Category Archives: Recreation

Crevasses & Crags: Tales from the Coast Mountains

Join Glenn Woodsworth and Arnold Shives at the Whistler Museum for a discussion of mountaineering in the Coastal Mountains in the 1960s and 70s and the career of Dick Culbert.  Some of Arnold Shives’ paintings will also be on display at the Audain Art Museum as part of their upcoming exhibit Stone and Sky, opening November 11.

Doors open at 6 pm and the talk begins at 7 pm.  Tickets are $10 ($5 for Museum Members and Club Shred) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

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How the VOC Built Its Club Cabin

In the mid-1960s the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) was looking for a place to build a new Club Cabin as the Parks Board was opposed to privately owned cabins operating on Mount Seymour.  The Club set its sights on the newly developing outdoor recreation area, Whistler.  They saw the opportunity as a chance to further the club’s mandate by providing members with new mountaineering, hiking and skiing opportunities.

The VOC Cabin, located in Nordic. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand.  Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions.  It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The VOC used their own funds and labour, including the services of architect Byron Olson, to build the new Cabin.  The construction of the Cabin took two years from 1965 to 1967.  The Cabin was an instant hit for VOC members and other budget conscious skiers.

The construction of the VOC Cabin involved many of the club members. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

By the early 1970s the VOC was struggling to keep up with the increasing operating and upkeep costs and an internal debate began with the Club on letting go of the Cabin.  Some members wanted to build smaller cabins like the Sphinx (later renamed Burton, after Roland Burton who was instrumental in its construction) Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Others wanted to create a sub-section of the Club that focused on downhill skiing that would takeover operating the Cabin but still keeping it as a Club asset.

To further complicate matters, the UBC Alma Mater Society claimed ownership of the Cabin because the Club had used the AMS, in name only, to acquire the land for the Cabin.  The VOC attempted to obtain $30,000 for the construction costs and efforts made to to build new huts and relinquish ownership to the AMS and ultimately the UBC Ski Club.  The Club battled for five years until a student referendum passed in their favour in 1980.

The VOC Cabin even made it into Ski Trails, a Vancouver based publication all about skiing in the 1960s and 70s.

With the money received from the AMS, the VOC built two Gothic arch huts.  The first hut was built on Mount Brew, located 40km south of Whistler, and the second hut, the Julian Harrison Memorial Hut, was built near Overseer Mountain, north of Pemberton.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for stories related to the construction and use of these two Gothic arch huts.

Nita Lake’s First Hotel: Jordan’s Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the Gothic Arch Huts

For almost 50 years the Himmelsbach Hut has sat perched near Russet Lake at the head of Singing Pass.  The hut was built by the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) and named after carpenter and long-time Whistler local Werner Himmelsbach.

Construction of the hut was scheduled in September 1967.  Dick Chambers, a member of the construction party, remembered being flown to Whistler by Helijet at the time (for more about Dick Chambers, check here).

Materials for the Himmelsbach Hut, as well as workers, were flown in by helicopter. Photo: Chambers Collection

“The stuff was all in the parking lot – the old Whistler parking lot.  Blackcomb wasn’t developed then, it was still a garbage dump… so we land at the parking lot and the Park Ranger was there, waiting to organize this stuff, and so he flew me in, and the next morning I waited and waited and nothing was happening,” Chambers recalled.

The helicopter carrying a load of material to the site had lost it somewhere on the northeastern side of the peak of Whistler, across from Blackcomb.  The load had not been properly attached and triggered the release mechanism.

“Eventually we recovered that load of stuff by looking in the bush and it wound up at Werner Himmelsbach’s hut covering his firewood because it wasn’t good for anything, you know, it was beaten up,” Chambers said.

By the time the Club was able to rebuild the lost materials, snowstorms had started and members of the construction party decided to pack it up and store it until the following year.

The Himmelsbach Hut under construction. Photo: Chambers Collection

In August 1968 the Himmelsbach Hut was was built over a period of three days and began the busiest three-years of hut construction by the BCMC in its history.  Other huts built by the club include Wedgemount Lake Hut loacted north of Blackcomb, Pummer Hut on Claw Ridge near the Tellot Glacier and Mountain Waddington, and Mountain Lake Hut that sits east of Brittania Beach.

