Category Archives: Ski-Town stories

The Village’s Oldest Building

What is the oldest building in the Whistler Village?

This is a question we have been asked many times, especially when leading Valley of Dreams Walking Tours through the village during the summer.  While some questions about Whistler’s history have very simple answers, the answer to this one is not entirely straightforward.

Municipal Hall could be considered the oldest.  The structure was built in the early 1970s and opened its doors in 1974, a year before the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed and a full five years before construction began on plans for the stroll-centred village we know today.  At the time the building was home to a Keg ‘N Cleaver restaurant, better known as The Keg.  It was not, however, located in the village.

One section of the Keg makes its way slowly up Lorimer Road. Note the rocks blasted off the corner and the BC Hydro employee on the roof. Photo: Whistler Question, 1981

The original location of the Municipal Hall building was in Adventures West on the north end of Alta Lake.  Over the May long weekend of 1981, the building made a well-documented move to its current location.  Despite its earlier construction, the Keg was moved beside another building that could also claim the title for oldest Village building by opening in the Village a year earlier: the Public Safety Building.

Construction of the Public Safety Building (PSB) began some time in 1979.  During this period it went by various names, including the Public Service Building and Tri-Service Building.  An image of the architect Raymond Letkeman’s drawing of the building was published in the Whistler Question in July and by the council meeting of October 5, when approval for a development permit for construction of the building was given after a public hearing, the progress on the PSB was reportedly “up to the roof line.”  The building was predicted to be closed in by early November and ready to occupy in the early winter.

The new Public Safety building starts to take shape as the snow creeps down Whistler Mountain behind.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1979.

Many other buildings were under construction at the time.  In November new access roads into the town centre were poured.  Photos from 1979 show the town centre as a large construction site with a school, the first Myrtle Philip School, along one edge.  The school relocated to Tapley’s Farm in 1992 and the old building was torn down, taking it out of the running for oldest village building.

The PSB was officially opened by Mayor Pat Carleton and a lineup of officials on May 3, 1980.  Representatives from the three services to be housed in the building (the RCMP, the BC Ambulance service and the Whistler Fire Department) were present, as well as approximately one hundred onlookers from the public, a good crowd for such an event in 1980.  Once the ribbon was cut and the fire doors and flag raised, the public was invited inside to view the fireman’s slide pole and the new jail cells.

The new Public Service building has its finishing touches added and new cells installed.  Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

The building was not completely finished by May 3.  The smell of fresh paint still lingered and some parts were still in the “dry-wall” stage.  A heli-pad behind the building had been completed only the day before.

The PSB was put to good use within weeks of it opening.  On May 11 a fire at the municipal landfill led to the first call out of the Whistler Volunteer Fire Department from their new home and by May 22 the RCMP reported that six people had spent some time in the new cells.

The new Public Service Building looks sharp with its new paint and brown and white decor. Photo: Whistler Question, 1980

Not all of the space in the PSB was assigned when it first opened.  There was talk of rooms being used as a courthouse, meeting rooms or council chambers.  Over the years the services housed in the PSB have changed, as has the building.  The ambulance service moved to its own building on Lorimer Road and space was added behind the PSB to house the RCMP service.

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Growing Whistler (quickly)

We get asked a lot of questions at the museum, such as “Where did the name Whistler come from?”, “When was the Peak 2 Peak Gondola built?” and “Is this the Audain Art Museum?”  One question that people are often surprised to learn the answer to is “When did people start skiing down Whistler Mountain?”

Visitors to Whistler and to the museum come from all over the world, as flipping through our guest books quickly show, and to many the development of Whistler seems incredibly recent.  After all, when Kitzbühel, Austria hosted its first ski race in 1884 the individuals who would spearhead the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s hadn’t even been born.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Looking back at the Whistler described in Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) of February 1969, only three years after lifts had opened on the mountain, it’s very easy to see that the area has changed a lot in only fifty years.

