Category Archives: Pioneers

Stories from the Alta Lake days.

Summer Adventures of Mollie Stephenson

It’s a story everyone in Whistler has heard – young person comes to the valley to work for a season, but ends up staying a few years longer than expected.  What makes the story of Mollie Stephenson unique, however, is that she first came to the Whistler valley in the summer of 1926.

Mollie Stephenson at Rainbow Lodge, 1929.

In 1924, after having graduated from Ladysmith High on Vancouver Island, Mollie moved with her parents to Victoria where her father served as the reverend at St. Saviour’s Church in Victoria West.  Mollie spent the next two years enjoying life in Victoria as a young woman, including swimming at the Crystal Garden and attending tea dances at the Empress Hotel where she and her friends would try to outdo each other at the new dance the Charleston.  As Mollie said, she adored the Flapper Age with its “beads, feathers and best of all the short skirts.”

Mollie enrolled at Normal School (what teacher college used to be called) but was unable to attend as a bad chest cold turned into bronchitis and her doctor prescribed a drier climate.  Alex and Myrtle Philip were advertising for girls to work in the dining room and Mollie left for Alta Lake in May of 1926 intending to attend Normal School in the fall.

Life at Alta Lake soon cleared Mollie’s cough and in July she transferred from the dining room to work as a wrangler and guide for the rest of the summer.  Each day she would spend 12 to 14 hours out in the forest with the 15 horses Rainbow Lodge had use of.  Trail rides were popular with Rainbow Lodge guests and Mollie would often take groups for breakfast at Lost Lake, Green Lake or near a stream.  Lam and Sam, the cooks, would pack ingredients and every rider was given a job, whether building a fire, making the coffee or preparing the pancake batter.  By the time the food was ready everyone in the group would have a hearty appetite.

A picnic during a ride included a tablecloth and china as well as jobs for every guest.

When September arrived Mollie was already looking forward to her next season at Rainbow Lodge and instead of returning to Normal School in Victoria accepted a temporary job at the Uppingham School kindergarten in Oak Bay.

Mollie Stephenson pretending to ride a foal at Rainbow Lodge.

By June Mollie was once again en route for Alta Lake where she found a few changes: George Thompson was now manager of Rainbow Lodge and Pearl Thompson had taken over the post office.  (Over 60 years later Mollie and George married – she was 83 and he was 90.)  Luckily George had bought the horses Mollie had previously worked with for continued use by Rainbow Lodge.  Again Mollie worked as a wrangler and guide.

Early in the season a man arrived at Rainbow Lodge asking about an abandoned copper mine.  Mollie had found the mine the previous year while exploring the trails on the mountains and offered to guide him there.  He brought in a crew and made a deal with George to use packhorses to bring in mail and supplies.  Three from Mollie’s group were picked: Danger, Ginger and Dark Devil.

While taking the horses up to the mine one day Ginger, who happened to by carrying the explosives, got caught between two trees.  Mollie had been warned by one of the PGE rail crew to be careful of any sudden blows or jolts to the packs containing the dynamite and she was terrified while working Ginger out from the trees.

Mollie arrived at the mine and recounted her harrowing adventure over lunch, proud of having gotten herself out of a dangerous situation.  What she didn’t expect, however, was for her tale to be greeted with laughter from the men at the camp.  She soon discovered that the warning of the PGE rail crewman had been a joke at her expense; the sticks of dynamite and the caps were kept in separate packs and Ginger had never been in danger of exploding.

Bill MacDermott, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. As well as working as a wrangler, Mollie hiked, swam and attended Rainbow Lodge events.

Though Mollie spent the majority of her time at Rainbow Lodge working as a wrangler, she also participated in other aspects of life at the resort including dances, masquerades, tennis, hiking and swimming.  She once even out-swam visiting naval officers, a tale that is perhaps best told through her own words:

I loved swimming, although racing never appealed to me.  Swimming for miles was like an interesting hike but on the water.  I had been swimming across the lake all summer, although never the length of the lake.  One day a couple of naval officers staying at the Mons Hotel asked Alex Philip if any of his guests would join them in a friendly race from McDonald’s cabin, at the south end, to the River of Golden Dreams, at the north end.  Alex approached me.  I explained that I wasn’t into fast swimming or racing, but as there were no other contenders I would swim along with them, on condition that they didn’t expect me to win.  Soon they were ahead, but when we were more than half way across we hit an unexpected glacial current that took one’s breath away.  At this point the fellows had had enough and headed to the beach.  The “tortoise” kept on going until I walked onto the beach at the River of Golden Dreams.  There was a huge bonfire burning and Myrtle had a warm blanket to wrap me in.  My prize came after dinner when the two officers asked me to dance with them!