Along with the huts built by the Club, Werner Himmelsbach lent his laminating jig and expertise to the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club.  The VOC, led by Roland Burton, built a gothic-arch hut near the Sphinx Glacier in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Years later, he assisted the Alpine Club of Canada Whistler Section in the construction of the Wendy Thompson Hut, located in the Marriott Basin.

The Himmelsbach Hut today. Photo: Spencer Jespersen

Over the past several months, I have been tasked with writing, researching and designing a virtual museum exhibit on the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Alpine Huts for the Whistler Museum (for more on the virtual exhibit click here).  Once the exhibit is complete, the virtual exhibit will be hosted on the Virtual Museum of Canada Community Memories website and will tell the complete story of these iconic structures.  Look for the release of the virtual exhibit in Winter 2018.

Myrtle Philip: School and Community Centre

Looking through the photographs of The Whistler Question one thing that sticks out is how many of the photographs were taken at the same venues.

It makes sense – the Village was still under construction for many of the years covered by The Question Collection and indoor venue options were limited in the late 1970s.  One of the locations that shows up again and again is the first Myrtle Philip Elementary School.

The first Myrtle Philip School at the beginning of the school year, 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

Myrtle Philip School, originally located about where the Delta Suites sits today, first opened its doors in 1976.  Prior to its opening, students from the Whistler area attended school in Pemberton after the Alta Lake School closed in 1970.

Unlike the Alta Lake School, which in 1956 had excited students with its indoor plumbing and uneven playing field, Myrtle Philip School was a modern elementary school.  It had six classrooms, a gym, lunchroom, library, computer lab, offices, a full-size playing field, tennis courts and an ice stock sliding area.

It was obviously built with room to grow; in 1976 the school had 57 students and three teachers (including Roger Griffin, who was also the principal).

The new school had also been built with the growing community in mind.  The Squamish Lillooet Regional District contributed $300,000 to the school for a larger gym and common facilities that were to be used by the community as a whole.  From the photographs, it certainly looks like these spaces were put to good use.

The Community Club Craft Fair held in the Myrtle Philip School gym, December 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

As well as school activities, such as Christmas and spring concerts, the annual science fair, awards ceremonies and sporting events, Myrtle Philip School also hosted meetings (of the business, political and Brownie varieties), art exhibitions, dances, performances and even elections (you can see Myrtle Philip vote in Myrtle Philip School in the Week of November 26, 1978).

A community meeting in the gym gets a unanimous verdict in January, 1979. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

Before the construction of the conference centre, the gym was the setting for the European Dinner Dance as well as performances by the Squamish Youth Chorale and Dave Murray’s retirement party.  Some events were both school and community events, such as Myrtle’s Hoedown Showdown held in 1991 to celebrate what would have been Myrtle Philip’s 100th birthday.

A spring baseball game on the field of Myrtle Philip School in May, 1980. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

As Whistler is generally a pretty active community it’s not surprising that the school and its facilities were often used for soccer matches, baseball games, ice stock sliding practice and dance classes (photos of both Debbie Gurlach’s jazz dance class and the Squamish Youth Chorale’s performance of The Day He Wore My Crown can be seen in the Week of April 18, 1983).  The school gym was also the site of Whistler Mountain Ski Club ski swaps and community markets.

By the late 1980s enrollment at Myrtle Philip School had grown to 250 students and by 1991 the school had eight portables, a type of classroom many Whistler students would be familiar with through the early 2000s.

In 1979 Myrtle Philip School and the firehall were two of the few finished buildings in the Village. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

In 1987, only ten years after the school had opened, the Howe Sound School Board had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school.  The second Myrtle Philip School on Lorimer Road opened in September 1992 and also included community spaces.

Although the first Myrtle Philip School only operated for fifteen years it provided an important space for a growing community to gather and many classes, community groups and community programs continue to operate out of school spaces today.

Sharing and Naming Whistler’s History

A huge thank you to everyone who came out last Friday evening (September 15) to the opening of The Whistler Question: A Photographic History and to those who came out on Thursday for our first Naming Night!

It was great to see so many familiar (and new) faces at the museum, as well as so many past and present Question staff members.  We would also like to thank our amazing special guest speakers Paul Burrows and Glenda Bartosh for joining us for the evening and for creating the paper.  Without The Question we wouldn’t have these photos that we now get to share with both the community and visitors.

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

Paul and Glenda both let those present in on a few secrets about the early days at The Question and the years when the survival of the paper and of the town seemed questionable at best.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created.

