Category Archives: Whistler: A Town

As well as being a resort, Whistler is town (kind of) like any other.

A WAG Tale

WAG celebrates its 40th birthday this year and the professional operation has seen dramatic changes since its humble beginnings in 1982. Known and loved throughout the community, Whistler Animals Galore Society, better know as WAG, was started in 1982 by Dorothy Sabey and Debbie Chow.

In 1986, the Whistler Question described WAG as ‘the barebones troubleshooting agency by which Sabey and her colleague, Debbie Chow, handle lost or stray pets.’ Initially WAG relied almost entirely on the hard work and generosity of these two women. They did receive a grant-in-aid each year from the municipality, however it was only $250 to cover all expenses including gas, telephones, and spaying animals. While awaiting adoption, dogs and cats were cared for in Dorothy and Debbie’s homes, and sometimes the pound held animals a week beyond the usual limits if their homes were already full.

A photo from the Whistler Question on the 7th of November 1991. ‘Lisa Smith and Kelly Baldwin visit the cats who are still awaiting homes. Last week WAG had 55 cats in the facility built for 15. This week the situation was a bit better but they still have their hands full’. Whistler Question Collection.

WAG continued to rely solely on volunteers until 1996, when a paid program coordinator was hired. Before this the future of WAG had looked uncertain as there were only four volunteers remaining and they were becoming burnt out. The new system did not fully get off the ground, however, before the coordinator quit two years later. David MacPhail spoke to the Pique about how WAG had been on the brink of closure again in 1998. “The coordinator had quit and I was the only one left on the board. I was basically left to turn off the lights and go home,” McPhail said.

At that time, WAG had no shelter, no volunteer program, little publicity and relied solely on foster homes for the animals in its care. The municipal budget used for medical assistance was also beginning to dry up. Trying to turn things around, Kristen Kadis was brought in as a new coordinator, and that year the first annual Dog Parade started as part of the Whistler Ski and Snowboard Festival.

Things sure did turn around. In August 2000, WAG was given the bulk of the shelter work from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in exchange for the use of space in the building. Prior to this, the pound was largely separate from WAG and operated by municipality animal control officers, predominately Kimberly Lord. Jody Stockfish, who was brought on as another WAG coordinator in 1999, said at the time, “Having a central facility, rather than the traditional fostering system, will make a huge difference to what WAG can achieve. It also gives WAG’s core of 15 to 20 regular volunteers easy access for cleaning and walking duties.” The work of WAG was also recognised by the municipality, who increased their grant-in-aid to $10,000. Then in 2001, after years of legal to-and-fro, WAG was awarded charitable status, making fundraising much easier.

The shelter that WAG initially worked out of (above) was better than nothing, but the comfort of volunteers and animals greatly improved when WAG got its new purpose built facility in the Public Works Yard. Whistler Question Collection.

While the having control of the shelter was a huge improvement, it was still cold, cramped, near impossible to separate all the animals, and a flood risk. Paul Fournier remembers when the shelter was threatened by rising water, while he was the WAG Chairman in the 1990s. “We had over 30 cats, and we had to find cages for these cats and move them up to a farm in Pemberton. I don’t know if you have ever heard an angry cat, but when you take 30 cats and you put them in cages and then you stuff them in the back of my cargo van, you’ve never heard a sound like that.”

Another regular WAG fundraiser was photos with Santa, often held on the Citta’s patio. Here Scott Barr and his dog Angus pose for their picture with Santa. Whistler Question Collection.

The new shelter officially opened in the Public Works Yard in 2005, and today we have a shelter to be envious of. While much has changed over the 40 years, WAG’s focus on animal welfare remains the same.

The ‘new’ Myrtle Philip Community School turns 30!

The first Myrtle Philip Elementary School opened in 1976 in the area that would become the Village, more specifically where the Delta Hotel is today. Although the school opened with only 57 students, the town of Whistler was growing rapidly and the number of students quickly outgrew the school. By 1987, the Howe Sound School Board had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school. By 1991, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary School needed eight portables to house the 268 students. It was definitely time for a new school.

Figures published by the Whistler Question in 1985 indicated that by 1991 ‘room for 336 elementary students is required – three times the current number’. However, despite this, the new school was built to hold 300 students. Unsurprising to those who completed the 1985 study, the numbers already exceeded 300 when the school opened for learning in 1992. Rooms originally planned as extra conference rooms were converted to classrooms as nearly 340 students enrolled for the opening year. In press coverage for the grand opening, the Whistler Question included the line, ‘If the baby boom continues in Whistler, plans for expansion will be examined.’

