The Hills Were Alive… With the Sound of Music

In September 1988 an article written by Joanna MacDonald about a performance by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra appeared in The Vancouver Sun.  This might not seem noteworthy or appear to have anything to do with Whistler’s history except that the concert written about took place 1850m above sea level on Blackcomb Mountain.

This was not a typical concert for the VSO, nor was it a typical year.  From January to July of 1988 the organization’s growing deficit had halted VSO performances.  In July, after creditors had forgiven the deficit and financial assistance was acquired by the symphony, the VSO began a series of outdoor concerts.  Their summer performances included concerts at Ambleside, English Bay and Granville Island, but none of these required transporting a $500,000 sound system, a 14-tonne stage and two tonnes of instruments up a mountain.

While the first performance on Blackcomb took place in the heat of summer, the VSO also played in the rain some years. Whistler Question Collection.

The weather made the stage on Blackcomb Mountain an interesting venue to perform on.  The VSO had though about the implications of wind and low temperatures, but didn’t expect 32 degree heat at the top of the mountain.  While the musicians were under cover and didn’t get too hot (despite wearing formal dress) audience members were encouraged to bring hats and sun screens.

Concertgoers on the mountain sat on hay spread around a 1.4-hectare site within an alpine meadow, a ver different arrangement than the Orpheum Theatre, the VSO’s usual venue.  According to Nancy Spooner, a VSO spokesman, “One family had the full red and white checkered tablecloth and a wine bucket with glasses.  There were families with grandparents and kids, and people were wearing everything from bathing suits to hiking gear.  Some people even brought up some mountain bikes and went riding before the concert.”  5,238 people were recorded as attending the performance.

A mountaintop performance on Whistler, 1995. Whistler Question Collection.

The VSO continued to perform annually on top of the mountain, first on Blackcomb Mountain and then switching to Whistler Mountain.  In 1998 their concert on Whistler was postponed as the mountain was closed for the summer due to the construction of the new Roundhouse Lodge.  This postponement lasted fourteen years.

In 2012, after an absence of over a decade, the VSO returned to perform in Whistler.  Instead of the top of a mountain, performances took place in Olympic Plaza over a weekend in late July.  In 2014 the VSO began performances on Canada Day and announced the creation of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestral Institute at Whistler, both of which have continued each summer.

The VSO performs in Olympic Plaza. Photo: John Alexander

Unlike the first performance in 1988, today’s VSO performances in Whistler are not held in an alpine meadow and the audience does not pay to attend.  In other ways, however, the concerts are still very similar.  The VSO still attracts of crowd of thousands and a mix of visitors and residents.  Groups still bring picnics, families attend with kids and grandparents, people wear bathing suits and hiking gear, and quite a few people look like they just got off their bikes.

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This Week in Photos: March 22

1980

A doctors group from Japan who are regular Whistler visitors. Fourth from left is Mr. Yamanaka who is making his 10th visit here and in the centre is 68-year old Dr. Kanazawa and 73-year old Dr. Takahashi, both on their 6th visit here.

CONVERTIBLE PICKUP! – All that was left of the Datsun that the Squamish Rescue Group cut the top off of to get an injured passenger out at Daisy Lake last week.

Valdy performs at the dinner show at the Filling Station Thursday night.

Quebec and CGOT visitors, left to right: Jacques Demers – Dept. of Industry Commerce and Tourism of Quebec; Peter Maundrell – Canadian Government Office of Tourism (CGOT), Victoria; Marcel Noel – CGOT, Ottawa; Alain Simard – Dept. of Planning and Development of Quebec; Hugues Roy – Dept. of Regional Economic Expansion (Quebec office).

1981

The walls of the entrance to Club 10, decorated by Ray Clements.

Myrtle Philip, assisted by Roberta Carson, proudly displays the hand-drawn quilt presented to her by the Myrtle Philip School students on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

The students of Myrtle Philip School presented Myrtle with 90 daffodils at her birthday celebrations.

Myrtle Philip starts to cut up her 8 ft. long 90th birthday cake!

1982

A kayaker heads down the Cheakamus under the bridge in the Ice Breaker race March 21.

