Tag Archives: Alta Lake School

The ‘new’ Myrtle Philip Community School turns 30!

The first Myrtle Philip Elementary School opened in 1976 in the area that would become the Village, more specifically where the Delta Hotel is today. Although the school opened with only 57 students, the town of Whistler was growing rapidly and the number of students quickly outgrew the school. By 1987, the Howe Sound School Board had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school. By 1991, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary School needed eight portables to house the 268 students. It was definitely time for a new school.

Figures published by the Whistler Question in 1985 indicated that by 1991 ‘room for 336 elementary students is required – three times the current number’. However, despite this, the new school was built to hold 300 students. Unsurprising to those who completed the 1985 study, the numbers already exceeded 300 when the school opened for learning in 1992. Rooms originally planned as extra conference rooms were converted to classrooms as nearly 340 students enrolled for the opening year. In press coverage for the grand opening, the Whistler Question included the line, ‘If the baby boom continues in Whistler, plans for expansion will be examined.’

Students and staff relocating from the old Myrtle Philip Elementary School in the Village, to the new Myrtle Philip Community School on Lorimer Road in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

A celebration for the grand opening was held on September 18, 1992 and included tours led by student hosts and an opening ceremony hosted by principal Mike Edwards, the Master of Ceremonies. It also included the presentation of a portrait of Whistler’s ‘First Lady’, Myrtle Philip, painted by Isobel MacLaurin. The painting showed two images of Myrtle side-by-side; 19 year-old Myrtle, new to Alta Lake, next to Myrtle on her 95th birthday. Myrtle was a dedicated school board trustee for nearly four decades and helped raise the money for the first school in the valley, the Alta Lake School. In recognition of her efforts, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary was named after her, in what Myrtle would describe as the greatest honour of her life. The painting of the school’s namesake can still be seen in Myrtle Philip Community School today.

Isobel MacLaurin next to the painting of Myrtle Philip. MacLaurin Collection.

The new Myrtle Philip Community School was a far cry from the first school that Myrtle helped build in the 1930s. Designed by Vancouver architects Dalla Lana Griffin, it made an impression with it’s comfortable, learning focussed design. As described in the Whistler Question, ‘Windows surround the low lying school and skylights flood the halls with light. Classrooms are not simply square, but feature curved study areas, built-in window counters that look out to the fields and mountains, and courtyards that offer quiet study areas.’ The project cost was $9,174,000, also a far contrast from the first one room Alta Lake schoolhouse that the community raised a total of $300 to build.

The new Myrtle Philip School opened with 16 teachers, plus support staff and teacher assistants. The names of some of the inaugural staff will be familiar to current Myrtle Philip students, with Gerhard Reimer and Donna Williams among the teachers.

One Ringy-Dingy. Vice-principal Rick Price rings an old fashioned bell to call students to the first day of classes after staff couldn’t figure out how to operate the electric bells in the new Myrtle Philip Community School. Whistler Question Collection.

The original Myrtle Philip Elementary School was demolished almost immediately after the new school opened to make way for commercial development in the Village. However, the new Myrtle Philip School had similar challenges to the first. By 1999, the new Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half of the school’s population. A second elementary school was required, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw up catchment boundaries for two elementary schools within Whistler. Spring Creek Community School opened in 2004. This week students will be returning to both of these schools, as well as École La Passerelle, and multiple independent and private schools in the area.

Staff and students in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

News for the community, by the community

Just how many communities can boast that their first reporters were a group of schoolchildren? Like most of Whistler’s history, the history of print news in Whistler is far from conventional, and relied heavily on community input, support, and organization.

The Whistler Question was published for the first time in 1976 from the basement of the Burrow’s home in Alpine Meadows, and, although it was the first newspaper about the valley, it was not the first source of community news.

The Burrows’s home in Alpine Meadows. Whistler Question Collection.

