Tag Archives: Alta Lake School

Teaching at Alta Lake

With the beginning of a new (though uncertain) school year, we thought we’d take a look back at the first school built in the Whistler valley and one of its teachers.  The Alta Lake School was built in 1931 and operated until 1946, when it closed due to an insufficient number of students.  It reopened in a new building in 1956 but continued to struggle with enrolment.

Mel Carrico was born in Alberta and after the war he and his wife Dagmar decided to raise their family in British Columbia.  Though trained as a teacher, Carrico worked for Alcan in Kitimat and the Department of Labour in Smithers through the late 1940s and 1950s.  In 1958 he returned to the classroom, teaching first in the one room schoolhouse in Garibaldi and then becoming the teacher at the one room schoolhouse at Alta Lake.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933. 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.  Most years the school required ten students to open, so Jack Jardine was also counted as a student although he did not attend.  R Jardine Collection.

According to an oral history interview with Rob Carrico, Mel’s son, his father was asked during his interview with Don Ross, then the head of the school board, how many school aged children he had, as four were needed to reopen the Alta Lake School.  There were technically three potential Carrico students, but Rob’s younger sister was put into Grade One at the age of five to make up the numbers and Mel Carrico was hired.

The family spent two years living near the school at Alta Lake.  Looking back, Rob said his only regret about his time there was that there were no other boys around his age and he had wanted to be a Cub Scout.  Most of the students came from families employed by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.  No matter their age, all students learned in the same classroom.  Rob remembered that, “It was always interesting because you could listen in on all the lessons.”  If the Grade Three lesson was not too exciting, the Grade Five lesson might have been more intriguing.

According to Rob, Alta Lake was “a good place to go to school,” partly because of the nearby creek where one could go at recess to catch Kokanee.  Each year his father ensured that the school put on a big Christmas concert, usually including a puppet show.  The students would help to make marionettes and a stage would be constructed at the school.  The concert was a big event for the small Alta Lake community.

The original Alta Lake School building, which was replaced by a similar building in the 1940s and 50s.  Philip Collection.

Rob remembered the community as close-knit, where neighbours would look after each other, visiting often and coming together for bingo and other events, such as the Ice-Break Raffle and the summer fish derby (which he thought might have just been an excuse to gather a lot of fish and have a big community fish fry).

The Carricos left Alta Lake in 1961 when Rob’s elder sister reached high school.  The Alta Lake School did not teach higher grades and so she would have had to leave her family and attend school in Squamish while being boarded.  Instead, the entire family moved to Squamish and Mel Carrico continued to teach in the school district.  He eventually retired as the principal of Mamquam Elementary School.

Jenny Jardine at Alta Lake

In the museum collections is one photograph of a New Year’s celebration held at the Alta Lake School in 1937.  We don’t know who all of the people in the photo are, but a few names are written on its back, including the name of Jenny Jardine.  Although Jenny and her family attended social events at the school (Jenny was even in charge of the refreshments for a time), she never attended the school as a pupil.  We know a lot about Jenny’s life in the valley through her memoir, letters with Florence Petersen, and oral history interviews with the museum.

New Years celebrations held at the Alta Lake School House – Jenny Jardine is pictured far right.  Philip Collection.

Jenny was born in Kelowna in December 1912.  Her parents, Lizzie Laidlaw and John Jardine, had met aboard the ship that brought their families from Scotland to Canada and married a few years later.  Jenny was their first child, followed by Jack eighteen months later.  Lizzie and the children remained in Kelowna when John went to fight in the First World War, moving to Vancouver after he was wounded at Mons and sent to Vancouver General Hospital.  When he was released, John found work on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) and the family settled in Squamish.

John was killed when a speeder he was riding on collided with a train and Lizzie moved her family back to Kelowna, where their third child, Bob, was born.  They soon relocated again, moving to North Vancouver where Lizzie was offered work keeping house for Thomas Neiland, a friend of John’s.  In 1921, the entire household moved to Alta Lake, where Neiland planned to start his own logging business.

Formal portrait of Thomas and Lizzie Neiland taken in the 1940s.  Betts/Smith/Jardine Collection.