Mollie spent several summers at Rainbow Lodge and, like many who have come after her, unexpectedly fell in love with the area and its outdoors lifestyle.  Though she went on to marry and live elsewhere, Mollie will always be remembered as one of the first seasonal workers who just couldn’t keep away from the Whistler valley.

Valley of Dreams Walking Tour has Moved!

We’re excited to announce that with the reopening of Gateway Loop the Valley of Dreams Walking Tours will now meet at our regular location outside of the Visitor Information Centre!

Walking tours begin every day at 1 pm and run for about an hour.  All tours, as well as entry to the Whistler Museum, are by donation.  Whether you’re visiting, new to the valley or a seasoned local, you’re sure to discover something new about Whistler’s history.

Searching for Answers at the Whistler Museum

Working at the museum, you never know who is going to walk through the door or what questions you’re going to be asked on any given day.

Just this past week we had a couple from the UK in search of information on a great uncle who had come to Alta Lake in the 1950s and built a summer cottage.  They were hoping to be able to determine where the cottage had been built and see what the area looked like today.  Given the names of the great uncle and the cottage, we were able to answer all of their questions about Worlebury Lodge, largely thanks to a history of Alta Lake Road compiled by Florence Petersen, Gay Cluer and Karen Overgaard.

Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, built by Maurice and Muriel Burge in the late 1950s. Photo: Mitchell

Worlebury Lodge was built by Maurice and Muriel Burge, the great uncle in question and his wife.  Maurice was an accountant for the Vancouver School Board and Muriel was a nurse.  In 1956 the couple and their two sons visited Cypress Lodge for a week in the summer and enjoyed it so much they purchased their own lot.  The cottage was named Worlebury Lodge after the area in England Maurice came from.

Next door to Worlebury Lodge was Woodbine Cottage, the summer cottage of Ray and Jean Dove.  Friends of Maurice and Muriel, the Doves had been convinced to buy a lot on Alta Lake by the glowing reports that followed the Burges’ visit to Cypress Lodge.  Maurice helped with the construction of Woodbine Cottage and both families spend may summers enjoying life at Alta Lake.

A hike to Rainbow Falls including Maurice Burge (2nd from right in the back) and Muriel Burge in the front row. Photo: Dove

Worlebury Lodge was eventually rented out and then sold and replaced with a more modern house, but we were able to show the visiting couple where the lodge would have been located and they planned to head out to Alta Lake Road to see what the view from Worlebury Lodge would have been.  They had brought photos of the property that Maurice Burge had sent to his sister and a brochure for Rainbow Lodge under the management of the Greenwoods, which we were excited to see.

Not all inquiries we get at the museum are as easily answered as the search for Worldbury Lodge; some require deeper research and there are also some whose answers have been lost as time passes undocumented.  We also occasionally encounter people with questions or inquiries unrelated to the history of Whistler and the surrounding area.  We do our best to answer these questions or direct the inquirer to someone more knowledgeable in that area, such as when a man called form the eastern States to inquire whether the museum was interested in buying a scale model he had made.

This man had hand-crafted a miniature model of Buffalo Bill’s stagecoach as it looked on his return to Kansas and was hoping to contribute it to a museum’s exhibit on Buffalo Bill.  Our best guess is that when searching for Buffalo Bill on the internet he came upon Buffalo Bills, the bar, and assumed there was a connection between the man and Whistler.

Though there is no documentation to suggest that Buffalo Bill ever passed through the Whistler valley, he did have Canadian connections and we were able to direct this man to organizations that would be more likely to be able to help him in his quest.

