Category Archives: Tales from Alta Lake

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

Baking Mountains at the Fall Fair

If you’ve every tried to make a cake that looks like something other than a cake, you’ve probably discovered that it’s not always that easy to do.  The idea of creating a cake that looks like a specific geological form may seem intimidating, but in 1980 that was just what contestants in the Fall Fair Mountain Cake Bake contest were asked to do.

The Alta Lake Community Club’s (ALCC) Fall Fair was first held in the Myrtle Philip School gym in 1977.  The ALCC had “reactivated” itself in 1976 after a four year hiatus and began supporting adult education classes, a Brownies group, dances and children’s parties.  In May of 1977 they began planning a Fall Fair to be held in November in partnership with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club’s Ski Swap.  The Fair was a fundraiser for the ALCC and featured a cafe in the lunchroom, handmade crafts, a white elephant gift exchange, a raffle, and even a ski demonstration.  This first Fair made a profit and the ALCC began planning a slightly larger fair for the following year.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow in 1923.  The ALCC had various periods of inactivity, including in the 1970s.  Philip Collection.

The Fall Fair continued to be held in the school gym and over time additions were made.  The ALCC began appointing members to organize the event, one of the club’s main fundraisers.  The 1980 Fall Fair would appear to have been a particularly successful year.

On November 22, 1980, Myrtle Philip School might have the most bustling place in Whistler.  In addition to the Mountain Cake Bake contest, that year’s Fair included stalls selling various crafts, a bale sale stall contributed to by various community members, a rummage sale coordinated by Viv Jennings, and the Port Moody High School Stage band, featuring Whistler regular Mark MacLaurin on trumpet.  For $1 attendees could also buy a raffle ticket and be entered to win prizes including a Whistler Mountain Season Pass, a Blackcomb Mountain Season Pass, and two children’s passes for Ski Rainbow on Rainbow Mountain.

About 1,300 people passed through Myrtle Philip School gym and lunchroom for the 8th annual Fall Fair organized by Heather Gamache and Catherine Wiens from the Alta Lake Community Club. Gamache estimates the club raised close to $1,800 from the fair that featured clothing, jewellery, photography and art and other hand-made crafts. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

A month before the Fall Fair, an article was published in the Whistler Question outlining the rules and regulations of the Mountain Cake Bake competition.  Written by Cathy Jewett, it included a (unsubstantiated) history of mountain cake baking in the area, supposedly begun by none other than Myrtle Philip who was said to have created a cherry-flavoured replica of Rainbow Mountain, inspiring the formation of the Mountain Cake Baking Society.  The rules of the competition were fairly simple: cakes had to be at the Fall Fair no later than 10:30 am and had to taste good while resembling a local mountain.  That evening the winning cake would be consumed while the runners-up were to be auctioned off.  Though there is no mention of what first prize consisted of, all entrants were eligible for dinner at Beau’s.  To get potential entrants thinking, Jewett offered suggestions such as “a Mount Brew Beer Cake, Sproat Mountain carved out of alfalfa cake, a licorice flavoured Black Tusk,” and more.

The products of the Mountain Cake Bake. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The 1980 Fall Fair was described in the ALCC minutes as a “financial success.”  The prize for the Mountain Cake Bake was awarded to Debbie Cook and her sister Karen, who submitted a model of Diamond Head that was said to be “pleasing both to the eye and the palate.”  It was also a success for Norman Dedeluk, Sid Young, Ross Cameron and Moira Biggin-Pound who all won various seasons passes in the raffle.

1980 appears to be the only year the Mountain Cake Bake competition took place, as there is no other mention of it in the ALCC meetings, but if you would like to share your own experiences trying to recreate Whistler’s landscape out of cake, let us know at the Whistler Museum.

Teaching at Alta Lake

With the beginning of a new (though uncertain) school year, we thought we’d take a look back at the first school built in the Whistler valley and one of its teachers.  The Alta Lake School was built in 1931 and operated until 1946, when it closed due to an insufficient number of students.  It reopened in a new building in 1956 but continued to struggle with enrolment.

Mel Carrico was born in Alberta and after the war he and his wife Dagmar decided to raise their family in British Columbia.  Though trained as a teacher, Carrico worked for Alcan in Kitimat and the Department of Labour in Smithers through the late 1940s and 1950s.  In 1958 he returned to the classroom, teaching first in the one room schoolhouse in Garibaldi and then becoming the teacher at the one room schoolhouse at Alta Lake.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.  Most years the school required ten students to open, so Jack Jardine was also counted as a student although he did not attend.  R Jardine Collection.

