Category Archives: Ski-Town stories

Legends of Whistler… tell the stories

We are incredibly excited to announce a three part speaker series cohosted with the Whistler Public Library and the RMOW!

Over three days, twelve very special guests will be sharing their own stories and knowledge of Whistler’s history, including the development of the mountains and the creation of Whistler Village.  Each event is free to attend.

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First Steps to Building A Village

On October 10 (this Thursday!) the Whistler Museum will be opening Construction of the Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984, a temporary exhibit featuring images of a village in progress from the Whistler Question collection.

The planning and development of the Whistler Village is often referred to as one of the first tasks of the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in 1975.  Before a town centre could be constructed, however, a very important (though possibly not as glamourous) facility had to open: the Whistler Sewer Plant.

The Whistler Sewer Plant was one of the first steps taken before constructing the Whistler Village. Garibaldi’s Whistler News

Prior to 1977, a small number of condominium complexes had their own private systems to deal with waste, but most of the plumbing in Whistler ran on septic tank systems.  Investigations into a sewer system for the area were begun by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and continued by the RMOW when it was created.  According to the Garibaldi’s Whistler News, in 1977 Whistler had a year-round population of approximately 800, which increased during peak season to near 7,000.  Plans to build a town centre and expand the resort raised concerns about the environmental and practical impacts of continuing to use septic systems.

The Good Shit Lolly Pot on a raft at Alta Lake – some approaches to plumbing in Whistler were rather interpretive. George Benjamin Collection, 1969.

The sewer system in Whistler was planned in phases, with the first phase designed to service areas from the sewer treatment plant located three kilometres south of the gondola in Creekside to almost five km north of the gondola base, accommodating a population of 14,000 with provisions for expansion to 21,000.  Thanks to financing from the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation Sewer Program, this first phase and the treatment plant were completed by June 1977.  By the fall, the second phase, which extended the reach of the sewer treatment plant from Alta Vista to the site of the future town centre, was underway.

The official opening of the Whistler Sewer Plant was an exciting occasion for the young municipality.  It was scheduled for September 17, 1977, and the RMOW hired Lynn Mathews to plan the event.  Earlier this year, one of our amazing museum volunteers conducted a series of oral history interviews with the incredible Lynn Mathews, who first came to Whistler in 1966, and one of these interviews included a mention of the opening.  According to Mathews, who had previously arranged public relations events in New York City, the opening reception for the Whistler Sewer Plant “went over very, very nicely.”  Her claim is supported in The Whistler Question by both Paul Burrows and Jenny Busdon, who reported on the event.

Lonely toilet stands ready to serve Parcel 16 in the Town Centre.  Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

The opening of the plant began at Myrtle Philip School, where there was a display of photographs and diagrams showing the plan construction and a brief history of Whistler, tours of the valley by bus and helicopter, and a display of Ice Stock Sliding, a sport that became popular during the winter months when Whistler Mountain had closed due to lack of snow.  The main event was a lunch prepared by chef Roger Systad, including roast duck, salmon, imported cheeses and liver pate.

The lunch was accompanied by speeches from Mayor Pat Carleton and special guests including the Honourable Hugh Curtis, Minister of Municipal Affairs, and the Honourable Jack Pearsall, the MP for the area.

The day also included guided tours of the plant facilities with representatives from the engineering firm on hand to answer questions.  The review from Burrows said, “The plant is a modern design that provides complete treatment based on the proven extended aeration process.  It is quite interesting to see the plant in full operation.”

Though it may seem like an odd occasion to celebrate, the importance of the Whistler Sewer Plant was clearly stated by Mayor Carleton, who concluded that, “The foundation of Whistler’s future is this plant and sewer system.”  Construction of the Whistler Village officially began one year later.

Construction of the Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984 will run through November 22.

Moving House

Most people in Whistler are familiar with the process of moving house, including the packing, repacking, and unpacking.  Just about every person you meet has a story to share about moving to or within Whistler, but not many are able to tell you about the time they moved a house to Whistler.

Last wee, however, we had someone do just that: Len Ritchie visited us at the museum to share his story of moving 278 square metre (3,000 sq/ft) house from Garibaldi to White Gold in 1983.

Ritchie and his (not-yet-at-the-time) wife Patty first came to Whistler in 1975 and later moved to Whistler full-time, buying an empty lot in White Gold.  While driving Highway 99 in the fall of 1983, Len spotted a house on the side of the road with a sign proclaiming “For Sale $16,000 Delivered.”

Len and their dog pose next to the price of the house. Photo courtesy of Len Ritchie.