Jenny was only 8 1/2 when here family moved to Alta Lake.  She had attended school in Squamish, Kelowna, and North Vancouver, but at the time there was no school in Alta Lake.  She and her brother Jack were enrolled in correspondence courses, but learning by correspondence in the 1920s was frustrating to say the least.  After Lizzie married Thomas Neiland and had another son Tom Neiland, keeping Jenny and Jack at their studies became more of a struggle.  According to Jenny, however, her mother did ensure they all learned how to read and that became “the road to other things.”

Left to right: Jenny Jardine, Flossie the dog, Jack Jardine, Tom Neiland Jr. and Bob Jardine in Lizzie Neiland’s garden at 34 1/2 mile, about 1930.  Betts/Smith/Jardine Collection.

In her memoirs, Jenny said that, during her early life at Alta Lake, most employment in the valley was “cutting railway ties, making and shipping telephone poles, prospecting, trapping, and renting a few cabins to summer visitors.”  There was also some work at an iron ore operation and on the railway.  By the time she was 12, Jenny was working for her step-father out in the woods, driving horses, cutting poles and ties, and hauling and piling the lumber.

(L-R) Sue Hill, Kay Hill, Charlie Chandler, Wallace Betts holding daughter Louise, Charlie Lundstrom, and ‘Sporty’ the dog on Alta Lake docks, 1939. J Jardine Collection.

Jenny met Wallace Betts through her brother Tom, who had met Betts at one of the logging camps in the area.  After their marriage in 1937, Jenny and Wallace moved quite a few times, often in the Alta Lake area.  They lived for a time at Parkhurst, and at the Iron Ore Spur where Jenny remembered she learned to knit socks.  Their first two children, Louise and Sam, were born in Vancouver but spent time with their grandmother Lizzie at her house in what is now Function Junction.

The Jardine/Neiland children hauling logs to the portable sawmill at 34 1/2 mile with the aid of horses, 1926. From left to right: Jenny, Jack, Bob and Tom Jr.  Betts/Smith/Jardine Collection.

Jenny’s life at Alta Lake, like that of the rest of her family, was not easy.  She later wrote that as children, “We loved living at Alta Lake, but those [logging] outfits and NSF (non-sufficient funds) cheques and no schools were not what we needed.”  Jenny felt education was very important and, according to her daughter Louise, learning became “one of the most important activities of her lift.”  She passed on this belief to her children, and was very proud that all four of her children graduated from universities.

The Holiday Season in Whistler

The holiday season has always been a hectic time in Whistler, as so much energy is spent welcoming and entertaining guests.  The Village Stroll looks magical at this time of year, with the lights glowing on the trees and the snow falling through the air.

Scanning through our archives, photos from many collections show that Christmas has been a major production in the area dating back to Rainbow Lodge in the 1920s.  Alex and Myrtle Philip, the owners and proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, were renowned hosts and pulled out all the stops at Christmas to entertain visitors and residents around Alta Lake.

Here’s the Rainbow Lodge dinner table, Christmas 1923.  Philip Collection.

While we have only a few photos of the interior of Rainbow Lodge during this era, the Philip Collection includes images of the main lodge with a decorated tree and streamers and the dining room set for Christmas dinner.

Other holiday photos from Alta Lake include the Woods family in the snow with party hats and a New Year’s Eve dance at the community hall (also the Alta Lake School) in 1937.

New Year’s Eve celebrations at the community hall for 1937.  Philip Collection.

Dances at the community hall were remembered fondly by Bob Williamson, a lineman working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in the 1930s.  As he recalled, “This was the Hungry Thirties.  Not very many locals were earning much money but many pleasant evenings were spent in this hall in the wintertime… The only cost for the evening was to buy the coffee and that was raised by donations of 10 to 25 cents from those who could afford it.  Alex Philip made the coffee in Granitewood Gallon Coffee pots.  It was excellent coffee.”

Season’s Greetings from Whistler Mountain staff, early 1970s.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

As skiing developed in the valley, winter and the holiday season got busier.  The Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection includes photos of a skiing Santa, ski instructors dressed up as reindeer and Seasons Greetings from Whistler Mountain.