Staff photographer freezes the snow avalanche on film as it roars off the roof of the Whistler Sports & Convention Centre on Friday. Burrows Photo.

Moments before 50 tons of snow slid from the roof of the Sports & Convention Centre, Doug Fox, Cliff Jennings and crew tried shovelling snow away from facia beams.

Keep moving is right! Someone with a sense of humour then added the sign on the left to the warning on the right.

Spring skiers enjoy a sunny afternoon on the patio of Nasty Jacks.

1983

Watch your step. Downloading has become a sensible way to get off the mountains these days as spring weather works its way up the slopes.

While the skier’s away, the Whiskey Jack will play. This little fellow had few qualms about helping himself to someone’s lunch while the owner was out on the slopes.

Valdy packed the house all three nights of his visit to Whistler March 18, 19 and 20. Accompanied by saxophone player Clare Laurence and Norman McPherson on guitar, he played everything from love ballads to a lament that he couldn’t shimmy like his sister Kate.

Whew! It was a full house at The Longhorn and Nasty Jacks over the sunny March 19-20 weekend. Spring skiers are flocking to Whistler by the thousands to enjoy that last run before summer sets in.

Gwen Upton, of the Ministry of Labour, takes a look at what her department’s money is doing for Whistler through the Community Recovery Program. Al Bosse and Ian Mouncy have found winter employment making subdivision signs. Looking on at far right is Jim Webster from the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

1984

The Winter Hawks celebrated a victory together this week.

Raw energy, raw blues, and the velvet voice of John Hammond made a 2 1/2-hour concert at Brackendale Art Gallery Saturday seem like five minutes. Hammond has cut over 20 albums since 1962, but is still one of the lesser known bluesmen in North America.

The lyrics are poetry, the melodies are mellow. Silvered, comprised of Australian musicians Ken Kirschman and Geoff Gibbons, are masterful musicians reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel. A recent EP release has generated rave reviews. Silvered were featured at The Brass Rail Wednesday through Sunday.

The Whistler Medical Clinic, located in Whistler Village, right at the base of the mountain.

Kids Après at the Whistler Museum

Kids Après is back at the Whistler Museum for March Break!  There will be LEGO building, a scavenger hunt, colouring and button making at the museum, as well as chance to explore the museum’s exhibits.  All ages are welcome; children must be accompanied by an adult.

Celebrating Myrtle Philip Day

You might not have heard of it, but this Monday, March 19 is a holiday unique to Whistler.  On March 10, 1986 the council of the day voted to declare March 19 “Myrtle Philip Day” in honour of Myrtle Philip’s 95th birthday.

Myrtle and Alex Philip first came to the Whistler valley, then still known as Alta Lake, in 1911 and opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914.  Over the next 30 years their success at Rainbow Lodge helped turn Alta Lake into a summer destination.  When the pair sold the lodge in 1948 they had planned to move on but, like many who came after them, they never quite left.

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

After Alex’s death in 1968, Myrtle remained at her cottage on Alta Lake and continued to take an active part in community life.  She moved into Hilltop House in Squamish for only the last few years of her life.

Recognizing Myrtle’s birthday was nothing new for Whistler: almost every year her birthday celebrations were reported in the local papers, including The Whistler Question and The Citizen of Squamish.  Myrtle’s 90th was marked by a grad celebration at Myrtle Philip School attended by about 200 well wishers, including her two sisters and nephews and nieces.  The students of the school presented Myrtle with 90 daffodils and the Gourmet Bakery prepared a 99-inch cake for the occasion.  Presentations were also made by Pat Carleton, the Whistler Rotary Club, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, School Board Chairman Jim McDonald and the staff of Myrtle Philip School.  Pat Beauregard, on behalf of the Alta Lake Community Club, presented a plaque representing the newly created “Myrtle Philip Award,” awarded each year to a student demonstrating academic excellence.  This award is still presented today.

89-year old Myrtle Philip cuts her birthday cake at her party.  Whistler Question Collection.

Given the community’s respect for Whistler’s “First Lady,” it is no surprise that her 95th birthday warranted her very own day.  This was not, however, the first Myrtle Philip Day celebrated in Whistler.

