learn more about him and many others who have helped to shape Whistler as it is today.  As we wander through the Village you’ll uncover the pioneer history, tales behind the mountain development and Whistler’s story of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The tour is approximately one hour long and is for all ages, young and old.  Each tour is led by a Whistler local, each with their own personal knowledge of Whistler’s story to add.  Whether you’re visiting, here to work for the season or have lived here for years we guarantee you’ll be sure to learn something new.

Do you know why Whistler and Blackcomb mountains have the names they do? Or when the first Olympic bid was placed? What about Whistler’s first resort? This is your chance to find out the answers to these questions, and so many more!

Valley of Dreams Walking Tours begin at 11 am every day in June, July and August.  Meeting at the Visitor Information Centre, these daily tours are offered by donation.  We are more than happy to provide private group tours outside of these times.  Simply contact the museum.

For all tour-related inquiries please call the Whistler Museum at (604) 932-2019 or visit us behind the Whistler Public Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alta Lake School Gazette: News Before The Question

The Whistler Question, published from 1976 to the beginning of 2018, was Whistler’s first official newspaper.  The municipality only came into being in September 1975 and Pique wouldn’t begin publishing until 1994.  Well before the first edition of The Question, however, the valley’s first newspaper was put together by a small group of students at the Alta Lake School.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.

The Alta Lake School first opened in the early 1930s with only 10 students spread across Grades 1 to 9.  In 1939 some of the older students established the Alta Lake School Club and the Club then sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette ran from February 11 until June 5.  The paper’s first editor, Bob Jardine, donated an entire run to the archives and the six editions give a valuable insight into the everyday happenings of the small Alta Lake community.

The staff list of The Gazette includes many names that are familiar from stories of Alta Lake’s history.  Bob Jardine and his brother Tom Neiland both acted as editors for the paper and Jack, Helen and George Woods were all involved in reporting.  Helen also held the position of the secretary for the organization.

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers, held in the school.

The first editorial of The Gazette stated the paper’s purpose: “to give a current account of happenings each month as seen by its editor and his staff, it shall try to tell the facts and only the facts.”  The short editorial also thanked those who built the Alta Lake School for allowing the students to start this paper.

Following the editorial of each edition is “Local News Of Interest,” an interesting combination of observations, opinions and local gossip (which may not have been entirely in keeping with the paper’s goal of reporting “only the facts”).  The “Local News” reports on the activities of Alta Lake residents and visitors, whether it is something everyday, such as Mrs. Harrop holding a tea which school teacher Miss Bedford attended, or something a little out of the ordinary, such as William “Mac” MacDermott’s first ride in an airplane in May 1939.

Louise Smith (Betts) with her grandmother Lizzie Neiland, uncle Bob Jardine and Tweed the dog at 34 1/2 Mile.

Alta Lake around the 1930s was not the easiest place to live.  There was no real road or reliable electricity, and families worked hard to make a living in logging and other industries.  What could be thought of as hardships are reported in The Gazette as part of daily life in a small, somewhat remote, community.  For example, on May 28 Bob Jardine and his mother Lizzie Neiland left their home at 11 am to walk the 40 kilometres to Cheekeye, where they stopped for the night.  Mrs. Neiland had received word of the death of her brother and, having missed the Saturday train, was resorting to “shanks mare” (her own legs) to get to Vancouver.

 

Over its six editions The Gazette grew to include letters to the editor, boxing news and even an essay on the state of the Canadian Navy and unemployment in British Columbia alongside the results of the latest Cribbage Tournament.

The Alta Lake School Gazette may have lasted only a few months but it provides a snapshot of the daily lives of the Alta Lake residents.  Its “Local News Of Interest” also supports the idea that in a small community, your neighbours always know what you’re up to.

Driving the Sea to Sky (when it was mostly dirt)

If you’ve ever taken a look at the Whistler Museum’s YouTube channel you might have seen a short film from the Petersen Film Collection that features the drive to Whistler in 1958.  The footage makes it clear that the drive was an interesting one, full of steep hills, narrow roads and bumpy track.  At one point the car obviously overheated, a problem solved with the help of a nearby river.

The footage from the Petersens is only one account of coming to Whistler by car when the area was still known as Alta Lake.  Another well-known figure in Whistler, Don MacLaurin, also made the journey up the “highway” in 1958.