The Whistler Question was started by Paul and Jane Burrows in 1976 in their A-frame home on Matterhorn Drive.  After an unsuccessful run to be Whistler’s first mayor, Paul had to decide whether to start a bus company or a printing company.  At the time the Burrows couldn’t afford to buy the buses needed for a bus company and so The Whistler Question was born.  The first issue was given out for free; the second issue cost buyers 15¢ and, as Paul Burrows explained, the paper’s readership dropped dramatically.  He continued publishing, however, and today The Question continues to be printed and distributed each week.

If you weren’t able to see the exhibit on opening night or are planning to come again to take your time and leisurely peruse the photographs (to view all of the images takes over 20 minutes), The Whistler Question: A Photographic History will be on display through the end of November.

As you may have read last week, community members have been identifying the subjects of some of our photographs on social media and here on our blog.  To continue this important work, we recently hosted our first Naming Night.

Community members came out to help us identify many of the people and places in 100 photographs.

As the title suggests, we invited everyone to the museum to help us add names to the subjects of our mystery photos.  We also wanted to know the stories behind the photographs and the memories these photographs brought to mind.  We had a great time listening as those who came out debated various names, locations and dates for the photographs on display.  In one evening we were able to add over 250 names to our photographs!  We can now tag all of these people and places in the photographs so that when you’re searching for something or someone in our database it is more likely that these photographs will come up.

Just one of the photographs on display. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, 1984

We’ve got a lot more photographs we need information for so keep an eye out for our next Naming Night!

Naming Night: Finding the Stories Behind the Photos

You might have heard that the museum opened a new exhibit on the photographs of The Whistler Question yesterday (if you haven’t, The Whistler Question: A Photographic History 1978-1985 opens at 6 pm on Friday and will run through November 30).  Thanks to everyone who came to celebrate the opening with us, especially our guests Paul Burrows and Glenda Bartosh!

While many of the photographs appeared in the newspaper with context provided by their respective captions and articles, there are many more that we don’t know a whole lot about.

While we know that this photo was taken at an Alta Lake Community Club Fall Fair, we have not yet been able to identify any of the people pictured.

The amount of information we have on photographs in our collection varies depending upon the photograph.  Often the person donating the photograph is able to tell us exactly who is in it, where it was taken and what was going on at the time; other times the photograph has a caption written on its back that provides some information.

Some photographs, however, are donated to the museum without any names or dates given other than those that can be identified by museum staff.

When this happens we rely on the community for help identifying people, places, dates and events.  If we are able to identify one or two people in a photograph then often we will ask them if they are able to identify anything else about the image.  Social media is also very useful, as those who follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and our blog are able to comment and add what they know, whether they took the photo, are in the photo or recognize something about the photo.

When this photograph was posted on Facebook Greg Griffith, the photographer, was able to name every person on the chair: Cheryl Morningstar, Eric Griffith, Pat Griffith & Dean Stone.

A (somewhat) recent article about Worlebury Lodge and the Burge family included a photo of a group hike to Rainbow Falls in the 1950s or ’60s.  Of the 15 people pictured only two had been identified.  Luckily for us, one of the members of the group read the article and was able to provide 10 more names, including his own (top, second from left).  He was also able to narrow the date of the photo to around 1959.  Being able to add information like this to the photograph’s entry in our database makes it much more likely that the photograph will be included when someone searches for a specific person, place or event in our database or online gallerie

A hike to Rainbow Falls: (top left to right): Jean Dove, John Burge, Joyce Gow, Tim Burge, Maurice Burge, Don Gow; middle: Florence Petersen, Jane Dove, unknown; bottom: unknown, Connie Gow, unknown, Stephen Dove, Karen Gow, Muriel Burge. From his absence it is possible Ray Dove took the photo. Photo: Dove

While recognizing and identifying subjects of a photograph on social media is incredibly useful to the museum, reminiscing is much more fun when you’re with other who share some of the same memories.

Whether you’ve recently arrived in town, have visited over the years or have lived here for decades, everyone is invited to Naming Night at the Whistler Museum at 7 pm on Thursday, September 21, to help us find out more about the photographs in our collection (there will be free admission for the evening and a cash bar).

We’ll provide the photographs, ranging from the 1950s through the 2000s (with perhaps an emphasis on the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s due to the overwhelming number of photographs in The Whistler Question collection), and we’ll be relying on you to provide names, places, events and stories of the photographs and their contents.