A Wet End to August, 1991

Recently, we were tasked with finding more information about a flood that washed out and damaged several bridges over Fitzsimmons Creek in the 1990s.  As it turned out, the flooding had happened exactly 28 years before we looked into it, with the bulk of information found in the September 5, 1991 edition of The Whistler Question.

The first mention of an unusually wet end to August appeared in the previous week’s editorial section, where editor Bob Barnett opened a piece on government money granted in the area with the thought, “The old age it never rains, it pours, has applied to the weather this week, but also to government handouts.”  Between August 16 and 31, 155 mm of rain were reported to have fallen in Whistler, with the bulk of the rain falling between August 29 and 30.  The average rainfall for the entire month of August was historically under 50 mm; this unusually large quantity of water caused destruction throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.

An excavator removes rock and gravel carried down Fitzsimmons Creek during Labour Day weekend’s floods. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

During the five days of intense rain, water levels at the Pemberton Airport and the Golf and Country Club were recorded at over two metres and BC Rail recorded at least twelve places between Britannia Beach and Lillooet where the crushed rock that supported the rails was washed away, leaving sections suspended over the ground.

In Britannia Beach severe flooding caused Britannia Creek to change course through the lower townsite and the highway around Squamish was blocked for 36 hours.  According to the Ministry of Forests, three quarters of the forest service roads in the Squamish Forest District were closed from washouts, flooding or slides, with multiple bridges destroyed.  North of Pemberton, some residents around Skookumchuck were evacuated to Pemberton by helicopter.

Within the Pemberton Valley, a Friday afternoon community effort to shore p a dike behind the Van Loon property attempted to mitigate the damage caused by the flood.  Approximately 100 people were reported to have come out to fill sandbags.  Their success was limited as the dike was breached a few kilometres north of their work, flooding fields and homes and ruining potato crops.

An aerial view of the flood at the airport. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

Compared to other areas of the Sea to Sky, the flooding would appear to have caused relatively little destruction in Whistler, mainly due to the community effort to keep Fitzsimmons Creek in its channel.

Through the evening of Thursday and Friday, local contractors, excavators and heavy equipment crews worked to shore up the banks of Fitzsimmons Creek and keep the waters out of the village and White Gold.  According to Tony Evans, public safety director, “If we hadn’t had that we could have made Britannia Beach look like a walk in the park.”

The footbridge over Fitzsimmons Creek, 1991. Photo courtesy of Jan Jansen

As it was, the high waters and debris in the creek took out two supports of the Nancy Greene Drive bridge, partially washed out two footbridges linking the village and benchlands, and destroyed Fitzsimmons Creek Park.  The flooding also damaged sewer pipes and interrupted water supplies to White Gold.

At this time 28 years ago, Whistler and the surrounding communities were still in the midst of their clean up efforts as the water receded.  It would take weeks to clear debris, assess damages, rebuild bridges, and construct measures to prevent future flooding, such as deepening Fitzsimmons Creek.  Some of these measures can still be seen while walking across Fitzsimmons Creek today.

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Naming Night is Back!

Everyone is invited to the museum to help us add names to the subjects of our mystery photos!  If you’ve got stories behind the photographs, know where they were taken, or can identify any of the people pictured, we want to know.

At our first Naming Night event we were able to add over 250 names to our photographs.  These names get added to our database, making it easier to search for people and places.  We’ll be featuring more photographs on Wednesday, September 18!

Jacquie Pope’s “Vatican”

Earlier this month, we were invited to attend the Alta Lake Road Block Party.  While sharing information about the neighbourhood’s history with residents, a couple came by to share some history of their friend Jacquie Pope with us.

Jacquie Pope first visited Alta Lake in 1953, when she and Kelly Forster (later Kelly Fairhurst) took a two week vacation at Rainbow Lodge.  After that holiday, Pope remembered that they returned every chance they got, including “the following summer and every long weekend in between.”  At the time travel to Alta Lake was an all-day affair and weekend trips took dedication.

Rainbow Lodge under the Greenwoods in the 1950s.

In 1955 Jacquie and Kelly were part of a group of teachers who bought a cabin together on Alta Lake Road.  The five women were Jacquie, Kelly, Florence Strachan (later Petersen), Betty Gray, and June Tidball.  At Alta Lake they learned to split wood, cook on a wood-burning stove, and lime an outhouse.  Their cabin, soon named “Witsend” after a particularly trying and rainy journey to Alta Lake, was a much-loved summer and weekend getaway for the group.

