Tag Archives: Alta Lake

Windsurfing in Whistler

Before summers in Whistler drew thousands of mountain bikers to the area, Whistler was gaining a reputation for a sport that took place on the water: windsurfing. As the sport of windsurfing became more popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Alta Lake became a hot spot for many Canadian windsurfers, as shown in the many photos from the 1980s that feature windsurfers of various ages, skill, and standards of dress.

According to Jinny Ladner, a former Canadian windsurfing champion, the first board was brought to Whistler by Mark Dufus in 1975, though not many people in the valley know much about the sport at the time. Looking at reports from the summer of 1981, however, it would appear that once windsurfing was introduced to Whistler it took hold and grew quickly.

Windsurfers on Alta Lake, sometime between 1981 and 1983. George Benjamin Collection.

While you might think that May 1981 would have marked the beginning of the windsurfing season in Whistler, apparently a few hardy souls had already been seen with their boards on Alta Lake as of January 1. For most windsurfers, however, in May the season was just getting started.

According to the Squamish Citizen Shopper, Whistler Windsurfing and Blackcombe Sports were the two main businesses offering rentals and instruction. For newcomers to the sport, the Citizen helpfully noted that, “in consideration of the fact that learning how to windsurf involves falling in the water quite a bit, anyone wishing to take lessons should be able to swim.”

Sails flapping, windsurfers in the first heat of the men’s Triangle races skim away from the starting line during the BC Windsurfing Championships on Alta Lake. Whistler Question Collection.

In 1981 there were plenty of ways for those interested to get involved in the sport, from novices to international competitors. Blackcombe Sports offered membership to the Blackcombe Boardsailing Club, which included free use of a board for the summer, discounts on lessons and sales, and free entry into all Club-sponsored events. Whistler Windsurfing co-sponsored an instructor course with the Canadian Yachting Association and the British Columbia Sailing Association. They also ran the Whistler Windsurfing Summer Series, a series of weekly races beginning in early June. Race results were tallied to come up with a monthly winner and at the end of the summer the monthly winners would compete to become the overall winner.

Other windsurfing events held on Alta Lake that summer included the Whistler regatta in June, the British Columbia Championships in August, and Whistler’s first Great Waters Race in September, though the Great Waters Race was not strictly speaking a windsurfing event. As part of the Whistler Fall Festival, five-person teams (at least two of whom had to be women) competed in canoeing, swimming and kayaking along with windsurfing. The windsurfing portion of the race may not have been the most successful, as it was later described by the Whistler Question as “a paddling race due to lack wind.”

Andrew Stoner, owner of Whistler Windsurfing, now has to take a definite step up in the world to jump the gap between his docks on Alta Lake. Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler residents were well represented at the Canadian Windsurf Championships in September that year. Jinny Ladner and Andrew Stoner (one of the organizers of the Summer Series alongside Doug Schull) earned places as two of the five Canadians traveling to the Windsurf World Championships in Okinawa later that year.

Windsurfing remained a prominent sport on Alta Lake through the 1980s and 1990s, but the sport experienced a decline in popularity in the late 1990s. While it is less often that you will come across windsurfers on Whistler’s lakes, windsurfing has seen a resurgence in the last decade and windsurfers and kitesurfers will often be found in Squamish.

The Woods at Alta Lake

The Woods family moved to Alta Lake around 1926 and worked in the area, both for the railway and in the logging industry, until the 1940s. Fred Woods was born in the Isle of Man and immigrated to Canada after a time in the army. He worked on the railroad in Broadview, Saskatchewan where he met and married Elizabeth. Their first child, Helen, was born in Broadview in 1921 and a couple of years later the family moved to Port Coquiltam, where Fred continued to work on the railroad. While there Fred and Elizabeth had two sons, Jack and Pat. Fred then took a job as a section foreman for the PGE Railway and the entire family moved to Alta Lake.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods on the train tracks at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

After a few years, Fred lost his job with the PGE and the family moved out of the company house. After living for a time in a much smaller house, the family was able to rent a property from Jack Findlay, who charged them only the cost of the property taxes. The property included a house, barn, hayfield, and garden and was located across the creek from the Tapley’s farm. Fred began working for the logging operation of B.C. Keeley of Parkhurst during the summers and clearing trails and bridges as relief work in the winters.

