Tag Archives: Alex Philip

Summer Jobs at Rainbow Lodge

The Barnfield family is best known in Whistler as the owners of a dairy farm that once operated where the Barnfield neighbourhood is located today (read more about that here).  The farm was moved south to Brackendale in 1926, though the family continued to bring the cows and chickens back to Alta Lake for the summer tourist season.  Vera Merchant, the only daughter of the Barnfield family, continued to come up for summers even after her family had stopped bringing up the farm and worked at Rainbow Lodge for three seasons.  Her recollections provide a unique view of Rainbow Lodge and Alta Lake during the mid-1930s.

Daisy Barnfield (Vera’s mother) feeds the chickens with some help from the children.

Although Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge in 1934, ’35 and ’36, her experiences seem familiar to anyone who has worked in Whistler’s busy tourism industry.

During the summer, employees at Rainbow Lodge didn’t get many days off.  Vera was paid $25 a month and was provided with room and board.  This meant that she and another girl (also coincidently named Vera) shared a small two-bedroom cabin at the lakefront.

Though we don’t know which cabin, Vera and other employees at Rainbow Lodge were lucky enough to get lakeside accommodations during the summer.

Vera’s work included cleaning cabins, setting and clearing the dining room and leading activities such as hiking and horseback riding with guests.  On Sundarys, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway ran excursions where passengers could come to Alta Lake just for the day.  These excursions were dreaded by Vera and her coworkers as they would have to rush to set up the dining room for lunch for guests and then again for day trippers and then reset the tables in time for dinner.  The staff did not eat until after the guests had finished their meals and the tablecloths, dishes and food had been put away.

Though most of the guests at Rainbow Lodge kept their cabins relatively clean, Vera remembered some cabins were left “an awful mess.”  A few times cabins were covered with “lemon peels and gin bottles and… no broken glass, but liquor all over the floor.”  When Vera showed the cabins to Alex Philip, who she suspected of being in on the previous evening’s party, he assured her that she would not have to clean up the cabin and that he would have the guests take care of their own mess.

Vera Barnfield (far left), Alex Philip and two unidentified women, possibly Rainbow Lodge employees, wait for the train at the station.

Despite working hard in the cabins and dining room, Vera enjoyed the work at Rainbow Lodge.  She and the other girls she worked with would go to the dances at the schoolhouse and the next day employees and guests would ride to the Green River for a picnic breakfast on the bridge.  Mason Philip, Alex Philip’s nephew, would go ahead with the faster riders and the horses with the supplies and Vera would bring up the rear with the guests less comfortable on horseback.  By the time Vera and her group arrived the table was set, the fire was going and food was already being prepared.  A full breakfast was provided, including eggs, bacon and hotcakes.  Vera loved being surrounded by the trees and the glacier water of Green Lake (her personal record for swimming Green Lake was five minutes).

Vera only worked at Rainbow Lodge for three years before her marriage but her summers at Alta Lake, both as a child with her family’s dairy and as a young woman with the Philip, provided memories that stayed with her until her death in 2014, just seven weeks before her 99th birthday.

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Summer Adventures of Mollie Stephenson

It’s a story everyone in Whistler has heard – young person comes to the valley to work for a season, but ends up staying a few years longer than expected.  What makes the story of Mollie Stephenson unique, however, is that she first came to the Whistler valley in the summer of 1926.

Mollie Stephenson at Rainbow Lodge, 1929.

In 1924, after having graduated from Ladysmith High on Vancouver Island, Mollie moved with her parents to Victoria where her father served as the reverend at St. Saviour’s Church in Victoria West.  Mollie spent the next two years enjoying life in Victoria as a young woman, including swimming at the Crystal Garden and attending tea dances at the Empress Hotel where she and her friends would try to outdo each other at the new dance the Charleston.  As Mollie said, she adored the Flapper Age with its “beads, feathers and best of all the short skirts.”

Mollie enrolled at Normal School (what teacher college used to be called) but was unable to attend as a bad chest cold turned into bronchitis and her doctor prescribed a drier climate.  Alex and Myrtle Philip were advertising for girls to work in the dining room and Mollie left for Alta Lake in May of 1926 intending to attend Normal School in the fall.

Life at Alta Lake soon cleared Mollie’s cough and in July she transferred from the dining room to work as a wrangler and guide for the rest of the summer.  Each day she would spend 12 to 14 hours out in the forest with the 15 horses Rainbow Lodge had use of.  Trail rides were popular with Rainbow Lodge guests and Mollie would often take groups for breakfast at Lost Lake, Green Lake or near a stream.  Lam and Sam, the cooks, would pack ingredients and every rider was given a job, whether building a fire, making the coffee or preparing the pancake batter.  By the time the food was ready everyone in the group would have a hearty appetite.

