Category Archives: Recreation

Talking Shop: Whistler’s Early Mountain Bike Shops

Not only do we have a trail-rich valley to call home in Whistler, but we are also spoiled with choice when it comes to bike shops.  This wasn’t always the case.

When mountain bikes first hit the logging roads in the valley in the early 1980s, most riders had to head to Vancouver for any mountain-bike-specific parts and maintenance, according to one or our oral history interviews with local mountain bike pioneer Steve Anderson.

Mountain biking steadily became more popular in Whistler from the 1980s but at the beginning there were few shops dedicated to the sport.  Whistler Question Collection.

A couple of shops were starting to pop up around that time.  In the newly constructed village Jim McConkey’s shop sold bikes in the summer months and Doris Burma operated a small bike shop, Summit Cycles, out of a trailer right above the commercial loading zone at the Delta Mountain Inn (today known as the Hilton).  Doris was passionate about mountain bikes and famed for her Cheakamus Challenge precursor race called “See Colours & Puke,” a wild mountain bike race reportedly meant to be completed on mushrooms.

In the autumn of 1985 Backroads Whistler owner Eric Wight opened a bike shop  in the basement of Creekside’s Southside Diner.  A short time later, the shop moved to the first floor of a house in Mons.

The new location was in the centre of the local mountain bike scene at the time, not far from new trails in Emerald and Lost Lake.  The shop sold, fixed, and rented mountain bikes, even building a small trials track outside their door.  Eric admits the shops didn’t make much money in the early days, as most of the clientele were locals who could only afford parts using “local deals.”  Big things were to come, however.

Whistler began hosting bike races in the early 1980s, creating even more demand for maintenance and shops.  Whistler Question Collection.

In 1989 Eric’s shop moved to Whistler Village, finding a spot in the base of the Delta.  The location was off the radar for visitors, however, and the clientele was still all locals.  The shop finally surfaced on the Village Stroll in the spot where Jim McConkey had sold bikes (currently Showcase Snowboards) around the time Backroads began working with Whistler Mountain to begin mountain bike tours down the mountain.  According to Eric, the new shop had a Santa Fe theme, a mechanic shop in the back, rentals and tours, and plenty of snazzy lycra on sale out front.

As mountain biking continued gaining traction the 1990s saw bike shops that are still kicking it today start up shop.

In 1994 John Inglis and Peter Colapinto opened the Whistler Bike Co., also in the underground portion of the Delta, for the summer months.  In 1995 they brought onboard Giant Bicycles and they eventually expanded to Pemberton, the Village Gate location, and, most recently, their Marketplace location to accommodate a growing population of bikers in town.

Molson’s Whistler Bike Race passes through the Whistler Village, where some of the earlier bike shops in town can still be found today.  Whistler Question Collection.

Bike Co. is currently the oldest independent bike shop in town, followed closely by Evolution, which was opened by Jenine Bourbonnais in 1995.  Many more mountain bike shops have opened up as Whistler has become the mountain bike mecca it is today: Summit Sports, Fanatyk Co., Garbanzo Bike & Bean, Coastal Culture Sports, Arbutus Routes, Whistler Village Sports, The Fix, Comor Sports, Fineline, Gateway Bikes – the list is long and continues to grow.  Needless to say, Whistler’s mountain bikers (and their bikes) are now very well serviced.

This week we’ve been celebrating Whistler’s mountain biking history with the museum’s 4th annual Mountain Bike Heritage Week.  You can find a full list of events here and join us for our final event on Wednesday featuring Chris Allen of North Shore Billet and Steve Mathews of Vorsprung.

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Whistler’s First Adventure Film Festival

In 1986, Whistler held its first Whistler Adventure Film Festival (WAFF), an event not all that different from the Whistler Film Festival’s sixth annual Adventure Film Series that takes place on the Victoria Day weekend in May as part of GO Fest. (The museum also ran some Valley of Dreams Walking Tours and a Discover Nature station as part of the festival; if you missed us, our Valley of Dreams and nature tours all start up again daily June 1 and Discover Nature will be back at Lost Lake for July and August!).

