Category Archives: Ski-Town Stories

From Whistler to Blackcomb to Whistler Blackcomb.

The Inn on the Lake

At the Whistler Museum we often hear stories about the lodges that used to be plentiful around Alta Lake (as well as Nita Lake) from people who worked, stayed, partied or even lived at one sometime between the 1930s and 1980s. Some of the lodges, like the Mount Whistler Lodge, began as summer resorts before skiing was really thought of in the area, while others, such as the Christiana Inn, were part of the increase in development that started with the building of lifts on Whistler Mountain.

Sandy and Puddy Martin, who developed much of the Alta Vista neighbourhood, opened the Christiana Inn on the eastern shore of Alta Lake in 1967. They reportedly named their new venture after a similarly named lodge in Sun Valley, ID. The Christiana facilities included a heated outdoor swimming pool, a beauty salon, gift shop, lounge area, and dining room. Located only five minutes from the lifts on Whistler Mountain and offering many activities around the lake, the Christiana catered to both winter and summer guests.

Though it says the Christiana Inn is closed to the public, this is one of the few images in our collections that shows the building from the front. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

In the late 1960s, the Martins added on to the Christiana with a tennis court, a poolside dining and dancing area, and even a second dining room. The Christiana hosted fashion shows, dances, public meetings, apres ski entertainment, and films, and even offered a free bus service for guests in the ski season. Over time, the pool was covered with a fiberglass roof in the winter and was opened to guests not staying at the Christiana for a nominal fee (in 1973, this fee was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children).

Sandy and Puddy sold the Christiana Inn in the mid 1970s. In 1979 the management of the lodge was taken over by brothers Ole and Per Christiansen, who hoped to “gradually alter the Inn to a Bavarian atmosphere” and began offering traditional German fare in the restaurant (prepared by Swiss chef Pascal Tiphine) and advertising the Christiana alongside the “newly decorated” Side Door Disco.

Bartender Rosarie Gauthier and manager Per Christiansen behind the bar in the Christiana’s remodelled Bavarian Lounge. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

It would seem that it was during the mid-to-late 1970s that the Christiana Inn pool began to be known for belly flop and wet t-shirt contests. In May 1978 Brad Cooper wrote in The Whistler Question that “May 22 at the Christiana Inn will be well-remembered as the day over 20 people attempted to splash the most water out of a pool and live to tell about it.” He described hundreds of spectators crowding the pool area and watching from the roof and gave credit to the Christiana and organizers for a “wild but harmless event.”

The belly flop contest of 1978. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Others did not find these contests quite as entertaining. In a letter to the editor of the Question in June 1979, T. Wood described the awards ceremony of the Great Snow Earth Water Race as “a fiasco at sleazy Christiana with wet T-shirts and belly flops, which require no talent.” They claimed one contestant from the race was even “pushed into the filthy Christiana pool.”

The pool at the Christiana also hosted other events, such as log rolling. Photo courtesy of David Lalik.

In March 1980 rumours claimed that the Christiana Inn had unexpectedly ceased operations, causing the Whistler Rotary Club to lunch at the Filling Station instead. The then-owners of the Christiana, Travelscope Hotels Ltd., reported that the lodge was still operating but that the management company that had been in charge was no longer operating the hotel (it appears that the management had left town while still owing money to their employees). The hotel and bar were still open, though the kitchen was temporarily closed due to a fire in the deep fryer.

The Christiana Inn also hosted the Freakers’ Ball after the first couple of years at the Mount Whistler Lodge. Bramfield Collection.

In May 1980 the Christiana reopened for the summer as the Alta Lake Inn, well-remembered for their restaurant which offered Chinese food and take-out. Later in the 1980s, the Alta Lake Inn closed as a resort and the property was converted into private condos, known today as Whistler on the Lake. Stories of the Christiana Inn, however, continue to be told throughout Whistler. If you have stories you would like to add to our records, let us know at the Whistler Museum.

The staff of the restaurant at the Alta Lake Inn, including Edmond Wong, Law, Tse, Kwang, Gilbert, Peni, Edmon, and Jeannie. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Reporting on Alta Lake

Last Thursday (March 25, 2021) the Whistler Museum’s second virtual Speaker Series took a look at journalism in Whistler since the 1970s.  Our guests Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie, have worked on and founded some of the best known publications in the valley: The Whistler QuestionThe Whistler Answer, and Pique Newsmagazine.  Before we explored recent journalism, we took a look back at earlier sources of news in the area.