On October 13, 1974, friends, former guests of Rainbow Lodge and others who knew Myrtle gathered at the still-standing Rainbow Lodge to remember their days at Alta Lake.  Officially called “Myrtle Philip, This Is Your Life” day, the event was described as a “time when old friends and former guests of Rainbow return to the lodge” for a party that lasted from the train’s arrival to its departure.  The railway even planned to reserve an “old-time railway coach” to transport the party guests.

Myrtle Philip and Mayor Mark Angus celebrate her 93rd birthday. Philip Collection.

The official declaration of “Myrtle Philip Day” in 1986 was only one of the gifts Whistler gave Myrtle that year.  She also received a birthday cake, flowers, gift baskets and even a special Myrtle Philip cookie from Germain’s.  Tapley’s, which bears her family’s name, put up a birthday banner for the day and Mayor Terry Rodgers made a trip to see Myrtle in Squamish.

Unfortunately, this was also Myrtle’s last birthday.  That summer she died of complications following a stroke and was buried in the Whistler Cemetery.  The community continued to celebrate Myrtle Philip Day, hosting fundraisers and handing out birthday cake in her honour.

This Week in Photos: March 15

Not all weeks in the Whistler Question Collection have similar coverage.  Some weeks include only a handful of photos while others have hundreds.  For the most part, larger events mean more photos.

In March 1984 Whistler hosted its second successful World Cup Downhill.  This week in 1984 includes over 600 photographs –  though we’ve only included five in this post, all can be viewed here.

1980

89-year old Myrtle Philip cuts her birthday cake at her party.

The site of the Mountain Inn in the town centre showing the forms waiting for the work to start again.

MAN, DOG & MOUNTAIN – Patroller Bruce Watt with his rescue dog Radar at the top of Whistler.

1981

A year later – Myrtle Philip just before her 90th birthday.

More Sunshine shots – the Whistler Village businesses enjoy the outdoor crowds on yet another sunny weekend. Tapley’s…

… Stoney’s…

… and Russell’s.

1982

Kids are put through the hoops at Blackcomb Mountain ‘Kids Kamp’.

Ministry of Transport employee surveys traffic flow March 13 to help determine parking needs in Whistler.

Winners’ ribbons light up (L to R) Michael Hofmann, Laura Armstrong and Aaron Gross at the cake-decorating contest, one of the many carnival festivities at Myrtle Philip School Friday, March 12.

No, it’s not a tug-of-war – students at Myrtle Philip School team up to take John Crewman for a real ride during the dog-sled event during the winter carnival.

Another sunny weekend on the patio of Stoney’s.

Taking a break, and enjoying the spring air. Umberto Menghi still has a smile despite having one leg shackled in a cast. Umberto broke his leg while skiing.

1983

Megan Armstrong, Jim Parson and Sue Boyd, winners in Whistler Challenge Series. The question is who keeps the attractive wooden trophy?

Vancouver’s hottest R&B band. The Lincolns, will be rockin’ it up at Stumps lounge in the Delta Mountain Inn until March 19.

Every wonder why they’re called SANDwiches? Cliff Jennings chose a nice sunny lunch hour Friday, March 11 to try out the new sweeper attachment on this golf course vehicle. Several munchers were kind of choked up.

The new Heritage Canada sign by Charlie Doyle.

Who knew porcupine chew television lines?

Behind the counter and waiting to serve you at the Rainbow Grocer are new owners (L to R) Dale Trudgeon, Lynn Trudgeon and Earl Grey (missing and on meat run is Cal Schacter). The store, located at the Gulf Service Station, is open from 10 am until 7 pm each day and until 0 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Step in for fresh meats and seafoods and ask them about freezer packs.

1984

Several thousand people travelled from the gondola base to Whistler Village Sunday to see downhill winners Bill Johnson (US), Helmut Hoeflehner (Austria) and Pirmin Zurbriggen (Switzerland) receive their soapstone sculptured trophies.

Todd Brooker, along with the rest of the Canadian downhill team, visited Myrtle Philip School last Wednesday, and in between signing autographs Brooker gave a short speech.

