Tag Archives: Alta Lake

Records of Environmental Change: Why the Stories Matter

For our last 2018/19 Speaker Series on Thursday, April 11 the museum had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University for his presentation on environmental change in Alta & Lost Lakes.  The head of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Spooner and his students, working with Cascade Environmental Resource Group, have been using lake sediment cores to study Alta Lake for the past five years.  In 2018 Spooner took a core from Lost Lake.

Alta Lake has seen a lot of change over the past 150 years, both around its shores and in its water and sediment. Fairhurst Collection.

Sediment cores provide a record, not entirely unlike tree rings, of minerals and organic matter found in the lake sediment.  The core taken from Alta Lake was about 40 cm long and went back around 500 years.  By dating the different layers, Spooner and his student Dewey Dunnington were able to tell a lot about how the lake has changed over time and, by connecting the dates to historical records and stories told by locals, what might have contributed to these changes.

During his talk, Spooner highlighted the changing presence of copper and arsenic in Alta Lake.  Though there is always some change over time, the presence of both copper and arsenic increased considerably from the 1880s, as the Pemberton Trail and PGE Railway were built and the area became more settled.  While both have shown a decrease in more recent years, a spike in copper sometime around the 1960s illustrates how important stories are to adding context to this data.

The building of the PGE Railway and the development that followed disturbed the landscape around Alta Lake, changing the presence of minerals in its records. Philip Collection.

From the data and records, it had been assumed that the spike in copper was part of the increasing and continued development around the lake.  However, during a talk Spooner did at the museum in 2016 one audience member offered a different reason.  He got up and informed Spooner, “No, you’re wrong.  We dumped that copper in the lake, back in the 60s.  We wanted to get rid of an invasive species.” (Copper is used in some places as a biocide as it effectively kills parasites such as those that cause Swimmer’s Itch.  It also, however, will kill all the fish.)

When asked where one might find records of or a permit for this action, the man told Spooner there was none, they “just did it.”

There is no doubt that as stories are collected to add context to the core taken from Lost Lake, this attitude of “just do it” will come up again.  After all, we already know of some such cases.

In 1977 a group of Whistler freestyle skiers made plans to build their own ski jump on the shores of Lost Lake.  With no development permit or any official permission from the district, Lost Lake offered an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way site.  To go with the lack of permission, the ski jump also had no funding for materials or labour.  Timber was scrounged from a number of sources and the plastic grass ski out from the Olive Chair was taken from the dump and given a second life as the ski jump’s new surface.  Once the materials were gathered construction took only two weeks.

A jumper unfolds their flip into Lost Lake.  Whistler Question Collection,

The finished ramp projected out 20 feet over the lake (not too far from where the sediment core was taken) and willing skiers could launch themselves up to 40 feet above the water.  According to David Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “Injuries were commonplace but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.”

In 1981 the ski jump began hosting competitions and the next summer saw the first Summer Air Camp at Lost Lake.  Freestyle skiers came to Whistler to train with Peter Judge, the national team coach.  Far from being inconspicuous, film crews arrived to record events for television broadcasts.

Stories like these aren’t always included in the official records (permits weren’t always applied for in the 1960s and 70s) and so contributions from people who have been in the area are incredibly important for explaining the data.  As Spooner puts it, “The science isn’t worth anything without the stories.  We get it wrong.”

If you have your own stories to add, you can send them to Dr. Ian Spooner at ian.spooner@acadiau.ca or come visit us at the museum and we can pass them on.

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Discovering More About the Chefs of Rainbow Lodge

As the museum’s collection grows, so too does our understanding of the people who made Whistler’s early resort days possible.  Some names, such as Myrtle and Alex Philip, are already well known while others are far more obscure.  In this article, I’m going to shine a light on two lesser-known but very important figures from Alta Lake: Rainbow Lodge’s two cooks Lam Shu and Wing Sam.

Lam Shu shown outside Rainbow Lodge in 1926. Philip Collection.

