Tag Archives: Alta Lake

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 spend may 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.

Hillcrest Lodge: Alta Lake’s Other Summer Resort

The story of Rainbow Lodge and the Philips may be the best known, but Rainbow Lodge was certainly not the only summer resort that opened on the shores of Alta Lake.

Dick Fairhurst opened Cypress Lodge, the Harrops had a popular tearoom and across the lake, around where Lakeside Park is located today, stood Hillcrest Lodge.

Guests were met at Alta Lake Station by Rainbow Lodge and rafted across the lake.

Jack Mansell first came to Rainbow Lodge in 1944 and, like Myrtle and Alex before him, was so impressed with the area that he began looking into purchasing the Patterson property across the lake.  Jack sold his three shoe repair stores in Vancouver and moved his wife Cis and their two sons Loyd and Doug in May 1945.

It was not the easiest move for the family.  Cis recalled living in a two-room shack, warming bricks in the oven for heat, and keeping the Christmas tree outside because it couldn’t fit in the shack.  For a family used to plumbing and electricity in the city, life at Alta Lake was a big change.

By January 1946 the entire family was involved in building the new lodge, which was ready to open that July.  The first guests the Mansells welcomed to Hillcrest Lodge were the Right Honourable Mr. Charlie Cockcroft, a politician from Alberta, his  wife and their party of family and friends.  Later guests would include Lady Oslow and Lady Wemise from England.  A reservation was even made by Bob Hope, though his wife became ill and they couldn’t come.

Hillcrest Lodge added cabins, dorms and other buildings as they grew.

Hillcrest grew quickly and had a total of 16 cabins open for the summer by 1947.  During the summer Jack and Cis employed University of British Columbia students and teachers to work in the lodge.  Like many employed in the hospitality industry, Jack and Cis worked hard during peak season.  As Cis put it, “Jack and I would say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.  ‘Cause we didn’t live for ourselves, we lived for that guest.”

Apart from the usual summer activities such as swimming, hiking and boating, Hillcrest also offered their guests organized recreation.  Guests were expected at the main lodge in the evening for masquerade parties and square dancing (lessons included).

Current Hillcrest guests would meet arriving guests in costume. Hillcrest Lodge can be seen across the lake.

The Mansells also organized musical raft rides, kangaroo courts and mock weddings and took part in the Saturday night dances at the community hall.  Arriving guests were greeted at the train station by current guests in costumes and then rafted across the lake.  Though it wasn’t ideal for young families, as there was no beach and only deep swimming off the dock, a regular group of 30 or so “young kids” came to Hillcrest every year and other regulars would come for a week or two throughout the summer.

As they grew up, both Loyd and Doug fell in love with and married Hillcrest guests, Sharen and Barb.  When Jack and Cis retired in 1958 Doug and Barb took over the management of Hillcrest before selling it in 1965.  Eventually, like many other early buildings at Alta Lake, the lodge was burnt down as a fire practice in 1986.

Whistler’s History of Trash

The history of Whistler’s waste disposal is not often told, though some parts of it have become widely known.  Most people have been told about how the Village used to be a dump, but how many know that the first garbage collectors were nor Carney’s Waste Systems but the Alta Lake Sons of Tipplers Society?

Before Whistler was Whistler and the valley was still known as Alta Lake, there was no centralized waste disposal.  Lodges in the area made their own dumps and homeowners were responsible for disposing of their own waste, which often meant burning anything that could be burned.  Recycling as we think of it today was yet to be introduced to the valley, though anything that could be reused often was.

This illustration accompanied Bill Bailiff’s article on black bears in the Community Weekly Sunset in July, 1958.

At the time, the relation between garbage and bears becoming aggressive had already been recognized.  Bill Bailiff, president of the Alta Lake Community Club, wrote a series of articles for their newsletter on the local wildlife and had this to say about bears:

When encouraged it loses its fear of man and comes in close to buildings.  If [a bear] scents anything edible it will use its powerful claws to rip and tear into anything and screening on a meat safe goes like so much tissue paper, so don’t encourage them around if you don’t want trouble.

The Whistler valley did not have a central dumping location until the 1960s.  The Alta Lake Ratepayers Association (ALRA) applied to lease acreage at the base of Whistler Mountain where the Village stands today.  Equipment and labour to dig ditches and cover said ditches once full were donated by the Valleau Logging Company (the same company that moved the train wreck to where it now lies) and families living at Alta Lake were each assigned a week to keep the area tidy, mostly by raking garbage that had been removed by bears back into the ditches.  Clearly, the bears were regular visitors.