Jacquie sold her shares in Witsend in 1964 and bought her own lot further along the road.  She paid $1,500 to a PGE employee for Lot 30 and her house, built by Alta Lake Road neighbour Colin Ramsay, was completed in 1965.  In a play on her last name, the house was named “The Vatican”.  At that time it wasn’t uncommon to see names attached to properties, including Valhalla, the Gowery, Whispering Leaves, Woodbine Cottage, Worlebury Lodge, Primrose, the Vicarage, and Kelso Lodge.

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

Jacquie continued teaching in Burnaby and spent her summers at Alta Lake.  After retiring in 1983, she moved to Whistler full-time.

Florence remembered Jacquie as “the life of many a gathering,” especially when she led the sing-a-longs with her ukulele.  Jacquie had a passion for sports and had even played field hockey for Canada in the Netherlands in 1959.  During her retirement in Whistler she hiked, fished and even sailed her own Sabot, a sailing dinghy that is sailed single handedly, as part of the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Jacquie stayed at “The Vatican” on Alta Lake Road until 2001, when she sold the property and moved to Squamish to enjoy easier winters and a longer golf season.  James Collingwood, who bought Lot 30, demolished the house built by Colin Ramsay.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The sign that hung outside “The Vatican” moved to Squamish with Jacquie and was reportedly displayed in her garden.  After her death in 2011, friends and neighbours of her inherited the sign and kept it in their own garden.

These friends of Jacquie’s attended the Alta Lake Road Block Party and brought with them the sign from her Alta Lake property, surprising us by donating it to the museum collections.  Despite spending decades outside, it is in remarkably good condition and the carved lettering is still easy to read.  The sign represents a period in the area when Alta Lake was a popular summer cottage destination, before visitors traded their sailboats for skis.  Though Jacquie’s house is no longer standing, artefacts like her sign provide insight into Whistler history.

Honeymooning at Rainbow Lodge

Though built as a fishing lodge, Rainbow Lodge was a destination for more than eager fishermen.  With its location on Alta Lake relatively easy to access, though still feeling remote in the 1950s, it was a popular resort for honeymooners looking to escape life in the city.

Les and Marge Stevens came to Rainbow Lodge on their honeymoon in September 1953.  They later recounted their stay while revisiting Alta Lake and staying with Cloudsley and Dorothy Hoodspith, the publisher of the Squamish Citizen, in 1981.

Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.  Barber Collection.

Les Stevens, an advertising manager for Wosk’s in Vancouver, first visited Alta Lake with his family in the summer of 1944.  His parents had booked a cabin at Jordan’s Lodge for two weeks and Les and his sister spent what he called a “typical holiday” swimming and fishing.  Later, when planning his and Marge’s honeymoon, Les thought of his earlier holiday at Alta Lake and suggested Rainbow Lodge.  The couple enquired with the lodge, looked over their brochure, and made a reservation for the day following their wedding.

The Stevenses made the journey to Rainbow Lodge in the same fashion guests had decades earlier.  They caught the Union Steamship from Vancouver to Squamish and then rode the PGE to the station at the lodge.  According to Les, “The coaches in those days were like old street cars with the wooden slat seats with the flip over backs so you could face either way and for heat they had a potbelly stove at one end.”

The newlyweds were met at Rainbow Lodge by Alec and Audrey Greenwood, who had bought the lodge from the Philips in 1948.  They were assigned Cabin 11 for their stay.  For the next week the Stevenses spent their time boating on Alta Lake and hiking.  They took one day to hike up to Rainbow Falls.  On their way they found a deserted log cabin and spent part of their hike speculating on who had built it.

The entrance to Rainbow Lodge during the Greenwood’s tenure.  Greenwood Collection.

The Stevenses had always planned to return to Rainbow Lodge for a second honeymoon, perhaps inspired by a couple they met during their stay who had come back to celebrate their 10th anniversary.  Unfortunately, by the time they had made it back, much of Rainbow Lodge had been destroyed by a fire.  The Stevenses visited the remaining cabins and even took a photo outside of Cabin 11.  Les claimed that the visit was “like going back in time, because coincidentally the weekend we were there was the weekend of the ’50s dance and everyone was dressed for the period.”

Only some cabins survived the fire, a few of which still stand at Rainbow Park today. Photo by Robyn Goldsmith.

Rainbow Lodge was not the only part of the valley that had changed drastically by 1981.  Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains were both open, the Resort Municipality of Whistler had been formed, and construction was well underway on the new town centre.  According to the Stevenses, not being skiers, they were amazed by all the development.  They claimed that, “looking back it doesn’t seem so long and it’s hard to believe it’s the same spot that 28 years ago seemed so remote.”