The so-called “ski bums” got into the holiday spirit as well.  Over the past few months Angelus Chouinard has been working on digitizing the complete George Benjamin Collection and we have found some gems showing Christmas dinner being prepared at the first infamous Toad Hall in 1969.

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969!  Benjamin Collection.

John Hetherington, Toad Hall staple, Whistler Mountain ski patroller and current Whistler Museum Board President, reflected fondly on those days:

Christmas at Toad Hall was great… Of course, there was no electricity, so it was just Coleman lanterns and the old ‘Master Climax’ wood stove.  One year we used candles to decorate the Christmas tree.  We only had birthday candles so they burned quick and we had to keep replacing them.  While they were burning it looked amazing, but we were terrified of burning the whole place down.

Many such treasures have been found while digitizing the George Benjamin Collection.  George Benjamin first came to Whistler to ski in 1968 and moved to the area in 1970.  He and John Hetherington co-owned Tokum Corners, a roughly made cabin with no electricity or running water, and lived there with Rod MacLeod into the early 1980s.  George was a semi-professional photographer and, as his family in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, was able to develop his photographs for free.  There are over 8000 images included in the George Benjamin Collection, spanning from his first visit in 1968 to 1991.

To view more of the photos mentioned here, check out our Smugmug page here and keep an eye out for more photos from the George Benjamin Collection to be added in the New Year!

We hope everyone enjoys their holiday season and wish all of you a Happy New Year!

School Days in Whistler

The community of Whistler has undergone many changes in the last hundred or so years, and nowhere is this more evident than in our elementary schools.

When the first non-indigenous settlers began to make their homes around Alta Lake in the early twentieth century, there was no school- no infrastructure at all, in fact. The first school was built in 1931 as a community effort. Over $300 was raised from the small collection of residents- impressive at a time when a litre of milk cost ten cents! The Alta Lake School was fairly bare-bones.  It was warmed by an iron stove and had a nearby creek as a water source and gas lamps for light.

ARTICLE ALTA LAKE SCHOOL ACCESS WMA_P88_001 R JARDINE

Whistler’s first class photo, at Alta Lake School in 1933. Photo: Jardine Collection.

Ten students had to attend in order for the school to be funded by the government.  Only nine were then available at the time, so one boy, Jack Jardine, was persuaded to come for a half-day every week. Teachers today dream of small class sizes but this lack of students became the Alta Lake School’s curse. The school would close in 1946, reopen in 1951, close in 1962, reopen in 1964 and close for good in 1970 as families moved in and out and the number of children fluctuated. One teacher, Mel Carrico, was even hired on the condition that his four children attend the school.

As the permanent population grew following the opening of Whistler Mountain, the school was able to stop it’s constant reopening and closing. In 1976 a new school named Myrtle Philip School was built at today’s location of the Delta Village Suites. Though it opened with only 57 students, the students soon began to outgrow the school and an addition and then eight portables were added.  In 1992 the students were moved to the new Myrtle Philip Community School at its current location on Lorimer Road.

The first Myrtle Philip School at the beginning of the school year, 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler was now faced with a constantly growing student population. In 1999, Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half the school’s population. Anyone who’s had class in a portable can tell you that while fine on paper, they’re not ideal – they’re small, are often too hot or too cold, and have no water supply (especially noticeable when walking out to the washroom in a blizzard). Grade 7s  had been moved to Whistler Secondary when it opened in 1996 and soon the high school was in need of portables too. It was decided that a second elementary school was needed, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw boundaries for catchments of the two schools.

This resulted in some conflict – the new school needed half the youth of Whistler to attend, but not everyone lived with easy access to Spring Creek and there were worries about longer commutes and more cars on the road. Boundaries were eventually decided on and building could commence.

This wasn’t as simple as it sounded. The school was initially slated to open September 2001, but this was pushed back multiple times- first to September 2002,  then January 2003, then again to November 2003, then finally January 2004, as funding was secured and construction completed.

The wait was worth it. The new school boasted new science and art rooms, a computer lab, a well-stocked library, and, after a few years, a French Immersion program.

Spring Creek Elementary, Whistler’s newest school.  Photo: Olivia Brocklehurst.

