Pranks at Witsend

When describing summers spent at Alta Lake, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) once explained how she, June Collins, Kelly Fairhurst, Betty Atkinson, and Jacquie Pope (her fellow Witsend residents) would plan their days: “You’d take a walk, and say ‘What’ll I do today?’  Something would happen that would lead to something else.”  Sometimes these walks would lead to days that, though not necessarily the most productive, were still remembered by the Witsend group for their fun nearly fifty years later.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen continue to share a laugh well after their Witsend days. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Florence remembered one walk in particular that ended with an elaborate prank being played on one of the seasonal forestry workers staying at Alta Lake.

She and Julie, a visiting friend, were out walking when Julia accidentally killed a grouse while tossing rocks down the path.  As a biology teacher, Julie had with her all the necessary equipment to skin the bird, after which the pair decided to stuff the skin.  They took it and poultry meant for their dinner with them to the forestry cabin.  They suspended one bird above a door, to fall into the face of the next person to enter, and arranged the other on the table so that it appeared to be sitting cross legged while staring at the door.  This might have been startling enough, but the pair went further and filled the bottom of the sleeping bag with the cabin’s cutlery.

Trail rides had always been a part of summer at Rainbow Lodge, and sometimes the Witsend group would ride along on the extra horses. Philip Collection.

The Witsend group was well acquainted with “the forestry guys,” and knew that the joke would be taken well.  Unfortunately for the occupant of the cabin, his boss from the city happened to be visiting that day and his departure was delayed.  The boss had to stay the night, and the forester kindly offered to take the couch while his boss used the sleeping bag.  After being greeted by flying poultry and finding a fork with his foot while going to bed, this was a stay that the boss would remember.  As Florence recalled, “Of course, all of the forestry kids knew who it had been, but they wouldn’t say.”

Perhaps the best story of a Witsend prank came from June Collins.  The group used to ride horses at Alta Lake, often getting to take the spare horses on Rainbow Lodge trail rides.  One day, there were only four horses and five hopeful riders.  Kelly very kindly volunteered to stay behind and the other four happily went off to spend the day on the trail.  According to June, when they returned to Witsend they found Kelly looking “like she was going to burst.”  When asked what she had gotten up to that day, a sparkling eyed Kelly told them “Nothing.”  When they tried to go to bed, however, the other four discovered just what Kelly had spent her day doing.

The beds had been apple-pied and filled with pop bottle caps, and Kelly had meticulously sewn their pyjamas shut an inch in, making them impossible to put on.

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

They never got mad at each other but took such practical jokes as the fun they were meant to be.  Despite their antics, those who lived at Witsend could also be serious and practical.  As June described it: “All of us had been the same kind of people.  We worked hard, we had always worked hard.  We all had jobs in the summer and we taught in the winter and we went through school.  We did everything right and we never had time for fun.  When we got up there, wow, what a difference.  Why not have it?  So we had a good time.”

Naming Night (NOT) at the Museum

The Whistler Museum is looking for your help again!  As part of this interactive event, we’re seeking assistance in putting names to faces and places that appear in Whistler’s history.  Whether you’ve been in the valley for decades or are new to the area, have lived here or visited over the years, are staying home in the valley or haven’t been back in an age, we’ll be displaying a collection of photographs that we are searching for more information on.  Help us identify your friends, family, and anything in between!

This Naming Night will be a little different than usual.  Instead of having you all come to the museum, we’ll be bringing the photos to you!  We will be posting an album of photos on our Facebook page (find it here) at 7 pm PDT on Tuesday, April 21.  Names and information can be added to each individual photo in the comment section, or you can even tag your friends in the photograph.  Despite the physical distance, we hope the photos will still generate the discussions and debates about their who, what, where, when and why that we have enjoyed so much at our in-person events.

Grace Woollard at Alta Lake

While some of the stories we hear or read about at the museum provide only a glimpse into the lives of individuals who lived in the Whistler Valley (such as Josef Janousek, the subject of last week’s article), others provide a much more complete picture of an individual or family.  One such individual was Grace Woollard, a nurse who began visiting Alta Lake in the summer of 1912.