The unfinished house had originally been built at Garibaldi and the owner had decided to move the structure to a lot in Pinecrest.  Bob Moloughney of Squamish had been hired to move the house, but when the owner’s plans fell through Moloughney was left with the house.  He decided to sell it, including the cost of delivery in the price.

The house was sitting on the side of Highway 99, waiting to be moved. Photo courtesy of Len Ritchie.

Moving the house up the highway required some careful planning and could certainly disrupt traffic.  When Ritchie approached BC Hydro and BC Tel about dropping the lines during the move, he was told it would cost $16,000.  Instead, the decision was made to remove part of the roof from the house, brining it down to a legal height move under the lines, and move that piece separately.

The roof was reattached once the house reached its final resting place, and, according to Len, never leaked. Photo courtesy of Len Ritchie.

On the first day they got the house as far as Function Junction.  Ritchie recalled, “It was dark, and it was a little rainy, and we’re up on top with our poles to go under the lines.  So the logging truck, Valleau trucking, they were the driver, we had walkie-talkies, so he’d get up on the road and we’d get under a line and we’d go, ‘Hold it, hold it,’ and we’d push the line up, ‘OK, go ahead, go ahead,’ and that’s how we worked our way all of the way up the highway.”

The house waiting to cross the Fitzsimmons Creek Bridge into White Gold. Photo courtesy of Len Ritchie.

To get over the Fitzsimmons Creek Bridge, then the only access to White Gold, took more than four hours.  Lindsay Wilson, fire chief, left a truck in White Gold just in case a fire should occur while the house was occupying the bridge.  The house was jacked up using railway ties and the ends of the bridge railing were cut off, allowing the house to clear the bridge by mere centimetres.  After a while, White Gold residents came out to go to work and about their days, only to find that they couldn’t drive out.  Instead, Richie remembers, “If anybody needed to leave, I’d take their hand and bend down and crawl or crouch all the way.”  When the reached the other side, he had taxis waiting for them.

The house moved along the bridge just barely above the height of the railings. Photo courtesy of Len Ritchie.

The last stage of the move was up the hill to Ambassador Crescent.  After one perilous attempt at winching the house up the hill, Art Den Duyf kindly sent over a D6 Cat and a 988 loader to push and pull the house into place.  The top of the roof was then reattached and Ritchie, Patty and helpful friends took the next year and a half to fix the house up.

An excited group on the deck of the house, now on its lot and once again in one piece. Photo courtesy of Len Ritchie.

The house has since been sold a few times, but it is still standing.  In Ritchie’s opinion, the house that he first saw covered in tar paper, is now “a beautiful big house up there today,” and it has quite the story behind it.

Welcoming Fall to Whistler

In may technically still be (and at times even feel) like summer, but for many people the beginning of September signals the beginning of fall.  While many people will have spent this weekend celebrating a certain beverage at the Whistler Beer Festival, in the 1980s this past weekend would have featured a celebration of the upcoming season with the Whistler Fall Festival.

The Fall Festival was first organized by the Whistler Resort Association (WRA, now known as Tourism Whistler) in 1981.  At the time, the Whistler Village was beginning to emerge from a craze of construction and Blackcomb Mountain was looking forward to its second season of operations.  There was a lot to celebrate in Whistler and the festival featured many of the growing community’s arts, crafts, sports, and activities.

The Fall Festival also included a Paint a Snowflake contest, leaving the fences around construction sites covered in snowflakes. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

One of the local characters showcased at the Fall Festival was Willie Whistler, the new mascot of the WRA.  Willie’s name came from a “Name the Whistler Marmot” contest for children in the area in which the winner, eight-year-old Tammi Wick, won a Blackcomb season pass.  The mascot was created to promote Whistler at local and other events and the Fall Festival, which included time each day to “Meet Willie Whistler,” was his first big event.

Willie Whistler takes a ride with Bo Bo the Clown during the Fall Festival in Village Square. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The festival also featured local artists and artisans who demonstrated their crafts in the village, including pottery, fibre spinning, stained glass, and painting.  Performers over the weekend included acts such as Evan Kemp and the Trail Riders, the Alpini Band, and local favourite Doc Fingers, as well as dance performances and Bo Bo the Clown.

For visitors and residents alike, the Fall Festival offered different ways to see the Whistler valley.  Snowgoose Transportation offered free 50 minute bus tours, showing off everything from residential areas to the gondola base in Creekside to the Blackcomb daylodge.  To see the valley from above, participants could enjoy a flight from Okanagan Helicopters, take advantage of Blackcomb Mountain’s offer of free chairlift rides, or, subject to wind conditions, go up in Chuck Bump’s hot air balloon, billed at the festival as the “World’s Largest Hot Air Balloon.”