Lam Shu was born in China around 1896 and immigrated to Canada in 1908 aged about 12.  It is unknown whom, if anyone, he was travelling with.  While living in Vancouver, he was hired by Alex Philip to work at the Horseshoe Grill.  Alex was running this restaurant to raise money for the newly established Rainbow Lodge, which Myrtle was operating on Alta Lake.  By 1916, Rainbow Lodge had become so successful that Alex sold the grill and moved up to Alta Lake full-time.  Lam Shu, now a young man of about 20, accompanied him to become the lodge’s chef.

Although little is known about Lam Shu himself, historical accounts give us a glimpse of a hardworking, talented and well-liked man.  His cooking skills were among the many draws of Rainbow Lodge, giving guests from across the country yet another reason to look forward to their visits.

Rainbow Lodge staff with Skookum the dog, approximately 1919. The man in the middle of the photograph is presumed to be Lam Shu. Philip Collection.

One of his signature dishes was divinity pie, filled with fresh peaches and topped with custard meringue.  In fact, the recipe was so sought-after that Lam Shu offered to teach it to Myrtle if she was interested.  He would also pack the ingredients for popular trail breakfasts, taken by guests on horse rides and prepared out in the bush.

Lam Shu wasn’t the only member of the Rainbow Lodge culinary team – the 1921 census reveals a fellow cook, Wing Same, living with him as a “lodger.”  According to oral histories given by Whistler pioneers Vern Lundstrum and Vera Barnfield, he may have been Lam Shu’s brother, although this has not been confirmed.  Wing Sam was born in China around 1900 and moved to Canada in 1911.

The census gives some tidbits of info on the men’s personal lives – both were Confucian and could read and write.

At some point before 1932, Lam Shu visited his family in China.  Upon his return to Canada he unfortunately caught a chronic case of influenza.  For the sake of his health and to spend more time with his loved ones, he decided to return permanently to his birth country.  The museum has recently been given a letter, dated December 15, 1932, from Lam Shu to fellow Rainbow Lodge staff members George and Pearl Thompson.

In it, he states: “I am very sorry to say that I leave for China owing to my sickness.  I miss the Rainbow Lodge very much.  Hoping you are well and Kathleen (the Thompsons’ daughter) too.  Wishing everybody to have Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, so good bye to you all.  Sincerely, your friend, Lam Shu.”

After Lam Shu’s departure, Wing Sam took over as Rainbow Lodge’s head chef.  He remained in this position until the lodge was sold in 1948.

Wing Sam remained the chef at Rainbow Lodge until it was sold by the Philips in 1948. Philip Collection.

After this, Lam Shu and Wing Sam seem to have disappeared into history.  It is unfortunate that more is not known about these two men and their contributions to Whistler’s not-too-distant past.  If you know of any information on Rainbow Lodge’s chefs, the museum would be more than happy to hear from you!

Holly Peterson worked as the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She was here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ont.).  She is now moving on to a new contract at another museum and we wish her all the best!

Newsletter Reflects Two Decades of Change (and how some things stay the same)

April might seem a bit early to be thinking of summer; there is still snow melting in parts of the valley and you’re just as likely to see someone walking through the village carrying their skis or board as you are to see a person biking along the Valley Trail.

At the museum, however, we’re looking ahead to summer programming and expanding our staff with summer students.

Summer students end up with varied responsibilities, such as grilling at the museum’s AGM. Here are Lauren, a 2017 student, and Colin, museum Vice-President, at the grill.

We recently came across a Whistler Museum & Archives Society (WMAS) newsletter from the summer of 2001 and, despite the 18 years that have passed since its publication, the newsletter is not all that dissimilar to those we currently send out bimonthly.

Like today, the newsletter from 2001 updates readers on recent events held at or by the museum and introduces new staff members.  That summer, the museum hired three summer students: two to work with the collections and one to work more on programming and community outreach.

Kathy Look, one of the two collections assistants, worked on digitizing the museum’s collection while Eric Cron was to spend his summer cataloguing and doing preliminary work to create a database.  This type of work continues to be carried out by our summer students and interns in the archives today.

The third student, Erin Coulson, had varied responsibilities, including working on the outdoor signs around the museum, assisting with the running of the museum, publishing the museum’s newsletter and searching for information on the train wreck near the Cheakamus River to answer the many inquiries the museum had received.

The Train Wreck was a mystery for hikers near Function Junction for many years.