The gondola area showing the early arrivals in the parking lot – the Wosk lot is the empty one centre right.  Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

Despite their surprise, the Stevenses were not entirely unconnected to the development in the area.  Their story was found while doing a keyword search of our research files for “Wosk” after reading about a proposed development in the Summer 1969 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News.  Benjamin Wosk, who had built the Wosk department store chain with his brother Morris, proposed to develop a hotel, shopping centre, condominiums, swimming pool, and youth hostels on 40 acres in today’s Creekside.  These plans, however, were never realized.  The area, known as the Wosk lot, was used on and off as a parking lot for the lifts into the 1980s.  As an advertising manager for Wosk’s, Les Stevens’ employers played their own part in the development of the Stevens’ remote honeymoon destination.

Sharing the History of Alta Lake Road

Every so often, we get to take history out of the museum and share Whistler’s past at events around town.  This past weekend, we were invited to attend the Alta Lake Road Block Party held at The Point, and so we spent a few days gathering together any information we have about the neighbourhood.

The history of Alta Lake Road is possible one of the most thoroughly documented neighbourhood histories we have at the museum.  Florence Petersen, one of the founders of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society, even wrote a book entitled The History of Alta Lake Road, which included both the history of the area and a detailed narrative of each individual lot from 1925 to 2006, including her own.

Grace Woollard traverses the Pemberton Trail to Whistler in 1912.

The Alta Lake Road of today roughly follows the path of a section of the Pemberton Trail.  IN 1858, a Joseph MacKay and William Downie were commissioned to plot an alternate trade route between Vancouver and the gold fields of the Cariboo region.  The route went past Alta Lake and, though the grand ambitions of the trail as a trade and cattle route were never fulfilled, it was the path taken by some of the early 20th century settlers of Alta Lake, including John Millar, Alex and Myrtle Philip, and Grace Woollard.

The Pemberton Trail remained the only direct route from the coast to Alta Lake until 1914, when the Pacific Great Easter Railway reached the area.  In 1891, a company was incorporated with the intention of building a railway from North Vancouver to Pemberton.  A feasibility report for the project was published in 1909 by the Howe Sound Pemberton Valley and Northern Railway, which also began acquiring land along the Pemberton Trail as the train was to follow a similar (if less steep) route.  Nineteen kilometres of track had been completed before the money ran out.  In 1912, the PGE took over the project and resumed construction.

A southbound PGE train pulling in towards Rainbow Lodge.

Some of the land along Alta Lake that the railway had acquired was subdivided into lots and put up for sale in 1925.  Summer cottages soon joined Rainbow Lodge and Harrop’s Tea Room (today, the site of The Point) along the western shore of the lake.  Not all of the lots were sold at the time, and in 1956, the remaining lots were sold for a starting bid of $350.  These lots still make up the Alta Lake Road neighbourhood today.

Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, built by Maurice and Muriel Burge in the late 1950s. The house occupying the lots today looks very different.  Photo: Mitchell

As development and forestry increased in the area, the Pemberton Trail by Alta Lake was widened and frequently used by logging trucks.  The “road” ran between the lake and Millar Creek (in today’s Function Junction), giving automobiles summer access to the west side of Alta Lake.  According to Petersen, the Alta Lake Road we know today was constructed in 1965, branching off of Highway 99, running around the south end of Alpha Lake, and joining the Pemberton Trail road.  This early road was made wide enough for two-way traffic and went as far north as Rainbow Lodge.  The road was extended to join Rainbow Drive in Alpine Meadows in 1972 and, some time later, was paved.

Cypress Lodge, today the location of The Point, as seen from the lake.  Some of the building pictured are still standing today. Fairhurst Collection.

Though there have been more changes to Alta Lake Road in the past few decades than just paving, the area still plays a large role in discussions of Whistler’ past.  Many of the houses today bear little resemblance to their summer cottage predecessors, but others harken back to the years when visitors were drawn to the area for the fishing rather than the snow.

Whistler’s Skateboarding Story

Nestled along the Valley Trail near Fitzsimmons Creek, the Whistler Skate Park is a popular summer hangout for skateboarders and board sport enthusiasts.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, surfing’s popularity began to skyrocket in California, and would eventually go on to influence North America’s youth culture with the music, films, philosophies, and attitudes that are now associated with the sport.  Skateboarding, or sidewalk surfing as it was then known, grew out of the surfing culture during this time, and became something to do when surfing conditions were less-than-optimal.

In the early days of the Whistler Skate Park, roller blades could be found as well. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Skateboarding’s popularity increased during this period, expanding out of California surf shops to any place around the world that had cement or asphalt.  In 1976, the world’s first purpose-built skatepark opened: Carlsbad Skatepark in Southern California.  This was soon followed by the Albany Snake Run in Albany, Western Australia.  Both areas had strong links to surfing culture.

Surfing and skateboarding had an immense influence on the development of snowboarding; one of the first snowboard products, the Snurfer, invented in the late 1960s in Michigan, allowed riders to essentially surf on snow.  Over the next 20 years, snowboarding evolved and expanded and by the late 1980s started to become a fixture in Whistler, specifically on Blackcomb Mountain.