A picnic during a ride included a tablecloth and china as well as jobs for every guest.

When September arrived Mollie was already looking forward to her next season at Rainbow Lodge and instead of returning to Normal School in Victoria accepted a temporary job at the Uppingham School kindergarten in Oak Bay.

Mollie Stephenson pretending to ride a foal at Rainbow Lodge.

By June Mollie was once again en route for Alta Lake where she found a few changes: George Thompson was now manager of Rainbow Lodge and Pearl Thompson had taken over the post office.  (Over 60 years later Mollie and George married – she was 83 and he was 90.)  Luckily George had bought the horses Mollie had previously worked with for continued use by Rainbow Lodge.  Again Mollie worked as a wrangler and guide.

Early in the season a man arrived at Rainbow Lodge asking about an abandoned copper mine.  Mollie had found the mine the previous year while exploring the trails on the mountains and offered to guide him there.  He brought in a crew and made a deal with George to use packhorses to bring in mail and supplies.  Three from Mollie’s group were picked: Danger, Ginger and Dark Devil.

While taking the horses up to the mine one day Ginger, who happened to by carrying the explosives, got caught between two trees.  Mollie had been warned by one of the PGE rail crew to be careful of any sudden blows or jolts to the packs containing the dynamite and she was terrified while working Ginger out from the trees.

Mollie arrived at the mine and recounted her harrowing adventure over lunch, proud of having gotten herself out of a dangerous situation.  What she didn’t expect, however, was for her tale to be greeted with laughter from the men at the camp.  She soon discovered that the warning of the PGE rail crewman had been a joke at her expense; the sticks of dynamite and the caps were kept in separate packs and Ginger had never been in danger of exploding.

Bill MacDermott, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. As well as working as a wrangler, Mollie hiked, swam and attended Rainbow Lodge events.

Though Mollie spent the majority of her time at Rainbow Lodge working as a wrangler, she also participated in other aspects of life at the resort including dances, masquerades, tennis, hiking and swimming.  She once even out-swam visiting naval officers, a tale that is perhaps best told through her own words:

I loved swimming, although racing never appealed to me.  Swimming for miles was like an interesting hike but on the water.  I had been swimming across the lake all summer, although never the length of the lake.  One day a couple of naval officers staying at the Mons Hotel asked Alex Philip if any of his guests would join them in a friendly race from McDonald’s cabin, at the south end, to the River of Golden Dreams, at the north end.  Alex approached me.  I explained that I wasn’t into fast swimming or racing, but as there were no other contenders I would swim along with them, on condition that they didn’t expect me to win.  Soon they were ahead, but when we were more than half way across we hit an unexpected glacial current that took one’s breath away.  At this point the fellows had had enough and headed to the beach.  The “tortoise” kept on going until I walked onto the beach at the River of Golden Dreams.  There was a huge bonfire burning and Myrtle had a warm blanket to wrap me in.  My prize came after dinner when the two officers asked me to dance with them!

Mollie spent several summers at Rainbow Lodge and, like many who have come after her, unexpectedly fell in love with the area and its outdoors lifestyle.  Though she went on to marry and live elsewhere, Mollie will always be remembered as one of the first seasonal workers who just couldn’t keep away from the Whistler valley.

Brandywine’s Murky Origin Story

Long before Brandywine Falls was established as a provincial park in 1973 the area was a well-known destination for sightseers, hikers and campers.

Not known, or at least not confirmed, is the origin of the name Brandywine.  The most popular story of the name was reported in The Vancouver Sun in 1946 by Wallace Gillespie who in turn was quoting a man named Cliff Thorne who lived in the Squamish area beginning in the 1890s.  In this version dated to 1910, Jack Nelson and Bob Mollison, two surveyors for the Howe Sound and Northern Railway (which became part of the PGE Railway), wagered a bottle of brandy on which of them could more accurately estimate the height of the falls.  When the height was later measured using a chain Mollison had the closer estimation and Nelson bestowed the name Brandywine Falls in memory of his lost wager.

A view of Brandywine Falls taken by Leonard Frank in the 1920s. Frank, the son of one of Germany’s earliest professional photographers, moved to Vancouver in 1917 and became the leading commercial/industrial photographer in the city.