Often when films arrive at the museum, they look a bit like this.

The WAFF was co-sponsored by the Whistler Resort Association (today known as Tourism Whistler) and organized by One Step Beyond Adventure Group of Canmore, Alta., which also organized the Banff Festival of Mountain Films (today known as the Banff Mountain Film Festival) at that time.  Set to take place over the third weekend of November, WAFF was timed to excite attendees for the coming winter season and the adventures that might await them.

The films selected featured various “adventure activities” including skiing, white-water sports and climbing expeditions.  In total, the festival screened 11 films over two days, with a reception on the Friday evening featuring David Breashears.

In 1985, Breashears became the first American to summit Mount Everest more than once, having already completed the climb in 1983.  By the time he appeared at the WAFF, he had already won an Emmy for an ABC Sports special Triumph on Mt. Everest, which featured the first videotape microwave transmission from the summit.  According to the Squamish Citizen, at the opening reception Breashears was going to show a selection of his film accomplishments as well as talking about his career and the search for Mallory and Irvine, who disappeared during their 1924 Everest expedition.  Following his talk was a screening of Everest – North Wall, Laszlo Pal’s account of the 1982 American China-Everest Expedition narrated by Robert Redford.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our “Filming Mountains” presenters from 2013, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

Over the next two days, the WAFF screened more films, including three on sailing, an Irish film Beyond the North Wind about the 1981 Irish Arctic Expedition to Northern Ellesmere Island, a CBC/BBC collaboration Hell and High Water documenting a kayak and raft adventure through the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, and To the End of the Earth, a film recording the exploits of the Trans-Globe Expedition.  Two of the New Zealand ski films shown at the WAFF, Incredible Mountains and Across the Main Divide, are available for viewing today online at NZ On Screen.

The WAFF does not appear to have been long lived as we can find no evidence of it in our research binders after 1986.  Today, however, there are plenty of opportunities to view adventure films in Whistler.  The Whistler Film Festival‘s Adventure Series each spring features many of the same sports and adventures that could be seen in 1986, though some have evolved over time.

You can even catch some of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Whistler each February, brought to town by Escape Route.  Since it began in 1976, the festival has grown to include a World Tour in which a selection of the best films from the festival go out on tour in approximately 305 cities in over 20 different countries.

George Benjamin’s Candid Whistler

The Whistler Museum’s archive houses many documents, printed material, films, oral histories, and photographs from Whistler’s rich cultural past, from the arrival of Whistler’s earliest pioneers to the journey of hosting the Olympic Games.  It’s a treasure trove of interesting facts and unique stories that are unapologetically Whistler.

One of the first major collections I (Brad Nichols, Executive Director/Curator) catalogued while working in the archives as an intern at the Whistler Museum in the summer of 2011 was the George Benjamin photograph collection.

George Benjamin, originally from Toronto, Ontario, first came to Whistler in 1968 on a ski vacation, staying at the infamous Toad Hall.  George, on “Benji,” as he was more commonly known, would move to Whistler in 1970.

George was a semi-professional photographer.  His family back in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, and this allowed him to develop his photographs for free – a handy asset in the days before digital photography.

George Benjamin himself holds his catch at the dock of Tokum Corners. Benjamin Collection.

The George Benjamin Collection consists of 8,236 images from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.  Photos in the collection include images of early Whistler Mountain Ski Patrol, Soo Valley Toad Hall, Gelandesprung ski jump competitions, summer days spent at many of Whistler’s lakes, parties, and everyday shots of living and working in Whistler.  This might be the most candid representation of Whistler during this era in our collection.

Photos don’t usually get more candid than this. Benjamin Collection.