The winter of 1968-69 was an exciting time in the area.  Though the Resort Municipality of Whistler had not yet been formed, that September Whistler Mountain had been named the Canadian site for the 1976 Winter Olympic Games and members of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) were actively campaigning in the lead up to the International Olympic Committee’s site selection vote in May.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Lorne O’Connor, the Executive Director of GODA, and Tadec Barnowski, a former member of the Polish National Ski Team, were even marking the final routes for alpine events before officials from the FIS were to visit in March.  We know now, of course, that it would be another three failed bids and 41 years before Whistler would host the Olympics, but in 1969 and 1976 bid was looking very promising.

That season also saw the introduction of the Green Chair to Whistler Mountain and the opening of new trails that we know well today, including Ego Bowl and Jolly Green Giant.  With the cutting of a new trail running all the way down to what the GWN referred to as the “gravel pit” (now Whistler Village), the lift company also began running a bus service back to the gondola terminal.  As well as new trails and Whistler’s sixth lift, a service called “Park-A-Tot” was introduced as the company’s first foray into childcare.  For $3/day, skiers could drop off their children in the morning and collect them again after their last run.

The two Green Chairs can be seen heading up towards the Roundhouse. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The area around the gondola terminal was not yet known as Creekside though one article in GWN claimed that it was “gradually becoming a village.”  It already had a gas station and ten lodges alongside older cabins and newly built condominiums.  With more condo projects underway and plans for a grocery store, the Creekside of five decades ago was growing quickly.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Today, the lifts that were announced with such fanfare in Garibaldi’s Whistler News have been replaced by bigger and faster models; the “gravel pit” has become an established town centre and “Park-A-Tot” has evolved to include various programs for all ages.  Though many visitors may be surprised at learning Whistler Mountain only opened in 1966, after perusing the museum’s exhibits these same visitors are often amazed at how quickly Whistler has grown.

Summers Gone By: The Dave Murray Ski Camps on Film

In my last post, I shared the story of Marine World/Africa U.S.A., a California zoo and theme park with an unexpected connection to the museum.  This week, I’ll be talking about a topic that is much more quintessentially “Whistler”: the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp.

Those who attended the camps on Whistler Mountain in the 1980s may have fond memories of summer skiing under the leadership of former Crazy Canuck Dave Murray.  The roots of this action-packed camp date back to 1967, when it was helmed by Austrian ski legend Toni Sailer.  Murray attended as a teenager and took over as head instructor in 1984.  The camp’s new name endured past Murray’s tragic death from skin cancer in 1990, before being simplified to The Camp in 2013.

Toni Sailer, six-time Olympic gold medalist, comes to Whistler from Austria every year to run the ski camp before Dave Murray took over in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

Over the past several months, I have been working with a large collection of materials related to the Toni Sailer and Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps.  These included a veritable treasure trove of 43 videocassettes and DVDs containing footage from these bygone summers.  Most of these tapes were annual highlight videos set to catchy tunes of the ’80s and ’90s.  Predictably, skiing took centre stage, showcasing everything from the wedge turns of beginners to the graceful freestyle of coaches like Stephanie Sloan.  One oft-repeated stunt saw campers zoom down a hill and through a large slush puddle waiting at the bottom.  Needless to say, this resulted in many painful-looking wipeouts.

The Summer Ski Camps aren’t the only ones to ski through slush – the spring Slush Cup is still going today. Greg Griffith Collection.

The videos also featured many outdoor activities that put the “summer” in Summer Ski Camp.  Once off the ski hill, campers enjoyed biking, swimming, windsurfing, watersliding, canoeing, roller-skating, and more.  Volleyball, tennis and golf seemed to be the most popular sports.  More unusual pastimes also made appearances – including a flying trapeze, an Aerotrim machine and a large, suspended basket carrying passengers over a river.