Another account of the naming of Brandywine Falls comes from a source closer to home.  Alex Philip claimed that Charles Chandler (known locally as Charlie and famous for blowing up his own outhouse) and George Mitchell were passing through the area on their way to trappers cabins and stopped at the waterfall for tea.  One had brought a bottle of wine and the other a bottle of brandy and both were mixed in with the tea in a billycan.  After drinking this concoction the two are reported to have passed out for an entire day.

Regardless of which, if either, story is true the name Brandywine stuck to the waterfall and surrounding area.

Near the beginning of the twentieth century a family from Ontario called the Conroys moved West and preempted 380 acres of land for homesteading, logging and a mill site in the area that is now the Brandywine Falls Provincial Park.  As the Permberton-Lillooet Caribou Trail passed by only about 500 feet from the falls, the area had previously been used as a way station for north-bound travelers.

The view of Brandywine Falls clearly shows the railway bridge which provided a unique view to passengers.

The opening of the PGE Railway brought sightseers in open cars and the construction of a train station meant the area became a popular spot for picnic-goers in the 1920s.  A supply road was put in by BC Electric in the 1950s followed by the construction of the highway in the 1960s, bringing more visitors.

In 1966 Brandywine Falls was featured in the film “The Trap” starring Oliver Reed as a fur trapper in the wilds of Canada who takes Eve, a mute girl played by Rita Tushingham, as his unwilling wife to his remote cabin in the woods.  In one scene a battle between Reed and a black bear is waged on the brink of Brandywine Falls.

Some time in the 1960s Charlie “Whitewater” Conroy (who, in an interesting side note recorded a ballad about the Woodfibre pulp mill called “The Ballad of Woodfibre” in 1972) sold the property around Brandywine to Ray Gallagher.  In an article Gallagher wrote for Garibaldi’s Whistler News in 1970 he expresses the hope that “instead of developing as it must to survive, Brandywine should become a Public Park for the people in all season, for all times.”  Just three years later Brandywine Falls became a provincial park and continues to attract sightseers and hikers each year.

Christmas at Rainbow Lodge: The Musical

If you take a walk along the Village Stroll in December you’re sure to notice signs of the holiday season anywhere you look; there is snow on the ground, tree are lit up, wreaths have been hung, and beneath the voices of crowds of people strains of holiday music can be heard.  As in many communities, music plays an important part in Whistler’s holiday traditions, many of which began in the 1980s when the Whistler of today was still developing.  Events such as the Bizarre Bazaar (now the Arts Whistler Holiday Market) would not be complete without festive music in the background and for thirty-three years the Christmas Eve Carol Service has brought local residents and visitors together to sing carols as one community.  Though rarely performed, Whistler even has its own Christmas musical.

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of "Christmas at Rainbow Lodge".

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of “Christmas at Rainbow Lodge”.

“Christmas at Rainbow Lodge” was written by Bob Daly and Molly Boyd and first performed by the students of Myrtle Philip School in December 1984.  Daly was the principal of the school from 1981 to 1985 and returned to head the school twice more before retiring in 2002.  During her twelve years living in Whistler, Boyd was heavily involved in Whistler’s music scene and its holiday activities – she founded the Whistler Children’s Chorus, was involved in starting the Christmas Eve Carol Service and directed the Whistler Singers.  During December she could often by spotted leading the Singers caroling through the Village with here battery-operated keyboard balanced on a shopping art.  The two were inspired to create a musical by Myrtle Philip’s stories of her life as a pioneer in Alta Lake as told to them over tea and Myrtle’s famous rum cake.

The musical tells the shortened and somewhat fictionalized story of how Myrtle and Alex Philip came to build Rainbow Lodge, beginning with Alex’s chance meeting of John Millar in Vancouver in 1911.  The story includes their first three-day journey to Alta Lake and meeting with loggers, trappers, railroad workers, miners and hunters who already lived or were working in the area.  Each group of people the pair meets helps them in some way as they begin settling and building.  To thank all these people for their kindness they all are invited to share in the Philips’ first Christmas at Rainbow Lodge.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

Unlike many holiday concerts, most of the music in “Christmas at Rainbow” is not about Christmas.  Instead, the majority are folk songs from the Pacific Northwest such as “Acres of Clams” and “The PGE Song”, many of which were collected by Philip J Thomas, a composer, singer, teacher and folklorist who founded the Vancouver Folk Song Circle and instrumental in collecting and preserving the folk music of British Columbia.

Since its inaugural performance in 1984, “Christmas at Rainbow” has been performed only twice more: once by the students of the current Myrtle Philip Community School in the 1990s and once by the intermediate students of Spring Creek Community School in 2012.