Bears at the original dump site, now Whistler Village.

The growth of skiing at Whistler brought large numbers of visitors to the area who often left the garbage they produced lying at the train stations when they departed.  The ALRA placed oil drums at the stations in an attempt to contain the mess.  The oil drums were purchased and painted green using left over tip money from Rainbow Saturday nights and so the barrels were given the label ALSOTS (Alta Lake Sons of Tipplers Society) to celebrate their origins.

Despite the efforts of the ALRA, the garbage dump did not always run smoothly.  In a notice to the community, the ALRA noted that garbage was being found around instead of in the trenches and in the fire prevention water barrels, the signs that read “Dump in Trench Only” were quickly disappearing and, despite the dump being a “No Shooting” area, bullet holes rendered the water barrels useless in case of fire.  More disturbingly, some people seemed to be going to the dump to shot the bears that frequented the area as trophies.

From the Whistler Question, 1982: Fantastic Voyage take a trip into their own special world of choreography at Stumps. Stumps, the nightclub located in the Delta Mountain Inn, was named for some of the natural debris found when excavating the old landfill site in preparation of village construction.

When construction of Whistler Village began in 1977 the garbage dump was moved to Cheakamus.  In 2005, this landfill closed and Whistler’s waste management moved to its current location in the Callaghan Valley when construction began on the Olympic athletes’ village.  Carney’s now operates two recycling centre in Whistler and a compost facility in the Callaghan.  To learn about how Whistler tries to reduce human-bear conflict and keep our garbage away from bears, visit the Get Bear Smart Society.

The Pacific Great Eastern Railroad

The construction of Rainbow Lodge in 1914 is recognized as a seminal moment in our valley’s history, and deservedly so. But something else happened that same year that is equally important to the creation of a tourism industry and Whistler’s early history.

When Alex & Myrtle Philip first visited Alta Lake in 1911, it famously took them three days to get here from Vancouver, by boat and on foot. That all changed with the completion of the first leg of the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Railway in 1914.

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The route to Alta Lake, pre-PGE. Myrtle & Alex Philip coming up the Pemberton Trail on their first visit in August 1911.

Now, somebody leaving Vancouver early in the morning could ride a steamship to Squamish, transfer to the passenger car on the train right by the waterfront, and be at Rainbow Lodge in time for dinner. Not quite the speed of today’s Sea-to-Sky Highway, but a drastic improvement nonetheless.

This was not just a nice creature comfort; this was essential for the nascent tourist trade.

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The rugged Cheakamus Canyon, roughly halfway between Squamish and Alta Lake, was the main engineering challenge confronted by the new railway.

The railway was not built with tourism in mind. Linking Lillooet to Squamish (but not Vancouver), the PGE railway was built to service the heavier industries in the interior, particularly mining and forestry. Providing access to the coast was crucial for the development of a resource-based economy, as it allowed these heavy goods to be shipped overseas to market. Here in the valley, the railway led to an immediate increase in logging activity (think Parkhurst), and some mining operations (particularly iron and copper) got substantial enough to make use of the train as well.

Despite its seminal role in our valley, the PGE was mis-managed from the start. In 1915 the owner’s of the privately-held railway began missing bond payments, and the province of BC took over ownership a few years later.

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Riders were treated to a spectacular view of Brandywine Falls.

The original plan was for the railway to extend all the way to Prince George, the commercial centre of northern BC, where it could connect to the broader, nation-wide rail system. Even with provincial control however, this wan’t achieved until 1950, earning it tongue-in-cheek nicknames like “Province’s Great Expense” and “Prince George, Eventually.”

Regardless, it was a lifeblood of the early community of Alta Lake, not only bringing tourists, but provisions and supplies, transported locals to the city, and connected them to essential services that weren’t available here, like hospitals and (sometimes) schools.

And Rainbow Lodge was right in the centre of it all. There were several designated stops in the valley, but “Alta Lake,” adjacent to Rainbow Lodge’s front gate, was certainly the liveliest. You get a strong sense of the growth of the Philip’s retreat by simply comparing images of the train station over the years:

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Waiting for the train with a full load of passengers, circa 1915.

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Myrtle (waving, in black dress near centre) and Alex (plaid shirt, to her right) greeting visitors at the train station, circa late-1920s. 

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Coming or going? We’re not sure here, but either way, the Alta Lake train station was a welcoming place. Alex Philip at far left, in his trademark safari suit.