Folks living in Whistler during this time would have had more in common with Whistler’s early-20th century pioneers than with the Whistler of today.  Many residents were still using outhouses, had little-to-no electricity, and relied on wood stoves for their cooking needs.  George’s photos capture this pioneer lifestyle, but with the added element of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s – and, of course, people that loved to ski.

George’s residence in Whistler was the infamous Tokum Corners.  This cabin – which was once home to Whistler Museum Board Chair John Hetherington, had no running water, and was often repaired with found materials – would become one of the cornerstones of social life in the valley.

Tokum Corners, as seen across the tracks in 1971. Benjamin Collection.

George, who had access to 16mm film equipment, would often shoot on Whistler Mountain, capturing his days following ski patrol blasting and partaking in avalanche control.  These film vignettes would be screened at Tokum Corners, usually with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing over top to ever-growing crowds.

The Photocell, covered in snow. Benjamin Collection.

George opened the Photo Cell photography store in Creekside around 1973.

He later became a commercial fisherman in the late-1970s.  He moved from Whistler back to Toronto in the early 1980s and now lives in Port Perry, Ontario.

George generously donated his collection of photographs and negatives to the museum in 2009.  The bulk of George Benjamin’s photos are available on the Whistler Museum’s website here.

If you  have any interesting stories, films, or photographs from Whistler’s past, we would love to hear from you.

Records of Environmental Change: Why the Stories Matter

For our last 2018/19 Speaker Series on Thursday, April 11 the museum had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University for his presentation on environmental change in Alta & Lost Lakes.  The head of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Spooner and his students, working with Cascade Environmental Resource Group, have been using lake sediment cores to study Alta Lake for the past five years.  In 2018 Spooner took a core from Lost Lake.

Alta Lake has seen a lot of change over the past 150 years, both around its shores and in its water and sediment. Fairhurst Collection.

Sediment cores provide a record, not entirely unlike tree rings, of minerals and organic matter found in the lake sediment.  The core taken from Alta Lake was about 40 cm long and went back around 500 years.  By dating the different layers, Spooner and his student Dewey Dunnington were able to tell a lot about how the lake has changed over time and, by connecting the dates to historical records and stories told by locals, what might have contributed to these changes.

During his talk, Spooner highlighted the changing presence of copper and arsenic in Alta Lake.  Though there is always some change over time, the presence of both copper and arsenic increased considerably from the 1880s, as the Pemberton Trail and PGE Railway were built and the area became more settled.  While both have shown a decrease in more recent years, a spike in copper sometime around the 1960s illustrates how important stories are to adding context to this data.

The building of the PGE Railway and the development that followed disturbed the landscape around Alta Lake, changing the presence of minerals in its records. Philip Collection.

From the data and records, it had been assumed that the spike in copper was part of the increasing and continued development around the lake.  However, during a talk Spooner did at the museum in 2016 one audience member offered a different reason.  He got up and informed Spooner, “No, you’re wrong.  We dumped that copper in the lake, back in the 60s.  We wanted to get rid of an invasive species.” (Copper is used in some places as a biocide as it effectively kills parasites such as those that cause Swimmer’s Itch.  It also, however, will kill all the fish.)

When asked where one might find records of or a permit for this action, the man told Spooner there was none, they “just did it.”

There is no doubt that as stories are collected to add context to the core taken from Lost Lake, this attitude of “just do it” will come up again.  After all, we already know of some such cases.

In 1977 a group of Whistler freestyle skiers made plans to build their own ski jump on the shores of Lost Lake.  With no development permit or any official permission from the district, Lost Lake offered an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way site.  To go with the lack of permission, the ski jump also had no funding for materials or labour.  Timber was scrounged from a number of sources and the plastic grass ski out from the Olive Chair was taken from the dump and given a second life as the ski jump’s new surface.  Once the materials were gathered construction took only two weeks.