When Woollard first came to Alta Lake, there was not train service to travel by, or Rainbow Lodge to stay at.  She traveled first by boat, and then on foot and by horse with two friends, fellow nurse Grace Archibald and her brother Ernie Archibald, who were looking to preempt land around Alta Lake.  The two Graces stayed at a cabin on the east side of the lake, while Ernie stayed at the survey camp of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway on the west side.  This first excursion introduced Woollard to an area that she would continue to visit for the next six decades.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

Woollard grew up in Ontario, where she met and married Frederick Ray.  The two had twin boys, but after the death of Frederick and of both her sons from whooping cough in 1910, Woollard decided to train as a nurse.  By 1912, she was working at the Bute Street Hospital in Vancouver, where she befriended Grace Archibald.

Two years after her trip to Alta Lake, she married Charles Woollard, a doctor in Vancouver.  The pair returned to Alta Lake and bought their own lot, where they had a summer cabin built.  They were not, however, able to spend much time at this cabin.  In February of 1915, Charles joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps and traveled to England.  He was soon joined there by Grace and their newborn daughter Betty.

Grace stands on the path to the cabin during the winter of 1944/45. Clarke Collection.

 

Grace and Betty stayed in England while Charles went on to serve with the Field Ambulance, a mobile frontline medical unit, in France.  The family returned to Vancouver in 1918, where Charles would become the commanding officer of the Vancouver Military Hospital.

When the Woollards did make it back to their Alta Lake cabin, they found it already occupied.  A family, supposedly from Victoria, had a daughter who was suffering from tuberculosis and had moved into the cabin after a doctor suggested the fresh mountain air might benefit her.  Rather than make a fuss, the Woollards let the family keep the cabin and found a new lot for themselves.  They settled in the area known today as Blueberry Hill, alongside friends of theirs, the Clarke family.

Though she did not live at Alta Lake full-time, Grace often found her nursing skills in demand there.  The nearest doctor was usually a day trip away and until 1948 (when a hospital was built in Squamish), the nearest hospital was in Vancouver.  Grace was called on for help in medical emergencies, such as when a woman in labour unexpectedly disembarked from the train at Rainbow Lodge and Grace delivered her twins.  She even gave advice at community events such as dances.

Betty Woollard (left) and her sister Eleanor along the tracks at Alta Lake. Lundstrom Collection

Charles and Grace had two daughters, Betty and Eleanor.  Grace sold their cabin on Blueberry Hill in 1941 and bought a cabin at the south end of Alta Lake to be close to Betty and her daughter, who were living there while Betty’s husband, Douglas Clarke, was away at war.  Eleanor and her husband Maison Philip, (nephew of Alex Philip of Rainbow Lodge) would also stay at that end of the lake.

Though Charles died in 1924, Grace continued to visit Alta Lake until her death in 1969.

Dick Fairhurst’s Memories: Josef Janousek

Many of the people we learn about at the museum are introduced to us through the stories of others.  Sometimes these stories are told as oral histories and others come from documents in our research files at the museum.  One of these documents is a collection of stories, aptly called “Whistler Stories,” from Dick Fairhurst, in which he describes the area during his early years at Alta Lake and provides tales of some of the characters he got to know, or heard about from others.

Dick Fairhurst first moved to Alta Lake in 1943 and began working fro Alf Gebhart at the Rainbow Lumber Company Mill by the Alta Lake Station.  He later opened Cypress Lodge and continued to work in logging.  Because he worked in both the resource and tourism industries, Dick got to know a lot of the people who called the area around Alta Lake home in the 1940s and ’50s.

Dick Fairhurst, the owner of Cypress Lodge, was also a ski-doo enthusiast. Fairhurst Collection.

While some of these people, such as Alex Philip and Alex Greenwood, are well known to us, others we don’t know much about.  One example is a man named Josef “Joe” Janousek.  Dick recorded two stories about Joe, both involving a cold winter, one shifty individual, and examples of Joe’s accurate judge of character.

Though originally from Czechoslovakia where he worked as a game warden, Joe worked at Parkhurst, the logging and sawmill operation on Green Lake, in the 1950s.  In the winters, when most of the seasonal workers had departed for the cold, snowy months, Joe would look after the sawmill.