Happy Holidays from the Whistler Museum!

Fall getaways

Even paradise can get stale. Here in Whistler, locals often speak of the “Whistler Bubble” and their desire to escape this bubble from time to time. Fall is traditionally a time when many locals take extended holidays out of town, as the tourist trade quiets down substantially and, if ski bums get their wish, Whistler weather can get quite gloomy this time of year.

Sun-drenched surf retreats to Latin America or Indonesia are probably the current favourite Whistler escape, but Whistlerites are well-travelled people by nature. Come October you can find our locals scattered across the far corners of the globe.

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Myrtle hunting near Mahood Lake, circa 1950s, perhaps searching for a big stag deer like the one depicted on her rather fashionable hunting vest. 

This tradition of Whistler residents turning the tables and becoming tourists in the Fall is older than many might think. Our valley’s original vacation hosts, Myrtle and Alex Philip of Rainbow Lodge fame, were always keen to pack their bags and get out of town once their busy summer season wound down.

The Phillip’s were avid anglers, and thus many of their getaways focused on fishing. They made several autumn excursions to visit their friends Baldwin & Grace Naismith, who had a cabin on Mahood Lake in the Cariboo region of central British Columbia.

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Myrtle casting out into Bridge Creek, southwest of Mahood Lake, 1929.

 

Not only did the Mahood Lake area offer much larger fish than Alta Lake, lake trout in particular, it must have been a pleasure for the Philip’s to switch roles and be guests rather than hosts in this beautiful setting.

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Myrtle with her close friend Grace Naismith and the day’s catch, 1949.

The images span the decades and include a wonderful colour photo from 1961 of a smiling Myrtle (now 70 years young) piloting a small boat across Mahood Lake’s glass-calm waters with vivid fall colours framing the shoreline.

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Myrtle on Mahood Lake, 1961.

But just like today’s Whistlerites, Myrtle & Alex also pined for tropical shores to relax and rejuvenate. Here’s a photo from a month-long vacation they took to Tahiti in 1930-31:

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The annotation on the back reads: “Mr & Mrs Philip with their catch of Barracuda, Bonita and Miare.”

Just like Myrtle’s hunting vest shown above, in this picture the Philip’s once again demonstrate their fashion sense with their striking white outfits, Alex even wearing his trademark pith helmet.

Do you have plans to skip town this fall? Which would you prefer, fishing in Northern BC, or fishing in the South Pacific?

Halloween Inspiration from Whistler’s Past

So, if you were somehow unaware, tomorrow is Halloween. If you didn’t know that, then chances are you don’t have your costume sorted yet. Fret not! The Whistler Museum is here to help.

Just because you’re thinking up your costume last minute doesn’t mean you need to resort to some cliché pop culture reference like Game of Thrones or Matt Damon from the Martian. Whistler’s past is full of great ideas for timeless costumes to impress your friends. As a bonus, your costume can spark intriguing discussions about Whistler’s history at your Halloween party, something we fully endorse.

It’s no secret that Whistlerites love to party, especially when dressing up is involved. Let’s examine some examples of party dress from Whistler’s past.

First off we have the Freaker’s Ball, a party of legendary proportions that occurred in the 1970s in the Christiania Inn, in Alta Vista. Based on a rather freaky song by Dr. Hook, people liked to dress, well, freaky. This could mean anything, basically, which isn’t a bad place to start when trying to come up with up with unique costume ideas.

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Mozart, anyone? He was like the classical Taylor Swift.

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Is this guy having a good time, or what? Buccaneer baby!

Not into the whole hippie thing? OK, let’s go further back in time for some pioneer-era inspiration.

Unfortunately, this next photo from our archives doesn’t have any real explanation. One could even assume that it’s not a costume, but historically appropriate farming attire from the period. We’re not going to dwell on this for too long. It’s a sweet costume idea.

It's Halloween every day in Whistler! (When I first saw this I thought it was a KKK thing, but I think maybe this person is dressed as a wizard).

Know a member of the opposite sex? Well you can always borrow their clothes and dress in drag! These guests at Hillcrest Lodge donned some feminine attire to great effect, freaking out passersby on the PGE railway.

Hillcrest Lodge guests dressed to meet the train

We'll never forget the year Dad put on a one man show of Swan Lake.

Admittedly, cross-dressing is a more interesting costume idea for men, generally. It’s hard for a woman in men’s clothing to look this stunning. I’m sure some creative ladies out there could pull it off though!