A playful Expo Ernie floated high and mighty above all the excitement in the Village Square beer garden Thursday. After a magnificent Voodoo jet fly-past, Expo Ernie and hundreds of others paraded down to Mountain Square for the official opening ceremonies of the Molson World Downhill.

Standing room only was no exaggeration both Friday and Saturday night in the festival tent. Doug & The Slugs put on their best side for Winterfest – both nights sold out, and estimates are that 2,000 danced their way through the tent Saturday.

Just a few plates of antipasto were served for the 116 guests at Saturday’s Grand Ball in Myrtle Philip School. Diners paid $125 each for the five-course dinner, with proceeds going to help defray Winterfest Society expenses.

Saudan Couloir: The History of North America’s Most Extreme Ski Race

With the Saudan Couloir Ski Race Extreme returning this April we’re taking a look back at the original run of the legendary race.  This new exhibit opens Tuesday, March 20 with special guests Dave Clement (part of creating the first race), Chris Kent (winner of the first four races) and more.  The exhibit will run through the end of April.

Grand Plans for Whistler Resort Centre

Walking through Olympic Plaza in the winter, chances are you’ll see some people out skating on the ice.  Plans for an ice rink in Whistler Village date back to the 1980s, though the original plans looked a lot different than the rink you see today.

In March 1980 construction began on the Whistler Village Resort/Recreation Centre.  According to a write up in Whistler News, Summer 1980, the Resort Centre would be a “three-level, multi-purpose, indoor recreation and conference centre” or approximately 72,000 square feet (the Whistler Conference Centre today is somewhere over 40,000 square feet).  The proposed budget for the project was in the $5.5 to 5.8 million range with funding provided by the Province of British Columbia in the form of a TIDSA (Travel Industry Development Subsidiary Agreement), the Recreation Facility Assistance and the Whistler Village Land Company.  This budget did not include operating costs.

What could have been: An artist’s rendering of the proposed Whistler Resort Centre, 1980. Whistler Question Collection.

The list of anticipated recreation activities that would have been housed in the Resort Centre is extensive.  Plans included a 20,000 sq. ft. Olympic-sized ice rink, a 3 x 20 metre swimming pool, a whirlpool, saunas, four racquetball courts, a squash court, locker room facilities, the Golf Pro Shop for the Whistler Golf Course, and even a restaurant.

Located on the top floor, the restaurant and lounge area would seat 320 people and “provide guests with views of the ice-skating and swimming activities as well as the surrounding mountain landscape.”

The plans for the lower level of the Resort Centre. Whistler Question Collection.

Many of the proposed facilities were multi-use.  A system of interlocking insulated panels meant that in just under four hours the ice rink could be transformed to either carpeting or astroturf to host banquets, staged performances, tennis matches or basketball games.  The Golf Pro Shop would be transformed in the winter months into a cross-country skiing centre.

When a recession hit North America and Whistler in late 1981 the Resort Centre, like much of the Village, was still under construction.  With the economy failing, real estate sales falling and interest rates climbing above 20%, the Whistler Village Land Company found themselves with debts of almost $8 million, liabilities coming to $30 million, and assets in the form of land that nobody wanted to buy.

The Resort Centre under construction, along with the rest of the Whistler Village. Eldon Beck Collection.

In January 1983 the provincial government under Premier Bill Bennett stepped in and formed Whistler Land Co. Developments, a Crown corporation to take over the liabilities and assets of the Whistler Village Land Company.  Chester Johnson, a Vancouver businessman, was chosen by Bennett to chair the board of this new Crown corporation and take over the development of Whistler Village.

Before the building could be reconstructed some of it had to be deconstructed. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

One of the decisions made by Johnson was to reconstruct the Resort Centre as a conference centre without all of the extra recreational facilities.  A convention business consultant and a Los Angeles architectural company were brought in to convert the Whistler Village Resort/Recreation Centre to the Whistler Conference Centre, a year-round facility meant to attract conventions and visitors to the resort.  Work was well underway on the Whistler Conference Centre by the end of 1984 and was completed by 1986, with no ice rink in sight.  Whistler wouldn’t get an indoor ice rink until 1993 with the opening of the arena at the Meadow Park Sports Centre.