A jumper unfolds their flip into Lost Lake.  Whistler Question Collection,

The finished ramp projected out 20 feet over the lake (not too far from where the sediment core was taken) and willing skiers could launch themselves up to 40 feet above the water.  According to David Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “Injuries were commonplace but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.”

In 1981 the ski jump began hosting competitions and the next summer saw the first Summer Air Camp at Lost Lake.  Freestyle skiers came to Whistler to train with Peter Judge, the national team coach.  Far from being inconspicuous, film crews arrived to record events for television broadcasts.

Stories like these aren’t always included in the official records (permits weren’t always applied for in the 1960s and 70s) and so contributions from people who have been in the area are incredibly important for explaining the data.  As Spooner puts it, “The science isn’t worth anything without the stories.  We get it wrong.”

If you have your own stories to add, you can send them to Dr. Ian Spooner at ian.spooner@acadiau.ca or come visit us at the museum and we can pass them on.

Singing Through Whistler’s History

For this week, I decided to write about something that has always defined Whistler for me.  No, not skiing, but choir!

I first came to Whistler with my high school choir for the 2010 Whistler Music Festival, and returned again in 2013.  I joined the Whistler Singers when I came to town last September, and we received a donation at the museum of concert programs, membership lists and song listings from a choir member several months later.  With all this in mind, I set to work scouring the archives for anything that could help construct a history of choirs in Whistler.

The Whistler Singers under the direction of Molly Boyd.  Whistler Question Collection.

The earliest reference found was a photograph of the Myrtle Philip School Choir in the December 20, 1978 edition of The Whistler Question.  As the school had only opened in 1976, this shows that musical education was available from the very early years.

Another Question photo, dating from 1979, shows a group of young vocalists referred to as the “Community Club Christmas Carol singers.”  Various BC choirs gave performances in Whistler in the 1980s, including the Squamish Youth Chorale, a Vancouver a capella group Vox Humana, and the Kildala choir from Kitimat.

Whistler’s first adult choir – the Whistler Singers – began in 1982 with just nine people.  It may have started small, but the members’ shared passion for music would carry them on to become Whistler’s longest-running community arts group.  Welcoming “anyone aged 13 to 113,” it regularly performs at Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve carol services and performs an annual spring concert.

It was an Easter sunrise service without sunshine, but that didn’t stop approximately 80 people from attending the special 7 am service Sunday morning on the shores of Lost Lake. Molly Boyd, playing the organ, led the Whistler Singers who also turned out in full force.  Whistler Question Collection.

In April 2003, the Whistler Singers – now 45 strong – released its debut CD, Ascend.  The album included Canadian classics, folk anthems, traditional scores, and songs in Hungarian, Welsh, Japanese, Korean and Swahili.  Juno-award-winning sound engineer Don Harder lent a hand with the recording and local photographer Leanna Rathkelly designed the album’s cover.  This milestone was celebrated with a release party at the Maury Young Millennium Place (now the Maury Young Arts Centre).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus is another time-honoured staple of the Whistler musical scene.  This group began in 1991 when a Vancouver orchestra performing Noye’s Fludde, an operatic version of the story of Noah’s Ark, sought a children’s choir to sing with them.  Whistler Singers director Molly Boyd rose to the occasion and assembled a group of youngsters aged six and up.  The following year it formally became known as the Whistler Children’s Chorus.  In addition to regularly yearly concerts (including Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve services with the Whistler Singers), the Chorus has performed in Ottawa for the 2002 Canada Day and at events leading up to and including the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (they got very good at singing O Canada!).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus performing Hakuna Matata, 1995 Photo courtesy Whistler Childrens Chorus

Another children’s choir, the Moving Chords Youth Showchoir, was also active in Whistler in the 1990s.  Information about this group has proved hard to find, but it performed at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in the summers of 1998 and 1999.  A thank you card from the choir directors to their sponsor, the Whistler Community Arts Council, can be found in the museum’s collection.