 

Even with the completion of the highway from Vancouver in 1965, passenger service continued on the PGE until 2002, by which point it had long been renamed as BC Rail.

Nowadays, there are frequent calls to restore and upgrade passenger rail service to Whistler and beyond, but there are a whole host of technical, logistical, and financial barriers making it an unlikely prospect.

 

A Century of Skiing in Whistler

Sunday February 21st was International Ski History Day. At the museum we hosted a delegation from the International Ski History Association and put on our Speaker Series “Celebrity Athletes & the Growth of Modern Skiing” featuring Stephanie Sloan, John Smart, and Rob McSkimming. There were also events up on Whistler Mountain during the day.

We have an incredibly rich skiing heritage to celebrate here in Whistler. And though Whistler Mountain’s 50th anniversary is the big story this season, it’s not the only milestone worth celebrating this year.

As we’ve profiled on this blog previously, there were plenty of skiing pioneers doing things the old-fashioned way prior to the installation of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain. Examples include Tyrol Club members like Stefan Ples who regularly skinned up Whistler Mountain in the 1950s and early 60s, and famed explorers Don & Phyllis Munday, along with summer resident Pip Brock, who undertook ski-mountaineering expeditions into the heart of the Coast Mountains in the 1930s.

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A 1939 ski-mountaineering expedition near Black Tusk led by George Bury, in search of appropriate locations to build a ski resort. They found excellent skiing and remarkable landscapes, but their plans were interrupted by the outbreak of WW2.

Skiing, mostly of the cross-country variety, was also a popular pastime at Rainbow Lodge during the quieter winter months. We’re fortunate enough to hold in our archives dozens of photographs from that era of skiers trekking around the valley, posing on Alta Lake, or schussing down a small wooded slope near Rainbow. We even have a few shots of Bob the Workhorse pulling Myrtle around the lake on her skis, otherwise known as skijoring.

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Just out for a rip!

The solid wooden skis are generally massive, even putting your 30-year-old 210cm racing planks to shame, and the fashion is as nostalgic as it gets. One specific image, a little fuzzier than the rest but otherwise inconspicuous, is especially relevant to today’s story.

The image portrays Myrtle Philip with two other women posing while skiing on a frozen Alta Lake. They are adorned in wool tops and baggy bloomers, and are all using a single, solid wooden pole in the traditional Scandinavian style.

And written on the back of the image is the simple phrase “the first skiing guests at Rainbow about 1916. Janet Drysdale and friend and Myrtle Philip.”

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The dawn of skiing in Whistler.

Needless to say, the 3 ladies were unaware of the historical significance of this simple ski outing.

Of course it is completely possible that skis were used in the Whistler Valley prior to this visit, but we have come across no such stories or evidence. At that time trappers and prospectors generally used snowshoes and considered skis more toy than tool.

Local prospector Harry Horstman, when he encountered Pip Brock climbing Sproatt Mountain on a set of skis, apparently proclaimed “what the hell you got them flanks for? I can get around twice as fast as on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin’ boards!”

Needless to say, we don’t share Harry’s disdain. Three cheers to 100 years! 

Whistler’s first ski lift (Petersen home video)

If you were asked to name Whistler’s first ski lift, you would be likely to answer the original Creekside Gondola, one of the t-bars, or the original two-person Red Chair.

You would also be wrong.

No, that distinction goes to a modest little rope tow, installed by the enterprising Alta Lake pioneer Dick Fairhurst in 1960, almost 6 years before Whistler Mountain opened for business. The rope tow ran under the power lines behind Fairhurst’s Cypress Lodge on the west shore of Alta Lake (later used as a hostel and today home to The Point Artist-Run Centre). The rope tow ran for more than 800 feet. Powered by an old Ford V8 motor, it could pull four skiers up at a time.

Aside from the wonderful footage of the ski lift and skiers (though snow conditions appear to be sub-par), you also see a little Snow-cat machine that belonged to Dick. Dick was enamoured by snow machines of all sorts and would later become a dealer for Bombardier snowmobiles. He was also a founding member of the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club which still exists today, operating a club cabin on Brohm Ridge near Mount Garibaldi.

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Skiers enjoying a day on Dick Fairhurst’s slopes, early 1960s.

It may not be the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, but this humble little ski lift lays claim to a very special and under-appreciated honour as the first lift in the Whistler Valley.  We’re extremely fortunate to have this short clip, another gem from the Petersen Family home video archive. Enjoy!