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

The first source of news published in Alta Lake came from the Alta Lake School in 1939.  Older students at the school created the Alta Lake School Club, which sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette published six issues from February 11 to June 5, 1939, and was staffed by names that may sound familiar: Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland, and Helen, George and Jack Woods.  The stated purpose of the Gazette was “to give a current account of happening each month as seen by its editor and his staff.”  Its column “Local News of Interest” included a mix of opinions, observations, and gossip about the residents of the Alta Lake area and their comings and goings.  The Gazette also included a few pieces about news outside of Alta Lake, such as a boxing match and an editorial on the Canadian Navy, which were most likely put together with information from the radio or The Vancouver Sun, which was available at the store at Rainbow Lodge.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow.  Philip Collection.

In 1958, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began publishing a newsletter to which members and friends could subscribe.  The newsletter went by various names between 1958 and 1961: The Alta Lake Reminder, Community Weekly Sunset, the Alta Lake Echo, and the Alta Lake Owl.  As a community newsletter, it wasn’t necessarily known for its serious reporting but did keep people up-to-date on the travels of residents and frequent visitors to the area, community events such as dances and clean-ups, and the weather.  The newsletter also included a series about the local environment by then-club president Bill Bailiff and an abridged version of Hamlet (sadly, the museum does not have a complete retelling of Hamlet from the ALCC, which appears to be far more humorous than Shakespeare’s version).  In 1961, the newsletter was taken over by the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and then ceased publication.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.  The entire publication was meant to promote Whistler Mountain.

A lot changed in the area between 1961 and 1967, when Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began publishing Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) in November.  Early editions of GWN were put together by Jack Bright and Lynn Mathews, who described the publication as a “good news” newspaper meant to promote Whistler Mountain.  GWN reported on developments in the valley, such as new lodges and businesses, and some years included a column by Ray Gallagher of Brandywine Falls Resort similar to the community news reported in earlier newsletters.  However, as the purpose of GWN was, as Lynn stated, “to get people up that road,” few stories said anything negative about the area and the development happening around Whistler Mountain.

Outside of the Alta Lake area, local news could be found in the newspapers of Squamish.  The Squamish Times, owned by Cloudesley Hoodspith from 1957 to 1992, and the Squamish Citizen (also published by Hoodspith) included Alta Lake/Whistler news, but their primary focus was not on this area.  It was not until the 1970s that the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler would be represented by an official local newspaper.

To learn more about journalism in Whistler from the 1970s to the present, you can find the video from last week’s event here.

Reimagining Hillcrest Lodge

When Hillcrest Lodge first opened for business in 1946 it was not meant to be a year-round operation.  Summers were so busy with regular visitors and guests that Jack and Cis Mansell, who built the lodge with their sons Doug and Loyd, would “say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.”  In October, Hillcrest Lodge closed for the season and Jack and Cis would often leave Alta Lake to spend winters in warmer climes.  This seasonal closure would, however, change in the 1960s.

Hillcrest Lodge, originally built and run by the Mansell family, was renamed the Mount Whistler Lodge under new management soon after Whistler Mountain opened.  Mansell Family Collection.

Jack and Cis retired in 1958 and Doug and his wife Barb took over the management of the lodge.  In the early 1960s Doug and Loyd kept the lodge open on weekends through the winter and even built a small rope tow on the property that they ran for skiers.  In 1965, as the first lifts were completed on Whistler Mountain, Doug and Barb sold Hillcrest Lodge to a group from Vancouver led by Glen Mason.  The lodge’s name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge and, instead of attracting summer guests, was marketed towards skiers.

Mount Whistler Lodge at the bottom of Whistler Mountain in 1972. Mason Collection.

By the winter 1967/68, winter guests could pay $9.50/day to stay and receive three meals at Mount Whistler Lodge (for those who brought their own sleeping bags, the rate was only $8.50), conveniently located only one mile (1.6km) from the gondola.  The lodge also offered entertainment in the form of pizza and music, including a jug band on Thursday nights.

An advertisement from the winter of 1971/72 announced that the lodge was under new management and introduced “The Purple Ski Cabaret,” though it featured few details about what the cabaret included.  Through the early 1970s the Mount Whistler Lodge also marketed itself as “open all year round.”  Its close proximity to the lifts appealed to skiers while the lodge also drew summer visitors with promises of swimming, fishing, boating and waterskiing on four nearby lakes, horseback rides through the valley, and more.

