Category Archives: Ski-Town stories

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.

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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.

Blackcomb Mountain’s Blabcomb

We love newsletters at the museum.  They’re a great way of keeping interested parties up to date and sharing information and, when donated to the archives, are an interesting record of changes to an organization over time.  Recently, some of the museum’s resource binders were digitized to make them text-searchable to help with our own and others’ research projects.  One of these binders housed a collection of newsletters published by Blackcomb Mountain over the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Blabcomb.

The 18 foot cake prepared by Gourmet for the opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980.  By the time the Blabcomb began publishing the mountain had been open for skiing for only seven seasons.  Whistler Question Collection.

When the first edition of the Blabcomb came out on March 17, 1988 the newsletter was only four pages of news and updates related to Blackcomb operations; the last issue that the museum has a copy of, from July 12, 1991, had grown to twelve.

Early issues of the Blabcomb came out with payroll every two weeks, then switched to monthly publication for the summer months.

The issues included lists of birthdays, staff changes, discounts, meetings and recognition of the latest ICE (Inspire Continued Excellence) Awards.  Even birth announcements made it in,

Thought the newsletter included frequent calls for volunteers and contributions, it would seem Blabcomb was spearheaded by Eric Sinclair of Blackcomb’s accounting department.  The name “Blabcomb” was the product of Wayne “Chookhead” Burt, who won out against competing submissions such as “Snow News” (Bart Parsons), “Seventh Heaven Express” (Peter Bacholtz), and “Blackcomb Briefs” (Gerhard Reimer).

Considering the chatty (and, at times, perhaps gossipy) tone of the newsletter, Blabcomb seems like a perfect fit.

The suitcase races on Blackcomb were a popular event, and would have made for great television. Blackcomb Collection.

In some ways the resort described in the Blabcomb is very different from the Whistler Blackcomb operations of today.  Events such as the Celebrity Challenge Suitcase Race (you can learn more about that event here) no longer run and with the merger between Whistler and Blackcomb guest numbers are no longer a competition.  Other parts of their spring 1988 newsletters, however, could almost be published today.

The Blabcomb reportedly began “in order to maintain the Blackcomb spirit,” which some feared was being lost as the company grew (a feeling not unknown in Whistler).  In early March 1988 the Blackcomb staff (combining both employees of Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises and of Alta Lake Foods, which ran the food and beverage operations for the mountain) surpassed the 600 employees mark.  The creation of the Blabcomb recognized that it could be “difficult to maintain that feeling of ‘family’ among such a large employee base.”

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain. Whistler Museum.

With expanded food service and five new lifts added in 1987 (Magic Chair, Wizard Express, Solar Coaster Express, 7th Heaven Express and Horstman Glacier T-Bar) the 1987-88 season was a big year for Blackcomb Mountain.  By early April it had exceeded 512,000 visits (to put the number is perspective, the previous record of 508,000 had been set by Whistler Mountain in the 1984/85 season) and looked on track to exceed 600,000 by the time the season ended.

Employees asked by the Blabcomb described the season as “exciting, exhausting, wild and, of course, magical” but the newsletter also acknowledged the toll the season had taken.

As they put it, “Not only did Blackcomb employees have to adjust to a massive expansion project that included new lifts, buildings and added responsibilities, they were overwhelmed by the number of skiers we received in Whistler Resort this year… A shortage of employees, cramped, and sometimes marginal living conditions made these ‘adjustments’ even more difficult.”

Over the next few years the Blabcomb continued to update employees about changes in operations and events on the mountain, while also covering topics that we still discuss in Whistler today, such as the construction of employee housing (it was during this period that Blackcomb and CP Hotels, later the Chateau, built some of the housing currently in use).

Though newsletters are often written thinking of the present and future, they can be really useful resources when examining our past.

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.

Remembering Whistler’s Downhill World Cups

This year marks a few important anniversaries for ski racing on Whistler Mountain: it has been 40 years since the ski hill almost hosted the World Cup in 1979 before it was cancelled due to weather and safety concerns, and it is 30 years since Rob Boyd became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup downhill event on Canadian soil.

Local boy Rob Boyd atop the podium, 25 February 1989. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS.

Whistler Mountain also held other successful World Cup events in the 1980s and ’90s starting with a World Cup downhill in 1982.

By the last week of February 1982, Whistler had undergone some major changes since a World Cup was last attempted in 1979.  Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, giving Whistler Mountain nearby competition, and the first phase of Whistler Village construction was, for the most part, wrapped up.

The course for this World Cup downhill was changed as well.  Rather than follow the traditional route that used what is now known as Dave Murray Downhill ending in Creekside, the 1982 course ended in Whistler Village.

The Molson World Downhill came to Whistler, bringing thousands of spectators along with it.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

The new 3,810-metre course was expected to result in a winning time in the two-minutes-and-15-seconds range.  Racers began near the top of the Black and Orange Chairs and then headed down through the Double Trouble rollers, the Pony Trail Flats, Tokum Corner, the Elevator Shaft, across Crabapple Creek and to the finish line in view of the spectators waiting in the village.

There was more to Whistler’s 1982 World Cup than raceday on Saturday.  The opening ceremonies began the festivities on Wednesday, February 24 and included a parade of nations complete with flags and local dignitaries.  The following evening was Western Night.  The scheduled events included a display of logger sports such as axe-throwing and chainsaw demonstrations and a square-dancing demonstration for the national teams.  The Lil’wat Nation also hosted an outdoor salmon barbecue.  The Friday evening before the race was a more casual affair with a torchlight ski parade and fireworks display.

A torchlight parade makes its way down Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

According to The Vancouver Sun, prior to Saturday the weather was “the most-discussed element of the whole affair.”  Days of fog and fresh snow leading up to the race meant great conditions for those skiing on the rest of Whistler Mountain but these conditions weren’t great for training runs, causing delays and cancelled practices.  Luckily, on Saturday and weather cooperated and, for the first time on Whistler, the World Cup downhill could go ahead.

Going into the race, the two racers to watch were thought to be Steve Podborski of the Crazy Canucks and Austrian Harti Weirather, the 1981 World Cup downhill champion.  The race was, however, won by Swiss skier Peter Mueller, a two-time World Cup downhill champion (the 1982 season ended with a tie for the title between Mueller and Podborski).

At the awards ceremony after the race on Saturday, the cheers for Mueller were reported to be just as loud as those for the Crazy Canucks.  Mueller appeared to enjoy his second trip to Whistler, having first come to the valley one a five-week camping tour of Western Canada in the 1970s.  When speaking of the area’s hospitality, he told reporters that, “The people here are so friendly.  They come up to me and say, ‘Hi Pete,’ even if they don’t know me.  I would really like to come back here.”

Whistler’s 1982 World Cup was not an unqualified success to everyone.  According to Doug Sack in Whistler Magazine some teams “loathed the new course.”  It ended too slowly, passing over the flats of Lower Olympic, and one Austrian was even heard to say “I should have brought my cross-country skis with me.”

Whistler Mountain hosted more World Cup downhills after 1982, using the Dave Murray Downhill course.  If you’re interested in learning more about Whistler’s World Cups and what it takes to organize and pull off such an event, join us at the Whistler Museum for our next Speaker Series on Thursday, March 29 with guests Rob Boyd and Alex Kleinman.

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.