According to an oral history interview with Rob Carrico, Mel’s son, his father was asked during his interview with Don Ross, then the head of the school board, how many school aged children he had, as four were needed to reopen the Alta Lake School.  There were technically three potential Carrico students, but Rob’s younger sister was put into Grade One at the age of five to make up the numbers and Mel Carrico was hired.

The family spent two years living near the school at Alta Lake.  Looking back, Rob said his only regret about his time there was that there were no other boys around his age and he had wanted to be a Cub Scout.  Most of the students came from families employed by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.  No matter their age, all students learned in the same classroom.  Rob remembered that, “It was always interesting because you could listen in on all the lessons.”  If the Grade Three lesson was not too exciting, the Grade Five lesson might have been more intriguing.

According to Rob, Alta Lake was “a good place to go to school,” partly because of the nearby creek where one could go at recess to catch Kokanee.  Each year his father ensured that the school put on a big Christmas concert, usually including a puppet show.  The students would help to make marionettes and a stage would be constructed at the school.  The concert was a big event for the small Alta Lake community.

The original Alta Lake School building, which was replaced by a similar building in the 1940s and 50s.  Philip Collection.

Rob remembered the community as close-knit, where neighbours would look after each other, visiting often and coming together for bingo and other events, such as the Ice-Break Raffle and the summer fish derby (which he thought might have just been an excuse to gather a lot of fish and have a big community fish fry).

The Carricos left Alta Lake in 1961 when Rob’s elder sister reached high school.  The Alta Lake School did not teach higher grades and so she would have had to leave her family and attend school in Squamish while being boarded.  Instead, the entire family moved to Squamish and Mel Carrico continued to teach in the school district.  He eventually retired as the principal of Mamquam Elementary School.

A Dairy at Alta Lake

When Alfred Barnfield first came to the Sea to Sky area he likely wasn’t planning to one day be delivering milk and cream by canoe.  After arriving in Canada, Alfred spent a few years working various jobs before settling in Squamish in 1891.  Around that time, the provincial government paid him $1,000 to inspect the condition of the Pemberton Trail, which had not been widely used since its construction in the 1870s.  The result of his inspection allowed the Pemberton Trail to reopen to packhorse traffic and would have provided Alfred with his first views of Alta Lake.

Alfred Barnfield atop Wedge Mountain, with what appears to be a rock pick, while working as a prospector.  Barnfield Collection.

In 1903 Alfred formed a group with a few other Englishmen, imaginatively named The London Group, and prospected around the Garibaldi and Black Tusk area but never made any substantial finds.  Two years later he returned to the Alta Lake area to preempt and clear land on the northeast end of the lake.

That same year, Daisy Hotchkiss came to Brackendale with her sister and brother-in-law at the age of fifteen.  Alfred and Daisy were married five years later and the pair continued clearing the land at Alta Lake.

Daisy Hotchkiss was 23 years younger than Alfred Barnfield, but by all accounts the pair had a very successful marriage.  Barnfield Collection.

As Alta Lake gained a reputation as a fishing destination and summer resort, Alfred and Daisy and their four children (Fred, William, Vera and Charles) established a dairy farm on their land to supply the lodges and cottage around the lake with fresh milk, cream, eggs, and butter.  While grocery orders could be delivered from Vancouver by train, fresh dairy products would have been hard to come by on a daily basis.  At one point the Barnfields kept fourteen cows, as well as chickens and a few pigs.

Daisy Barnfield feeds the chickens with some help from the children, seemingly at the Brackendale property.  Barnfield Collection.

In an interview with the museum in 1993, Vera Merchant remembered her father loading his canoe with boxes of milk and delivering it around the lake.  According to Vera, he made his deliveries every morning, even when the weather was questionable.  She recalled, “He never missed a morning and sometimes it would be so stormy he just couldn’t hardly make that canoe go.”  Luckily for Alfred, he was able to end his deliveries with a visit in the kitchen at Rainbow Lodge, where he would be brought up to date on all the local news and gossip.

The Barnfields moved their dairy farm to Brackendale in 1926 but the family continued to spend their summers at Alta Lake, delivering milk and cream by canoe.  Vera remembered that every summer they would rent a cattle car and load up the cows, crates of chickens, and pigs for the rail journey to Alta Lake.

For the Barnfield children, summers weren’t all about work.  Their father taught them to swim and apparently they took to the water like fish.  The Barnfields kept a horse for working on the land and as a small child Vera would take him for rides, going so far as Green Lake where she would visit her friend at the Lineham Mink Ranch.  She recalled that she never worried about the bears and cougars known to be in the area, feeling safe atop the large horse.

