Category Archives: Ski-Town stories

The Holiday Season in Whistler

The holiday season has always been a hectic time in Whistler, as so much energy is spent welcoming and entertaining guests.  The Village Stroll looks magical at this time of year, with the lights glowing on the trees and the snow falling through the air.

Scanning through our archives, photos from many collections show that Christmas has been a major production in the area dating back to Rainbow Lodge in the 1920s.  Alex and Myrtle Philip, the owners and proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, were renowned hosts and pulled out all the stops at Christmas to entertain visitors and residents around Alta Lake.

Here’s the Rainbow Lodge dinner table, Christmas 1923.  Philip Collection.

While we have only a few photos of the interior of Rainbow Lodge during this era, the Philip Collection includes images of the main lodge with a decorated tree and streamers and the dining room set for Christmas dinner.

Other holiday photos from Alta Lake include the Woods family in the snow with party hats and a New Year’s Eve dance at the community hall (also the Alta Lake School) in 1937.

New Year’s Eve celebrations at the community hall for 1937.  Philip Collection.

Dances at the community hall were remembered fondly by Bob Williamson, a lineman working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in the 1930s.  As he recalled, “This was the Hungry Thirties.  Not very many locals were earning much money but many pleasant evenings were spent in this hall in the wintertime… The only cost for the evening was to buy the coffee and that was raised by donations of 10 to 25 cents from those who could afford it.  Alex Philip made the coffee in Granitewood Gallon Coffee pots.  It was excellent coffee.”

Season’s Greetings from Whistler Mountain staff, early 1970s.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

As skiing developed in the valley, winter and the holiday season got busier.  The Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection includes photos of a skiing Santa, ski instructors dressed up as reindeer and Seasons Greetings from Whistler Mountain.

The so-called “ski bums” got into the holiday spirit as well.  Over the past few months Angelus Chouinard has been working on digitizing the complete George Benjamin Collection and we have found some gems showing Christmas dinner being prepared at the first infamous Toad Hall in 1969.

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969!  Benjamin Collection.

John Hetherington, Toad Hall staple, Whistler Mountain ski patroller and current Whistler Museum Board President, reflected fondly on those days:

Christmas at Toad Hall was great… Of course, there was no electricity, so it was just Coleman lanterns and the old ‘Master Climax’ wood stove.  One year we used candles to decorate the Christmas tree.  We only had birthday candles so they burned quick and we had to keep replacing them.  While they were burning it looked amazing, but we were terrified of burning the whole place down.

Many such treasures have been found while digitizing the George Benjamin Collection.  George Benjamin first came to Whistler to ski in 1968 and moved to the area in 1970.  He and John Hetherington co-owned Tokum Corners, a roughly made cabin with no electricity or running water, and lived there with Rod MacLeod into the early 1980s.  George was a semi-professional photographer and, as his family in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, was able to develop his photographs for free.  There are over 8000 images included in the George Benjamin Collection, spanning from his first visit in 1968 to 1991.

To view more of the photos mentioned here, check out our Smugmug page here and keep an eye out for more photos from the George Benjamin Collection to be added in the New Year!

We hope everyone enjoys their holiday season and wish all of you a Happy New Year!

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This Week In Photos: December 20

Somehow, we’ve only got one more week of This Week In Photos left after this one.  Though the year seems to have passed alarmingly quickly, we’ve really enjoyed sharing photos from The Whistler Question with you each week.  Be sure to take a look through past weeks – you never know if there’s something (or someone) you missed!

1978

The season’s first skiers lining up to buy tickets on Friday.

One of the first gondolas full of skiers to go up the mountain this year.

Santa is surrounded by children at the school concert.

Betty Shore shares a joke with Santa after the concert.

1979

The ruler measures 28 cm! After the storm on Thursday, December 13, before it turned to rain.

At the Ski Club Benefit Evening, a smiling group enjoys themselves…

… and auctioneer Paul Burrows looks for bids on a Salomon cap.

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.

Mechanical failure causes the School Bus to go off the road last week – there were no children on board.

4:30 PM at the Husky intersection on a busy, snowy evening.

1980

An unusual sight on Whistler – aerial view of skiers lining up at the mid station loading on the Green Chair – Friday, December 19.

Latest aerial view of Whistler Village – December 19, 1980.

Santa’s helpers pass out goodies at Signal Hill School in Pemberton.

