Category Archives: Tales from Alta Lake

Before the lifts came, Alta Lake was a small resource and summer tourism based community.

An Oasis in the Bushes

A couple of weeks ago (Wednesday, November 17), the Whistler Museum opened Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town, a temporary exhibition about the Parkhurst Mill site. Though the Parkhurst Mill (or Northern Mills, as it was later called) closed in 1956, the site continued to be inhabited and cared for by various people squatting on the privately owned land into the 1990s.

While preparing for this exhibit, we were able to speak with one of the last (as far as we know) full-time residents of Parkhurst. Eric (also known to some as the Sheriff of Parkhurst) lived at Parkhurst from 1995 to July 1996. He first came to Whistler in 1989 and lived in various small cabins before hearing that Parkhurst had become available. He and a friend went over to talk to the previous occupant, who is believed to have lived there for twelve years, and look around the area. At that time, a two-bedroom house and a smaller cabin down the road were still habitable and the pair decided to move in. A few things needed a little bit of fixing up and the structures had no power, but there was an outhouse, gravity-fed running water, a woodshed, and a large garden. Eric and his friend invested a lot of time into the garden by keeping it up, adding a moss garden, collecting wrought iron and decorative ornaments, and making it “a little bit showy for people that were mountain biking in there.” The garden was meant to be shared with those who came by the area.

Part of the buildings and garden that were still present in 1999. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

This garden is also part of a bit of a mystery at the museum. In 2007, guestbooks from the Parkhurst garden ranging from 1995 to 1999 were mailed to the Whistler Public Library and then given to the museum to add to our archives in 2016. We don’t have any information about who sent the books to the library, who removed them from Parkhurst, or where they were kept at the garden. (If you have more information about the books, please let us know.)

Along with messages, visitors would leave drawings in the guestbooks, such as this one left in 1998.

Though some of the earlier entries are addressed to Eric, most of the entries in the books are addressed to a mysterious caretaker named “John.” Friends left messages to let John or Eric know they had been by to water the garden or take out some garbage, and two former Parkhurst residents from the 1970s wrote that they had stopped by. Anyone was welcome to write in the books and many people who hiked, biked, or paddled over to Parkhurst recorded their impressions. In July 1995, a group of Swedish physicists came across the garden and left a note to say hello and, in 1997, a hiker asked how John put up with all the mosquitoes. Occasionally, John would respond, such as when Rachel left gifts including a candle and picture for his walls.

The overarching message through the entries is gratitude for what one person described as a “nice oasis in the bushes.” The garden meant something different to each visitor but was appreciated as a peaceful, beautiful space open to all. In 1996, Christine wrote of the garden, “It has been a haven for me ever since I discovered it,” a sentiment that was expressed by many others as well.

As far as we know, this was the only wedding held in the Parkhurst garden area. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

In September 1999, a wedding was held in the garden and gazebo when Jen and Rob paddled 75 guests over for their ceremony. By that time, it appears no one was maintaining the garden full-time and the pair did some work to the area before their wedding took place. Today, there are few traces of the garden left and the surrounding buildings have become more dilapidated.

Parkhurst: Logging Camp to Ghost Town will run through January 17, 2022 at the Whistler Museum. If you have a story about the Parkhurst area you would like to share, please let us know!

Remembering Trips to Alta Lake

When the museum conducts oral history interviews, one of the questions asked is how the interviewee first came to the Whistler area. This question is often interpreted in one of two ways, with answers as varied as the individuals. Some interpret it as why they visited or moved to the area, while others answer more literally (one memorable answer was simply “car”). In a 2012 conversation with Kenneth Farley, he provided answers for both variations, including a description of traveling from Vancouver to Alta Lake in the 1940s, featuring at least three different means of transportation.

Kenneth’s parents, Frank and Hilda Farley, first visited Alta Lake in 1943 and rented a cabin at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake for a week in the summer. Frank was a keen fly-fisherman and so the couple decided to buy property along the railroad tracks by Alta Lake from a Mr. Noble, who they knew from their home in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. According to Kenneth, he came to Alta Lake “to see what it was all about” after his parents told him they had already bought the property. This was the first of many visits for Kenneth and his family.

