Category Archives: Pioneers

Stories from the Alta Lake days.

Chilly Days at Alta Lake

Unsurprisingly, the sub-zero temperatures and arctic winds have left the museum feeling a bit chilly.  Rather than dream of warmer climes, this weather has inspired us to look back at photos of winters from Alta Lake’s past.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. Here is Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Philip Collection.

Some photos in the Philip Collection were donated to the archives with notes on the back detailing who is in the image and what they are doing.  A few of these photos (such as the one above) portray an activity that you would be surprised to see happening on Alta Lake today: an ice harvest.

Before hydro lines came to the valley (and then for an additional few years before that power could be accessed) most residents kept food from spoiling using cellars dug into the ground or ice houses.

Ice houses were double-walled structures that were tightly insulated and packed with sawdust.  Once filled with blocks of ice, these houses could keep food from spoiling through the hot summer months.  Places such as Rainbow Lodge cut blocks of ice out of Alta Lake in February, when the ice was usually thickest.  As Myrtle Philip noted on the back of one photo, “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw.”  The ice was then dragged to the ice house on a sled, by person or by horse.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake.  Philip collection.

The ice harvest on Alta Lake could be a social event for those spending the long winter in the valley.  William MacDermott, also known around Alta Lake as “Mac,” had his own ice house and once his harvest was done those who helped harvest gathered in his cottage to celebrate with jugs of Mac’s homebrew brought out from under the floorboards.

Winter tales from Rainbow Lodge often seem to end in a celebratory drink.

In an audio recording Myrtle relates the story of a railway crew she accompanied through the snow from Rainbow Lodge to the Cheakamus Canyon around 1913 or 1914.  The crew arrived at Rainbow Lodge to rest for a couple days after walking from Pemberton on wooden skis.  Myrtle fed them pea soup and baked beans and then accompanied them to a camp somewhere between Alta Lake and Squamish.  At the camp the group waited for an older and exhausted engineer to catch up.  He arrived two hours late, saying, “I’m all through boys, I can’t go any further.  I’m going to lie right here and die.  I’ve had it.”

Myrtle and her sister Jean Tapley pose with their skis and an unidentified friend outside Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

From the camp they were able to call for an engine and caboose to come from Squamish.  The crew met the train almost 10 km south of the camp; it had run into the snow at the end of a bridge over the Cheakamus River and could go no further.  It was here that they, like the ice harvesters, were rewarded with a drink,

As Myrtle described it: “I’ll never forget the bucket of tea they had sitting on the stove.  A big ten quart bucket and it was full of boiling water and a man came in and poured practically a pound of tea in that pail wanting to give us a nice warm cup of tea.  It could have pretty well stunned a horse it was so strong!”

Though some drank homebrew while others had tea, in the early winters of Alta Lake everyone seemed to welcome a chance to get warm after being out in the snow.

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Finding Fun at Parkhurst

We’ve written quite a bit about Parkhurst and life at the mill before, and often these stories tell of the challenges that came with daily life on Green Lake in the ’30s to ’50s.  Some of these challenges included the isolation, lack of running water, or the need to haul buckets of sawdust in order to keep the stove going.  For children such as Ron and Jim Kitteringham, living at Parkhurst also meant a long commute to and from the Alta Lake School.

According to the mother Eleanor, however, life at Parkhurst also had its share of entertainment and fun.

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

The Pacific Great Eastern Railway may not have been the most convenient method of travel through the valley, but it did provide some excitement for young children at the mill site.  When the Kitteringhams first came to Parkhurst most of the trains were steam engines, or “steamers”.  The engineers would blow the whistle on their approach to Parkhurst and Ron and Jim would run out to wave, even during supper.

Later, the “steamers” started to replaced by diesel engines, which, though a lot louder, continued to announce their arrival.

The steam engines would announce their arrival at Parkhurst to the delight of the two Kitteringham boys.  Philip Collection.

Despite all the whistles of trains, Eleanor described life at Parkhurst as peaceful, lacking the traffic or crowds of a city.

Without more common forms of entertainment, such as television, the Kitteringhams spent time listening to their battery-powered radio and shows such as The Shadow and the racing programs.  While the family enjoyed the radio programs, Eleanor regretted the lack of Sesame Street and other educational shows when she thought back on teaching her children.

The journey from Vancouver, though it could be long and inconveniently timed (the train only ran north on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), was also a chance for a social occasion.  After taking the steamship to Squamish, the Kitteringhams and other passengers would have time to head to the Squamish Hotel for a 10-cent glass of beer, ice cream for the kids, and a chance to chat until the train headed out.