After a dramatic arrival by helicopter, Santa is mobbed at the Rainbow Ski Village Saturday as he tries to distribute candy canes.

New sign at the entrance to the Village has proved very helpful to both visitors and residents. The only problem is the wrong spelling of Whistler’s first lady – it should be Philip.

Big puddle formed quickly at the northern entrance to Blackcomb Estates after rain started and warm temperatures melted the past week’s heavy snowfall.

1981

Make-up time for moms and dads and kids before curtain call for the Myrtle Philip School play.

Owner Dick Gibbons (left) and designer Gilbert Konqui lend a hand getting the Longhorn ready for action. Located in Carleton Lodge in the Village, the 250-seat restaurant is ready to serve you a drink and a quick, hot meal.

Hats off to Peter’s Underground. Peter Skoros and crew gave a tip of the old hat at the lively opening of Peter’s Underground Sunday, December 20. Cordon Rouge, prime rib and a roomful of laughter highlighted the evening. Located under Tapley’s, Peter’s Underground promises good food at very reasonable prices 21.5 hours a day (open 6 am – 3:30 am) seven days a week.

Gerry Frechette gets a hand fro Sylvan Ferguson in erecting the parking meter stand.

1982

No, this young man is not a practitioner of the latest foot fetishes. He’s fitting WMSC General Manager Peter Alder with a new pair of boots from McConkey’s Ski Shop. (By the way, Peter’s old boots were just that – old. They fastened with laces.)

Nick Gibbs, Stoney’s chef, went all out with his culinary talents and produced this appetizing creation from a 40 lb. salmon donated by the Grocery Store. It was part of a huge “indoor picnic” for participants in the All Cal Winter Carnival.

Susan Christopher helps a sheep into costume before the school play.

Publisher Paul Burrows and his wife Jane prior to a well-earned visit to the Caribbean.

1984

Michele Bertholet is the head chef at Pika’s (pronounced Peeka’s), Whistler Mountain’s new restaurant adjacent the Roundhouse. The facility, which is licensed to seat 400 persons, had its official opening Friday. The 8,300 sq. ft. restaurant, designed by architect Lee Bruch and engineer Jon Paine, cost about $600,000 to construct including more than $150,000 in kitchen equipment. Bertholet and his staff will now be able to provide freshly baked pastries, rolls and buns daily as well as hearty meals such as Baron of Beef and chilli. As well, the new restaurant features a custom sandwich bar. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation named the restaurant Pika’s, a small rock rabbit commonly found through the high alpine regions of North America, after a contest that drew 300 entries. Whistler residents Ms. Lori Mitchell and Mr. Peter Pritt were the winners and will split the grand prize so that each will receive $100 as well as a $50 gift certificate from Dusty’s Cantina. Coincidentally, the name also fits a former mountain resident of a slightly larger form: Jessica Hare. Jessica lived in Whistler Mountain’s alpine residence for four of her five years and gained the nickname Pika.

The North Shore Community Credit Union moved across the square to its new 1,300 sq. ft. premises Sunday. The bureau, an 8,500 fund safe and other banking equipment had to be moved by truck from the old location to the new. Carpenters and electricians worked nearly around the clock Sunday and Monday to be ready for business as usual Tuesday. They made deadline.

Sunshine Jim entertained about more than 100 Whistler youngsters Saturday afternoon before the kids were visited by Santa Claus. Sunshine Jim sang a series of songs including Scooter the Car and Porky the Raccoon who, even though traditional enemies, became friends. The event was sponsored by the Alta Lake Community Club and was held in the Myrtle Philip School lunchroom.

Five-year-old Paul Vance shares Santa’s knee with his brother, six-month-old John.

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

Everything is Connected

You never know when you’ll find a connection in Whistler’s history between two seemingly unrelated subjects.  A recent donation to the museum showed an unexpected connection between the Chateau Whistler Resort and the topic of last week’s post, Toad Hall.

While clearing out some offices, staff at the Chateau came across a large book full of press clippings dating from 1987 to 1993.  This book was donated to the museum and provides a pretty comprehensive picture of the proposal, development and opening of the Chateau Whistler Resort, as well as Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler Village and the resort in general (it even includes an article on the historical bus tours that used to run in Whistler).

From the contents, the book appears to have been compiled by Debbie Williamson, then the director of sales at the Chateau.