The Farleys’ trips began in Kerrisdale on 49th Ave. From there they would walk eight blocks down to 41st, where the family caught the number 7 streetcar, which would take them downtown. The next step was to walk across the overpass above the fright yards to the waterfront, where the Union Steamship would be waiting.

Grace Woollard on a Union Steamship on the way up to Squamish, a bit earlier than the Farley family’s trips. Clarke Collection.

The trip aboard the Union Steamship was hardly an express route. After sailing through the Narrows, the ship stopped at most of the small colonial settlements along the Howe Sound, including Woodfibre and Britannia, before arriving in Squamish. As Kenneth recalled, it was often so windy in Squamish that the journey was made even longer as the captain faced the challenge of docking. Upon arrival in Squamish, Kenneth recalled navigating around “great big puddles full of water” to the Chinese restaurant, where they would eat apple pie while waiting for the train to be loaded with its freight. Eventually, the engineer would whistle and everyone would run to board the train before it went “rambling off in a cloud of dust and smoke.”

According to Kenneth, the cars used by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway were “real antique,” with sliding windows, a potbelly stove for warmth, and oil lamps suspended from the ceiling. The views along the route, however, made up for any discomfort on the train. Passengers could even disembark at Brandywine Falls to walk over and take a look at the Falls before continuing north.

The view from the train through the Cheakamus Canyon. Traveling to Alta Lake by train provided views that the highway could not. Clarke Collection.

The train usually reached the Alta Lake Station around 5:30pm and the Farleys would leave their baggage there while they walked to their cabin. When making the first trip of the spring, they often had to fix the chimney (which the snow had pushed over) and bail out the skiff made of rough planks. Once the skiff was emptied, someone would have to row back to the station to collect the baggage and then row back, finally completing the journey.

Kenneth remembered one memorable occasion traveling with his wife Shirley and sons Patrick and Greg when an additional stage was added to the journey. As he recalled, “It was raining, rain was slashing against the windows, and the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. And people started to get out of the train and go across the ditch on a 2×12 plank and the conductor was helping them across. And I thought, ‘Gee, this must be some new settlement or something or other,’ and then he came and said, ‘It’s your turn.'” There had been a derailment ahead and the passengers were taken to dump trucks with makeshift benches that took them up rough logging roads to a point further along the railway. There they boarded what Kenneth described as “vintage rolling stock,” with him and his family riding the caboose at the end.

During the Farleys’ early trips, the “road” to Alta Lake wasn’t smooth sailing.. MacLaurin Collection.

The Farley family began driving to Alta Lake after a road was constructed from Vancouver in the 1960s, though the journey could still be eventful. Kenneth Farley’s recollections of earlier trips, however, provide useful information about how visitors used to travel.

Why Is That Named Horstman?

Over the past few months we have received quite a few donations of artefacts and archival records at the Whistler Museum, including scale models, archival films, and photographs in various forms. One recent donation included a copy of a land title of an early 20th century Alta Lake resident whose name is well known throughout the valley: Harry Horstman.

Harry Horstman at his Mt. Sproatt cabin. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection.

Harry Horstman moved west from Kansas at some point prior to 1912. He staked a mining claim on Mount Sproatt, where he spent much of his time searching for copper and iron (and possibly dreaming of gold). He also preempted two parcels of land, one between Nita and Alpha Lakes and another at the other end of Alpha Lake. Preemption was a method of acquiring Crown Land from the government for agriculture or settlement; preemption did not take into account indigenous claims to land, and the land that Horstman preempted is part of the unceded territory of the Squamish Nation and the Lil’wat Nation. According to this recent donation, Horstman’s property at the south end of Alpha Lake was known as Lot 3361 and was made up of 150 acres, more or less.

Horstman kept a small farm on his property near Nita Lake where, according to Jenney Jardine, he had fifty to sixty chickens, “all sorts of potatoes and rhubarb and gorgeous cauliflowers.” He sold eggs and fresh produce to Rainbow Lode and other Alta Lake residents to supplement his income from prospecting. Part of his property on Alpha Lake was acquired by Thomas Neiland, who moved to Alta Lake with the Jardine family in 1921 to set up a forestry business. It is not, however, clear how much of the 150 acres were used by Neiland or whether Horstman made use of the rest of the land.