The Whistler Lodge in the Whistler Answer, October/November 1979.  Photo by George Benjamin.

Mount Whistler Lodge also became popular among Whistler area residents.  According to an article from the October/November 1979 issue of the Whistler Answer, Mount Whistler Lodge (which had by then ceased operations) was “quite simply, the best damn boogie, rockin, boppin, rip-roarin, down home, funky, shit kickin place to ever serve a beer.”  The lodge itself was described as “a log cabin right on the lake, with cracked Tiffany lamps and mildew stains on the ceiling.”  The Answer attributed the “looseness” of the lodge between 1973 and 1974 to managers Rob and Jen Houseman, who figured the best way to ensure rules were not broken was to have no rules.  Before it closed permanently in the mid 1970s, Mount Whistler Lodge was even the venue for the first two Freakers’ Balls.

The Answer ended its article by declaring that, “The Whistler Lodge, although closed today, remains one of the few structures today in Whistler that could be labelled heritage buildings.”  Two years earlier, in 1977, Rainbow Lodge had been mostly destroyed by a fire on the other side of Alta Lake and other buildings, such as the Soo Valley Logging Camp and the Alta Lake Community Hall, had already been burnt down.  In 1986 the main building of the Mount Whistler Lodge joined them and was burnt down as practice for the Whistler Fire Department.  The cabins remained for some years, but today few physical traces can be found of Hillcrest or Mount Whistler Lodge.

These steps are one of the few remaining physical reminders of the Hillcrest Lodge and Mount Whistler Lodge.

Whistler Speaker Series Launched for 2021

Last month the Whistler Museum hosted its first Virtual Speaker Series of 2021.  We are still getting used to hosting events online and miss the informal camaraderie of our audiences, but we are very excited to continue hosting some amazing speakers and sharing their stories.

For our first event of the season, we were joined by Dean Nelson.  Nelson is an LGBTQ+ activist and a travel expert specializing in LGBTQ+ travel who first came to Whistler in 1993 to help open the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort as part of the front desk team.  He became involved in Whistler’s gay ski week, then known as Altitude, when its founder Brent Benaschak approached him about the Holiday Inn becoming a hotel sponsor for the event.  From there Nelson volunteered to help with the fashion show and became increasingly more involved with the week.  As part of the event on February 17, Nelson told us more about how the Whistler gay ski week came about and how it has grown over almost thirty years.

Whistler’s rainbow crosswalks are just one example of increased visibility mentioned by Dean Nelson during our online talk. Photo courtesy of Dean Nelson.

Even if you weren’t able to attend our first Speaker Series, you may have read about what Nelson had to say in the Pique of February 25th, and you can still learn more about the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival and its history by watching our talk with Nelson on the Whistler Museum’s YouTube Channel.

Prior to 2020, the Whistler Museum had relatively few records or materials documenting LGBTQ+ history in the Whistler area.  Late last year, however, Nelson donated a large amount of archival material and artefacts to our collection, including photographs, promotional materials, jackets and much, much more.  Along with oral history interviews (such as the one we conducted with Nelson for February’s event) and other materials, this donation helps to fill one of the gaps in our collection.

Some of the materials donated as part of the Whistler Pride collection.

While the Whistler Pride collection is not currently available to search in our online database, we hope to begin cataloguing the collection this summer.  Most summers, the Whistler Museum is able to hire summer students through the Young Canada Works program, a joint initiative of the National Trust for Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage.  This summer, we are intending to hire a collections student whose main focus would be the describing, cataloguing, and rehousing of this new collection.  In the past, collections students have helped catalogue the Don MacLaurin Collection, the George Benjamin Collection, the Greg Griffith Collection, and many others that are now available to search online.  The ability to find documents and information online is especially important at a time when researchers may not be able to come to the archives easily.

We really enjoyed learning more about the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival with Dean Nelson last month, and are looking forward to continuing to learn more.  Our next Speaker Series event examining the history of journalism and publishing in Whistler will take place at 7pm March 25 and include an audience Q&A with the speakers (while the talk by our speakers will be posted online after the event, the Q&A will not).  Find more information about our upcoming Speaker Series at whistlermuseum.org/events.

Constructing a Cabin

Thanks to the recent donation of some UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) Journals to our research collection, we’ve been enjoying learning more about how the VOC Cabin came to be.  Last week we took a look at the long search for a site, which culminated in 1965 with a piece of land in today’s Nordic Estates that was to be reserved for club cabins (find it here).