Early reporting in Whistler (circa 1930-1960) often centered around events that many would no longer consider newsworthy. Reports of gatherings for tea and details of newcomers in the valley featured prominently in Whistler’s (then Alta Lake) early newsheets. Whistler is by no means a roaring metropolis now, but the small community of Alta Lake was a fraction of the size, and the reports showcase the quiet life many residents led.

The first news-sheet in the valley was the Alta Lake School Gazette, a single page publication put together by a group of students at the Alta Lake School. It had a total of six issues, and ran from February to June, 1939.

Students at the Alta Lake School, some of which contributed to the publication. Jardine Collection.

The second news-sheet was published by the Alta Lake Community Club from 1958 until 1961. The single page publication changed names a few times before the Club settled on the Alta Lake Echo. As of its second issue, it featured a subtitle that read “published for fun”, which highlights the nature of the sheet. It was never intended to be a serious newspaper, and it never became one. Rather, it was a way for members of a small community to be kept up to date with the goings on of the past week, and informed of upcoming events.

By the time the Question was introduced, the community had changed significantly. Its first edition was published mere months after the Alta Lake community had been incorporated as the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Despite the significantly larger readership warranting a different approach than earlier publications in Whistler (just imagine if an article was written for every new arrival or departure from the valley), the Question nevertheless still encouraged, and relied on, community involvement.

The Question featured many different columns, some more conventional than others. A perennial favourite, called “Bricks and Roses,” was published from 1981 until 1998, and was in some ways reminiscent of an earlier and quieter time in Whistler when community happenings made up all of the news. The idea for the article was suggested to Glenda Bartosh (editor of the Question) by Gary Raymond, who at the time was the treasurer at the RMOW and had seen a similar column in a Quebec newspaper. A few months before it was introduced, the editor’s column had encouraged readers to send in their input in order to “make this community paper a dialogue – rather than a monologue.” The Bricks and Roses column set out to do just that. It created a forum for readers to express their gratitude for the good deeds of individuals and organizations by bestowing roses, or to call out and (rather publicly) condemn what they considered bad behaviour. More importantly, it gave people a direct path to the publication that did not require a comprehensive letter to the editor.

As you can imagine, people seized the opportunity to submit either a Brick or a Rose, and a wide variety of colourful submissions began to pour in. Some submissions were phoned in, while others were given verbally to one of the Questionables (name given to the staff at the Question) while they were out and about.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program.  She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

The Woods at Alta Lake

The Woods family moved to Alta Lake around 1926 and worked in the area, both for the railway and in the logging industry, until the 1940s. Fred Woods was born in the Isle of Man and immigrated to Canada after a time in the army. He worked on the railroad in Broadview, Saskatchewan where he met and married Elizabeth. Their first child, Helen, was born in Broadview in 1921 and a couple of years later the family moved to Port Coquiltam, where Fred continued to work on the railroad. While there Fred and Elizabeth had two sons, Jack and Pat. Fred then took a job as a section foreman for the PGE Railway and the entire family moved to Alta Lake.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods on the train tracks at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

After a few years, Fred lost his job with the PGE and the family moved out of the company house. After living for a time in a much smaller house, the family was able to rent a property from Jack Findlay, who charged them only the cost of the property taxes. The property included a house, barn, hayfield, and garden and was located across the creek from the Tapley’s farm. Fred began working for the logging operation of B.C. Keeley of Parkhurst during the summers and clearing trails and bridges as relief work in the winters.

The family kept a cow, horse, chickens, and, at times, a pig and grew their own vegetables. In the summer the children would pick berries that Elizabeth would use to make jam. She also canned meat from their animals. When the logging camp closed at the end of the summer Fred would order groceries such as flour and sugar wholesale through the cookhouse to last through the winter. Vegetables were stored in the roothouse and the children would keep the path from the house clear of snow.

