Category Archives: Uncategorized

Uphill Both Ways: Getting to School in Whistler

It is hard to imagine a time in Whistler when the only school in the area (a single room schoolhouse heated by a wood stove) struggled to remain open because it could not keep 10 students enrolled. But for many years, the community struggled to reach this threshold. Up until the 1970s, getting an education in the valley was far from easy, and getting to school required determination and a knack for ignoring the cold.

The first Alta Lake School. Philip Collection.

The first school opened in the 1930s. Prior to that, students could bring their correspondence work to the Alta Lake Hotel to be supervised, and also to see their peers. Once the Alta Lake School opened, attendance fluctuated from year to year (and was occasionally inflated), and it opened and closed accordingly. When the school was closed, children either returned to correspondence courses, or lived elsewhere in the province.

Students at the Alta Lake School, 1933. Jardine Collection.

For the children of Alta Lake, school provided most of their social interactions. Families were scattered throughout the valley, and before proper roads and cars came to the valley, traveling on foot was often the only option. In order to get to school, children sometimes had to walk for miles, mostly unattended, along operational railroad tracks. For some, the journey was shorter in the winter when it was possible to walk across the lakes. At times, the snow made it impossible to reach the school at all.

Bob Jardine, who was responsible for getting himself and his younger brother Tom Neiland to school, recalled that “Tom was four years younger than I was, so I was fourteen and he was ten… it used to terrify me to take him through the railway cuts, especially when the snow plow was galloping around there.”

After Whistler Mountain opened in 1966, the year-round population began to grow and the days of struggling to pull together 10 students were soon replaced with a constantly growing student population. The Alta Lake School closed permanently in 1970, and in 1976 Myrtle Philip Elementary School opened with 57 students.

Until the 1960s, students had to take correspondence courses once they reached grade 8 because the teacher was unqualified to teach past grade 7. But by 1966, the road to Whistler had been paved, and it was possible to bus highschool students to Squamish. At first, about ten students were bussed down the highway. The bus ride took over an hour, though for many the commute was significantly longer than that. The bus picked up students from the gas station in Creekside, but they had to make their own way there.

In an interview with the museum, Renate Bareham, who was part of the first group to attend highschool in Squamish, described it as “quite the trek.” It took her an hour to walk to the gas station and the drive to Squamish, especially during the first week, was harrowing. She recalled that “the road was very windy and for the first week of school I just about threw up everyday because we were in this little minivan… and we had to sit side-bench so I was not facing the road…” She added that “eventually I got over it and now I never get carsick.” She attended highschool in Squamish until she graduated in 1970. That was the last year they bussed students to Squamish. In 1969, buses went to both Squamish and Pemberton, and then highschool students were sent to Pemberton, continuing until Whistler Secondary School opened in 1996

Upgrade! Bob Walker, the first bus driver, stands next to the new and improved school bus in the late 1960s. Philip Collection.
Whistler’s first school bus, circa late 1960s. Philip Collection.

Whistler’s Answers: April 8, 1982

We’re starting something new on the Whistorical blog!  In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: The front page of the April 1, 1982 issue of the Question featured a story about Drew Meredith, a local real estate agent, winning $2 million and donating it to the Whistler municipality. As the paper was published on April 1, many readers recognized the story as an April Fool’s prank. A major recession hit North America in late 1981, with interest rates reaching up to 20%, and Whistler’s economic future was still unsure in early 1982.

Question: What did you think when you read the story last week about Drew Meredith giving away $2 million?

Sharon Berry – Head Cashier – Alpine Meadows

Actually, I did believe it while I was reading the article, and kept on believing it until the next day when I heard other people talking about it and realized it was a joke.

My first impression, though, was that he was a fool. I couldn’t imagine how anyone would be that stupid to give all that money away.

Jack Cram – Restaurateur – Village

I believed it for about two hours, mainly because I thought Drew is the kind of person to do something like that. But with the economy the way it is, especially the real estate market, I wondered why he would do it.

I was busy when I read it so it took a while to sink in.

Ross Tocher – Office Manager Mountainside Lodge – Nester’s

Basically, I thought if it was true, then (a) he was nuts, (b) he wanted a mountain named after him or (c) he wanted to be Mayor.*

Only someone like Mother Theresa would do something like that.

Lisa Knight – Manager of Calberg’s – Brio

I thought it was a lot of fun. When I first read it, I believed it. Then as I read more, it became more obvious.

A $2 million giveaway – I sure wouldn’t have done it. But a lot of people believed it.

Brian Fitzpatrick – Logger – Emerald Estates

I was disgusted. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to throw away $2 million.

I believed it, but it didn’t seem to make any sense. Those real estate b——- are either robbing us blind or throwing it away.

Bob Currie – Contractor – Alpine Meadows

Well, I immediately had grave doubts about the whole story. I laughed a lot the minute I saw a $2 million giveaway.

It was just too much of a coincidence to have a story like that April 1.

*Drew Meredith did, in fact, serve as Mayor from 1986 – 1990.

Our First Virtual Speaker Series – July 7!

Registration for our very first virtual Speaker Series opens tomorrow morning!  Spots are limited for this film screening featuring footage from a 1972 canoe trip through the Grand Canyon of the Liard River and Q&A session with Mike Stein.  Registration is by donation and can be found here:

For a taste of what you’ll experience, Mike put together a preview featuring some incredible paddling!