Once the process of finding a site was complete (and even before provincial government surveyors arrived to do their own survey of the area) construction began on the VOC Cabin at Whistler.  Most of the planning and construction work was done by VOC members, including many hours contributed by grads such as Byron Olson.  An architect, Olson postponed his planned trip to Europe to design the structure.  His plans called for a main structure with a lounge to accommodate parties and events of 150 people, a large kitchen, washrooms, a boot-drying room, storage, and separate dormitory structures designed to sleep 90.

The VOC Cabin under construction by VOC members. Karl Ricker Collection.

The plan was to construct the VOC Cabin in stages, beginning with the main structure.  The first stage included putting up walls and getting the roof on by Christmas 1965.  Construction began in August with “enthusiastic work parties of VOC’ers.”  While members volunteered to work on the cabin, the VOC did hire a CAT driver to help clear and level the site.  In the first couple of months, a road to the site was cleared, trails were cut and a waterline was installed.  Building was not, however, always straightforward.

VOC members carry supplies to the building site. Karl Ricker Collection.

Karl Ricker, who was heavily involved in the project, recalls that there was an old logging road that went to the site, which was used by the CAT driver and to get gravel for concrete delivered.  However, the logging road became unusable after the first rain.  Instead, equipment and supplies would be brought up the back road that came within half a kilometre of the site and then carried for the rest of the journey.  Most of the supplies came from Vancouver and, as the highway to Whistler had not yet been completed, had already been on quite a trip.

In the VOC Journal of 1965, Judy MacKay wrote that “autumn brought wind, rain, and a deluge of prospective new members to the site.”  Ricker recalls that each weekend between fifteen and 100 volunteers would arrive to work “like beavers” on the VOC Cabin.  The VOC members were not the only ones making their way to the site – according to Ricker a few Alta Lake residents would also appear each weekend to observe the students’ work.

The VOC Cabin begins to take on a familiar shape. Karl Ricker Collection.

By mid-October the VOC was getting close to finishing the first stage of construction.  By the end of the month, construction was at a point that the VOC Halloween party could be held at Whistler and MacKay reported that, “The cabin sagged and swayed in rhythm to every polka beat.”

Later in the season, however, mid-terms unsurprisingly meant that student labour was harder to come by and members of the Alpine Club helped with the roof and putting on shakes.  Ricker remembered carrying the windows for the cabin from the highway with snow on the ground about two weeks before the beginning of UBC’s December break.

VOC members get inventive carrying materials through the snow. Karl Ricker Collection.

Though there was still a lot of work to be done, the VOC did finish the first stage of construction by Christmas and the cabin was ready for some students who chose to spend their break at Whistler.  The lifts on Whistler Mountain, however, were not quite to ready and did not open in December as planned, leaving the VOC members to spend their holidays ski touring through the area.

Finding a Space

Last week we mentioned a recent donation of journals published by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) in the 1960s, covering the period during which the VOC Cabin in Whistler was built.  Combined with an oral history conducted with Karl Ricker (who donated the journals) last year, the journals provide a lot of information about how the VOC Cabin came to be, even before lifts began running on Whistler Mountain.

According to Ricker, Jack Shakespeare, a member of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA), began attending VOC meetings in 1963 to promote the proposed development on Whistler Mountain.  At the time, the VOC already had a cabin on Mount Seymour but it was reportedly not being used as a ski cabin and so the VOC began to look seriously at building a cabin in Whistler in 1964.  The idea had to be approved by the VOC membership and it wasn’t immediately accepted by all, as Ricker recalls some people fighting to stay on Seymour.  The Whistler idea, however, did win out and the VOC began searching for a site to build a cabin.

VOC members touring around Whistler during an exploratory trip to the area in 1964. Karl Ricker Collection.

Charlie Daughney, then a Ph.D. candidate, led what was described in one VOC Journal as “the long and frustrating search for land.”  According to Ricker, the VOC first staked out land in what today is Kadenwood, but were then told that there would be no overnight parking at the Whistler Mountain lifts.  There was land available to buy at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita lake but the VOC did not have the money.  They were encouraged to look into applying for a piece of land on Alpha Lake but a search through records showed it was not Crown land but belonged to a man named John Quirk or his descendants.  The VOC even looked at building on the island in Alpha Lake but backed off due to the cost of building a bridge.