As per the carefree spirit of Whistler, cheeky and even rude humour abounded in these tapes.  Peppered throughout the videos were scenes of campers making faces, telling jokes and generally clowning around.  The ski camp staff performed and filmed skits such as “Dave Murray Land,” “Timmy’s Dream,” and “The Lighter Side of Coaching.”  They were even kind enough to include blooper reels.  More than one person mooned the camera.

A group shot of all the coaches at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camp, circa late 1980s. The crew was a veritable “who’s who” of Canadian ski racing.

On the other hand, there were also several professionally-edited televised advertisements for the camp, such as a BCTV promo from 1984 and a Pontiac World of Skiing special aired in 1995.

As I watched hour after hour of footage, I was struck with a sense of double nostalgia.  Firstly, for the fun-loving campers whose childhood memories I was vicariously experiencing – and who must now be at least in their 30s.  Secondly, for myself.  Here I was, handling VHS for the first time in a decade and reminiscing about the summer camps outside my own hometown of Edmonton (although I must admit that the skiing scene on the Alberta prairies can’t compare to that offered at the Dave Murray Summer Ski Camps!).

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).

Chilly Days at Toad Hall

Looking back at the early days of skiing in Whistler might make you long for a time when life seemed simpler and cheaper.  Living in the valley in the 1960s, however, was challenging for residents, including those living in buildings like the original Toad Hall.

The first Toad Hall was originally the home of Alf and Bessie Gebhart.  They moved their family to Alta Lake in 1936 when Alf purchased a sawmill and lumber camp.  After operating the mil for some years, Alf built a house by Nita Lake in the 1950s.

Alf Gebhart poses with Ben Dyke and an unknown woman in front of his house at Parkhurst, before he built the house at Nita Lake. Photo: Debeck Collection

Unlike many structures built around Alta Lake at the time, the Gebharts’ was more of a house than a cabin or cottage.  It had four bedrooms (two downstairs and two upstairs), a living room, a kitchen and an adjoining breakfast room, as well as a basement with thick walls of stone.

Alf and Bessie remained in the house until their sawmill closed and they moved out of the valley.  Their son Howard and his wife Betty then took up residence while Howard worked for the railway before they, too, left the valley.  The house was then sold to Charles Hillman who rented it out through the 1960s.

Without the mill, it’s not that surprising the Gebarts chose to leave the house by Nita Lake, especially over the winter.  According to John Hetherington, an early resident of the house when it was known as Toad Hall in the late 1960s, the house could best be described as “cooold.”  Fittingly for the owner of a sawmill, the house was built of wood and used sawdust for the insulation.  Unfortunately, as Hetherington pointed out, “what happens with sawdust is at all settles down in the bottom, in between the studs, and provides no insulation whatsoever.”  The old, single-pane windows didn’t help retain heat either.

Though the living room may look cozy, winters could be harsh. Benjamin Collection.

Hetherington and three other Whistler Mountain employees, Jim Burgess, Drew Tait and Mike Wisnicki, moved into the house the winter of 1967/68.  Luckily for the four, they got their firewood split and stacked the day before the snow came that year as the wood became their main source of heat.

The house came with a woodstove, a furnace in the basement and a fireplace, all of which shared the same chimney.  For their first winter in the house, the four covered the windows with plastic and slept in sleeping bags on cots in the large upstairs bedroom, which the chimney ran through providing some radiant heat.

Master Climax, the woodstove that tried to keep Toad Hall warm. Benjamin Collection.

Though at first the woodstove was used mainly for heat, the four also began learning to cook on it.  Food was kept in the walk-in fridge and freezer at the lift company in Creekside or else sat through the temperature fluctuations of the kitchen.

In an effort to keep warm, they would throw occasional parties when, with most of the people in the valley inside the house and the fireplace and woodstove going, it would “get warm for a few hours,” said Hetherington.

These parties also highlighted another challenge of life at Toad Hall – there was no electricity.  Tait had a stereo system (a turntable and two speakers), but in order to use it a generator had to be borrowed and a mechanic friend had to be invited over to keep it running.  Light was provided by kerosene-burning Coleman lamps.