Students and staff relocating from the old Myrtle Philip Elementary School in the Village, to the new Myrtle Philip Community School on Lorimer Road in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

A celebration for the grand opening was held on September 18, 1992 and included tours led by student hosts and an opening ceremony hosted by principal Mike Edwards, the Master of Ceremonies. It also included the presentation of a portrait of Whistler’s ‘First Lady’, Myrtle Philip, painted by Isobel MacLaurin. The painting showed two images of Myrtle side-by-side; 19 year-old Myrtle, new to Alta Lake, next to Myrtle on her 95th birthday. Myrtle was a dedicated school board trustee for nearly four decades and helped raise the money for the first school in the valley, the Alta Lake School. In recognition of her efforts, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary was named after her, in what Myrtle would describe as the greatest honour of her life. The painting of the school’s namesake can still be seen in Myrtle Philip Community School today.

Isobel MacLaurin next to the painting of Myrtle Philip. MacLaurin Collection.

The new Myrtle Philip Community School was a far cry from the first school that Myrtle helped build in the 1930s. Designed by Vancouver architects Dalla Lana Griffin, it made an impression with it’s comfortable, learning focussed design. As described in the Whistler Question, ‘Windows surround the low lying school and skylights flood the halls with light. Classrooms are not simply square, but feature curved study areas, built-in window counters that look out to the fields and mountains, and courtyards that offer quiet study areas.’ The project cost was $9,174,000, also a far contrast from the first one room Alta Lake schoolhouse that the community raised a total of $300 to build.

The new Myrtle Philip School opened with 16 teachers, plus support staff and teacher assistants. The names of some of the inaugural staff will be familiar to current Myrtle Philip students, with Gerhard Reimer and Donna Williams among the teachers.

One Ringy-Dingy. Vice-principal Rick Price rings an old fashioned bell to call students to the first day of classes after staff couldn’t figure out how to operate the electric bells in the new Myrtle Philip Community School. Whistler Question Collection.

The original Myrtle Philip Elementary School was demolished almost immediately after the new school opened to make way for commercial development in the Village. However, the new Myrtle Philip School had similar challenges to the first. By 1999, the new Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half of the school’s population. A second elementary school was required, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw up catchment boundaries for two elementary schools within Whistler. Spring Creek Community School opened in 2004. This week students will be returning to both of these schools, as well as École La Passerelle, and multiple independent and private schools in the area.

Staff and students in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

The annual Alta Lake ‘Regretta’

For many people, the Labour Day long weekend marks the end of the summer; school holidays are over and the days are getting noticeably colder and shorter. Knowing the warm days are coming to an end may bring a sense of sadness to some. This feeling was even more palpable in the community of Alta Lake, where the population increased in the summer months and life revolved around the lake – fishing, swimming and sailing. The biggest community celebration ran over the September long weekend and was named the ‘Regretta’ because the community regretted that summer was coming to an end.

The Alta Lake Sailing Club ran out of Cypress Lodge and regattas were held each long weekend throughout the summer. Opening the sailing season was the Jelly Fish Race held on the May long weekend, then the Dominion Day Derby was held on July 1, and the biggest event of them all was the annual Regretta held on Labour Day weekend starting in 1965.

Many different sailing craft participated in the annual Alta Lake Regretta. Peterson Collection.

The Regretta was a day-long celebration that incorporated sailing races, as well as fun contests and activities for children and adults alike. Alta Lake became a colourful display of sailing craft with Sabots, Davidson D12s, Flying Juniors, Enterprises, Hobie Cats and Catamarans all popular. Sabots were the first boat of choice as the 8 foot sailing dinghies were light enough to carry up the bank for storage at the end of the summer.

Along with the regular regatta races, fun races and obstacle courses kept both participants and spectators entertained. ‘Repel all boarders’ was an obstacle race with up to five people on board vying to get through the course the fastest without any ‘pirates’ boarding the boats or losing any crew members. There were also ‘free-for-all races’ that allowed splashing and tipping – any tactics to delay the other racers were encouraged.