Since the turn of the millennium, Whistler has drawn in musical talent from around the world.  Choirs and small vocal ensembles from outside Canada that performed here in the early 2000s included the Cwmback and Dunvant Male Choirs from Wales, the Dursley Male Voice Choir from Gloucestershire, the British quartet Cantabile and Huun Huur-Tu, throat singers from the state of Tuva in Siberia.

Wherever you are from, Whistler is sure to bring a little music to your life.

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).

Whistler’s World Cups

Whistler’s first World Cup was set to be held on Whistler Mountain in 1979 and in the past four decades Whistler has gone on to host many high profile events, including Rob Boyd’s win in 1989.  We’ll be hearing about what went into putting on these races, what it was like to experience the multi-day events and how one run became a celebrated moment in our town’s history with guests including Boyd and Alex Kleinman.

Whistler Golf…

At the moment, Whistler’s golf courses are an unlikely place to find a game of golf or even a determined played at the driving range.  Instead cross-country skiers, snowshoers and, in the case of the Whistler Golf Club, dog walkers can be found taking advantage of the layer of snow on top of the greens.  In just a couple of months, however, the ski and dogs will be replaced by carts and clubs.

Looking through one of the books on the museum’s reference shelf I came across The Whistler Handbook containing a summary of the courses found in Whistler, written by Doug Sack in 1993.  Sack was the first sports editor for the Whistler Question; he started in 1984 and held the post for 18 years.  During that time he also contributed to other publications, including The Whistler Handbook put together by Bob Colebrook, Kevin Raffler and Jennifer Wilson in the early 1990s.

Work on the Whistler Golf Course as seen from the bluffs where the building lots are situated.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

In the golf section of the Handbook Sack covers all of the courses from Furry Creek to Pemberton, including a few that hadn’t yet opened or were still under construction.  His commentary, like most of the book, is informative while entertaining.

The oldest golf course in the corridor is the Squamish Valley, first opened in 1967.  According to Sack it was built “by community-minded loggers and businessmen” and then renovated under the direction of Robert Muir-Graves in 1992.

The next course to open in the area was the Whistler Golf Course.  Though it originally opened with 9 holes, the full 18-hole course designed by Arnold Palmer officially opened in the summer of 1983.  Ten years later the course was reportedly busy with tournaments and visitors, making walk on tee times almost impossible except for “weekday twilights.”  This course is probably the most photographed in the museum collections as the Question was there to cover all aspects from its construction to the golf lessons Palmer once gave mascot Willie Whistler in 1981 on the 9-hole course to the commercial Sean Connery filmed on the greens in 1984.

Sean Connery seen filming a Japanese commercial for Biogurt on the Whistler Golf Course.  Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

By 1993 the Pemberton Valley Golf Club, designed by Boyd Barr and opened in 1989, was described by Sack as having “two distinctive nines, one in the open with lakes, and one in the trees” and offering a “diverse golfing experience.”  In only four years the course had developed a reputation as “the most popular course for locals and the most relaxed for visitors.”

Unlike the Pemberton Valley course, neither the Fairmont Chateau Golf Course nor the course in Furry Creek, both newly opened in 1993, were described by Sack as “relaxing”.  According to Sack, “You know a golf course is tough when you’re standing on the first tee and you hear one of the assistant pros walking off the 18th green bragging to his co-workers about almost breaking 80.”

As of 1993 Big Sky and Nicklaus North were under construction, set to open in 1994 and 1995 respectively.

Summertime in the Whistler Village in the 1990s.  Greg Griffith Collection.

The golf courses of Whistler are only one aspect covered in The Whistler Handbook, which includes sections on the community, the resort services, winter sports and more.  Anyone who experienced Whistler in the 1990s will find the contents familiar, whether they golf or not.  The 1990s are not often highlighted at the museum (in part because the decade still seems recent, despite ending 19 years ago); having resources like The Whistler Handbook and others in our collection ensure that the 1990s will be preserved as part of Whistler’s history.