The newsletter also reported on the Canada Day Parade in which the museum won a prize for Best Community Club Entrant, thanks to “the creative talents of Darlyne Christian and the helpful mobile power of Alex Bunbury, both museum trustees.”  Apparently this was the first parade where Darlyne rode in her own creation, an experience she described as “quite exciting.”

After the parade the museum launched its latest cookbook, Festive Favourites, full of recipes from community members.  (As it happens, we no longer have a copy of this book in our reference library – if anyone has a spare copy we would love to take a look.)

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

Recent fundraisers were mentioned, including one held at the Dubh Linn Gate to launch the museum’s first educational website and an Oscar Night that raised over $3,500, along with new additions to the collections (such as two signs for Overlord and Lost Lake that were anonymously delivered to the museum).

Of course, there have been changes in the almost two decades since this newsletter was sent out.

The museum has moved into a different space and our online presence, including our website, has evolved (social media didn’t really exist in 2001).  In the summer of 2001 Paul Jago was announced as the winner of a competition to design the museum’s new logo, a logo that has since changed at least twice.

The museum’s previous home, as it was in the summer of 2000 during our Annual LEGO Competition. Museum Collection.

In case you don’t currently subscribe to the museum’s newsletter, our last Speaker Series for the 2019 season will be this Thursday, April 11.  We are very excited to welcome Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University to discuss his studies of sediment records in Alta and Lost Lakes and what these records can tell us about environmental change dating back to the 18th century.  If you have an interest in our lakes or a story about your own experiences of Alta or Lost Lakes, please join us!  More information can be found here.

Whistler’s Lakes: Records of Environmental Change in Alta and Lost Lakes

*Due to generous private support, this event will now be offered with FREE ADMISSION

Dr. Ian Spooner (Acadia University, Nova Scotia) is an environmental scientist who uses lake sediment records to determine how development, atmospheric pollution and local geology influence lake water quality and chemistry.  Over the past seven years he and his students along with staff at Cascade Environmental Resource Group have studied the sediment records in Alta Lake and, more recently, Lost Lake.

Both lakes have provided detailed and complex records of environmental change dating back to the 1700s.  Research to date has indicated that both natural processes and anthropogenic influences have had a significant impact; the data provides some guidance for future development in both watersheds.

Thursday, April 11 Ian will be at the museum to show how the lake records were obtained and analyzed and discuss what they can tell us about both the resilience and vulnerability of these lakes to future environmental change.  Local context (written records, personal experiences) is critical to effective interpretation of the lake sediment records and he hopes that everyone who has an interest in or a story about our lakes can attend.

Dr. Ian Spooner (Department Head, P. Geo) has been a professor at Acadia in the Earth and Environmental Science Department for 25 years.  His primary research interest is using lake sediment records to investigate environmental impact and he has active research programs in Atlantic Canada, Alberta and British Columbia.  His secondary research interests include applied geomorphology (fluvial, coastal) and landslide hazard assessment.  He also has consulted in the areas of environmental risk assessment, groundwater and surface water contamination, coastal erosion and has been involved in hazard assessments for resource companies in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

Chilly Days at Alta Lake

Unsurprisingly, the sub-zero temperatures and arctic winds have left the museum feeling a bit chilly.  Rather than dream of warmer climes, this weather has inspired us to look back at photos of winters from Alta Lake’s past.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. Here is Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Philip Collection.

Some photos in the Philip Collection were donated to the archives with notes on the back detailing who is in the image and what they are doing.  A few of these photos (such as the one above) portray an activity that you would be surprised to see happening on Alta Lake today: an ice harvest.

Before hydro lines came to the valley (and then for an additional few years before that power could be accessed) most residents kept food from spoiling using cellars dug into the ground or ice houses.

Ice houses were double-walled structures that were tightly insulated and packed with sawdust.  Once filled with blocks of ice, these houses could keep food from spoiling through the hot summer months.  Places such as Rainbow Lodge cut blocks of ice out of Alta Lake in February, when the ice was usually thickest.  As Myrtle Philip noted on the back of one photo, “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw.”  The ice was then dragged to the ice house on a sled, by person or by horse.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake.  Philip collection.