Vera Barnfield returned to Alta Lake in the 1930s and worked a couple of summers at Rainbow Lodge.  Philip Collection.

Even after the Barnfields topped bringing their dairy up to Alta Lake for the season they kept ownership of the land at the northeast end of the lake until after Alfred’s death in 1960.  In the 1970s Daisy sold most of the property to Robert Bishop and Bernard Brown and it was developed as Adventures West and the Whistler Cay neighbourhood.  She gave each of her three surviving children (Charles had been killed in the Second World War) about an acre of lakefront property.

Though there are no traces of a dairy left, in 1988 the last of Alfred’s property was sold and the family can be seen in the addresses of those who live there: Barnfield Place and Daisy Lane.

Alta Lake Speeders

Transportation in the Whistler valley takes many different forms; people walk, bike, rollerblade, skateboard, bus, drive, and even ski in some seasons from one place to another.  In the early 20th century Alta lake residents had another way to get around the area: the railroad.

Speeders, maintenance vehicles used by inspectors, work crews, and other employees to travel along the track, are often mentioned in oral histories about Alta lake.  Speeders could be dangerous (in 1918 John Jardine was working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) alongside Thomas Neiland when the speeder he was riding on collided with a train and John was killed) but they could also be very convenient.  In the 1950s, when there was still no easy road access to Alta lake, those with speeders were some of the first to be called in the event of an emergency, such as when a section foreman and his speeder were called on to transport a labouring Marianne Golnick to the hospital in Squamish.

Especially when snow was piled high, the tracks offered a clear path through the valley.  Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection.

Eugene Jordan, the son of Russ Jordan who operated Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake, spend some summers living at Nita Lake with his wife Lorraine and their children while he worked in fire suppression for the BC Forest Service.  Fire Suppression meant following the train on a speeder and putting out any fires found along the way.  According to Lorraine, “There were quite a few fires, you know, people would throw a cigarette out.  And the trains used to themselves, the brakes would give off sparks and start fires.”

The BC Forest Service and fire suppression also brought Walt Punnett to the valley in 1947.  Walt had served in the navy during the Second World War and, after being discharged, began working with the Forest Service.  Like Eugene, Walt followed the trains on the PGE on a speeder as a “spark-chaser.”  He was stationed at Mile 83 (today known as Devine) but his section extended south to the Alta Lake Station and he would sometimes be entertained by Alex Philip at Rainbow Lodge in between runs.

These handcars (powered by pumping the lever at the front) were popular before speeders were introduced, and were sometimes used for fun by those who lived at Alta Lake since they were much faster than walking

Walt explained that he and his partner would wait ten or fifteen minutes before following after the train, as “by that time if there was gonna be anything, a fire, it would have got started but not had time to do any damage.”  Most of the fires would start in rotten ties and could be smelt while passing.  According to Walt, the summer of 1947 was a quiet fire season and the worst part of the job was filling out paperwork, which all had to be filled out in triplicate by hand.

A covered speeder traveling on the PGE tracks in wintertime.  Some speeders were larger than others and could carry an entire crew.  Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection.

Despite a quiet summer, Walt’s last day of work for the Forest Service demonstrated both the danger and the convenience of speeders.  A millworker had run his fingertips through an edger and the fastest means of transportation to reach medical care was by speeder.  Walt phoned Squamish to find out what trains were running that day and the pair set out.  Only one freight trains was expected and it was meant to be quite a ways off.  Near Anderson Lake, however, while heading downhill and northbound, Walt rounded a bend and found the steam engine coming straight at him.  The speeder was moving too fast to jump off of so Walt held onto his passenger, threw on the one-wheel brake, and at the last second, Walt and his passenger jumped off either side and watched the speeder flip high in the air.

Speeders have now largely been replaced by trucks using flanged wheels to travel along tracks, but they were an important mode of transportation for Alta Lake residents, especially in case of an emergency.

A Variety of Whistler Cooks

Over the past few weeks, while taking some time to prepare the museum to reopen for the summer (yes, we’re open!), we’ve been continuing our perusal of Whistler Recipes, the cookbook put out by the Whistler Museum & Archives Society as a fundraiser in July 1997.  The book brought together recipes from past and (then) present Whistler and Alta lake residents and, by looking into the stories behind the names attached to each recipe, it doesn’t take long to realize just how quickly the area has changed.