There were many amusing activities for the “landlubbers” too, often organised by Florence Peterson. In a recent oral history with Carol Fairhurst, whose parents owned Cypress Lodge, she remembered fondly, “We would have the three legged race where two people tie their inside leg together and you have to run. The sack race where you’d get in a potato sack and you had to hop. Then there would be egg-throwing contests, pie-eating contests, tug-of-wars where they had two wharves and two teams and the losing team got pulled into the water. The pie eating contest was always huckleberry pies so it was hilarious because people would end up with blue faces. It was a good time. The sail boat races were a big deal.”

A pie-eating contest in front of Cypress Lodge, an important part of the summer regattas. Fairhurst Collection.

Another activity from the Regretta that should definitely be brought back in the interests of entertainment is the Alta Lake pole vaulting contest. The aim of this competition was to launch yourself high into the air over the lake and land in an inner tube.

Prizes and trophies were presented for both the serious and not so serious competitions. Renate Bareham, née Ples, grew up in Alta Lake and remembers winning a hand mirror in the log rolling competition.

Karen Gow (left) and Renate Ples (right) during the log rolling competition in 1967. Bareham Collection.

This celebration of summer brought as many as 100 residents and weekenders together for a day in the sun, which was quite the turnout for a small community. Throughout the ten or so years that the Regretta ran it certainly left an impression on all those lucky enough to take part.

Shaping the landscape with fire and ice

In the weekly Museum Musings column in Pique Newsmagazine, we mostly explore and share stories of the past. Rarely, however, do we go back thousands or millions of years as is required when talking about the geological history of our region. In celebration of the Sea to Sky Fire and Ice Aspiring GeoRegion, the Museum is showcasing the landscape in the new exhibition Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice.

Throughout time, fire and ice have played an important part in shaping the land. Whistler sits in the subduction zone of converging tectonic plates, where the Juan De Fuca plate is being pushed under the North American plate, creating the Coast Mountains. All of the volcanoes considered active in Canada are found in BC and the Yukon along tectonic plate boundaries, and all are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Garibaldi Provincial Park is named after Mount Garibaldi, the largest mountain in the park and a potentially active stratovolcano. While the last eruption was around 13,000 years ago, this is still relatively recent in geological time (Black Tusk, on the other hand, likely erupted approximately 170,000 years ago). Volcanoes can erupt again after being dormant for thousands of years. Thankfully, if Mount Garibaldi was to rumble back life to we would start seeing warnings such as hot springs, hot spots and seismic activity in the region from rising magma.

Fire and ice shaped this region, creating the unique mountains that are popular for recreation. Greg Griffith Collection.

While Mount Baker is instantly recognisable as a volcano, Mount Garibaldi is harder to distinguish because it is not a typical cone shaped volcano. When Mount Garibaldi erupted during the last ice age, one half of the volcanic cone formed on a rock foundation, while the west side settled on top of a glacier. As the glacier melted and receded the mountain collapsed, changing shape. Giant landslides spread the volcanic debris across the Squamish Valley.

We can thank this active volcanic region for the formation of Garibaldi Lake. Also around the end of the last glaciation, Clinker Peak on the shoulder of Mount Price erupted. The Cheakamus Valley had been full of ice over 1.3 km above sea level that was rapidly melting. Lava from the Clinker Peak eruption flowed towards the valley below where it hit the Cheakamus Valley glacier. There it cooled rapidly against the wall of ice, solidifying to create a dam across the mountain valley. As snow and ice melted from the mountains above it became trapped behind this wall, known as The Barrier, creating Garibaldi Lake.

Garibaldi Lake. Cliff Fenner Collection.

The only water that leaves Garibaldi Lake year round gushes from springs coming through the scree slope below The Barrier. This consistent flow of water lubricates the bottom of the naturally unstable dam and poses a significant geological hazard, with some scientists worried it could one day collapse. It is not uncommon to see rocks fall from The Barrier, hence the name of Rubble Creek below, and according to indigenous oral histories a major landslide occurred 1855 when a slab of rock fell from The Barrier. With approximately 1.28 trillion litres of water trapped by an unstable dam wall at 1400 metres of elevation, a collapse could be catastrophic. It is for this reason that an evacuation order of Garibaldi Townsite was issued in 1980, with the last residents leaving the town in 1986. Today the Garibaldi Townsite no longer exists. 

Hikers looking at The Barrier around the 1960s or 1970s. Cliff Fenner Collection.

Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice is on now at the Whistler Museum, open from 11am every day except Wednesday. Entry is by donation, and you can further support the Whistler Museum by becoming a Museum Member.