The ice harvest on Alta Lake could be a social event for those spending the long winter in the valley.  William MacDermott, also known around Alta Lake as “Mac,” had his own ice house and once his harvest was done those who helped harvest gathered in his cottage to celebrate with jugs of Mac’s homebrew brought out from under the floorboards.

Winter tales from Rainbow Lodge often seem to end in a celebratory drink.

In an audio recording Myrtle relates the story of a railway crew she accompanied through the snow from Rainbow Lodge to the Cheakamus Canyon around 1913 or 1914.  The crew arrived at Rainbow Lodge to rest for a couple days after walking from Pemberton on wooden skis.  Myrtle fed them pea soup and baked beans and then accompanied them to a camp somewhere between Alta Lake and Squamish.  At the camp the group waited for an older and exhausted engineer to catch up.  He arrived two hours late, saying, “I’m all through boys, I can’t go any further.  I’m going to lie right here and die.  I’ve had it.”

Myrtle and her sister Jean Tapley pose with their skis and an unidentified friend outside Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

From the camp they were able to call for an engine and caboose to come from Squamish.  The crew met the train almost 10 km south of the camp; it had run into the snow at the end of a bridge over the Cheakamus River and could go no further.  It was here that they, like the ice harvesters, were rewarded with a drink,

As Myrtle described it: “I’ll never forget the bucket of tea they had sitting on the stove.  A big ten quart bucket and it was full of boiling water and a man came in and poured practically a pound of tea in that pail wanting to give us a nice warm cup of tea.  It could have pretty well stunned a horse it was so strong!”

Though some drank homebrew while others had tea, in the early winters of Alta Lake everyone seemed to welcome a chance to get warm after being out in the snow.

Chilly Days at Toad Hall

Looking back at the early days of skiing in Whistler might make you long for a time when life seemed simpler and cheaper.  Living in the valley in the 1960s, however, was challenging for residents, including those living in buildings like the original Toad Hall.

The first Toad Hall was originally the home of Alf and Bessie Gebhart.  They moved their family to Alta Lake in 1936 when Alf purchased a sawmill and lumber camp.  After operating the mil for some years, Alf built a house by Nita Lake in the 1950s.

Alf Gebhart poses with Ben Dyke and an unknown woman in front of his house at Parkhurst, before he built the house at Nita Lake. Photo: Debeck Collection

Unlike many structures built around Alta Lake at the time, the Gebharts’ was more of a house than a cabin or cottage.  It had four bedrooms (two downstairs and two upstairs), a living room, a kitchen and an adjoining breakfast room, as well as a basement with thick walls of stone.

Alf and Bessie remained in the house until their sawmill closed and they moved out of the valley.  Their son Howard and his wife Betty then took up residence while Howard worked for the railway before they, too, left the valley.  The house was then sold to Charles Hillman who rented it out through the 1960s.

Without the mill, it’s not that surprising the Gebarts chose to leave the house by Nita Lake, especially over the winter.  According to John Hetherington, an early resident of the house when it was known as Toad Hall in the late 1960s, the house could best be described as “cooold.”  Fittingly for the owner of a sawmill, the house was built of wood and used sawdust for the insulation.  Unfortunately, as Hetherington pointed out, “what happens with sawdust is at all settles down in the bottom, in between the studs, and provides no insulation whatsoever.”  The old, single-pane windows didn’t help retain heat either.

Though the living room may look cozy, winters could be harsh. Benjamin Collection.

Hetherington and three other Whistler Mountain employees, Jim Burgess, Drew Tait and Mike Wisnicki, moved into the house the winter of 1967/68.  Luckily for the four, they got their firewood split and stacked the day before the snow came that year as the wood became their main source of heat.

The house came with a woodstove, a furnace in the basement and a fireplace, all of which shared the same chimney.  For their first winter in the house, the four covered the windows with plastic and slept in sleeping bags on cots in the large upstairs bedroom, which the chimney ran through providing some radiant heat.

Master Climax, the woodstove that tried to keep Toad Hall warm. Benjamin Collection.

Though at first the woodstove was used mainly for heat, the four also began learning to cook on it.  Food was kept in the walk-in fridge and freezer at the lift company in Creekside or else sat through the temperature fluctuations of the kitchen.

