Tag Archives: Alta Lake

Air Travel to Alta Lake

For most of the year floatplanes overhead are a common sight (and sound) above Whistler.  Today, these planes land and take off from Green Lake – an everyday occurrence.  But in the 1920s floatplanes were an adventurous way to arrive at Alta Lake.

The first record of a floatplane landing on Alta Lake was on August 31, 1922.  While floatplanes were not a common mode of transport, a fair number did arrive and take off from the lake.

The first plane to land on Alta Lake, flown by Earl Leslie MacLeod.

In 2011, Betty Jane (BJ) Warner (nee Matheson) shared her memory of a floatplane landing on Alta Lake in the late 1920s.  She was only four or five years old at the time.

The Matheson children and their mother spent the summers of 1927 to 1934 at a cabin on the south end of Alta Lake.  Betty Jane’s father Robert Matheson stayed in Vancouver to work but sent up letters and supplies, most notably marshmallows.  The cabin was rented from William “Mac” MacDermott and Mac became a close friend to the family.  In the summers he chopped their firewood, checked the oil in the lamps, did general repairs when needed and went hiking with the Matheson siblings Jack, Claudia and Betty Jane; in winter he would spend Christmas Day with the Matheson family in Vancouver.

Mac, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain.

One day, Mac had taken Jack hiking, Claudia was reading n the shade and Betty Jane was paddling by the shore of Alta Lake with the young maid who came to keep an eye on her.  What happened next is best said in Betty Jane’s own words.

Suddenly, a loud thunderous sound and something deafening roared across the sky.  It reached the far end of the lake, seemed suspended, turned, then menacingly approached us, skimming the water like a giant torpedo.  It came lower and lower and as it became closer caused all about us to vibrate and rumble.

I was terrified and along with Evelyn (the maid) and the dog we fled into the cabin, followed by my mother, who, fearful of an overhead crash, ordered us to protect ourselves under a huge canvas that covered our woodpile.

It was my father, of course, and his pilot friend who chose that day to surprise his young family on what was, proudly for him, his first flight… What a let-down it must have been for him to be met by the dismal sigh of his terrified children huddled under a tarp and an upset wife, tearful and near fainting, scolding him for traveling in such a dangerous contraption.  My brother missed it all.

This was the first time Betty Jane had ever seen an airplane, a memory that remained with her for over eight decades.  As she recalled, “The Space Age was upon us, but to this young person the marvel of it all was the gigantic tin of Moonlight Marshmallows that came with it.”

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Alta Lake Live

We love to share the photos we have in our collections, but did you know that we also have a huge collection of video footage?  Not all of it has been digitized, and even less is currently available online, but we hope to remedy this in the future.

Today we’re sharing four films of Alta Lake from the Petersen Collection that show the lake in different years and seasons.

Up first is a film from around 1960 showing skaters on the frozen lake.  With a game of hockey going on, it looks a lot like winters on Alta Lake today.

While we have many photos of sail boats on Alta Lake most of them are black and white.  This film captures the sails in all their colourful glory.  Taken during a regatta, this footage may just be of the Alta Lake Sailing Club’s first “Regretta”.

Another film of boating, this time from 1970, gives a closer view of some of the cabins and other means of transportation along the shore.  As a bonus, the film also includes footage of the PGE moving a building from the side of the railroad tracks.

Last, but certainly not least, we have footage from the 1974 Regatta hosted by the Alta Lake Sailing Club.  Based out of Dick Fairhurst’s Cypress Lodge, the location may seem familiar to those who sail on Alta Lake today.  The full day event included a tug-o-war, pie eating contest, sailing (of course) and more.

Other films available online can be viewed here.  We hope to add more soon!

Celebrating Myrtle Philip Day

You might not have heard of it, but this Monday, March 19 is a holiday unique to Whistler.  On March 10, 1986 the council of the day voted to declare March 19 “Myrtle Philip Day” in honour of Myrtle Philip’s 95th birthday.

Myrtle and Alex Philip first came to the Whistler valley, then still known as Alta Lake, in 1911 and opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914.  Over the next 30 years their success at Rainbow Lodge helped turn Alta Lake into a summer destination.  When the pair sold the lodge in 1948 they had planned to move on but, like many who came after them, they never quite left.

