Category Archives: Wildlife

The Great Toad Migration

Whistler Western toad migration is almost done!

If you’ve been up at Lost Lake recently, you may have seen these tiny toads behind the black carriers in the wetlands or crossing the paths around you.  You may have even helped us move them off the path (thank you!).

Just in case you didn’t have a chance to see them or to speak with one of the Nature Interpreters at our Discover Nature booth, we’ll be providing answers here to some of the questions people have about the toads and the steps taken to protect them.

The great Western toadlets on their annual migration at Lost Lake. Photo: Kristina Swerhun

Every spring, a female Western toad will lay approximately 12,000 eggs in shallow water.  These eggs become tadpoles in just three to 12 days and are ready to leave the water after six to eight weeks.  At Lost Lake, this means crossing the beach, the Valley Trail and the road to join the adult Western toads in the forests and grasslands.  In nature, less than one per cent of these toads make it to breeding age.  It is our responsibility to make sure human activities don’t increase their mortality rate.

To help the toads survive this journey, the RMOW is working towards a more “toad friendly” environment around Lost Lake Park.  Barriers and fences have been put in place to direct toads towards the forest and nature interpreters from the Whistler Museum’s Discover Nature program educate passersby about this sensitive and protected species.

The toads are helped across the trail by volunteers who also encourage people to walk their bikes and step carefully.

At some point, the toads must cross the Valley Trail and Lost Lake Road on their way to the upland forest areas where they will hibernate for the winter.  To protect them on their journey, Lost Lake Road is closed and people are asked to please watch their step and walk their bikes.

Although the toads are pretty cute, visitors to Lost Lake are asked not to touch the toads with their bare hands as the toads’ skin is very sensitive to human oils and sunscreen.  Picking up the toads or poking them can cause them serious harm or even kill them.

The toadlets blend in well to their surroundings, making them easy to miss.

These steps, which may seem inconvenient, are taken not only to protect a sensitive species but also because Whistler is home to many different creatures, including people.  All of these creatures deserve to be respected.

If you are interested in the Great Toad Migration and would like to help, come visit the Whistler Museum Nature Interpreters at Lost Lake.  We can supply you with gloves and cups and teach you  how to handle the toads without harming them.

If you see the toads anywhere other than Lost Lake, we would love to know!  To report sightings or if you have any questions, please contact us at DiscoverNature@WhistlerMuseum.org.

Kara is a Nature Interpreter with the Whistler Museum’s Discover Nature Program and a recent graduate of Whistler Secondary.  Find her at Lost Lake under the white tent by the concession or on our Nature Walks meeting at the PassivHaus at 11 am Tuesday to Friday until the end of August.

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Crafts in the Park is starting up again!

We’re super excited to announce that Crafts in the Park are starting up again! Every  Thursday starting July 5th, the Whistler Museum and the Whistler Library will be hosting fun and free craft activities in Florence Petersen Park from 11 to 12 am. Kids of all ages can learn about Whistler’s history, enjoy a story, and get creative with one of our amazing crafts.

Our theme this year is “Whistler Through the Ages”. People have been coming to Whistler for over one hundred years in the pursuit of seasonal fun- from the first visitors to Rainbow Lodge in 1914, who came out to ride, fish, and sail, or the crowds that gathered in 2010 to cheer on the Olympic athletes. Our crafts this year are based on activities enjoyed in Whistler past and present.

July 5th

The first settlers in Whistler came here to hunt and trap animals for food, and for their furs. We’ll  be making multimedia animal collages, using foam, felt, paper, magazines, tissue paper, fake fur, and more.  Whistler has an amazing variety of wildlife (bears, squirrels, and everything in between) so what animal will you make?

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July 12th

Alta Lake became a popular fishing destination in 1914. People caught fish of all kinds.  Just like those early tourists, we’ll be making our own mini fishing rods and fish. You’ll even be able to catch these fish with your rod. Design these fish however you want – rainbows are never a bad idea!

Fish Craft.jpg

July 19th

For this craft, we’re collaborating with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. We’ll learn about the relationships between animals and people in Pacific Northwest First Nations culture, and the ways we can identify with animals to understand the world around us. The children will make their own animal headdresses, and participate in a drumming song.