Evan Kemp and the Trail Riders perform in Village Square. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Perhaps not surprisingly, sports and competitions also featured prominently at the Fall Festival.  Spectators could take in volleyball, Pro/Celebrity tennis matches that paired pro players with notables from politics, business, and media, a softball game between the Whistler Contractors Association and the Whistler A’s, or even a parachuting demonstration.  For those looking to compete, the Waiters Race challenged Whistler’s servers to run a timed obstacle course without spilling a drop, and the Labatt’s Great Whistler Water Race relay covered four lakes and the River of Golden Dreams through canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and windsurfing.

A softball game was fun for participants and spectators. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Though the Fall Festival was primarily about showcasing Whistler, it also raised money for several different causes.  On the Sunday, Whistler hosted a run as part of the first national Terry Fox Run, raising over $7,600.  The proceeds from a beer garden hosted by the Whistler Athletic Society that evening were also donated towards cancer research.

Local causes benefited as well.  The WRA donated enough funds from the Village Centre beer garden to replace the snowmobile of the Alta Lake Sports Club that had been destroyed in a fire.  Umberto Menghi, who was then opening his new restaurant Il Caminetto, contributed to the festival by both providing the firework display for the Saturday evening and hosting a gala dinner at Myrtle Philip School to benefit the Whistler Health Care Society.

If you look really closely, Chuck Bump’s balloon also featured some advertising for local restaurants. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation.

According to Glenda Bartosh of The Whistler Question, the first Fall Festival was about far more than raising money and generating revenue for the resort.  She reported that the festival “created laughter, high energy and a true appreciation of what Whistler is all about.”  The WRA must have agreed, as they continued to organize the Fall Festival for at least three more years.

A Wet End to August, 1991

Recently, we were tasked with finding more information about a flood that washed out and damaged several bridges over Fitzsimmons Creek in the 1990s.  As it turned out, the flooding had happened exactly 28 years before we looked into it, with the bulk of information found in the September 5, 1991 edition of The Whistler Question.

The first mention of an unusually wet end to August appeared in the previous week’s editorial section, where editor Bob Barnett opened a piece on government money granted in the area with the thought, “The old age it never rains, it pours, has applied to the weather this week, but also to government handouts.”  Between August 16 and 31, 155 mm of rain were reported to have fallen in Whistler, with the bulk of the rain falling between August 29 and 30.  The average rainfall for the entire month of August was historically under 50 mm; this unusually large quantity of water caused destruction throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.

An excavator removes rock and gravel carried down Fitzsimmons Creek during Labour Day weekend’s floods. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

During the five days of intense rain, water levels at the Pemberton Airport and the Golf and Country Club were recorded at over two metres and BC Rail recorded at least twelve places between Britannia Beach and Lillooet where the crushed rock that supported the rails was washed away, leaving sections suspended over the ground.

In Britannia Beach severe flooding caused Britannia Creek to change course through the lower townsite and the highway around Squamish was blocked for 36 hours.  According to the Ministry of Forests, three quarters of the forest service roads in the Squamish Forest District were closed from washouts, flooding or slides, with multiple bridges destroyed.  North of Pemberton, some residents around Skookumchuck were evacuated to Pemberton by helicopter.

Within the Pemberton Valley, a Friday afternoon community effort to shore p a dike behind the Van Loon property attempted to mitigate the damage caused by the flood.  Approximately 100 people were reported to have come out to fill sandbags.  Their success was limited as the dike was breached a few kilometres north of their work, flooding fields and homes and ruining potato crops.

An aerial view of the flood at the airport. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

Compared to other areas of the Sea to Sky, the flooding would appear to have caused relatively little destruction in Whistler, mainly due to the community effort to keep Fitzsimmons Creek in its channel.

Through the evening of Thursday and Friday, local contractors, excavators and heavy equipment crews worked to shore up the banks of Fitzsimmons Creek and keep the waters out of the village and White Gold.  According to Tony Evans, public safety director, “If we hadn’t had that we could have made Britannia Beach look like a walk in the park.”

The footbridge over Fitzsimmons Creek, 1991. Photo courtesy of Jan Jansen

As it was, the high waters and debris in the creek took out two supports of the Nancy Greene Drive bridge, partially washed out two footbridges linking the village and benchlands, and destroyed Fitzsimmons Creek Park.  The flooding also damaged sewer pipes and interrupted water supplies to White Gold.