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

After Alex’s death in 1968, Myrtle remained at her cottage on Alta Lake and continued to take an active part in community life.  She moved into Hilltop House in Squamish for only the last few years of her life.

Recognizing Myrtle’s birthday was nothing new for Whistler: almost every year her birthday celebrations were reported in the local papers, including The Whistler Question and The Citizen of Squamish.  Myrtle’s 90th was marked by a grad celebration at Myrtle Philip School attended by about 200 well wishers, including her two sisters and nephews and nieces.  The students of the school presented Myrtle with 90 daffodils and the Gourmet Bakery prepared a 99-inch cake for the occasion.  Presentations were also made by Pat Carleton, the Whistler Rotary Club, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, School Board Chairman Jim McDonald and the staff of Myrtle Philip School.  Pat Beauregard, on behalf of the Alta Lake Community Club, presented a plaque representing the newly created “Myrtle Philip Award,” awarded each year to a student demonstrating academic excellence.  This award is still presented today.

89-year old Myrtle Philip cuts her birthday cake at her party.  Whistler Question Collection.

Given the community’s respect for Whistler’s “First Lady,” it is no surprise that her 95th birthday warranted her very own day.  This was not, however, the first Myrtle Philip Day celebrated in Whistler.

On October 13, 1974, friends, former guests of Rainbow Lodge and others who knew Myrtle gathered at the still-standing Rainbow Lodge to remember their days at Alta Lake.  Officially called “Myrtle Philip, This Is Your Life” day, the event was described as a “time when old friends and former guests of Rainbow return to the lodge” for a party that lasted from the train’s arrival to its departure.  The railway even planned to reserve an “old-time railway coach” to transport the party guests.

Myrtle Philip and Mayor Mark Angus celebrate her 93rd birthday. Philip Collection.

The official declaration of “Myrtle Philip Day” in 1986 was only one of the gifts Whistler gave Myrtle that year.  She also received a birthday cake, flowers, gift baskets and even a special Myrtle Philip cookie from Germain’s.  Tapley’s, which bears her family’s name, put up a birthday banner for the day and Mayor Terry Rodgers made a trip to see Myrtle in Squamish.

Unfortunately, this was also Myrtle’s last birthday.  That summer she died of complications following a stroke and was buried in the Whistler Cemetery.  The community continued to celebrate Myrtle Philip Day, hosting fundraisers and handing out birthday cake in her honour.

Frozen Alta Lake

Winters at Alta Lake were a quiet season for the small community without the crowds of summer visitors.  Whistler Mountain did not open for skiing until 1966 and until then downhill skiing in the valley was uncommon.  Instead winter sports centred on and around Alta Lake.  In addition to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides, activities that took place on the frozen lake itself were popular within the small community.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Photo: Philip Collection.

With the right conditions skating was a common pastime that could quickly become a community gathering with a bonfire and marshmallows.

In 1924 Sewall Tapley built an iceboat for his daughter Myrtle after she injured her leg.  He used a few boards, old skate blades and a sail and thus introduced a new activity to Alta Lake.  With a good wind the iceboat could easily outpace the skaters.  While the iceboat did have a tiller attached it was not an effective means of steering.  Instead, Myrtle recalled, “we’d crash into the snow bank on the other side of the lake, get out and turn it around to get home.”  In the 1980s a new generation tried sailing on Alta Lake, this time using “windskiers” which hopefully had much better steering capabilities.

Wind skiing was a new sport for Alta Lake. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1985.

The lake continued to be a community gathering spot for Alta Lake residents through the 1950s and into the 60s.  In the January 5, 1960 edition of the “Alta Lake Echo”, the weekly newsletter put out by the Alta Lake Community Club under various named from January 1958 until June 1961, it was noted that “a good crowd turned out Friday night to skate and spectate at Rainbow Rink.  Cabin 8 was cosy and warm for the less hardy types and those whose feed would not fit the available skates.”  The evening ended with hot dogs and hot chocolate provided by Alex and Audrey Greenwood, then owners of Rainbow Lodge.