July 26th

Sailing has been popular in Whistler since its early days and Alta Lake residents enjoyed taking all kinds of boats out in the summer. We’ll be making our own sailboats out of sponges, corks, and paper. Just like real boats, these really float, and you’ll even get a chance to try them out on the water.

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August 2nd

Rainbow Lodge at one time had a stable of 20 horses, and many visitors enjoyed trail rides and trail picnics during their stays. We’ll be making cut-out paper horses with moveable joints. Though you can’t take these horses out for a ride, they’re a fun, poseable homemade toy. And although Whistler’s never been home to any unicorns (as far as we know) you can go ahead and make one of those too.

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August 9th

Whistler boasts several beautiful golf courses and this craft is a fun spin on one of Whistler’s favourite sports. We’ll be making kinetic golf ball paintings, using golf balls to roll the paint across the paper. These painting are fun to do and look even cooler.

Golf Ball Craft.jpg

August 16th

Skiing began in Whistler in the early 1960s and has been wildly popular ever since. We’ll be making paper doll skiers and snowboarders, and using paper and fabric to dress them up warmly against Whistler’s freezing winters.

Ski People Craft2.jpg

August 23rd

Whistler was proud to host the Olympics in 2010 when Canada won gold on home turf for the first time. We will be making our own personalized Olympic medals using foam stamp printing and metallic glitter. Win gold in your favourite sport, or even make up your own!

So come out and join us at Crafts in the Park, every Thursday from 11 to 12 in Florence Petersen Park!

Early Dining, Whistler Style

whistler picnic copy

The first Alta Lake Community Club picnic in 1923 was a chance for residents to share a meal. Photo: Philip Collection

Whistler hasn’t always been a resort town. In the 1920s and 30s, Whistler was a a collection of permanent and part-time residents on the shores of Alta Lake. In those days, storing and preparing food was a little different than it is today. There were no grocery stores- instead, most food and supplies were brought up on a train from Vancouver, that came once every two weeks. Residents depended on this supply train for their meat and other essentials into the 50s. Since the deliveries were so infrequent, the food needed to be well-stored. Florence Petersen and the others living at her cabin, Witsend, kept their meat and butter fresh in a crock- a hole dug in the ground about three feet deep, lined with planking, which kept the food cool and the bugs out in the hot summer. Some residents, such as Bill MacDermott, used an ice box to keep meat fresh. Ice was cut from one of the lakes in February and stored year-round in an ice house, insulated with sawdust. Eleanor Kitteringham, who lived in Parkhurst with her family, remembers using a sawdust-filled root cellar, under the kitchen. “Later on, we got a fridge run by kerosene,” she recalls. “It was beautiful.”

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Canned food kept for long periods and was easy to store and serve- even on top of a mountain. Photo: Carter Collection

The only other ways for families to get their food besides the train were to make it, grow it, or buy local. Trout and salmon could be fished from the lakes, and ducks and deer caught in the woods. Most people kept vegetable gardens, and picked blackberries and blueberries in the summer. Phil and Dorothy Tapley owned a farm on Alta Lake, with an orchard, cows, chickens, and turkeys. As well, Alfred and Daisy Barnfield ran a summer dairy farm, and sold milk to the locals, which Alfred and his son Fred delivered in a dugout canoe. Many prospectors also brewed their own beer.  Like most area mothers at the time, Eleanor Kitteringham baked her own bread, and remembers making ten loaves every other week. She baked it in a big sawdust-burning stove, which used up as many as eight pails of sawdust a day.

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In Whistler’s early days, trail cooking was an important skill. Photo: Myrtle Philip

Some creativity and flexibility were often needed to get everyone fed. Bannock, was a popular food- an unleavened bread traditional to Indigenous people and adapted with the introduction of European flour and cooking tools. The usual recipe required only water, flour, and lard, which could be mixed together and pan-fried for a quick meal on the trail, providing fat and carbohydrates inexpensively and easily.  Both J’Anne Greenwood and Louise Betts Smith, residents of the valley in the 30s, made a buttermilk chocolate cake with sour milk as one of it’s ingredients- a good way to get the most out of your milk, even if it had curdled. Many recipes were also used that worked around the occasional inavailability of eggs and dairy. Edna Stockdale’s Oatmeal Cookies consisted mainly of margarine, oats, and sugar.