Finding ten children to attend school in Whistler is no longer a problem. Whistler’s students now attend four elementary schools – Myrtle Philip, Spring Creek, École la passerelle and the Whistler Waldorf School. Even now discussions are beginning again about the possibility of a new school as Spring Creek. From the days of one-room schoolhouses to multiple school buildings, education in Whistler has certainly changed, though it remans an important part of community life.

The Alta Lake School Gazette: News Before The Question

The Whistler Question, published from 1976 to the beginning of 2018, was Whistler’s first official newspaper.  The municipality only came into being in September 1975 and Pique wouldn’t begin publishing until 1994.  Well before the first edition of The Question, however, the valley’s first newspaper was put together by a small group of students at the Alta Lake School.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933. 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 Alta Lake School first opened in the early 1930s with only 10 students spread across Grades 1 to 9.  In 1939 some of the older students established the Alta Lake School Club and the Club then sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette ran from February 11 until June 5.  The paper’s first editor, Bob Jardine, donated an entire run to the archives and the six editions give a valuable insight into the everyday happenings of the small Alta Lake community.

The staff list of The Gazette includes many names that are familiar from stories of Alta Lake’s history.  Bob Jardine and his brother Tom Neiland both acted as editors for the paper and Jack, Helen and George Woods were all involved in reporting.  Helen also held the position of the secretary for the organization.

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

The first editorial of The Gazette stated the paper’s purpose: “to give a current account of happenings each month as seen by its editor and his staff, it shall try to tell the facts and only the facts.”  The short editorial also thanked those who built the Alta Lake School for allowing the students to start this paper.

Following the editorial of each edition is “Local News Of Interest,” an interesting combination of observations, opinions and local gossip (which may not have been entirely in keeping with the paper’s goal of reporting “only the facts”).  The “Local News” reports on the activities of Alta Lake residents and visitors, whether it is something everyday, such as Mrs. Harrop holding a tea which school teacher Miss Bedford attended, or something a little out of the ordinary, such as William “Mac” MacDermott’s first ride in an airplane in May 1939.

Louise Smith (Betts) with her grandmother Lizzie Neiland, uncle Bob Jardine and Tweed the dog at 34 1/2 Mile.

Alta Lake around the 1930s was not the easiest place to live.  There was no real road or reliable electricity, and families worked hard to make a living in logging and other industries.  What could be thought of as hardships are reported in The Gazette as part of daily life in a small, somewhat remote, community.  For example, on May 28 Bob Jardine and his mother Lizzie Neiland left their home at 11 am to walk the 40 kilometres to Cheekeye, where they stopped for the night.  Mrs. Neiland had received word of the death of her brother and, having missed the Saturday train, was resorting to “shanks mare” (her own legs) to get to Vancouver.

 

Over its six editions The Gazette grew to include letters to the editor, boxing news and even an essay on the state of the Canadian Navy and unemployment in British Columbia alongside the results of the latest Cribbage Tournament.

The Alta Lake School Gazette may have lasted only a few months but it provides a snapshot of the daily lives of the Alta Lake residents.  Its “Local News Of Interest” also supports the idea that in a small community, your neighbours always know what you’re up to.

Powering Whistler

If you’ve been in Whistler over the past couple of months you probably experienced or heard about power outages around town, most notably on October 18 when most neighbourhoods experienced a loss of power.

The most common reason Whistler residents lose electricity seems to be from trees coming down on the lines due to rain, wind and snow storms.  The recent outages remind us how dependent we are on electricity today but only 52 years ago using electricity in the Whistler valley was luxury and something of a rarity.

Residents of Alta Lake made do without connecting to the grid for decades.  Ice blocks cut from Alta Lake and covered in sawdust provided refrigeration through the summer months.  Wood stoves and fireplaces, as well as a few oil or coal furnaces, provided heat through the winter.

Hillcrest Lodge was one of the buildings which had its own generators, though the lights went out at 10pm.

Individual properties used generators to provide their own power, though some were more reliable than others.  Bob Williamson installed a wind-powered turbine at the south end of Alta Lake.  As he recalled, “I thought there’d be a lot of wind there, but there was only enough to charge the batteries of the radio, but when the wind was blowing we had lights.”