The settlement at Parkhurst in the 1950s, around the time Josef Janousek would have come to Green Lake. Clausen Collection.

One winter, a member of the crew from the logging camp was staying in one of the cottages by the sawmill, but Joe didn’t think he was entirely trustworthy.  This man was supposed to be looking after the house of Olie and Eleanor Kitteringham (you can learn more about the Kitteringhams and their family’s days at Parkhurst here and here) while they were in Vancouver for a couple of weeks.  In order to keep the pipes from freezing, the Kitteringhams had left their heat on and their taps running just a bit.  Unfortunately, the man entrusted with looking after their house didn’t check on it once, and Joe never got the chance to look in.  By the time the Kitteringhams returned to Green Lake, the oil for the heater had long run out and the water had kept running, welcoming the family home with snow to dig through outside and a thick icy covering inside.

Most activity at the mill ceased over the winter and many of the mill workers and their families went home. Clausen Collection.

Joe’s impression of the man was confirmed again when the man decided to leave the mill.  Tools had been going missing around the camp and the mill and Joe and a couple others decided to check this man’s trunk before he left.  Sure enough, when they opened the trunk they found all sorts of expensive gear that did not belong to him.  Instead of confronting the man who would soon be gone, they decided to refill his trunk, using heavy rocks.  As Dick put it, “He must have felt good when he found out he paid freight for all that!”

Apart from these stories, we know very little else about Josef Janousek.  According to Dick, he earned the nickname “Rocket Fuel Joe” by keeping the residents supplied with alcohol (presumably homebrewed) when their own supplies ran out, he was an experienced fisherman, and he was an excellent shot, even shooting a couple of wolverines around Green Lake.  Sadly, Joe died from drowning in Green Lake at the age of 48.

Traveling to Witsend with June Collins

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!

Fire at The Keg

While cataloguing the Griffith Collection (a collection of roughly 50,000 images donated by photographer Greg Griffith), our Assistant Archivist Stephanie recently came across slides of a fire at The Keg building that we had previously only seen in black and white.

The first Keg in the Whistler valley was opened at Adventures West on Alta Lake in 1974, but when construction of the Whistler Village began in 1979 plans were made to open a new Keg restaurant in the Whistler Village Inn.

When the first Keg building was moved up Lorimer Rd. to become the new Municipal Hall in 1981, the new Keg building was still under construction.  The hotel and restaurant were expected to open by the end of January 1982, in time for the World Cup, and by the beginning of January restaurant staff had already been hired.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department works to contain the fire in The Keg and Whistler Village Inn building. Greg Griffith Collection.

Around 3:30 pm on Wednesday, January 13, 1982, a fire broke out in the building, caused by a leaking propane tank.  The fire started in the restaurant section, spread upwards into the roof and, aided by strong winds, spread across the entire building.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD) worked well into the night.  According to the Whistler Question, they poured water on the building for over seven hours.  Luckily there were no injuries from the fire, but one firefighter was taken to hospital with chest pains and several others were treated for smoke inhalation.

The next week the WVFD sent a whole bundle of roses into the Whistler Question’s “Bricks & Roses” section to thank those who had helped.  The Whistler and Pemberton ambulance crews were present all night, Dr. Christine Rodgers spent the night on call, Terry Rodgers manned the radio, Carol Simmie, Kathy Hicks and Katie Rodgers helped coordinate the effort, and the RCMP provided crowd control.  Members of the Surrey Fire Department and Squamish Fire Department who were in Whistler also came out.

Crowds watch the fire from the Village Stroll. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

As it was January, dry clothing and hot food were greatly appreciated in the -20°C weather.  The Grocery Store opened late to provide food supplies, the Alta Lake Community Club, Stoney’s, the Brass Rail, Tapley’s and The Gourmet all brought coffee and food, and the Blackcomb Lodge offered the use of their dryers.

The fire was contained to the top floor of the hotel section, and most of the building was considered structurally sound on the lower levels, with some damage from water and smoke.  The damage was estimated at $2.5 million.