The family kept a cow, horse, chickens, and, at times, a pig and grew their own vegetables. In the summer the children would pick berries that Elizabeth would use to make jam. She also canned meat from their animals. When the logging camp closed at the end of the summer Fred would order groceries such as flour and sugar wholesale through the cookhouse to last through the winter. Vegetables were stored in the roothouse and the children would keep the path from the house clear of snow.

Pat Woods, Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland and Jack Woods skating at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

Helen, Pat, Jack and later their younger brother Kenneth went to the Alta Lake School, though Pat remembered some days when snow prevented them from attending. As they got older they also began working outside of their home. When Jack was fifteen and Pat fourteen they spent a summer working in the sawmill at Lost Lost (after a fire at Parkhurst in 1938, logging operations were temporarily moved to Lost Lake before returning to Green Lake). Their employment ended abruptly when Jack lost all the fingers on his right hand in a workplace accident. According to Pat, it took years for Jack to receive compensation, as he was supposed to be sixteen before working in the mill.

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

Though the family worked hard during their years at Alta Lake, both Pat and Helen had fond memories of living in the area. Elizabeth loved music and taught her children to play violin and guitar. She played accordion and the family would perform at community dances. They also remembered the kindness of various “bachelors” who lived at Alta Lake, such as Bill Bailiff and Ed Droll, who would visit with their father and sometimes give the children carrots from their gardens on their way to school.

In the early 1940s Fred Woods joined the Canadian army and the family, apart from Helen who had left home and lived in Squamish, moved to North Vancouver. In later years, members of the Woods family returned as visitors to Alta Lake and then Whistler, though they never forgot the years they spent living and working in the area.

The Inn on the Lake

At the Whistler Museum we often hear stories about the lodges that used to be plentiful around Alta Lake (as well as Nita Lake) from people who worked, stayed, partied or even lived at one sometime between the 1930s and 1980s. Some of the lodges, like the Mount Whistler Lodge, began as summer resorts before skiing was really thought of in the area, while others, such as the Christiana Inn, were part of the increase in development that started with the building of lifts on Whistler Mountain.

Sandy and Puddy Martin, who developed much of the Alta Vista neighbourhood, opened the Christiana Inn on the eastern shore of Alta Lake in 1967. They reportedly named their new venture after a similarly named lodge in Sun Valley, ID. The Christiana facilities included a heated outdoor swimming pool, a beauty salon, gift shop, lounge area, and dining room. Located only five minutes from the lifts on Whistler Mountain and offering many activities around the lake, the Christiana catered to both winter and summer guests.

Though it says the Christiana Inn is closed to the public, this is one of the few images in our collections that shows the building from the front. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

In the late 1960s, the Martins added on to the Christiana with a tennis court, a poolside dining and dancing area, and even a second dining room. The Christiana hosted fashion shows, dances, public meetings, apres ski entertainment, and films, and even offered a free bus service for guests in the ski season. Over time, the pool was covered with a fiberglass roof in the winter and was opened to guests not staying at the Christiana for a nominal fee (in 1973, this fee was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children).

Sandy and Puddy sold the Christiana Inn in the mid 1970s. In 1979 the management of the lodge was taken over by brothers Ole and Per Christiansen, who hoped to “gradually alter the Inn to a Bavarian atmosphere” and began offering traditional German fare in the restaurant (prepared by Swiss chef Pascal Tiphine) and advertising the Christiana alongside the “newly decorated” Side Door Disco.