Lizzie Neiland and her children (Jenny, Jack & Bob Jardine) came to Alta Lake with Tom Neiland in 1921 and lived in a house on Alpha Lake, where Tom started his own logging business.  In 1923 the family moved into an old cabin at 34 1/2 Mile (an area today better known as Function Junction) where they would live for the next two decades.  From photos of the “Neiland Jardine Ranch,” we can tell that the Neiland family had an impressive garden and even kept chickens and, at times, other livestock.  This was not uncommon for the time, when many households grew their own produce, made their own preserves, and even raised their own livestock.

Jardine-Neiland property at 34 1/2 mile, today’s Function Junction

Whistler Recipes was dedicated to the early residents of Alta Lake “who cooked and baked under challenging conditions.”  This would have included Lizzie Neiland, who kept her family fed at a time when power and running water were not easily come by in the valley, groceries were ordered from Vancouver and delivered by train, and challenging economic conditions sometimes led to the shooting of a “government cow” (deer poached out of season).

There is one recipe in Whistler Recipes attributed to Lizzie Neiland, for “Barney Google Cake.”  Though we can’t find much information on the cake, Barney Google was a character in a daily strip first published in 1919, first called Take Barney Google, F’rinstance, and today known as Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.

Formal portrait of Thomas and Lizzie Neiland taken in the 1940s

Also included in the book was a recipe for “Warm Chicken Spinach Salad” from Chef Bernard Casavant, who spent his time in Whistler cooking in a kitchen very different form the one Lizzie Neiland would have had.

Chef Bernard grew up on Vancouver Island and knew before he left school that he was going to be a chef.  He became one of the first chefs from BC to earn the highest qualification of Certified Chef de Cuisine and was the first West Coast born and trained chef to represent Canada in the Bocuse d’Or Competition, France.  He moved to Whistler in 1989 to become the executive chef at the newly opened Chateau Whistler Resort.

Chef Bernard Casavant, one of Canada’s most noted culinary maestros. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Chef Bernard is considered to have played an important role in turning Whistler into a culinary destination.  After eight years at the Chateau he left to open his own restaurant, Chef Bernard’s Cafe, in the Upper Village and was voted Best Chef in Pique Newsmagazine’s Best of Whistler for multiple years.  Part of what made Chef Bernard (or “Cheffie” as one article referred to him) so popular was his support for the local farming community and belief in using fresh and local ingredients (in 1993 he was one of the founders of the Whistler Farmers’ Market), and his involvement in the community (he was also the founding chef of Whistler Search and Rescue’s Wine’d Up fundraiser).  He and his wife Bonnie moved to the Okanagan in 2006.

By the time Chef Bernard moved to the area it would have been very different from the Alta Lake Lizzie Neiland first came to almost seventy years earlier, but we love that the recipes of early Alta Lake residents are included alongside those of renowned chefs, all of whom cooked in the same valley.

Cooking with the Museum

Earlier this month the museum posted a photo on our Instagram account of a page from Whistler Recipes, a cookbook published by the Whistler Museum & Archives Society in 1997.  The book contains recipes gathered from past and (at the time) present residents of Whistler and Alta Lake, as well as a few scattered recipes from a 1940 cookbook published by The Vancouver Sun.  Recipes such as “Myrtle’s Muffins” from Myrtle Philip, who was one of the original proprietors of Rainbow Lodge in 1914, are found along with instructions for making Yorkshire Puddings from Ann Bright, whose family moved to the area when her husband Jack Bright began working as the general manager of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s.

This cover may look familiar to some!

It is easy to tell that some of the recipes have been handed down from friends or family, with specific names attached to contributions such as “Mrs. Noble’s Blueberry Muffins” and measurements you wouldn’t necessarily see written in more formal cookbooks.  The best example of this comes from “Granny Cosgrave’s Scones” submitted by J’Anne Greenwood, which called for “1 lump butter, the size of a small egg.”

Mabel Cosgrave first visited Alta Lake in 1923 when she, her eight year old daughter Sala, and her mother Judith “Mimi” Forster-Coull stayed at Rainbow Lodge.  The family returned the next summer and in 1925 Mabel bought a lot on Alta Lake and hired Bert Harrop to construct a cabin.  After Mabel and Sala moved from Seattle to Vancouver they were able to use their Alta Lake cabin quite often in all seasons.

Sala’s daughter J’Anne Greenwood visited Alta Lake for the first time at just six months old in 1940.  Sala and her family had been living in Winnipeg, where her husband was in the RCMP, but after he joined the army and was sent overseas Mabel, Sala, and J’Anne decided to live at the Alta Lake cabin full-time.