At this time 28 years ago, Whistler and the surrounding communities were still in the midst of their clean up efforts as the water receded.  It would take weeks to clear debris, assess damages, rebuild bridges, and construct measures to prevent future flooding, such as deepening Fitzsimmons Creek.  Some of these measures can still be seen while walking across Fitzsimmons Creek today.

How McKeever’s Got Its Name

This past week we opened a new temporary exhibit at the museum featuring the various ways people have found a place to call home in the valley (the exhibit runs through July 31st so be sure to drop by!).  While putting together the exhibit we’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about housing and development and what has and hasn’t changed.  We recently came across an article in the Squamish Citizen that featured the beginning of a building that has changed quite a bit while, in some ways, remaining the same: McKeever’s General Store.

On July 22, 1986 Sue Cote, a reporter for the Squamish Citizen, was invited to a groundbreaking ceremony in Alpine Meadows by Chuck Johnstone, the owner of the property at the corner of Alpine Way and Highway 99.  Attended by MLA John Reynolds, Alderman Paul Burrows, Michael and Mark Sadler of Sadler Brothers Building Ltd. and Harry McKeever, the actual breaking of the ground was done by Art Den Duyf and his grader (no spades were needed).

With approval from the neighbourhood and the RMOW, Johnstone planned to develop and convenience store and laundromat on the property.  The store would be owned and operated by McKeever and his sister Linda who committed to leasing the space.  After early reports of opposition to the store were published in the Whistler Question in October 1985 Alpine Meadows residents Sonya McCarthy and Margaret Kogler conducted a petition that showed overwhelming support for the idea.  By the end of 1986, the idea had become reality and residents now had access to McKeever’s General Store and Dirty Harry’s Laundromat.

Harry McKeever, Alpine Meadows resident, Vending Machine Operator. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

McKeever’s was a well-known name in the valley well before the opening of this store.  Harry McKeever first came to Alta Lake on holiday in 1957.  In 1960 is family bought property and built a cabin in Alta Vista.  Not too long after that he moved up permanently and when Garibaldi Lifts began operating in 1965/66 McKeever became one of the company’s first lifities.  Working mainly in the gondola barn in the valley, McKeever became valley supervisor and stayed with Garibaldi Lifts until 1975.  According to a 1993 article by Bob Colebrook in the Whistler Answer, “McKeever could give seminars to today’s lifties on courtesy and friendliness, although he might have a hard time imparting his sincerity.”

Lifts were not McKeever’s only occupation; he ran a successful vending machine business between 1970 and 1990, supplying the valley’s game, pop and cigarette machines, and became known to some as Whistler’s “slot machine mogul”.  During his time in Whistler McKeever was also an early member of the Chamber of Commerce, on the Board of Directors of the Whistler TV Society, a member of the Whistler Rotary Club and the sponsor of Dirty Harry’s hockey team.

When McKeever’s General Store opened in 1986 it carried groceries, hardware, auto supplies and video rentals while the laundromat provided a welcome service to residents.  Shortly before they opened Linda McKeever stated, “We want to make the store a focal point for the neighbourhood,” a goal they certainly achieved.  McKeever’s provided a convenient location to pick up eggs or butter (especially if you already happened to be checking your mailbox) and for the children of the neighbourhood it was the closest place to buy popsicles in the summer.

When discussing the store with Colebrook in the early 1990s, Harry McKeever told him: “It’s excellent, it’s the first easy job I’ve had.  As the staff learns more and more my work gets less and less.  It’s a great way to keep in touch with the people.  Also, by having my name on the store I get a lot of people from twenty-five or thirty years ago coming in because they same my name.”

The store has evolved since McKeever left the valley.  The laundromat (and the linoleum flooring) is gone, replaced by Alpine Cafe and the store is now named Alpine Meadows Market.  The McKeever name, however, will always be associated with the address: 8104 McKeevers Place.

Finding A Place: A History of Housing in Whistler

Our newest temporary exhibit Finding A Place: A History of Housing in Whistler will be opening Friday, May 31!

Finding A Place takes a look at the different ways people have made a home in the valley over the past century, from constructing a fishing lodge to subdividing a neighbourhood and from squatting in the woods to the Whistler Housing Authority (and everything in between!).  The exhibit also features the photographs of Carin Smolinski’s Living the Dream, providing a glimpse of some unique living situations in Whistler’s present.

Doors open at 6:30 pm.  Cash bar & free admission.  The exhibit will run through July 31.