In an effort to keep warm, they would throw occasional parties when, with most of the people in the valley inside the house and the fireplace and woodstove going, it would “get warm for a few hours,” said Hetherington.

These parties also highlighted another challenge of life at Toad Hall – there was no electricity.  Tait had a stereo system (a turntable and two speakers), but in order to use it a generator had to be borrowed and a mechanic friend had to be invited over to keep it running.  Light was provided by kerosene-burning Coleman lamps.

The front porch of Toad Hall, lit by a kerosene-burning lamp.  Benjamin Collection.

After a season or two, all four of these residents moved on from the house, leaving it to other residents until its owner decided to take possession.  Despite needing “a sawmill to keep the place heated,” Toad Hall was considered by its residents a “sort of legitimate place to live” at a time when there were not many places to live in the valley.

What’s In A Name?

The names of people, places and things sometimes change.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Whistler Mountain was labelled on maps as London Mountain and, until the creation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975, this area was officially known as Alta Lake.  Even Alta Lake was once called Summit Lake.

Some name changes, such as that of Whistler Mountain, occur gradually, beginning as a nickname and then changing officially to reflect the popular name.  Others change only partially, leaving enough of the previous name to ensure it is still easily recognizable.  An example of this is The Point.

Bert Harrop first came to Alta Lake in 1920 for a short stay at Rainbow Lodge.  Like many before and after him, his first stay in the valley ended up lasting a few decades longer than expected.  Helped by Alex Philip, the Harrops settled on a point of land on the west side of the lake, just south of Rainbow Lodge, which became known as Harrop’s Point.

Bert has been trained as a cabinetmaker in England and he quickly put his skills to use at Alta Lake.  Before winter arrived, he and Sewall Tapley had framed in a small house on the beach at Rianbow Lodge.  Constructed on a raft of cedar logs and later secured to the shore of Harrop’s Point, this became Alta Lake’s first (and possible only) floating cottage.

The floating cottage on Alta Lake built by Bert Harrop and Sewall Tapley.  Fairhurst Collection.

This cottage was followed by a tearoom with a porch extending over the water.  Harrop’s Tearoom became a gathering place for locals and visitors, presided over by Bert’s wife Agnes.  The tearoom was known for more than simply a good meal; Agnes told fortunes by reading tea leaves.  According to Pip Brock, whose family began visiting Alta Lake in the 1920s, Agnes “did it very well, assisted by all the rampant local gossip!  I used to have my cup read so I could see how I stood in the neighbourhood.”

Harrop’s Point as seen from above the PGE tracks. Philip Collection.

Bert continued building, constructing a cottage on his property to rent out to visitors and others for summer residents, including the Brock family.  He also built a workshop for himself.  As the snow fell in winter Bert crafted furniture in his workshop, some pieces of which survive today in the museum.

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

Bert and Agnes sold Harrop’s Point in 1948 to Cathy and Ivan Collishaw who continued to run it under that name until they sold it in 1952.  Loyd and Sharen Mansell then renamed the enterprise Bob’s Point and ran it for only a year before selling to their neighbour Dick Fairhurst, who had been operating Cypress Lodge for a few years before purchasing this property, adding three cabins and a tearoom to his business.  Dick’s mother Elizabeth Alice moved up from Vancouver to help run Cypress Lodge on Cypress Point.  Under her, the tearoom became known for its “Hot Dog Friday Night” when a refrigerated rail car bought fresh food and meat on Fridays as well as Ma Fairhurst’s famed butter tarts.

The tearoom and Bert’s cottages were demolished in 1962 and replaced with four new cabins, complete with Alta Lake’s first coloured bathroom fixtures.  Cypress Point became a gathering place for the community, including the Alta Lake Sailing Club and its annual “Regretta.”  The Fairhursts continued to operate Cypress Lodge until 1972 when it was sold to the Canadian Youth Hostel Association.

For the next few decades, the property was known as the Youth Hostel until the hostel moved away from Alta Lake.  Today, the buildings of Cypress Lodge host the Whistler Sailing Club and The Point Artist-Run Centre and is often referred to simply as The Point.