Many also employed some unconventional cooking methods, such as Alta Lake resident Kokomo Joe, who was known to make a meal of soup and toast with his airtight heater. He would set the soup on top to boil, and stick the bread to the heater’s sides. You knew the toast was done when it fell off. Says Dick Fairhurst, “A lot of [people] copied him, but we put something on the floor to catch the toast.”

This Week In Photos: June 21

This week in the 1980s was apparently all about the kids of Whistler, with the majority of the photos having to do with the Myrtle Philip School sports day, ballet recitals and the Whistler Children’s Art Festival.

1980

Refuse lies scattered all over the Rainbow substation bin site as a result of crows, people and bears. Council has promised to put a compactor in this location.

The buildings and chairlifts on Blackcomb begin to take shape. The mountain is set to open for skiing this winter.

The female half of the 58-member Kildala choir from Kitimat. The school group sang a number of popular tunes.

Carol Fairhurst (left) and Cathy McNaught plan to continue their education – one in Mexico and the other in Calgary.

A classic example of the Gothic arch home. Though not as common today, houses like these can still be found throughout Whistler.

It’s not clear if this is a Whistler Question staff meeting or staff meal. The best part, however, may be the “No Smoking” sign on the table that threatens those who try will be hung by their toenails.

1981

Whistler’s new mascot (the as yet un-named marmot) shows off for students.

John Reynolds, co-owner of Tapley’s Pub, presents Robert Miele, treasurer of the Whistler Athletic Association, with a cheque for $1000. The donation will go towards funding amateur athletics in the valley.

Myrtle Philip Elementary School principal Alex Marshall is surrounded by his Angels at his ‘roast’ on Wednesday night.

Whistler Ballet students who performed in Garibaldi School of Dance production of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” and “Little Matchgirl”. The performance on Sunday, June 21 at The Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver was a complete sell out. Left to right: Brie Minger, Corinne Valleau, Jodi Rustad, Rachel Roberts and Melanie Busdon; Peaches Grant sitting.

Hot Wheels – Students at Myrtle Philip Elementary School show off their creative talents in the bike decorating contest. The event was scheduled in conjunction with Sports Day which was moved inside because of the weather.

A beer bottle was thrown through the window of the information centre.

1982

Competitor in the First Annual Whistler Off-Road Bike Race soars over a bump en route to Lost Lake and 25 miles of heavy pedalling.

1983

Captain Beckon rings out the good word on the Children’s Art Festival.

Isobel MacLaurin shares her sketching talents with larger artists during one of the many workshops.

Martial arts are also included in the Children’s Art Festival at Myrtle Philip School.

The Pied Pear duo, Rick Scott and Joe Mock, perform with a little help from some members of the audience.

Three Whistler divas (l – r) Melanie Busdon, Jodi Rustad and Corinne Valleau took part in the Garibaldi Shcool of Dance performance of “The Sleeping Princess” in Squamish and North Vancouver June 17 and 18. All shows, directed by Lynnette Kelley, were sold out.

Clearing in by a mile Sean Murray (11) heads back to each leaving the high jump pole standing at 100 cm. It was a dripping wet sports day for students at Myrtle Philip School Wednesday but all events went on without a hitch under the eaves and in the school gym instead.

Champion of the Tournament of Champions Brian Sandercock (right) accepts the trophy for low gross score from organizer Don Willoughby. The match first competition on Whistler Golf Course, which opened three days earlier, was held in drizzling rain June 17 and drew 140 swingers.

1984

The Extraordinary Clown Band was one of the highlights of this year’s Children’s Art Festival held Saturday and Sunday. While the band entranced youngsters with feats of juggling and slapstick, 65 workshops featuring pottery, break dancing and writing as well as many other artistic pursuits took place in Myrtle Philip School.

Harley Paul and Bryan Hidi were just a ‘hanging’ around Friday in between events at the Myrtle Philip School sports day. Sports day events included a three-legged race for parents, nail-banging contest, long jumping and, of course, balloon sitting.

A team of BMX freestyler cyclists added to the weekend’s festivities and gave Whistler just a taste of what things will be like here next summer when the BMX World Championships come to town. Two young performers on BMX bikes travelled from Pitt Meadows to represent the Lynx factory team.