Bartender Rosarie Gauthier and manager Per Christiansen behind the bar in the Christiana’s remodelled Bavarian Lounge. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

It would seem that it was during the mid-to-late 1970s that the Christiana Inn pool began to be known for belly flop and wet t-shirt contests. In May 1978 Brad Cooper wrote in The Whistler Question that “May 22 at the Christiana Inn will be well-remembered as the day over 20 people attempted to splash the most water out of a pool and live to tell about it.” He described hundreds of spectators crowding the pool area and watching from the roof and gave credit to the Christiana and organizers for a “wild but harmless event.”

The belly flop contest of 1978. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Others did not find these contests quite as entertaining. In a letter to the editor of the Question in June 1979, T. Wood described the awards ceremony of the Great Snow Earth Water Race as “a fiasco at sleazy Christiana with wet T-shirts and belly flops, which require no talent.” They claimed one contestant from the race was even “pushed into the filthy Christiana pool.”

The pool at the Christiana also hosted other events, such as log rolling. Photo courtesy of David Lalik.

In March 1980 rumours claimed that the Christiana Inn had unexpectedly ceased operations, causing the Whistler Rotary Club to lunch at the Filling Station instead. The then-owners of the Christiana, Travelscope Hotels Ltd., reported that the lodge was still operating but that the management company that had been in charge was no longer operating the hotel (it appears that the management had left town while still owing money to their employees). The hotel and bar were still open, though the kitchen was temporarily closed due to a fire in the deep fryer.

The Christiana Inn also hosted the Freakers’ Ball after the first couple of years at the Mount Whistler Lodge. Bramfield Collection.

In May 1980 the Christiana reopened for the summer as the Alta Lake Inn, well-remembered for their restaurant which offered Chinese food and take-out. Later in the 1980s, the Alta Lake Inn closed as a resort and the property was converted into private condos, known today as Whistler on the Lake. Stories of the Christiana Inn, however, continue to be told throughout Whistler. If you have stories you would like to add to our records, let us know at the Whistler Museum.

The staff of the restaurant at the Alta Lake Inn, including Edmond Wong, Law, Tse, Kwang, Gilbert, Peni, Edmon, and Jeannie. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Reporting on Alta Lake

Last Thursday (March 25, 2021) the Whistler Museum’s second virtual Speaker Series took a look at journalism in Whistler since the 1970s.  Our guests Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie, have worked on and founded some of the best known publications in the valley: The Whistler QuestionThe Whistler Answer, and Pique Newsmagazine.  Before we explored recent journalism, we took a look back at earlier sources of news in the area.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933.  Some these students were the ones to start the Alta Lake School Gazette. 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 first source of news published in Alta Lake came from the Alta Lake School in 1939.  Older students at the school created the Alta Lake School Club, which sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette published six issues from February 11 to June 5, 1939, and was staffed by names that may sound familiar: Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland, and Helen, George and Jack Woods.  The stated purpose of the Gazette was “to give a current account of happening each month as seen by its editor and his staff.”  Its column “Local News of Interest” included a mix of opinions, observations, and gossip about the residents of the Alta Lake area and their comings and goings.  The Gazette also included a few pieces about news outside of Alta Lake, such as a boxing match and an editorial on the Canadian Navy, which were most likely put together with information from the radio or The Vancouver Sun, which was available at the store at Rainbow Lodge.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow.  Philip Collection.

In 1958, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began publishing a newsletter to which members and friends could subscribe.  The newsletter went by various names between 1958 and 1961: The Alta Lake Reminder, Community Weekly Sunset, the Alta Lake Echo, and the Alta Lake Owl.  As a community newsletter, it wasn’t necessarily known for its serious reporting but did keep people up-to-date on the travels of residents and frequent visitors to the area, community events such as dances and clean-ups, and the weather.  The newsletter also included a series about the local environment by then-club president Bill Bailiff and an abridged version of Hamlet (sadly, the museum does not have a complete retelling of Hamlet from the ALCC, which appears to be far more humorous than Shakespeare’s version).  In 1961, the newsletter was taken over by the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and then ceased publication.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.  The entire publication was meant to promote Whistler Mountain.