Mabel “Granny” Cosgrave’s original cottage, July 1926. Photo courtesy of J’Anne Greenwood.

Over the summers of 1943 and 1944 they ran a tearoom out of the cabin (possibly even serving the same scone recipe).  Sala did the cooking while Mabel read tea leaves for those who wished.  In 1944 Sala bought two lots of her own on Alta Lake, paying Charlie Chandler a total of $800, in anticipation of her husband’s return from war.  Sadly, he was killed while still overseas.

One of the lots had a cabin built in the 1930s and Dick Fairhurst and his brother built an additional wing to be used as a tearoom in 1945.  That same year, however, Mabel, Sala, and J’Anne moved back to Vancouver, in part for J’Anne to attend school as the Alta Lake School had closed.  The family continues to spend time at the cabin regularly.

When the Philips retired and sold Rainbow Lodge in 1948, Myrtle Philip bought Mabel Cosgrave’s original cabin and owned it until her death at the age of 95 in 1986.  The cabin on Sala’s lot stood until 1989, when the Greenwood family decided to build a new house.  Like many other buildings from that period, the original cabin was offered to the fire department, who burned it down as part of fire practice.

The recipes included in the book taste as good today as they would have when the cookbook was first published in 1997.

Recipes and the people who share them can offer far more information than just what people like to eat and so we love that Whistler Recipes includes names for each contributor.  Keep an eye on our social media for more recipes and results from Whistler Recipes (we tried making Elaine Wallace’s Lemon Loaves and can confirm that they are delicious) throughout June and, if you happen to have a copy, let us know what your favourites are!

Camping Advice from “Ol’ Bill”

A few weeks ago we took a look at Bill Bailiff and his column in the “Community Weekly Sunset,” the newsletter of the Alta Lake Community Club, which featured information about the history and environment of the area, alongside personal anecdotes.  With summer approaching and the thoughts of many turning to camping, we thought we’d share another topic from Bailiff’s articles: practical advice from “Camping Out with Ol’ Bill.”

In April and May of 1958 Bailiff wrote a series of articles about camping in the area, including suggestions on where to camp, what to bring, why one should go camping or hiking, and how to behave while out in the wilderness.  While some of his advice still holds true, his suggested campgrounds for the area look a little different today.

Ol’ Bill’s articles were illustrated with images such as this, showing what one could do while camping around the area. Community Weekly Sunset, Vol. 1, Issue 14.

In 1958, a get away from the crowds at Alta Lake could be as near as a trip to Green Lake (“lots of good camping and ground and sometimes good fishing”), Twin Lakes (“good safe place to camp, a good hike but no fish”), or Lost Lake (“ideal, good fishing, good camping site”).  Today, just over sixty years later, very few spots around any of these lakes would be considered a campsite in the wilderness.

Some of Bailiff’s more lasting advice comes from a article he wrote outlining what not to do while camping:

  • Don’t go sliding down a steep snowbank as you may not be able to stop and the rocks below are harder and sharper than your bones.
  • If on a glacier, don’t ever attempt to cross on a snowbridge over a crevice as these are liable to give way anytime so leave that to the experienced mountaineers who rope themselves.
  • Don’t step on a wet greasy log with ordinary shoes on as you may go down hard enough to receive a cracked rib or two.
  • If off the trail and lost, don’t panic.
  • Don’t be a litterbug around a campsite, clean it up as someone else might be along to use it.
  • Don’t stay too long on a snowfield without dark glasses on as you may get a terrific headache from partial snowblindness.
  • Don’t go killing wildlife needlessly… Much better to try a shot with your camera.
  • Don’t be an old grouch round the camp or on the trail as this has a bad morale effect on others.  If the going is tough take it with a smile and joke about it as it makes it easier and pleasanter.

The most pointed of Bailiff’s advice is reserved for campfires, as forest fires were a concern in 1958 much as they are today.  Along with suggestions of where to make a campfire (not next to a tree) and instructions for reporting an uncontrolled fire (in 1958, not so simple as making a phone call), he reminded those who would go camping that they have a responsibility to the environment.  As he put it, “Don’t take the attitude it’s none of my business because it is your business.  You’re enjoying the cool green forest full of life and breathing in the sweet scented life-giving oxygen.”

Camping equipment may look a little different these days. Philip Collection.

Camping in the area looks different than it did in the days of “Ol’ Bill” (tents now tend towards lightweight and waterproof) but his ideas of safety and stewardship should remain priorities for those heading out this summer.