Of course, Myrtle and Alex Philip, Whistler’s founding couple, had a distinct sense of style. A quick check through your wardrobe, your tickle-trunk, or trip to the Re-Use-It centre might be enough to pull one of these off. Bonus points for couples who pull of the historic pair.

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Myrtle Philip in riding garb. She designed and tailored most of her outfits herself.

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The all-white safari ensemble was an Alex Philip staple. This elegant get-up is sure to impress the ladies.

A little Myrtle & Alex dress-up inspiration. Photo: Joern Rohde/wpnn.org

A little Myrtle & Alex dress-up inspiration.
Photo: Joern Rohde/wpnn.org

To be fair, these costumes rely on some pretty unique clothing items that you may not have lying around the house. Fair, I guess. Have a bunch of cardboard and some metallic spray paint? Well you can go as the original Creekside Gondola!

You can be the hottest aluminum box at the party!

One bonus with this costume is that the original gondola had a four-person capacity, so you can host your own mini party within the party!

If an inanimate metal structure isn’t your thing, that’s cool. How about a marmot? These fuzzy little creatures are the reason Whistler Mountain got it’s name.

Not feeling energetic? Wear all brown and chill out on a couch. Just like a marmot.

All it takes is some furry brown clothing, buck teeth, and an ability to whistle. You might be dressed as a marmot already, and not even realize it! With the proliferation of animal onesies, this should be easy.

Why stop there. There are plenty of other icons from Whistler’s past that could become killer costumes with a little creativity: Willy Whistler, the Roundhouse Lodge, Black Tusk… BLACK TUSK!!!

Rainbow Lodge’s Tough Transition

The story of Rainbow Lodge, founded by Myrtle and Alex Philip in 1914 and expertly managed for the next 34 years, is among our valley’s most celebrated stories. Less known however, is what became of Rainbow Lodge once the Philip’s decided to give up the tourist trade.

When Vancouver’s Alec and Audrey Greenwood first visited Alta Lake in 1947 the place clearly made an impression on them. Somehow in the process of expressing his enthusiasm for the lodge, the Philips hinted to Alec that they were thinking of selling into retirement. Similarly, Alec had already begun to think of leaving his stressful insurance salesman job in Vancouver. It seemed like a perfect fit.

Within a year the Greenwoods purchased Rainbow Lodge for $100,000 and along with their son Dennis became permanent residents of Alta Lake and the new operators of the iconic Rainbow Lodge.

The entrance to Rainbow Lodge during the Greenwood's tenure.

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

Unfortunately, the new tenants arrived during one of the worst spring floods ever. Water got to six inches deep on the kitchen floor and the entire dining room was flooded. Boardwalks outside were floating but would sink with a person’s weight. While they managed to outlast the flooding without any major damage, this certainly put a damper on their arrival.

The cold, wet spring carried into the summer. Guests cancelled by the dozens, and those that did come cut their vacations short. The fireplace had to be stoked twenty-four hours a day; it was the only heat in an un-insulated log building.

"Sit down to a familiar face." Corn Flakes and much more at the General Store under the Greenwood's watch.

“Sit down to a familiar face.” Corn Flakes and much more at the General Store under the Greenwood’s watch.

One day, smoke began to pour from under the floor. Thankfully quick thinking, and some aggressive axe work opened up the floor and fire hoses were used to extinguish the blaze before it spread. The fireplace was built on a one-foot concrete slab sitting on railway ties, which had caught fire. For the rest of the summer there was a twenty-four hour attendant monitoring the fireplace.

Despite these major difficulties the Greenwoods survived their first season relatively unscathed. That fall, with the help of local trapper Bill Bailiff, they had the lodge significantly remodeled. Bill had been a stonemason in England before he immigrated to Canada, and his fireplace was a masterpiece. It was built from river rock from Twenty-one Mile Creek just below Rainbow Falls and the mantelpiece was eight inches thick, cut from a single log from Alf Gebhart’s mill at the south end of Alta Lake. It really tied the room together.

The newly remodelled interior, complete with river-rock fireplace.

The newly remodelled interior, complete with river-rock fireplace.

The Greenwoods successfully ran Rainbow until 1970 when they sold the lodge and retired to Arizona. On September 15th, 1970, the Greenwoods held a closing bash for a select few long-time locals who he affectionately referred to as the “Rainbow Lodge Chapter of the Royal Ancient and Antediluvian Order of Froth Blowers.” Whether or not that was a reference to the biblical flood of 1948, it sounds like a good time.

Sadly, Rainbow Lodge was accidentally burned down in 1977. All that remains of the once-bustling resort are three original guest cabins near the entrance to Rainbow Park.