In 1987, when the clippings begin, Intrawest Properties Ltd. was actively developing the 254-acre (103-hectare) site at the base of Blackcomb, now known as the Benchlands.  As part of this larger development, Canadian Pacific Hotels had plans to build what would become Whistler’s biggest hotel.

The Chateau Whistler Resort in 1996, after the addition of 221 rooms and the well-known Macdonald Ballroom. Whistler Question Collection.

With a budget of $50 million, the Chateau Whistler Resort was to include a ballroom, banquet room, meeting rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, six tennis courts (including two covered courts), a dining room, restaurant and a 200-seat discotheque, all scheduled to be open for the 1989-90 ski season.  An 18-hole golf course was also to be built, though it was not expected to open until the summer of 1990.

The Chateau Whistler Resort was officially given council’s conceptual approval in August 1987.  Despite some problems with the asphalt tiles of the roof (John MacKenzie, in the Whistler Question, thought that “The roof looks like it was designed by Jimi Hendrix, with the mottled green and white”), the Chateau was ready to open on schedule in November 1989, with almost everything from the original plans (unfortunately there was no discotheque).

The Chateau’s opening on November 17 was well covered by The Province, and it is here that the connection between the grand hotel and Toad Hall appears.  The first guest to be presented a key by general manager Dave Roberts was a Mrs. Winnifred Mather Hillman, who was given the stay at the hotel as a surprise birthday gift by her husband Charles.  Charles Hillman (as mentioned in last week’s article) was the owner of the first Toad Hall, a house originally built by Alf Gebhart.

The first Toad Hall, 1969. Benjamin Collection.

The clipping continue on until 1993, including a piece from August 1990 about the issue of the roof.  There had been concerns about the use of asphalt tiles instead of slate or another material from the beginning, and council was not too happy with the resulting “mottled green colour”.  The Chateau had been ordered to re-shingle, but the process was deferred and the hotel was later given the option of paying a “fine” of $140,000 to be used for community projects instead.

The museum would like to thank the Chateau for their donation.  If you find a piece of Whistler’s history while clearing out an old office, garage or attic come visit us at the museum.

Toad Hall: The Poster Returns

With the holiday season fast approaching we’ve started taking particular notice of holiday-themed photos in our collections.  These photos can vary from Whistler Mountain ski instructors dressed up as reindeer to Santa finding hidden powder to Season’s Greetings from the Philip family.  One of the more interesting holiday photos shows a roasted turkey in a wood burning stove called “Master Climax” (so named for the make of the stove).

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969! Benjamin Collection.

This stove was part of the kitchen set up at the first Toad Hall, one of Whistler’s most famous (or infamous) lodgings.  This Toad Hall was built by Alta Lake resident Alf Gebhart, who first came to live in the area in 1936.  In the mid-1960s, Alf sold his property to Charles Hillman, a high-school teacher working in Vancouver.  Charles, in turn, rented his property to a “respectable-looking” father with two daughters.  The rent was paid consistently and on time, though after a while the names on the cheques started to change.

By the time Charles Hillman decided to start using his cabin to ski, unbeknownst to him, the property had been renamed Toad Hall and was gaining a reputation across the country.  Charles arrived to find a young resident from Montreal cooking breakfast, evidence of a campfire in one of the bedrooms, and sleeping quarters set up wherever possible, including the chicken house.

The first Toad Hall, 1969. Benjamin Collection.

With help from the RCMP in Squamish and a court order, the residents of Toad Hall were amicably evicted, with enough time given for a farewell party.

By the 1970s, the Soo Valley Logging Camp, near the northern end of Green Lake, was no longer in use by the forestry industry.  This became the second incarnation of Toad Hall.  Perhaps the best known image of Toad Hall, the Toad Hall Poster, was taken here.

The second Toad Hall was scheduled for demolition in the summer of 1973.  (Though no buildings remain today, some photos of Parkhurst donated by the Clausen family show the in-use camp across the lake.)

The Toad Hall Poster.

That spring, knowing their time there was limited, residents gathered with their ski gear and little else for a memorable photo shoot set up by photographer Chris Speedie – 10,000 copies of this poster were printed and sold for two to three dollars each.  Copies were distributed along the World Cup ski circuit by Terry “Toulouse” Spence.