At the time Don was working in the forest service and was part of a cruising crew staying in Pemberton (cruising crews measure volume and quality of timber before it is harvested).  In a 2007 with John Hammons and Karen Overgaard, Don shared photos of his trip that are now part of the Whistler Museum archives.  As Don recalled, it took “two crews, two land rovers, winches, prayers and eight hours to go from Squamish to Pemberton.”

The road through the Cheakamus Canyon. MacLaurin Collection.

One shows a portion of the original road through the Cheakamus Canyon.  When asked to describe the drive, Don chose the word “precarious.”  The one-way road had a cliff on one side and, according to Don, “logs cabled through the road into the cliff… trying to hold the road in.”  Another photo shows a cable running back to a land rover.  It was a good thing the crews had two, as one would frequently be used to pull the other out when stuck.

A land rover is pulled up the road by another land rover – it’s handy to have two. MacLaurin Collection.

The road through what is now the Tapley’s Farm neighbourhood (and at the time would have been around the actual Tapley’s Farm) was “very, very wet and very soft and you were lucky to get through that as well.”  Once past Alta Lake the crews still had to get past what they called “suicide hill” which was located “under the power lines on the railroad side of Green Lake when you made the descent back down to the Green River.”  With a “so-called road” and “baseball-sized boulders” it’s no wonder Don described that section as “very, very tricky.”  Despite these challenges, the crews did eventually make it to Pemberton.

The “roads” in Whistler. MacLaurin Collection.

This was not the first time Don had come through the Whistler valley.  In 1951 he travelled through on the PGE on his way from Quesnel to Vancouver.  By 1961, when he returned with Isobel and a couple of neighbours, there was still no dependable road, and certainly not one that could sensibly be used in the winter, so again they came by rail.

Going through the Cheakamus Canyon on the PGE. It still has quite the drop. MacLaurin Collection.

By 1964 visitors to Whistler could come along a gravel road called Highway 99.  Two years later Highway 99 was paved from Squamish to Mons Station and to Pemberton in 1969.  With changes made over the decades and work done prior to the 2010 Olympics, the road Don, the Petersens and others travelled in 1958 is almost unrecognizable in the road we travel today.

Rocking Howe Sound

You wouldn’t expect a pulp mill, a pop-rock band and 20th century settlers to have a lot in common, but in the Sea to Sky corridor you can find the unlikeliest of connections.

In 1909, the Conroy family moved west from Ontario and preempted 380 acres of land in the area around Brandywine Falls, including the falls themselves.  The area had previously been used as a rest stop for northbound mule drivers on their way to settlements and gold fields.  Charles Conroy, one of the Conroy sons, made a reputation working 30 to 60 string muletrains.

Brandywine Falls, now a provincial park, was once the Conroy family homestead and then a bustling resort. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Conroy family saw the area through the arrival of the PGE Railway and the construction of a supply road by BC Electric in the 1950s.  Before the highway was finished in the 1960s, Charlie Conroy sold the property to Ray Gallagher but remained close to Brandywine until his death in February 1972.

The Poppy Family was a Vancouver-based music group formed by Terry Jacks and Susan Pesklevits in the mid 1960s.  According to Garibaldi’s Whistler News, February 1968, the group got together “almost by chance.”  Susan needed an accompanist for a performance in Hope and asked Terry.  The Hope show went well and the two decided to form their own group and brought in lead guitarist Craig McCaw to complete the group.  In 1967 Terry and Susan married and through 1968 the Poppy Family performed regularly at Whistler Mountain.  Satwant Singh later joined the group on tablas and they put out their first album, Which Way You Goin’ Billy? in 1969.

The Poppy Family as they appeared in 1968 when featured in Garibaldi’s Whistler News.

Terry and Susan Jacks stayed regularly at the Brandywine Falls Resort.  This is presumably where they met Charlie “Whitewater” Conroy.  Despite an almost 60-year age difference, Terry and Charlie became close friends and fishing buddies.

Sixty years earlier, in 1912, the Woodfibre pulp mill opened a little south of Squamish on the western shore of the Howe Sound.  Accessible only by boat, the remote town site built around the mill housed workers and their families until the 1960s when they began commuting to work by ferry from nearby Squamish and Britannia Beach.  Woodfibre was one of the oldest pulp mills in British Columbia before it closed in 2006.

The Conroy family, the Poppy Family and Woodfibre have a surprising connection – a song, released in 1972 and only just over two minutes long, named “The Ballad of Woodfibre”.