Pat Woods, Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland and Jack Woods skating at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

Helen, Pat, Jack and later their younger brother Kenneth went to the Alta Lake School, though Pat remembered some days when snow prevented them from attending. As they got older they also began working outside of their home. When Jack was fifteen and Pat fourteen they spent a summer working in the sawmill at Lost Lost (after a fire at Parkhurst in 1938, logging operations were temporarily moved to Lost Lake before returning to Green Lake). Their employment ended abruptly when Jack lost all the fingers on his right hand in a workplace accident. According to Pat, it took years for Jack to receive compensation, as he was supposed to be sixteen before working in the mill.

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers, held in the school.

Though the family worked hard during their years at Alta Lake, both Pat and Helen had fond memories of living in the area. Elizabeth loved music and taught her children to play violin and guitar. She played accordion and the family would perform at community dances. They also remembered the kindness of various “bachelors” who lived at Alta Lake, such as Bill Bailiff and Ed Droll, who would visit with their father and sometimes give the children carrots from their gardens on their way to school.

In the early 1940s Fred Woods joined the Canadian army and the family, apart from Helen who had left home and lived in Squamish, moved to North Vancouver. In later years, members of the Woods family returned as visitors to Alta Lake and then Whistler, though they never forgot the years they spent living and working in the area.

Reporting on Alta Lake

Last Thursday (March 25, 2021) the Whistler Museum’s second virtual Speaker Series took a look at journalism in Whistler since the 1970s.  Our guests Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie, have worked on and founded some of the best known publications in the valley: The Whistler QuestionThe Whistler Answer, and Pique Newsmagazine.  Before we explored recent journalism, we took a look back at earlier sources of news in the area.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933.  Some these students were the ones to start the Alta Lake School Gazette. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.

The first source of news published in Alta Lake came from the Alta Lake School in 1939.  Older students at the school created the Alta Lake School Club, which sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette published six issues from February 11 to June 5, 1939, and was staffed by names that may sound familiar: Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland, and Helen, George and Jack Woods.  The stated purpose of the Gazette was “to give a current account of happening each month as seen by its editor and his staff.”  Its column “Local News of Interest” included a mix of opinions, observations, and gossip about the residents of the Alta Lake area and their comings and goings.  The Gazette also included a few pieces about news outside of Alta Lake, such as a boxing match and an editorial on the Canadian Navy, which were most likely put together with information from the radio or The Vancouver Sun, which was available at the store at Rainbow Lodge.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow.  Philip Collection.

In 1958, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began publishing a newsletter to which members and friends could subscribe.  The newsletter went by various names between 1958 and 1961: The Alta Lake Reminder, Community Weekly Sunset, the Alta Lake Echo, and the Alta Lake Owl.  As a community newsletter, it wasn’t necessarily known for its serious reporting but did keep people up-to-date on the travels of residents and frequent visitors to the area, community events such as dances and clean-ups, and the weather.  The newsletter also included a series about the local environment by then-club president Bill Bailiff and an abridged version of Hamlet (sadly, the museum does not have a complete retelling of Hamlet from the ALCC, which appears to be far more humorous than Shakespeare’s version).  In 1961, the newsletter was taken over by the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and then ceased publication.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.  The entire publication was meant to promote Whistler Mountain.

A lot changed in the area between 1961 and 1967, when Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began publishing Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) in November.  Early editions of GWN were put together by Jack Bright and Lynn Mathews, who described the publication as a “good news” newspaper meant to promote Whistler Mountain.  GWN reported on developments in the valley, such as new lodges and businesses, and some years included a column by Ray Gallagher of Brandywine Falls Resort similar to the community news reported in earlier newsletters.  However, as the purpose of GWN was, as Lynn stated, “to get people up that road,” few stories said anything negative about the area and the development happening around Whistler Mountain.

Outside of the Alta Lake area, local news could be found in the newspapers of Squamish.  The Squamish Times, owned by Cloudesley Hoodspith from 1957 to 1992, and the Squamish Citizen (also published by Hoodspith) included Alta Lake/Whistler news, but their primary focus was not on this area.  It was not until the 1970s that the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler would be represented by an official local newspaper.

To learn more about journalism in Whistler from the 1970s to the present, you can find the video from last week’s event here.