At the time the VOC was looking for a site the highway to the Whistler area was still under construction. Trips were taken by train or using the makeshift roads. Karl Ricker Collection.

Finally, in February 1965, the architect planners for the area and GODA told the VOC that there were plans to create a club cabin area in what is now part of Nordic Estates (Ricker mentioned that a club cabin area was also a way to guarantee customers for the lift company).  The next step was to find the tract of land set aside for club cabins, which at the time was simply marked by lines on a map.  In the early summer of 1965, members of the VOC ran a survey from the last known property lines in the area and put in their own stakes.

Surveying underway at the VOC Cabin site. Karl Ricker Collection.

As the first club to plan to build in the area, the VOC acquired “the choice lot” with views of Whistler Mountain and reasonable access to the parking lot that was to be constructed just off the highway.  Though it took longer than expected, official permission was granted by the provincial government to use the land for club cabins before the end of the summer.  In the process, Ricker received a call from a land inspector who had been told to inspect the parcel of land “right away” but didn’t know where it was.  Ricker met him at the train station and showed him to the parcel and, despite a few concerns, the land was approved for the VOC.  Government surveyors later arrived to do their own survey of the area but, according to Ricker, by that time construction of the VOC Cabin was already underway.

News from the Whistler Museum

Back in September 2020 we posted photos on our social media of exploratory trips taken by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) in 1964 and the construction of the VOC Cabin from 1965.  The photos were donated by Karl Ricker, a VOC member who had substantial involvement in the VOC Cabin.  Recently, Ricker brought in copies of the VOC Journal from 1964 to 1968 to add to our research collection and, though we’ve only taken a quick look so far (and are looking forward to examining the journals more closely), they appear to be a very valuable addition.

One of the photos posted on our social media, showing the construction of the Cabin by VOC members. Karl Ricker Collection.

The journals cover a period during which the VOC was exploring the possibility of a cabin in Whistler, constructing the cabin in Whistler, and beginning to put the cabin in Whistler to use.  According to the VOC Journal of 1964, the VOC Cabin on Mount Seymour was rarely being used as a ski cabin, as members could drive right up to the lifts, and skiing on Seymour was becoming increasingly crowded.  They also found that Seymour was “inadequate as an area for ski touring, for hiking, or for mountaineering,” the “most important activities of an outdoor club.”  Building a cabin in the Whistler area was thought to be an improvement as the long drive from Vancouver ensured most skiers would stay overnight, there was a proposal to develop lifts on Whistler Mountain, and the surrounding mountains would “present spectacular opportunities for touring and hiking.”  Members of the VOC made their first reconnaissance trips to the area throughout 1964 and began construction of the cabin in 1965.

Skimming the journals, mention of progress on the VOC Cabin are frequent and, as far as we’ve seen, optimistic.  In 1967 then VOC President Paul Sims wrote in his report of the upcoming completion of the cabin, saying: “When the last shake is nailed to the wall, and the last stone mortared into the fireplace, the construction at Whistler will be of a different nature.  The shaking will continue but from dances, pots and pans, sing-songs, laughter and conversation.  The building will bulge with eager and exhausted outdoor groups instead of construction crews.”

Karl Ricker in the midst of a socially distanced recording session (anyone not in front of the camera is also masked at all times).

The journals were brought in by Ricker when he came to the museum to record an interview for an upcoming exhibition by the Museum of North Vancouver.  We were excited to help facilitate the recording as it gave us a chance to try out equipment we’ve now been using in our virtual events.  This past weekend marked our first BC Family Day Kids Après: At Home Edition.  Rather than invite families to the museum, we created Kids Après Packs that brought parts of the museum to you.  Packs were picked up for free at the museum and included materials for two crafts and a Kids Après Activity Book, which combines stories from our exhibits with colouring pages, mazes, trivia and more.  We released craft videos online so that participants could craft along from home, creating their own skiing snowpeople and a (non-edible) mug of hot chocolate, a staple of Kids Après.

The same equipment was also used to create the craft videos as part of BC Family Day Kids Après: Home Edition.

Tomorrow evening we’ll be hosting our first Virtual Speaker Series of 2021, kicking off the series with Whistler Pride: A Look Back with Dean Nelson.  Though the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival was not able to go ahead this year, you could still see the spirit of the festival in the flags along Village Gate Boulevard – we’ll be learning more about how the festival started and how it has grown and become more visible with one of its long-time organizers.  You can register for the free event here.  Find out more about the rest of our Speaker Series line up for 2021 at our website here.