On March 26, 2013, one of the staff at the Whistler Museum sat down to record an oral history with June Collins. June Tidball, as she was known during her time at Alta Lake, was one of the original owners of Witsend, a cabin on Alta Lake.
June was born in Banff, AB to Tom and Anne Tidball. Though she grew up in Alberta, June’s family had strong ties to Vancouver and the west coast. Her father was a well-known lifeguard at English Bay, where he met her mother who worked as a ticket taker. The pair married, moved to Alberta, and then returned to British Columbia in 1941.
June attended the University of British Columbia and after graduating went on to teacher training. Her first teaching job was at Burnaby North High School in 1953, the same school at which Florence Petersen (then Strachan) taught. The two did not meet during that first year, as Florence was on exchange in England. June said that the next year, however, “We made an instant friendship.”
(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.
June, Florence, and three friends began to get together, going on weekend trips and outings. June’s friend Betty Atkinson taught in Armstrong, BC, and Florence knew Jacquie Pope and Kelly Forster from teaching in Burnaby. Betty had worked summers at Rainbow Lodge while attending university and Jacquie and Kelly had both stayed there. When Betty heard of a cabin for sale on Alta Lake in 1955 the group decided to go in on it together.
June had many stories to share about their time at Alta Lake. She described the long, often rainy, journeys which began with the Union Steamship from Vancouver to Squamish, followed by a train journey. According to June, the couple of hours spent waiting for the train in Squamish was when everyone would run to the hotel to buy a case of beer. She described how, when the train was ready to go, “He’d give two toots on the train and eveybody’d come running with their beer.” With no store at Alta Lake apart from a general store at Rainbow Lodge, Squamish was the last stop for most supplies.
The Rainbow Lodge Post Office & Store was the only shop in the area and didn’t have too much variety. Philip Collection.
Though it seemed everybody else was traveling up with beer, June described how the Witsend group decided that they would be “very elegant” and have a gin and tonic on their porch at 4 o’clock every afternoon. They bought maraschino cherries and the proper glasses, but ran into a problem getting the gin. The Squamish liquor store did not stock gin and they had to place a special order to have it brought in. When they ran out at Alta Lake, they would tell a man they knew who worked on the train, and he would pick it up and bring it to them. According to June, their gin was delivered in a shoebox, and the man would very discreetly tell them “Here’s the shoes you ordered.”
The group would spend most of their summer at Alta Lake, though June would travel to Vancouver from time to time to visit George Collins, then a dentistry student at McGill back for the break.
Three of the original Witsend owners share a laugh in the 1980s. (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen. Whistler Question Collection.
Though it is not currently business as usual at the Whistler Museum (especially as we are not at the museum, but working from home) we will continue to bring you more stories from Whistler’s past, including a few more stories from June Collins, each week. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@whistlermuseum), where we’ll be sharing photos, trivia and more each day. We hope to see everyone back at the museum soon!