By mid-February demolition work had already begun.  Smith Brothers & Wilson Construction Ltd. got to work repairing and reconstructing the restaurant and hotel.  Because the Whistler Village Inn was designed in two separate buildings, they were able to open 44 rooms in 1982, but the hotel was missing planned amenities such as a pool, restaurant, and permanent lobby.

Brian Moran, Ken Till, Bob Elliott and John Grills outside the soon-to-be-opened Whistler Keg.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

January 1983 was a busy month, as finishing touches were put on the restaurant and over 100 staff were hired from over 500 applicants.

The Keg was finally able to open on Friday, February 4, with some familiar faces.  Herb Capozzi, a founder of the Keg restaurant chain, was one of the first to be served, and some staff members from The Keg at Adventures West came back, such as Scott Paxton.  Over the first three evenings, the restaurant served over 900 meals.

A face from yesteryear – Scott Paxton, who worked at The Keg at the Mountain many years ago when it was located in Whistler Cay has now resurfaced at the new Keg as the official “bunmaster”. Paxton and fellow employees geared up for the opening night at The Keg Friday, February 4 for another era of Keg lovers.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Though the Whistler Village has expanded and prices may have changed (in 1983 an 8 oz sirloin would cost you $8.95 and highballs at Brandy’s were $1.85), The Keg and Brandy’s continue to occupy the space opened in 1983.

Bringing the First Television to Whistler

Bringing television access to Whistler was no easy feat before cable and satellite, but Walter Zebrowski can be credited with bringing it to the valley.

The Chamber of Commerce apparently began discussing television at its first meeting in 1966, and members wrote letters to the provincial government in Victoria asking for the installation of antennas or a TV cable.  But they heard nothing back from their queries.

Walter feeding the fish at Eva Lake Park.

Zebrowski eventually asked the Chamber members to give him free rein to attempt to bring television to the Whistler valley.  He was determined and eager, and the members approved.  In 1970, Zebrowski took a trip to Vancouver and with his own money purchased a TV antenna and a small battery-operated television set.

Next came the challenge of finding a location for the antenna where it would receive a TV signal.  Zebrowski spent months exploring the surrounding mountains be snowmobile and helicopter for the right location.  Between the two peaks of Mount Sproatt he found a signal.

Zebrowski ordered the rest of the equipment that was needed to put up the antenna and it was erected with the help of Jon Anderson.  Next to the antenna, Zebrowski proudly hung a flag of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.

A few days later, however, when a storm passed over the mountain, the masts were all destroyed.  Zebrowski described the main antenna as looking like “a swan with a broken neck,” so they started all over again with smaller masts that were more resistant to the wind.

At the annual December Ball of the Chamber of Commerce, Zebrowski put a TV set in the corner of the hall and covered it.  After the usual complaining about the lack of TV, he turned the set on and embraced the astonishment and joy of the other Chamber members.

The Sproatt antenna required regular snow clearing during the winters. George Benjamin Collection.

The antenna originally received three different stations.

Along with the TV antenna, Zebrowski also founded the Whistler Television Society, which helped maintain the site and collected a fee from members to help fund the service.

In the late 1990s, the antenna was struck by lightning and one of the devices stopped working.  From then, there were only two channels available.  By the time this happened, most people in the valley were using cable or satellite TV and no one was around who knew how to, or was willing to, repair the primitive technology.

Zebrowski passed away in 1996, leaving a lasting legacy in Whistler.

Whistler T.V. Society members Floyd Eclair, Richard Heine and Albert Bryjack went up to adjust the society’s channel 6 antenna atop Sproat Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

The television signal captured by Zebrowski eventually became redundant and by 1999, it was unknown if there was anyone still using the Sproatt signal.  The municipality decided to stop collecting taxes to fund the Whistler Television Society and when the CRTC licence expired in 2000, the signal was no longer usable.

The site of the Sproatt antenna was an ideal location, as it was later proposed, to build an internet connection structure.  Paul Burrows, who had acted as a caretaker for the society and helped shovel snow off of the repeater in the winter, claimed that “You can see clear all of Whistler from that site.”