Over the decades, copies of these posters became harder to obtain.  Then, in 2013, Terry brought a box to the museum.  The museum officially sold out of the original run of Toad Hall posters this past January, almost 45 years after it was first printed.

The first official reprint of the Toad Hall Poster is now available to purchase at the Whistler Museum.

Saunas of Whistler

Looking through Whistler publications from the 1970s, it’s easy to see that building and design in Whistler has changed a lot over the decades.  It’s rare today to see a newly constructed A-frame, Gothic arch cabin or a condo advertised using wall-to-wall shag carpeting as a selling point.  Like the shag carpeting and A-frames, saunas also seem to be disappearing from town.

Not all saunas built in Whistler necessarily met the criteria of H.J. Viherjurri, one of the founding members of the Suomen Saunaseura (Finnish Sauna Society), to be considered a true sauna.  He and other members defined a sauna as a room or hut built of wood and containing stones heated by some kind of stones.  These stones heat the air to upwards of 160°F and water can be thrown on the stones to produce steam, called löyly.  Viherjuuri explains that, unlike steam rooms, the air in a sauna remains dry as the moisture is instantly absorbed by the wooden walls of the room.

It’s not clear whether the products in this 1980 California Pool & Spa ad from the Whistler Answer would meet the requirements of a sauna.  Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Also important to be considered a true sauna is the multi-round process of alternately heating and cooling, whether by a cold shower, jumping in a lake or even rolling in snow.  The process often also includes light beating with leafy birch branches to clean the skin.  Without known how saunas built in Whistler were used in the 1970s it is impossible to assume they met the requirements of this definition.  The term sauna was, however, used to attract buyers and visitors to various properties.

In advertisements placed in Garibaldi’s Whistler News the Christiana Inn, Highland Lodge, Cheakamus Inn, Ski Boot Lodge and Whistler Inn all featured the word sauna among their various assets.  The Whistler Inn, described as “an ultra modern, yet rustic lodge” listed their sauna first among their attractions “available for your added enjoyment and comfort”.

Many of the condominiums built around Whistler at the time also included saunas, whether private or shared, for the use of guests and residents.  Blackcomb Condominiums, Telemark Townhouses and Alpenforst condos all had saunas available and the “very deluxe units” of Adventures West included “dishawashers, saunas, washing machines and dryers”.

This living room was used to sell Tamarisk units in 1973; see the massive fireplace and wall-to-wall shag. Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Fall 1973.

Perhaps best known is the example of Tamarisk.  The first phase of Tamarisk, built in 1973, included 146 units, each featuring a sunken living area, a “massive stone fireplace”, shag carpet and a private sauna.

Saunas remained a popular part of aprés-ski culture into the 1980s.  For those who didn’t already have their own sauna Wedge Mountain Construction advertised in The Whistler Answer in December 1980 that they could build one for you.  You could also purchase a freestanding sauna kit from California Pool & Spa for $900.

For a price Wedge Mountain Construction would build a sauna for you. Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Though houses may still contain saunas, many of these rooms are now used for purposes other than bathing.  Growing up in 1980s house built with one of these wooden rooms, some small children thought sauna was just another word for storeroom.  Rather than attract buyers with the promise of their own private sauna, house listings today are more likely to advertise a Tamarisk unit with a converted sauna.

While saunas may not be nearly as prevalent as during their 1970s ’80s heyday, they can still be found in Whistler at Meadow Park Sports Centre, various hotels, the Scandinave Spa and even some private residences.

This Week In Photos: November 15

This week of 1984 includes some photos from Beer League Slo-pitch Banquet.  For more photos of the trophies mentioned, take a look here – some of them are quite interestingly crafted.

1979

The copper pillars of the pub in Package 6 reflect the afternoon sun at Whistler Village.

Three views of the Ski Swap… The crowds of cars outside..

… the crowds of people looking for bargains inside…

… and the RCMP engraving skis as part of their “Ski Watch” program.

Garibaldi Building Supplies’ Franke Desroches proudly displays the winning ticket.

The new town access road that runs past the school property. The new road is about 1.5 metres above the level of the school grounds.

Campbell McGougan and Bob Bates stands beside Alpine Security’s Bronco patrol vehicle.

View of the Rotary Auction as seen from the front of the room. Nandor Pal has just made a bid!

1980

First snow of the season: Sunday Evening, November 9, 1980.