A lot changed in the area between 1961 and 1967, when Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began publishing Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) in November.  Early editions of GWN were put together by Jack Bright and Lynn Mathews, who described the publication as a “good news” newspaper meant to promote Whistler Mountain.  GWN reported on developments in the valley, such as new lodges and businesses, and some years included a column by Ray Gallagher of Brandywine Falls Resort similar to the community news reported in earlier newsletters.  However, as the purpose of GWN was, as Lynn stated, “to get people up that road,” few stories said anything negative about the area and the development happening around Whistler Mountain.

Outside of the Alta Lake area, local news could be found in the newspapers of Squamish.  The Squamish Times, owned by Cloudesley Hoodspith from 1957 to 1992, and the Squamish Citizen (also published by Hoodspith) included Alta Lake/Whistler news, but their primary focus was not on this area.  It was not until the 1970s that the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler would be represented by an official local newspaper.

To learn more about journalism in Whistler from the 1970s to the present, you can find the video from last week’s event here.

Reimagining Hillcrest Lodge

When Hillcrest Lodge first opened for business in 1946 it was not meant to be a year-round operation.  Summers were so busy with regular visitors and guests that Jack and Cis Mansell, who built the lodge with their sons Doug and Loyd, would “say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.”  In October, Hillcrest Lodge closed for the season and Jack and Cis would often leave Alta Lake to spend winters in warmer climes.  This seasonal closure would, however, change in the 1960s.

Hillcrest Lodge, originally built and run by the Mansell family, was renamed the Mount Whistler Lodge under new management soon after Whistler Mountain opened.  Mansell Family Collection.

Jack and Cis retired in 1958 and Doug and his wife Barb took over the management of the lodge.  In the early 1960s Doug and Loyd kept the lodge open on weekends through the winter and even built a small rope tow on the property that they ran for skiers.  In 1965, as the first lifts were completed on Whistler Mountain, Doug and Barb sold Hillcrest Lodge to a group from Vancouver led by Glen Mason.  The lodge’s name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge and, instead of attracting summer guests, was marketed towards skiers.

Mount Whistler Lodge at the bottom of Whistler Mountain in 1972. Mason Collection.

By the winter 1967/68, winter guests could pay $9.50/day to stay and receive three meals at Mount Whistler Lodge (for those who brought their own sleeping bags, the rate was only $8.50), conveniently located only one mile (1.6km) from the gondola.  The lodge also offered entertainment in the form of pizza and music, including a jug band on Thursday nights.

An advertisement from the winter of 1971/72 announced that the lodge was under new management and introduced “The Purple Ski Cabaret,” though it featured few details about what the cabaret included.  Through the early 1970s the Mount Whistler Lodge also marketed itself as “open all year round.”  Its close proximity to the lifts appealed to skiers while the lodge also drew summer visitors with promises of swimming, fishing, boating and waterskiing on four nearby lakes, horseback rides through the valley, and more.

The Whistler Lodge in the Whistler Answer, October/November 1979.  Photo by George Benjamin.

Mount Whistler Lodge also became popular among Whistler area residents.  According to an article from the October/November 1979 issue of the Whistler Answer, Mount Whistler Lodge (which had by then ceased operations) was “quite simply, the best damn boogie, rockin, boppin, rip-roarin, down home, funky, shit kickin place to ever serve a beer.”  The lodge itself was described as “a log cabin right on the lake, with cracked Tiffany lamps and mildew stains on the ceiling.”  The Answer attributed the “looseness” of the lodge between 1973 and 1974 to managers Rob and Jen Houseman, who figured the best way to ensure rules were not broken was to have no rules.  Before it closed permanently in the mid 1970s, Mount Whistler Lodge was even the venue for the first two Freakers’ Balls.

