Category Archives: Tales from Alta Lake

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

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.

Reporting on Alta Lake

Last Thursday (March 25, 2021) the Whistler Museum’s second virtual Speaker Series took a look at journalism in Whistler since the 1970s.  Our guests Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie, have worked on and founded some of the best known publications in the valley: The Whistler QuestionThe Whistler Answer, and Pique Newsmagazine.  Before we explored recent journalism, we took a look back at earlier sources of news in the area.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933.  Some these students were the ones to start the Alta Lake School Gazette. 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.

The first source of news published in Alta Lake came from the Alta Lake School in 1939.  Older students at the school created the Alta Lake School Club, which sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette published six issues from February 11 to June 5, 1939, and was staffed by names that may sound familiar: Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland, and Helen, George and Jack Woods.  The stated purpose of the Gazette was “to give a current account of happening each month as seen by its editor and his staff.”  Its column “Local News of Interest” included a mix of opinions, observations, and gossip about the residents of the Alta Lake area and their comings and goings.  The Gazette also included a few pieces about news outside of Alta Lake, such as a boxing match and an editorial on the Canadian Navy, which were most likely put together with information from the radio or The Vancouver Sun, which was available at the store at Rainbow Lodge.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow.  Philip Collection.

In 1958, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began publishing a newsletter to which members and friends could subscribe.  The newsletter went by various names between 1958 and 1961: The Alta Lake Reminder, Community Weekly Sunset, the Alta Lake Echo, and the Alta Lake Owl.  As a community newsletter, it wasn’t necessarily known for its serious reporting but did keep people up-to-date on the travels of residents and frequent visitors to the area, community events such as dances and clean-ups, and the weather.  The newsletter also included a series about the local environment by then-club president Bill Bailiff and an abridged version of Hamlet (sadly, the museum does not have a complete retelling of Hamlet from the ALCC, which appears to be far more humorous than Shakespeare’s version).  In 1961, the newsletter was taken over by the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and then ceased publication.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.  The entire publication was meant to promote Whistler Mountain.

A lot changed in the area between 1961 and 1967, when Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began publishing Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) in November.  Early editions of GWN were put together by Jack Bright and Lynn Mathews, who described the publication as a “good news” newspaper meant to promote Whistler Mountain.  GWN reported on developments in the valley, such as new lodges and businesses, and some years included a column by Ray Gallagher of Brandywine Falls Resort similar to the community news reported in earlier newsletters.  However, as the purpose of GWN was, as Lynn stated, “to get people up that road,” few stories said anything negative about the area and the development happening around Whistler Mountain.

Outside of the Alta Lake area, local news could be found in the newspapers of Squamish.  The Squamish Times, owned by Cloudesley Hoodspith from 1957 to 1992, and the Squamish Citizen (also published by Hoodspith) included Alta Lake/Whistler news, but their primary focus was not on this area.  It was not until the 1970s that the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler would be represented by an official local newspaper.

To learn more about journalism in Whistler from the 1970s to the present, you can find the video from last week’s event here.