The Whistler Skate Park, 1995. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Olympic gold medal winner Ross Rebagliati was the first snowboarder allowed to ride the Blackcomb lifts.  The new sport found its home early in our valley, he said.  “When we were first allowed to snowboard here, they did not just sell us the tickets and say, ‘that’s it.’  They embraced the whole idea, the culture.  They took the initiative to build snowboard parks and created things specifically designed for snowboarders.”

In 1991, the original Whistler Skate Park was constructed and includes the snake run and bowl that are still present today.  Designed by Monty Little and Terry Snider, it integrated elements that they had developed in other skate parks in West Vancouver and North Vancouver.  These elements included large waves and shapes that would encourage speed and fluid, rounded movements, a nod to the surf-inspired approach to both snowboarding and skateboarding.  Monty Little viewed the Whistler Skate Park as a functional sculpture, taking inspiration from the mountains and streams of the area.

In the late 1990s, the Whistler Skate Park saw its second round of development.  This refurbishment was born out of safety concerns due to the original surface delaminating, as well as the changing style and approach boarders were taking to skateboarding.  With support from then-Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the skating community, new elements were added to the skate park that reflected the next generation of skateboarders.  These included more street elements, such as rails and grindable steel edges, used for more technical tricks and manoeuvres.

The Skate Park signs, like the park itself, are well decorated. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

With the latest expansion in 2016, the Whistler Skate Park has become the second largest in Canada with a total skateable area of more than 4,600 square metres (50,000 square feet).  The Whistler Skate Park’s popularity has made it one of Whistler’s prominent summertime features.

The Whistler Skate Park is centrally located between the Village and Fitzsimmons Creek, and open daily from April to November.

A Glimpse into the Don MacLaurin Collection

As with many newcomers, I only know the basics of Whistler’s history when I moved here, and I hadn’t even though about the influence forestry has had – and still has – on the community, development, and economy of the area.  I have been working on the Don MacLaurin archival collection for the past few months, and it has shown me an important side of Whistler that I may not have discovered otherwise.  I know more now about forestry and sustainable ecology than I ever could have imagined, and it’s becoming very clear to me just how much MacLaurin and the rest of Whistler’s fantastic long-term residents have shaped the way the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has developed.

For those of you who don’t know, MacLaurin was instrumental in the promotion of sustainable forestry and recreation within the RMOW and the Sea to Sky corridor.  He spent many years – decades, in fact – working on the development and maintenance of the Whistler Interpretive Forest, from creating interpretive signs and self-guided tour pamphlets, to organizing the installation of a suspension bridge over the Cheakamus River.  That suspension bridge is now known as MacLaurin’s Crossing in his honour.

Members of the Whistler Rotary Club working to fill remaining orders are, left to right: Bill Wallace, Don MacLaurin, Bob Brown, Paul Burrows, Richard Heine, Brian Brown, Sid Young and a visiting Rotarian from New Zealand. Whistler Question Collection.

MacLaurin also acted as a consultant for many other projects in the region, and was very involved in the Whistler Arbour Day Committee during the 1990s, which was responsible for organizing tree planting events and other environmental awareness activities during National Forest Week.

I could go on listing MacLaurin’s many accomplishments, but there’s not enough room for that in this article.  These are only a few of the many roles he took on (the entirety of his résumé could fill a very interesting book, I’m sure) and the documents in his archival collection are a brilliant, detailed illustration of his extensive involvement.

Among the donations from the MacLaurins over the years are a series of photos of the “highway” between Squamish and Whistler around 1959. MacLaurin Collection.

Archival collections (and donations to the archives, of course) are extremely important in the preservation of a community’s history, especially in a place as flowing and dynamic as Whistler.  Collections like MacLaurin’s are an invaluable resource for researching the industries, events, and programs that have influenced Whistler, even in recent history.

As of 2017, 23 per cent of British Columbia’s exports were forestry-related, so the documents in this particular collection are not only invaluable to the history of Whistler, but they also provide an important insight into the history of the province.  MacLaurin’s collection is a wealth of information on sustainable forest management that will aid forestry researchers for decades to come, and this is only one of the many magnificent collections housed within the Whistler Museum and Archives.

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

If you’re interested in learning more about MacLaurin and his dazzling wife, Isobel, I would highly recommend checking out Pique’s online articles, as well as articles on this blog and the Arts Whistler website.  They are easily accessible through a search on each organization’s website, and paint a beautiful picture of these lovely Whistler locals.

Hailey Schmitke is the current Collections Coordinator summer student at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She recently received a Bachelor of Arts from Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Archaeology and Religious Studies.