At Rainbow and Hillcrest Lodges the Philips and Mansells installed generators that ran until 10 pm when the lights went off.  Cypress Lodge, as well as a few neighbours, was powered by a water wheel and generator installed on Scotia Creek by Dick Fairhurst.  Having a generator meant you could charge a battery-operated lamp to use after the generator was turned off for the night.

Even the Alta Lake School had a gas-powered generator for community use.  It ran the weekly movies and played the records for dances, though dances always ended when the gas ran out.

Amenities such as gas-powered washing machines and propane fridges also appeared in the valley, though as Bob remembered, “In those days there was a lot of red tape to put these sort of things in, you had to get a permit, and in these days there was no one to do the inspecting so it was left to this Walter Giel to do the inspecting and he says to me, ‘I don’t known a damn thing about it, just you inspect it yourself.'”

Bob Williamson at work on the transmission lines, well before Alta Lake was able to access the electricity they carried.

Though Alta Lake had no hydro service, transmission lines did run through the valley as early as the 1930s.  Bob Williamson even worked on the power lines in the 1940s, despite having no home access to the electricity they carried.  More transmission lines were put in by BC Electric in the 1950s, connecting Seton Portage (about 25 km west of Lillooet) to Squamish.  It was this project that first brought long-time resident Peter Alder to Alta Lake in 1956 as part of the construction crew.

It was almost 10 years later, just months before Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, that the Rainbow Substation (near Nesters) was completed and Alta Lake was able to utilize the power running through the valley.

Alex and Myrtle Philip were invited to open the Rainbow Substation in November, 1965, even getting to flip the switch.

Alex and Myrtle Philip were invited to officially open the substation on November 18, 1965, and Alex even got to flip the switch.  Today it has become hard to imagine Whistler operating without power throughout the valley.

Don’t forget, this Tuesday (December 5) is our annual Big Kids LEGO Building Competition!  We’ll provide the LEGO and electricity – you bring you ideas and skills.

Generations of Alta Lake

Though there are some scattered throughout the valley, not many houses in Whistler have been passed down through generations, and fewer can claim to have been occupied by five generations of the same family.  The cabin of the Woollard/Clarke/Bellamy family, is one such home.

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

Betty Woollard, later Betty Clarke, was the second teacher at the Alta Lake School, replacing Margaret Partridge in 1936.  Betty’s mother, Grace Woollard, first came to Alta Lake along the Pemberton Trail in 1912 with Grace Archibald.  Both nurses in Vancouver, the two Graces came to visit Ernie Archibald (who would later disappear into Alta Lake in 1938) and fell in love with the valley.  After her marriage to Charles Woollard, a doctor, Grace Woollard returned to Alta Lake and the couple preempted a quarter section of land.  Their two daughters, Betty and Eleanor, spent their summers at Alta Lake, along with the Clarkes, family friends of the Woollards who built a cabin on what is now Blueberry Hill.

Betty earned a combined honours in English and History at the University of British Columbia and then attended normal school to become a teacher.  She was visiting her mother at Grace’s cabin in the valley when the search was on for a replacement for Margaret Partridge, the school’s first teacher who had previously been a waitress at Rainbow Lodge, and Betty got the job.

The Alta Lake School where Betty Clarke taught in the 1930s.

Betty Woollard taught at the one room schoolhouse for a couple of years.  While at the school she, like Margaret Partridge before her, was devoted to the students and even went to great lengths to teach the The Sailors Hornpipe, a dance which imitates the life of a sailor and their duties aboard ship.  As her daughter Margaret Bellamy recalled, Betty had to write out the directions for her students but found the only way she could do that was by doing the dance herself.  She would do one step, write it down, do two steps, write down the new step, do three steps, write it down, and so on until she made it through the whole dance.  It took Betty hours and she was completely exhausted.

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

Both Betty and her sister married men they knew from Alta Lake.  Eleanor married Mason Philip, the nephew of Alex Philip, and Betty married Douglas Clarke, one of the Clarke boys she had grown up knowing.  While Doug was overseas during World War II Betty and her young daughter Susanne bought their own cabin at the south end of Alta Lake.  Betty’s mother, Grace, sold her original cabin and moved to be closer to her daughter.  So far five generations of Betty’s family have spent summers in that cabin, including her mother, her daughter, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.