Terry provided the music and the vocals were performed by 82-year-old Charlie.  “The Ballad of Woodfibre” was a comment on the pollution caused by the Woodfibre pulp mill and the smell that lingered along the Howe Sound from Lions Bay to Squamish.  The first verse encourages visitors to Woodfibre by claiming, “If you don’t mind the smell you can have a good time.”  The chorus begins “Woodfibre, Woodfibre, our little town/You’re turning the water all brown in Howe Sound,” and forecasts the mill’s closure due to the pollution of the water. (You can hear the recording of “The Ballad of Woodfibre” here)

This evening (Saturday, April 28) Julie Gallagher, whose parents Ray and Ruth Gallagher bought the land around Brandywine Falls from Charlie Conroy, will be at the museum for Growing Up at Brandywine Falls: From Resort to Provincial Park.  Doors open at 6 and the talk begins at 7.  Tickets are $10 or $5 for museum and Club Shred members.  Julie will also be hosting guided walks through Brandywine at noon both today and tomorrow (Sunday, April 29).  For more information check here.

Growing Up at Brandywine Falls: From Resort to Provincial Park

We’re all familiar with Brandywine Falls, but did you know that it used to be a thriving resort?  Julie Gallagher, whose parents Ray and Ruth Gallagher ran the resort, will be with us this Saturday (April 28) to share her family’s stories and photos and to discuss how Brandywine Falls went from a bustling fishing destination to the provincial park you see today.

Tickets for the talk are $10 ($5 for Museum and Club Shred members) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

To complement our Speaker Series, Julie will be offering guided walks through the area on Saturday and Sunday.  We’re very excited to announce that Sea to Sky Parks will be opening the park gates a few days early and parking will be available.

The walk, which will tour the area once occupied by Brandywine Falls Resort, will last around an hour.  If you’ve ever wondered about the remains of buildings or other things you’ve found at Brandywine this walk may just answer all your questions!

Dogs are welcome to attend but must be leashed.  Tours will meet at noon at the entrance to Brandywine Provincial Park off Highway 99.

For more information, please call the museum at 604-932-2019

 

 

Air Travel to Alta Lake

For most of the year floatplanes overhead are a common sight (and sound) above Whistler.  Today, these planes land and take off from Green Lake – an everyday occurrence.  But in the 1920s floatplanes were an adventurous way to arrive at Alta Lake.

The first record of a floatplane landing on Alta Lake was on August 31, 1922.  While floatplanes were not a common mode of transport, a fair number did arrive and take off from the lake.

The first plane to land on Alta Lake, flown by Earl Leslie MacLeod.

In 2011, Betty Jane (BJ) Warner (nee Matheson) shared her memory of a floatplane landing on Alta Lake in the late 1920s.  She was only four or five years old at the time.

The Matheson children and their mother spent the summers of 1927 to 1934 at a cabin on the south end of Alta Lake.  Betty Jane’s father Robert Matheson stayed in Vancouver to work but sent up letters and supplies, most notably marshmallows.  The cabin was rented from William “Mac” MacDermott and Mac became a close friend to the family.  In the summers he chopped their firewood, checked the oil in the lamps, did general repairs when needed and went hiking with the Matheson siblings Jack, Claudia and Betty Jane; in winter he would spend Christmas Day with the Matheson family in Vancouver.

Mac, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain.

One day, Mac had taken Jack hiking, Claudia was reading n the shade and Betty Jane was paddling by the shore of Alta Lake with the young maid who came to keep an eye on her.  What happened next is best said in Betty Jane’s own words.

Suddenly, a loud thunderous sound and something deafening roared across the sky.  It reached the far end of the lake, seemed suspended, turned, then menacingly approached us, skimming the water like a giant torpedo.  It came lower and lower and as it became closer caused all about us to vibrate and rumble.

I was terrified and along with Evelyn (the maid) and the dog we fled into the cabin, followed by my mother, who, fearful of an overhead crash, ordered us to protect ourselves under a huge canvas that covered our woodpile.

It was my father, of course, and his pilot friend who chose that day to surprise his young family on what was, proudly for him, his first flight… What a let-down it must have been for him to be met by the dismal sigh of his terrified children huddled under a tarp and an upset wife, tearful and near fainting, scolding him for traveling in such a dangerous contraption.  My brother missed it all.

This was the first time Betty Jane had ever seen an airplane, a memory that remained with her for over eight decades.  As she recalled, “The Space Age was upon us, but to this young person the marvel of it all was the gigantic tin of Moonlight Marshmallows that came with it.”