Harry Horstman serves coffee at the first Alta Lake Community Club picnic. Philip Collection.

While some Alta Lake residents, such as Jenny Jardine’s brother Jack and railway section foreman Fred Woods, got to know Horstman relatively well, others described him as an “odd man” and may have seen him mostly from a distance. According to Pip Brock, Horstman “didn’t enjoy people that much,” though he was part of the Alta Lake Community Club in the 1920s and was even put in charge of the coffee at their first picnic.

In 1936, Horstman sold his Nita Lake property to Russ Jordan, who reportedly bought the approximately 160 acres for $2000. When Horstman began to find the physical labour of prospecting too much, he retired to his cabin on Alpha Lake, presumably on his property on the south end of the lake. He remained there until about 1945, when his neighbours on today’s Pine Point, Dr. and Grace Naismith, arranged for Horstman to move to a nursing home in Kamloops.

Presumably Dr. and Grace Naismith outside their house on Pine Point on Alpha Lake. Philip Collection.

Harry Horstman died in 1946 and was buried in Kamloops, though his name can still be found throughout Whistler, most notably the Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain. In an interview in the 1980s, however, Jack Jardine expressed his confusion as to why Horstman’s name was given to a glacier on a mountain Horstman was never known to climb.

The Woods at Alta Lake

The Woods family moved to Alta Lake around 1926 and worked in the area, both for the railway and in the logging industry, until the 1940s. Fred Woods was born in the Isle of Man and immigrated to Canada after a time in the army. He worked on the railroad in Broadview, Saskatchewan where he met and married Elizabeth. Their first child, Helen, was born in Broadview in 1921 and a couple of years later the family moved to Port Coquiltam, where Fred continued to work on the railroad. While there Fred and Elizabeth had two sons, Jack and Pat. Fred then took a job as a section foreman for the PGE Railway and the entire family moved to Alta Lake.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods on the train tracks at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

After a few years, Fred lost his job with the PGE and the family moved out of the company house. After living for a time in a much smaller house, the family was able to rent a property from Jack Findlay, who charged them only the cost of the property taxes. The property included a house, barn, hayfield, and garden and was located across the creek from the Tapley’s farm. Fred began working for the logging operation of B.C. Keeley of Parkhurst during the summers and clearing trails and bridges as relief work in the winters.

The family kept a cow, horse, chickens, and, at times, a pig and grew their own vegetables. In the summer the children would pick berries that Elizabeth would use to make jam. She also canned meat from their animals. When the logging camp closed at the end of the summer Fred would order groceries such as flour and sugar wholesale through the cookhouse to last through the winter. Vegetables were stored in the roothouse and the children would keep the path from the house clear of snow.

Pat Woods, Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland and Jack Woods skating at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

Helen, Pat, Jack and later their younger brother Kenneth went to the Alta Lake School, though Pat remembered some days when snow prevented them from attending. As they got older they also began working outside of their home. When Jack was fifteen and Pat fourteen they spent a summer working in the sawmill at Lost Lost (after a fire at Parkhurst in 1938, logging operations were temporarily moved to Lost Lake before returning to Green Lake). Their employment ended abruptly when Jack lost all the fingers on his right hand in a workplace accident. According to Pat, it took years for Jack to receive compensation, as he was supposed to be sixteen before working in the mill.

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers, held in the school.

Though the family worked hard during their years at Alta Lake, both Pat and Helen had fond memories of living in the area. Elizabeth loved music and taught her children to play violin and guitar. She played accordion and the family would perform at community dances. They also remembered the kindness of various “bachelors” who lived at Alta Lake, such as Bill Bailiff and Ed Droll, who would visit with their father and sometimes give the children carrots from their gardens on their way to school.

In the early 1940s Fred Woods joined the Canadian army and the family, apart from Helen who had left home and lived in Squamish, moved to North Vancouver. In later years, members of the Woods family returned as visitors to Alta Lake and then Whistler, though they never forgot the years they spent living and working in the area.