Tag Archives: Alta Lake school

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.

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The Many Schools of Bev Mansell

With most schools in Whistler just a couple of weeks away from closing for the summer, students in the valley are looking forward to a couple months without homework or classes.

Five schools now operate within Whistler and it’s easy to forget that for many years children living around Alta Lake had to learn from correspondence courses at home or leave their families to attend school in a bigger town.

Alta Lake School opened in the 1930s and was the first opportunity many of the local children had to attend school.  When the Howe Sound School District was formed in 1946 the school closed and local students attended schools in Squamish or Pemberton.  Alta Lake School opened again in 1952 but closed again in 1962.  For one student this last closure was especially traumatic.

Bev Mansell attended Grade One at the Alta Lake School for only one month before it closed.

Beverly (Bev) Mansell, the daughter of Doug (whose parents built and operated Hillcrest Lodge) and Barb (a former Hillcrest guest) Mansell, was born in 1956.  Growing up on the east side of Alta Lake, Bev was isolated from the small number of children living on the west side of the lake and those living at Parkhurst so it’s not surprising that she was pretty excited to start school.

Bev started Grade 1 at the one-room schoolhouse on Alta Lake in September 1962.  At the time the school had ten students.  Disaster struck for Bev at the end of September when one family with four children moved away and the school no longer had enough students to stay open.

With the closure of her first school, Bev was sent to live with her aunt in Vancouver so that she could attend school there.  By this time Jack and Cis Mansell had retired; Bev’s parents were running Hillcrest Lodge and Doug and Barb could rarely get to Vancouver.

Doug and Barb Mansell managed Hillcrest Lodge from 1958 to 1965.

After two years at school in Vancouver Bev returned to the reopened Alta Lake School which once again had the requisite ten students.  She spend Grade 3 through Grade 6 at the small schoolhouse.

In the fall and spring Bev’s trip to and from school consisted of a boat ride across the lake.  When ice started to form on Alta Lake she would be walked around the south end of the lake, always accompanied in case of a run in with a wolverine or coyote.  In the winter, when the ice was thick enough, Bev would arrive at school by snowmobile – much more fun than a bus ride.

Before Bev started Grade 7 the school board decided that she should attend school in Squamish where there were more students her own age.  This lasted for one month before the school board decided to move her to the school in Pemberton.

Bev Mansell rode the school bus to Pemberton until she graduated, as did many students after her.

Luckily for Bev, this was the last move she would have to make during her school years as she continued to attend school in Pemberton until her graduation in 1975.  Students from Whistler continued to attend high school in Pemberton until 1996 when Whistler Secondary School opened, making it possible to graduate in Whistler.

A Night at the Movies

For some people the long, dark and cold nights of winter are reason to stay warm indoors and catch up on episodes of something on television or watch movies in the comfort of your own home.

Though now a common way to spend an evening, television did not arrive in Whistler – then Alta Lake – until the 1960s and movie nights in Alta Lake began as community events.

In 1954, the Alta Lake Community Club (a social club formed by residents and regular visitors in the 1920s) raised enough money to buy a projector and began holding weekly movie nights in the community hall throughout the year.  On Saturday nights a film was shown using a sheet for a screen and a gas-powered generator for electricity.  In the busy summer season these screening would be followed by dancing.  Alta Lake resident Dick Fairhurst said of the film selection that, “perhaps they were not the most up to date, but they were fine as we had never seen them.”

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse also served as the valley's first community movie theatre.

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse also served as the valley’s first community movie theatre (among other purposes).

In recalling her first year living in the valley in 1968, Trudy Alder provides a description of a winter’s night at the movies: “The films started when it was dark as the hall did not have any curtains.  The shows were usually the social event of the week.  Everyone who could walk would come.  Sometimes there was a large audience of 25 people.  We could buy popcorn and soft drinks from the children.  Dogs were only allowed in the movies when you promised to have them sitting under your seat.  But they found out fast that it was better to snuggle with the children in a cozy pile on the floor in front of the front row.  You should have heard the howling if there was a dog or two in the movie.  For us these movie nights were half an hour walks each way in the deep snow.”

Denis and Pat Beauregard, who ran movie nights as ALCC volunteers, receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain's 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Denis and Pat Beauregard, who ran movie nights as ALCC volunteers, receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain’s 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Pat and Denis Beauregard ran the movie nights for eight years as volunteers in the 1960s and 70s, first in the community hall and then later in the cafeteria at the base of Whistler Mountain using a portable screen donated by Myrtle Philip.  For those who missed a show due to impassable roads, the Beauregards would provide an extra showing in their home.

The building of the Rainbow Theatre during the construction of the Village in the 1980s marked Whistler’s first commercial theatre.  Due to having only one screen and limited show times, however, movies continued in many ways to be community events (without the howling dogs), especially during the slower spring and fall seasons.

Today visitors and residents of Whistler have many options when deciding what to watch; Village 8 Cinemas opened in December 2002 with multiple showings of various films daily, the Whistler Public Library has a large collection of movies that can be borrowed for free and streaming services such as Netflix provide access to films without the need for walking through the snow at all.