Next time you’ve got a question about Whistler’s history, think about visiting us at the Whistler Museum – we might just have the answer you’re looking for.

To those present at the AGM…

Thank you to everyone who came out to our AGM on Wednesday evening – it’s always great to see everyone at the museum!  The AGM is a wonderful opportunity to share what we’ve done this year and recognize those who give their time to the museum, such as this year’s Volunteer of the Year Danielle Winkle.  Thanks also to our board members who were able to attend for the (short, as promised) meeting and to Lauren, our Collections summer student, who did an amazing job manning the barbecue.

Members catch up and share stories over dinner by Florence Petersen Park.  Photo courtesy of Alyssa Bruijns.

(Speaking of summer students, we will be formally introducing Lauren and Sierra, the Programs summer student, in our next bimonthly newsletter out in July – if you’d like to receive our newsletter send us an email at events@whistlermuseum.org letting us know; you can unsubscribe at any time if you change your mind.)

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

It was especially exciting to have Louise Smith join us.  Louise is the daughter of Wallace Betts and Jenny Jardine, whose family lived in the valley from the 1920s until the early 1950s (learn more about the Jardine-Neiland family here).  As a child Louise visited her grandmother, Lizzie Neiland, at her home at 34 1/2 Mile (today Function Junction) and it’s not often we get the chance to talk with people who remember living in Alta Lake and knew some of the people we only get to know about through stories, photographs and other archival records.

Louise also brought a new addition to our archives, a cattle bell which was used by her family when they lived in the valley (that’s right, you used to be able to have your own cows in Whistler) and which is now awaiting cataloguing along with some other recent donations.

This cowbell was used by the Jardine-Neiland family on their ranch at 34 1/2 Mile (today Function Junction).

We’re looking forward to a busy summer and we’ll see everyone out at the Canada Day Parade next weekend!

 

The Many Schools of Bev Mansell

With most schools in Whistler just a couple of weeks away from closing for the summer, students in the valley are looking forward to a couple months without homework or classes.

Five schools now operate within Whistler and it’s easy to forget that for many years children living around Alta Lake had to learn from correspondence courses at home or leave their families to attend school in a bigger town.

Alta Lake School opened in the 1930s and was the first opportunity many of the local children had to attend school.  When the Howe Sound School District was formed in 1946 the school closed and local students attended schools in Squamish or Pemberton.  Alta Lake School opened again in 1952 but closed again in 1962.  For one student this last closure was especially traumatic.

Bev Mansell attended Grade One at the Alta Lake School for only one month before it closed.

Beverly (Bev) Mansell, the daughter of Doug (whose parents built and operated Hillcrest Lodge) and Barb (a former Hillcrest guest) Mansell, was born in 1956.  Growing up on the east side of Alta Lake, Bev was isolated from the small number of children living on the west side of the lake and those living at Parkhurst so it’s not surprising that she was pretty excited to start school.

Bev started Grade 1 at the one-room schoolhouse on Alta Lake in September 1962.  At the time the school had ten students.  Disaster struck for Bev at the end of September when one family with four children moved away and the school no longer had enough students to stay open.

With the closure of her first school, Bev was sent to live with her aunt in Vancouver so that she could attend school there.  By this time Jack and Cis Mansell had retired; Bev’s parents were running Hillcrest Lodge and Doug and Barb could rarely get to Vancouver.

Doug and Barb Mansell managed Hillcrest Lodge from 1958 to 1965.

After two years at school in Vancouver Bev returned to the reopened Alta Lake School which once again had the requisite ten students.  She spend Grade 3 through Grade 6 at the small schoolhouse.

In the fall and spring Bev’s trip to and from school consisted of a boat ride across the lake.  When ice started to form on Alta Lake she would be walked around the south end of the lake, always accompanied in case of a run in with a wolverine or coyote.  In the winter, when the ice was thick enough, Bev would arrive at school by snowmobile – much more fun than a bus ride.

Before Bev started Grade 7 the school board decided that she should attend school in Squamish where there were more students her own age.  This lasted for one month before the school board decided to move her to the school in Pemberton.

Bev Mansell rode the school bus to Pemberton until she graduated, as did many students after her.