New Guides Carrie Ainsworth, Marisa Gianne, Jodi Rustad and Rya Kirkwood proudly display their badges.

Stuart Remple and Steve Kellough of Salomon and Blackcomb Staffers Elizabeth Bennett and Martin Kimble mount bindings on the new Blackcomb rental skis.

Manager Dennis Lamarche stands in the centre of the new unfinished Whistler Liquor Store.

Gourmet’s Ted Nebbeling heads out with a tray of goodies for the Blackcomb Sports store opening.

A happy Blackcombe Sports staff cuts through the ribbon with a pair of skis as scissors at the store opening ceremonies.

Worker puts finishing touches to new dog pound adjacent to Whistler public works building.

1981

Oh happy days – frosted slopes and free season’s passes from each mountain. Roland Kentel (left), president of Whistler Athletic Society, was pleased to present Rod MacLeod with a pass to Whistler and Cheryl Devine with one to Blackcomb for their top efforts in raising money for the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope; Rod raised $1,260 and Cheryl raised $1,134.

Oops – didn’t think that telephone pole looked like that last night. This one took a nose-dive in the early morning hours of Saturday, November 14, knocking out power in the southern part of the municipality for several hours. BC Hydro said that the rain-soaked earth was at the root of the problem.

Al Raine displays his broadjumping skills for sons Charlie and Willie, an unidentified family friend and the family dog.

Department of Highways worker stands on one of the 44,000 lb. concrete beams that will make up the base of the Bridge at River of Golden Dreams.

Treasurer Gary Raymond plays at the keyboard of the municipality’s new $60,000 Basic MAI system 210 computer. The system is capable of printing 150 lines per minute and storing up to 14 million characters. Tax accountant Kathy Hicks and MAI system analyst Gene Wong look on.

1982

New positions and new faces on Blackcomb Mountain this season include (l – r) Lorne Borgal, Administrative Manager; Rick Morten, Operations Manager; Grant Smith, Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor; Ross Nichol, Comptroller.

A quiet moment in memory of the war dead is observed Thursday, November 11 by members of Whistler RCMP and Whistler Ambulance. (L – R) Denver Snider, Gord Simms, Andrea Lloyd and Jim Scribner observe two minutes of silence after laying a wreath. Any war vets who would be interested in holding an Armistice Day service next year are asked to contact Jim Scribner.

Margate Kogler ‘hams it up’ with a submarine sandwich in the kitchen at the Community Club Fall Fair November 13.

Eugene Rickli displays a selection of his hand-carved cedar faces at the Community Club Fall Fair.

First snowman of the season was being created on November 15 with only the help of a small shovel and a metal spoon. Sculptors are (clockwise from the bottom left): Sam Davies, Pam Pocius, Tim Sereda, Anthony Garm and Nina Lewis.

Ian Boyd, an employee of Whistler Mountain Ski Corp., demonstrates the ins and outs of this SMI snow-making machine Thursday. The machine, which may be put to use on Whistler Mountain this winter, is able to produce enough snow to cover one acre one-half inch deep in one hour.

1984

Smith Brothers Wilson employees poured part of the concrete slab for the Conference Centre’s second floor Friday. Construction crews are racing against the clock to get the second floor and roof completed before the end of the month. The 2,100 person capacity Conference Centre is scheduled to open June 1.

About 75 people attended a brief Remembrance Day ceremony in front of the Tri-Services Building Sunday morning. At precisely 11 am a minute of silence was observed to commemorate those Canadian men and women who died in battle and to give thanks for the peace they fought and died for.

About 1,300 people passed through Myrtle Philip School gym and lunchroom Saturday for the 8th annual Fall Fair organized by Heather Gamache and Catherine Wiens from the Alta Lake Community Club. Although final figures haven’t yet been tabulated, Gamache estimates the club raised close to $1,800 from the fair that featured clothing, jewellery, photography and art and other hand-made crafts.

Sonya McCarthy with a selection of South American clothing she was selling at Saturday’s Fall Fair.

150 people showed up for the last week’s beer league’s slo-pitch banquet, despite weather conditions that were definitely not for baseball. Each team in the league made a trophy for presentation to one of the other teams. Trophies included a No Name brand trophy, a softball/sailboat, and a Muppet-like doll with one rather unMuppet-like feature.

Stoney’s accepts its team trophy. The team won the league championship this year.