More social gatherings around Parkhurst happened each summer and fall.

In the summer, the logging camps played regular baseball games at what was then Charlie Lundstrom’s farm at the end of Green Lake, an area that today is still full of mosquitoes and long grass.  Parkhurst even had a building used as a community hall where families and other workers could gather.

With no stores, Halloween at Parkhurst was sure to produce some creative costumes. Clausen Collection.

The last big “do” of the year that families would attend was usually Halloween.  As Eleanor recalled, the lack of stores to buy costumes meant coming up with some pretty ingenious outfits.  After Halloween most of the families would leave Parkhurst for the winter.

Neighbours could be scarce at Parkhurst, especially in the winter when the Kitteringhams were often the only family left at the mill.  Parkhurst was located at Mile 43 and some evening the Kitteringhams would walk over to Mile 45 for a “musical evening” with the Greens.  Bob Green would play first fiddle, Olie Kitteringham second, and Helen Green would play the banjo while Eleanor played the kettle drum.

They even formed a band, the Valley Ramblers, and played for benefit concerts to raise money for the Squamish Hospital.

Daily life at Parkhurst and Alta Lake did come with challenges, but the people who lived here also made sure to enjoy themselves, whether listening to radio shows, playing sports or simply spending time with their neighbours.

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

Childhood Days at Parkhurst

When we post images on social media it’s hard to predict which will be particularly popular and start conversations.  Recently we posted a few photos of Parkhurst on Instagram and the response we received showed that while many people find the history of the area interesting, many are also surprised to learn the stories behind the ghost town.  (If you aren’t already following the museum, you can find us @whistlermuseum.)

The photos we shared, some of the first colour images of the mill site we have received, were brought to the museum by Ronald Clausen who lived at Parkhurst with his parents in the 1950s.  Along with the photos Ronald also provided an account of his childhood memories from Parkhurst.

Ronald and his father pose above the Parkhurst mill site. Clausen Collection.

John (Aage) and Birthe Clausen emigrated to Canada from Denmark in 1950 and, after some time in Vancouver, arrived at Parkhurst in 1954.  The family lived there seasonally for two years, returning to Vancouver over the winters when the mill was closed.

When they arrived the first spring the family found a house infested with vermin, quickly dealt with using a “disinfectant bomb”.  After a thorough cleaning and some repairs the home appeared neat and tidy and even had a small garden added in the front.

John Clausen stands in the garden outside the family’s home. Clausen Collection.

The Clausen’s home, like the other houses in the small settlement, was located on an embankment above the train tracks along Green Lake.  Ronald remembers playing outside as a small child and accidentally rolling down the embankment to the tracks below.  As he recalls, “Getting up after the fall, dirty and frightening, and looking up from the tracks, along with my mother and my home out of sight, the world at that moment felt immensely big.”

A small collection of houses stand in a clearing above the Parkhurst mill site. Clausen Collection.

As a child Ronald experienced life at Parkhurst from a different perspective than seen in other accounts of Parkhurst.  His memories include items and events that a child would remember, such as the Sugar Crisp cereal his parents sometimes included in their weekly grocery orders delivered by train, and many of the photos are images of childhood milestones such as birthday parties, Halloween costumes and community picnics.

Ronald and his mother would pick fresh flowers on many of their walks. Clausen Collection.

Ronald and his mother spent a lot of time exploring the area while his father was at work.  They would walk by the shore of Green Lake (where there was sometimes the added excitement of the tugboat at work) or walk out to Lost Lake or the sandbank.  Often they would walk over to visit Lloyd, a friend the family had met in Vancouver who did administrative work at Parkhurst.

For Ronald these visits are remembered fondly.  It was exciting to walk along the trail under the huge trees, and even more exciting to get one of the cellophane wrapped chocolates that Lloyd kept in a jar.  These made a lasting impression, as Ronald claims “Even today, when I open and eat a small wrapped candy, I think of having done the same thing under the fir trees of Parkhurst on my way home from Lloyd’s more than sixty years ago.”

A Parkhurst community picnic on the shore of Green Lake. Clausen Collection.

Though his parents lived there for only two years and later moved back to Denmark in 1971, their memories of the area were cherished and shared with friends through their stories and slides.

Ronald revisited the remains of Parkhurst during his last visit to Whistler and he closed his remembrances with this wish: “Today the buzz of saws at the sawmill and the laughter and conversation of Parkhurst people gathered at picnics, Halloween celebrations, birthday parties and dances sound no more, but hopefully the recollection of the little town will live on.”

You can take a look at the rest of the Clausen Collection here.

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.

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.