Tag Archives: Alta Lake

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.