Staff of The Whistler Question, who recently received word that the newspaper has won a first-place national award for the second year in a row, are: (bottom row, l to r) Janis Roitenberg (office manager); Shannon Halkett (typesetting and graphics); Pauline Wiebe (typesetting and graphics); (top row l – r) Stew Muir (reporter); Glenda Bartosh (publisher); Kevin C. Griffin (editor).

Discover Nature at Family Après

If you’ve been at Family Après in Olympic Plaza over the past couple months, you might have recognized a tent from the Discover Nature summer program at Lost Lake.  In July and August the Discover Nature team shared its knowledge of Whistler’s natural history through touch tables, activities and nature walks around Lost Lake.

Discover Nature at Family Après focuses on some of the animals that are active in Whistler during the winter.  The challenge is to identify eight mammals in Whistler that neither migrate nor hibernate using replicas of their skulls, tracks and claws.  This may not sound like a whole lot to go on but the teeth can give you clues about what an animal eats and the shape of the skull can indicate traits such as a keen sense of smell or better than average night vision.  Hints and help are also on hand if you get stuck.

The touch table at Discover Nature in the summer. Some of the same skulls, pelts and tracks are on display this Monday in Olympic Plaza.

While hiking, biking and even skiing around Whistler I have encountered over half of the animals featured at the Discover Nature tent, but one that I have never seen is the wolverine.  After learning about an encounter John Millar once had with a wolverine, I’m not so sure I want to.

Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel family, which also includes martens, mink and river otters.  Sometimes described as a mixture of a dog, a bear and a skunk, wolverines have short legs, long hair and distinctive markings, including a dark mask around their eyes and a light stripe on each side running from their shoulders to the base of their tails.  Although wolverines are typically about the size of a medium-sized dog they are effective predators and can even smell prey hibernating beneath six metres of snow.  Their diet can range from berries, rodents and ground squirrels to mountain goats and moose.

John Millar outside his cabin (today the area of Function Junction). Millar Creek was named for this early settler. Photo: Philip Collection.

Millar is perhaps best known as the trapper who introduced Myrtle and Alex Philip to Alta Lake.  A Polish immigrant, Millar arrived in the valley sometime before 1906 by way of Texas, where he worked as a cook at a cow-camp.  He purchased some land along the Pemberton Trail near the junction of Millar Creek and the Cheakamus River (today the area of Function Junction) and built a roadhouse for travellers, supplementing his income from trapping by charging 50 cents for a bed (meal not included).

From the account of Dick Fairhurst, Millar may not have always been the most successful trapper.  He regularly caught marten, rabbit, mink, muskrat (the basis for a memorable stew), and beaver.  Once, however, while out on his trap line Millar caught a wolverine.  Thinking it was dead he added it to his pack and walked on.  Unfortunately for him, the wolverine was still very much alive and came to while still on his back.  It ate a hole through Millar’s pack and “grabbed John by the seat of the pants.”  While Millar managed to extricate himself from the angry wolverine it was awhile before he could sit comfortably again.

Discover Nature will be back at Family Après in Olympic Plaza this Monday, March 5.  If you think you can tell a wolverine from a bobcat, come by and say hello.

The Origins of Whistler’s Interpretive Forest

After the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway in the fall of 1914, logging and other industrial activities started to develop in and around the Whistler Valley.

Logging was a vital industry in the Whistler area throughout the 20th century and evidence of its impact can be found throughout the valley, from the abandoned Parkhurst logging town on Green Lake to various patches of forest in different states of regrowth.

The forestry industry has a long history throughout the Whistler valley and many of the valley’s early settlers worked in logging. Photo: Fairhurst Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest, located off Highway 99 adjacent to Cheakamus Crossing, was created in 1980 as a joint project between the British Columbia Forest Service and Pacific Forest Products Ltd. to provide forest interpretation and education opportunities while demonstrating integrated resource management.  The area is approximately 3,000 hectares.

The earliest logging in the Interpretive Forest began in 1958 and continues into present day.  The area now consists of old growth stands plus a variety of plantations of differing ages.  The Forest Service manages this area to provide benefits for large numbers of people with diverse interests.  Many things are considered in planning for human needs in the forest: hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, biking, as well as continued logging operations.