Luckily for Bev, this was the last move she would have to make during her school years as she continued to attend school in Pemberton until her graduation in 1975.  Students from Whistler continued to attend high school in Pemberton until 1996 when Whistler Secondary School opened, making it possible to graduate in Whistler.

Walking Tour Season Begins

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 can learn more about him and many others who have helped to shape Whistler as it is today. As we wander through Whistler village you’ll uncover the pioneer history, tales behind the mountain development, and hear Whistler’s story about 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 long-time local, each with their own personal knowledge of Whistler’s story to add. Whether you’re visiting, here to work for the season, or a long-time local we guarantee you’ll be sure to learn something new. Do you know why Whistler and Blackcomb mountain are named as they are? Or when the first Olympic bid was placed? This is your chance to find out the answers to these questions, and so many more!

Valley of Dreams Walking Tours occur every day in at 1pm in June, July, and August. Meeting at Armchair Books, the top of the steps at the village entrance, these daily tours are offered by donation. We are more than happy to provide private tours outside of these times or for groups. Simply contact the museum to book a private tour, preferably at least two weeks in advance. With sufficient notice we can also customize content and routes—to include public art and architecture, for example—to meet your group’s specific interests and needs.

For all tour-related inquiries please call the Whistler Museum at (604) 932-2019, 0r visit us behind the library.

 

Hillcrest Lodge: Alta Lake’s Other Summer Resort

The story of Rainbow Lodge and the Philips may be the best known, but Rainbow Lodge was certainly not the only summer resort that opened on the shores of Alta Lake.

Dick Fairhurst opened Cypress Lodge, the Harrops had a popular tearoom and across the lake, around where Lakeside Park is located today, stood Hillcrest Lodge.

Guests were met at Alta Lake Station by Rainbow Lodge and rafted across the lake.

Jack Mansell first came to Rainbow Lodge in 1944 and, like Myrtle and Alex before him, was so impressed with the area that he began looking into purchasing the Patterson property across the lake.  Jack sold his three shoe repair stores in Vancouver and moved his wife Cis and their two sons Loyd and Doug in May 1945.

It was not the easiest move for the family.  Cis recalled living in a two-room shack, warming bricks in the oven for heat, and keeping the Christmas tree outside because it couldn’t fit in the shack.  For a family used to plumbing and electricity in the city, life at Alta Lake was a big change.

By January 1946 the entire family was involved in building the new lodge, which was ready to open that July.  The first guests the Mansells welcomed to Hillcrest Lodge were the Right Honourable Mr. Charlie Cockcroft, a politician from Alberta, his  wife and their party of family and friends.  Later guests would include Lady Oslow and Lady Wemise from England.  A reservation was even made by Bob Hope, though his wife became ill and they couldn’t come.

Hillcrest Lodge added cabins, dorms and other buildings as they grew.

Hillcrest grew quickly and had a total of 16 cabins open for the summer by 1947.  During the summer Jack and Cis employed University of British Columbia students and teachers to work in the lodge.  Like many employed in the hospitality industry, Jack and Cis worked hard during peak season.  As Cis put it, “Jack and I would say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.  ‘Cause we didn’t live for ourselves, we lived for that guest.”

Apart from the usual summer activities such as swimming, hiking and boating, Hillcrest also offered their guests organized recreation.  Guests were expected at the main lodge in the evening for masquerade parties and square dancing (lessons included).

Current Hillcrest guests would meet arriving guests in costume. Hillcrest Lodge can be seen across the lake.

The Mansells also organized musical raft rides, kangaroo courts and mock weddings and took part in the Saturday night dances at the community hall.  Arriving guests were greeted at the train station by current guests in costumes and then rafted across the lake.  Though it wasn’t ideal for young families, as there was no beach and only deep swimming off the dock, a regular group of 30 or so “young kids” came to Hillcrest every year and other regulars would come for a week or two throughout the summer.

As they grew up, both Loyd and Doug fell in love with and married Hillcrest guests, Sharen and Barb.  When Jack and Cis retired in 1958 Doug and Barb took over the management of Hillcrest before selling it in 1965.  Eventually, like many other early buildings at Alta Lake, the lodge was burnt down as a fire practice in 1986.