The front porch of Toad Hall, lit by a kerosene-burning lamp.  Benjamin Collection.

After a season or two, all four of these residents moved on from the house, leaving it to other residents until its owner decided to take possession.  Despite needing “a sawmill to keep the place heated,” Toad Hall was considered by its residents a “sort of legitimate place to live” at a time when there were not many places to live in the valley.

Own a Piece of Mountain History

The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and Whistler Museum & Archives Society are offering the chance to own a piece of Whistler’s mountain history this February with the sale of trail signs from both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

Over 250 unique signs will be available for purchase online at whistlerblackcombfoundation.com Thursday, February 7 at 10 AM PST.  These signs previously directed skiers and boarders down their favourite runs and include a variety of trails, lifts and logos.  Whether you favoured Jimmy’s Joker or Pony Trail, there’s sure to be a sign to bring back memories of days spent in the snow.

Signs range from $20 to $250, depending upon condition.  Purchased signs will be available for pick up at the Whistler Museum February 9, 10 & 14 only.

All proceeds from the sales go to support the work of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and Whistler Museum & Archives Society.  A selection of signs will be retained in the Whistler Museum’s artifact collection.

The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation is dedicated to providing financial support to registered non-profit organizations whose activities provide benefit to residents of the Sea to Sky Corridor in the areas of health, human services, education, recreation, arts and culture and the environment with an emphasis on children, youth and family programs.

The Whistler Museum & Archives Society works to collect, preserve, document and interpret the natural and human history of mountain life – with an emphasis on Whistler – and to provide a forum in which to present an innovative range of exhibitions and education programs to enrich the lives of residents and guests.

What do canoeing and powder skiing have in common?

With the beginning of the new year, we have been spending some time looking back at what 2018 brought to the museum (new records, new exhibits and many new donations of artifacts and archival materials!) as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Each year January marks the beginning of our annual Speaker Series.  We’re very excited to start off our 2019 series Thursday, January 17 with Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard River.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard River containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike Stein not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the trip.

While looking through a copy of Garibaldi’s Whistler News published three years prior to the trip down the Liard River, I found an article written by another participant in the canoe trip, Jim McConkey.  McConkey came to Whistler Mountain to take up the position of Ski Director in the spring of 1968 and began writing instructional articles about ski techniques for the publication during his first season.  In early 1969, Whistler Mountain received weeks of what he described as “beautiful, deep powder snow.”  This led to “Learning Powder Snow Technique,” an article in which McConkey instructs skiers on the proper way to ski powder.

‘Diamond’ Jim McConkey’s official Whistler Mountain portrait.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article begins by defining true powder snow as “very light snow that flies out from underneath the skis, sometimes bellowing up over the skier’s head.”  Once the skier found the right snow, they also had to ensure they had the right equipment, meaning flexible deep snow skis, with little camber and soft heels.

When the skier was ready to head for the hill, McConkey recommended starting with a long, gently slope to practice the “continuous, flowing motion of linked turns straight down the hill” that is powder skiing.  According to the article, there is no room for traversing a run on a powder day as “traversing like a cautious old woman is Taboo.”

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972 (the same year as the trip).  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article ends with hints that still hold up well today, such as “establish a rhythm”, “keep your head and shoulders facing down the fall line,” and “keep your feet locked together.”  Especially useful is McConkey’s last reminder:

Be sure to laugh when you take a giant clobber in the deep snow.  You will get your chance to laugh with your friends when they fall.  Powder snow and clobbers too are for everyone.

We may not be able to promise weeks of powder skiing this January, but you can join us at the museum Thursday, January 17 for a unique look back at an incredible journey from 1972.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum; $10 or $5 for museum or Club Shred members.  Doors open at 6:30 pm, the talk and film will start at 7 pm.  See you there!

Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the journey.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum.  $10 or $5 for Museum or Club Shred members.

Doors open at 6:30 pm; the talk and film begin at 7 pm.