This photo was taken by Don MacLaurin during his time working in BC’s forestry industry. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest became part of the Cheakamus Community Forest (33,000 hectares) in 2009.  The Community Forest is managed under an ecosystem-based management approach and run jointly by the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and the Ministry of Forests.  This means that indigenous flora and fauna are given a chance to flourish and recreational opportunities and expand, while new sustainable forestry practices are explored and refined.  Under this management regime, an average of 40 hectare per year is harvested.

The area has become a favourite amongst locals and tourists, with many of Whistler’s most popular trails located in the area.  The trail network includes the Riverside Trail, which explores the Cheakamus River with the help of the MacLaurin Crossing suspension bridge.

Don MacLaurin, Isobel MacLaurin and friends hiking in the mountains. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

The bridge was named after Don MacLaurin, a local forester who helped develop, map and design the area to help people understand the forest and its importance.  Other popular trails include the Loggers Lake Trail, which climbs a rock bluff to a hidden lake and a wooden pier, and the Cheakamus Trail, which wanders through the forest to the glacier-fed Cheakamus Lake.

Scattered amongst the roads and trails in the area are interpretive displays about the local flora, fauna, geology and logging history, along with details about the forest types of the region and the replanting techniques used in the Interpretive Forest.

Peter Ackhurst and John Hammons at work in the Whistler Interpretive Forest.

The Whistler Rotary Club, with financial help from the Community Foundation of Whistler, have been updating the interpretation displays and signs in the Whistler Interpretive Forest over the past two years, as many have fallen into disrepair.  The Whistler Museum has been a supportive partner in this project, helping with the design and, at times, installation of these new signs.

More information on this project can be found at: cheakamuscommunityforest.com.

2017 Western Toad Migration Begins

This past week the annual Western toad migration began again at Lost Lake Park.  Tens of thousands of these tiny toads gradually emerge form the lake to travel to the surrounding forests, though less than one per cent survive the journey.

The tiny toadlets crossing the trail at Lost Lake Park are about the size of a fingertip.

Western toads are found west of the Rockies between Mexico and Southern Alaska.  They will have three different habitats throughout a year: shallow bodies of water during spring breeding season, terrestrial forests and grasslands in the summer, and underground dens for winter hibernation.

The adult toads will migrate to breeding sites in early spring to mate and lay eggs.  One female can lay between 12,000 and 16,000 eggs.  They will then quickly hatch and become tadpoles in three to twelve days.  The speed of their development is highly dependent on the temperature of the water.  In six to eight weeks these tadpoles will then develop into dime-sized, terrestrial dwelling toadlets.  This is when their treacherous journey begins.

By the end of the summer the toadlets will leave the water to join their adult counterparts in the forests and grasslands.  During this life-stage they are easy prey for garter snakes, birds, small mammals and even other amphibians.  They are also easily trodden on because they are so small and well camouflaged.

The toadlets blend in well with their surroundings, making them easy to miss.

Once they have reached their destination, they will hibernate for the duration of winter, usually using existing animal dens or making their own.  It will take two to three years for these toads to mature, and they can live ten years or more, continuing this cycle throughout their lifetime.

Lost Lake is home to the largest population of Western toads in Whistler.  It is unfortunate for the toads that it is one of the most popular beaches in Whistler; however, it creates an amazing opportunity for people to see and understands this process firsthand.  The migration takes two to four weeks, and environmental technicians and volunteers will be on side to direct pedestrians and vehicle traffic, as well as monitor and help the toads cross safely.  Anyone in the park during this time is encouraged to use caution when walking and to get off their bike when travelling on the trails near the park and the beach entrance.

The toads are helped across the trail by volunteers who also encourage people to walk their bikes and step carefully.

Though Western toads are considered relatively common in BC, it is expected that there will be population declines in southern BC as the species has been disappearing in wide ares of their historic range in the US.  This is believed to be a result of a number of factors, the greatest of them being habitat destruction due to development in and around wetlands.  Other causes include rising temperatures, increased UV radiation, and changing water levels due to climate change, traffic on roads and pollution.  The province in monitoring their habits and tracking populations to learn more about how to support this sensitive species.

They are on the provincial yellow list, which means that they are considered a species of conservation concern, and they are a protected species under the BC Wildlife Act.

By Teah Schacter.  Teah is a summer student with the Whistler Museum’s Discover Nature program at Lost Lake.  She recently graduated from Whistler Secondary School and will be attending university in the fall.