The Answer ended its article by declaring that, “The Whistler Lodge, although closed today, remains one of the few structures today in Whistler that could be labelled heritage buildings.”  Two years earlier, in 1977, Rainbow Lodge had been mostly destroyed by a fire on the other side of Alta Lake and other buildings, such as the Soo Valley Logging Camp and the Alta Lake Community Hall, had already been burnt down.  In 1986 the main building of the Mount Whistler Lodge joined them and was burnt down as practice for the Whistler Fire Department.  The cabins remained for some years, but today few physical traces can be found of Hillcrest or Mount Whistler Lodge.

These steps are one of the few remaining physical reminders of the Hillcrest Lodge and Mount Whistler Lodge.

Taking a Walk with Pip Brock

Mildred and Reginald Brock first visited Alta Lake in 1927 as guests of friends.  Mildred fell in love with the area and the Brock family bought three small lots on the southwest corner of Alta Lake, hiring Bert Harrop to build a cottage that they named “Primrose”.  The Brocks and their five sons visited Alta Lake each summer; it’s likely that their youngest son, Philip ‘Pip’ Gilbert Brock, spent the most time exploring the area.

A young Dave Brock (formerly identified as Pip) atop Whistler Mountain.  Brock Collection.

At the time, there were only two trains from Squamish to Alta Lake each week, though the steamship from Vancouver to Squamish was daily.  Rather than limiting himself to the train schedule, Pip Brock would often choose to walk over 60km to reach Alta Lake.  According to Pip, this walk would take “a long time, about ten hours.”  The boat would reach Squamish around 2 o’clock.  From there, Pip would sometimes splurge for the 50 cent taxi fare to get as far as Cheakeye, but more often than not he and any companions would walk straight to Primrose.  Pip recalled that not many others wanted “to do the walking,” and so he mostly walked alone.

Parts of his route led him down some of the remaining sections of the Pemberton Trail.  In 1992 Pip recalled that “the parts that were there were excellent, but then it would just disappear under rock falls and stuff.”  For other sections of the journey, he would walk along the railway tracks and, if he was lucky, a freight train might come by and give him a ride.

The Brock Family at Primrose, ca. 1930.  Brock Collection.

Once he reached Alta Lake, Pip would spend his time hiking and exploring the area.  One of his favourite hikes was to Russet Lake, still a favourite destination for many people today.  At the time there was quite a good trail on the northside of Fitzsimmons Creek, which Pip thought was most likely built and maintained by whomever was trapping in the area.

Pip’s trips around the area did not end with the end of the summer; he would continue even after the snow fell using skis.  Around Easter in 1933, Pip climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain and skied down, marking the first reported ascent and descent of Whistler on skis, though he later described the department store skis he used as “terrible things.”  Ski touring had not yet become popular among the majority of mountaineers at that time.  Pip said that, “most mountaineers thought that skiing was impure and indecent.  But a few of us, being frivolous, realized the fun and value of skis for winter touring.”

The Brock boys picnicking near Singing Pass, 1930s.  Brock Collection.

Pip and brothers continued visiting the valley even after the tragic death of their parents in a plane crash at Alta Lake in 1935.  In the 1930s Pip began joining Don and Phyllis Munday, legendary mountaineers from North Vancouver, on trips, including an attempt to reach the top of Mount Waddington.  In 1937 Pip and the Mundays skied up Wedge Creek and then skied and climbed up to the top of Wedge Mountain, marking the first ascent of Wedge by skis.  They also made the first ski descent in the Blackcomb backcountry and “skied right up to the source of Cheakamus to Mount Sir Richard.”

Since Pip began exploring the mountains surrounding Alta Lake by ski, ski touring has become increasingly popular.  Today, however, few of those who head out into the backcountry around Whistler choose to begin their trip with a ten hour walk from Squamish.

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.