The same newsletter also reported on the annual New Year’s hockey game that was postponed “due to poor player condition after New Years Eve.  Rescheduled for 2 pm Jan. 2nd, game commenced promptly at 3:30.”  On the side of the Alta Lake Amatoors were Frantic Fairhurst (foreward front and centre) and Non Stop Crankshaft, Capricious Croaker, Gummed Up Gow and Fearless Ferguson (all playing defence).  The Rainbow Rockets lineup featured Sky Scraper Skip (“centre, right and left, fore and back”), Spud Murphy (“goal defence and generally against Alta Lake making a goal”), Gallopping Greenwood, and GoGetter Gordon.

A game of hockey on frozen 19 Mile Creek, November 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Despite having fewer players, Rainbow took an early lead that they kept for a final score of 7-1, though the accuracy of the score is questionable.  According to the sports report, “before the first half of the first quarter was over the judges retired to the warmth of Cabin 8 and the score was rather hard to keep track of.”  Clearly the residents treated this game with the utmost professionalism.

The opening of Whistler Mountain shifted the focus of winter sports away from Alta Lake, though it took only one winter with very little snow to return people to the lakes.  According to the Whistler Question, in January 1977 Whistler Mountain closed due to “adverse weather conditions”.  Instead skating, hockey and even ice stock sliding kept the community busy.

Ice stock sliding, a sport introduced to Alta Lake during a particularly bad snow year, remained popular in Whistler for some time. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, January 1980.

Today, if the lakes have a safe layer of ice, ice skating and hockey games can still be seen on lakes throughout the valley.

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.

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.

Searching for Answers at the Whistler Museum

Working at the museum, you never know who is going to walk through the door or what questions you’re going to be asked on any given day.

Just this past week we had a couple from the UK in search of information on a great uncle who had come to Alta Lake in the 1950s and built a summer cottage.  They were hoping to be able to determine where the cottage had been built and see what the area looked like today.  Given the names of the great uncle and the cottage, we were able to answer all of their questions about Worlebury Lodge, largely thanks to a history of Alta Lake Road compiled by Florence Petersen, Gay Cluer and Karen Overgaard.

Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, built by Maurice and Muriel Burge in the late 1950s. Photo: Mitchell

Worlebury Lodge was built by Maurice and Muriel Burge, the great uncle in question and his wife.  Maurice was an accountant for the Vancouver School Board and Muriel was a nurse.  In 1956 the couple and their two sons visited Cypress Lodge for a week in the summer and enjoyed it so much they purchased their own lot.  The cottage was named Worlebury Lodge after the area in England Maurice came from.

Next door to Worlebury Lodge was Woodbine Cottage, the summer cottage of Ray and Jean Dove.  Friends of Maurice and Muriel, the Doves had been convinced to buy a lot on Alta Lake by the glowing reports that followed the Burges’ visit to Cypress Lodge.  Maurice helped with the construction of Woodbine Cottage and both families spent many summers enjoying life at Alta Lake.

A hike to Rainbow Falls including Maurice Burge (2nd from right in the back) and Muriel Burge in the front row. Photo: Dove

Worlebury Lodge was eventually rented out and then sold and replaced with a more modern house, but we were able to show the visiting couple where the lodge would have been located and they planned to head out to Alta Lake Road to see what the view from Worlebury Lodge would have been.  They had brought photos of the property that Maurice Burge had sent to his sister and a brochure for Rainbow Lodge under the management of the Greenwoods, which we were excited to see.

Not all inquiries we get at the museum are as easily answered as the search for Worldbury Lodge; some require deeper research and there are also some whose answers have been lost as time passes undocumented.  We also occasionally encounter people with questions or inquiries unrelated to the history of Whistler and the surrounding area.  We do our best to answer these questions or direct the inquirer to someone more knowledgeable in that area, such as when a man called form the eastern States to inquire whether the museum was interested in buying a scale model he had made.

This man had hand-crafted a miniature model of Buffalo Bill’s stagecoach as it looked on his return to Kansas and was hoping to contribute it to a museum’s exhibit on Buffalo Bill.  Our best guess is that when searching for Buffalo Bill on the internet he came upon Buffalo Bills, the bar, and assumed there was a connection between the man and Whistler.

Though there is no documentation to suggest that Buffalo Bill ever passed through the Whistler valley, he did have Canadian connections and we were able to direct this man to organizations that would be more likely to be able to help him in his quest.

Next time you’ve got a question about Whistler’s history, think about visiting us at the Whistler Museum – we might just have the answer you’re looking for.