Tag Archives: Audrey Greenwood

Alta Lake Dances

Before the ski resort brought power and paved roads to the valley, and it was renamed Whistler, Alta Lake was a fairly small and remote town. Without developed roads it could be hard getting around and residents from opposite sides of the valley rarely crossed paths. One thing that would bring the community together, however, was the Alta Lake dances. While the music and location of the dances varied over the years, fond memories are recounted by many people that visited or called Alta Lake home.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods lived in Alta Lake with their children from around 1926 until the 1940s, and during this time their family band was the staple entertainment at dances and community events. Dances featuring the Woods family band helped raise money for the first Alta Lake School, which children Helen, Pat, Jack and Kenneth Woods attended. When the one room schoolhouse was built in the 1930s it doubled as a community hall where regular dances continued to be held.

Pat Woods was quite young when he started playing at the Alta Lake dances with his family. “We used to load the toboggan with the guitars, accordion, and a violin. We’d ride the toboggan down to the dance hall, play crib, then make some music. We weren’t very old then, but everybody was up dancing. We were 9 or 10.”

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers.

Almost everyone was up dancing. School desks were pushed to the side for the dances and really young children would sleep through the event under the desks. The schoolhouse, like most buildings, was lit by coal oil lamps. When the home waltz started and the lamps turned off it was time to bundle up and head home.

Kenneth Farley’s family came to Alta Lake in 1943, after the Woods family band had moved on. “The music was the wrangler,” recounted Kenneth. “Philip’s wrangler looked after the horses. He played a fiddle and he would keep the time with the heel of his cowboy boots to set the pace, while the whisky in his back pocket would be sloshing away. You didn’t need to be able to dance because it was so crowded you could hardly move.”

Alta Lake School doubled as the community hall where dances were regularly held. Philip Collection.

For those living along the lake, the festivities started before arriving at the dance. A boat with an outboard motor would start at the north end of the lake, picking up everyone in rowboats on the way past. By the time they arrived to the dance there would be a long string of boats pulled along behind the motorboat.

John Burge first came to Alta Lake in 1956 and spent the summers here while growing up. Not quite the same as the dances you’ll find at Garfs or The Longhorn today, he remembers learning the foxtrot, waltz, schottische and polka from Florence Petersen. “We just learned all these dances and people did them. It was a fun time.”

John started working at Rainbow Lodge when he was around 13 and after working for five summers he had saved enough money to pay for university. One of his jobs was to wax the floors after the Saturday night dances held in the Rainbow Lodge dining room, which could be attended by up to 100 people. By then Rainbow Lodge was owned by Alec and Audrey Greenwood, who had bought the lodge from Myrtle and Alex Philip when they retired in 1948. The lodge was made of wood and the whole building would dance, with the deteriorating wood floor bouncing up and down as much as six inches as people boogied.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

The Disappearance of Rainbow Lodge

While visiting Rainbow Park, you may have noticed a few old cabins by the railway tracks; these are the last remaining structures of Rainbow Lodge. Opened by Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1914, Rainbow Lodge operated fo decades as a successful summer destination for those looking to fish, sail, hike, and more. The Philips sold their business to the Greenwood family in 1948, who continued to run the lodge until 1970, when they retired to Arizona and sold Rainbow Lodge to Joan Saxton. As Rainbow Lodge at one time included forty cabins, stables, and a store, as well as the main lodge, you might wonder why there are so few buildings left on the site today.

A panorama view of Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s, though the cabins by the lakeshore are difficult to make out. Barr Collection.

In the early 1970s, Rainbow Lodge ceased operating as a summer resort, though rooms and cabins could still be rented out. Then, on April 21, 1977, the main lodge building caught fire. According to the report in the Whistler Question at the time, there were plumbing alterations being done on the upper level of the building and somehow the fire began in the course of this work. Because the plumbing was being worked on, the water to the building had been shut off. The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department arrived at Rainbow Lodge only fifteen minutes after the call had gone out to its members and were able to contain the fire. However, they ran out of water and had to get a pump to supply water from Alta Lake as the nearest hydrant that could fill their tanker truck was at the located on Timber Lane in Alpine Meadows. The fire department was still able to prevent the fire from spreading to most of the buildings on the property but the main lodge and part of the bathroom block were described as “burned out.”

Rainbow Lodge on fire, April 1977. Busdon Collection.

The remaining cabins on the Rainbow Lodge property continued to be lived in by tenants, often younger people working in Whistler, but the main lodge building was not rebuilt after the fire. Ten years later, the municipality announced that it was going to expropriate the Rainbow Lodge property in an effort to increase public access to the waterfront. Their plan was to turn the property into a public park (the Rainbow Park that we have today). At that point, the property had quite a number of the cabins of Rainbow Lodge still standing, many of them along the shore of Alta Lake, and the municipality took over the rental agreements with any tenants.

The result of the fire in 1977. Busdon Collection.

In February 1989, a master plan for Rainbow Park was presented to Council. This plan aimed to “integrate the historical character of the area with recreation.” The central area of the park, including the location of the main lodge building, was to be lest as a seeded grassy area, which would leave open the option of rebuilding the lodge. The plan also suggested building a boardwalk to link the trail that would come through the park with the remaining buildings, which would house concessions. As well, the plan called for the reconstruction of the Bridge of Sighs and the Rainbow Lodge gateway at the park’s entrance.

Though not an exact copy, you will find a similar looking sign welcoming you to Rainbow Park today. Philip Collection.

As Rainbow Park was developed, the Bridge of Sighs and the gateway were rebuilt according to plan. Most of the buildings on the property were removed and three structures were moved further back from the shore. Today, the remaining cabins at Rainbow Park are used to share the history of the Rainbow Lodge property through interpretive panels installed in many of the windows.

Before Opening Day

One of the most-talked about topics in Whistler each November is opening day: when it will be, what the conditions will be like, and how the rest of the snow season looks.  Often this causes us to look back at previous opening days, but this week we thought we’d look further back, and see what the community of Alta lake was talking about 60 years ago, years before lifts started operating on Whistler Mountain.

Alex Philip stands on the snow he’s been clearing from the door. A fascination with snow and weather was just as popular in the early days of Whistler. Philip Collection.

According to the Alta Lake Echo, the (more or less) weekly newsletter of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), those living at Alta Lake in 1959 found the topic of November weather just about as fascinating as we find it today.  The newsletter of November 3 reported clear skies, a brisk north wind, and snow within a couple hundred metres of the lake, with a chance of flurries int he afternoon.  Don Gow was even reported to have said, “This is the year of the big snow.”

The next few weeks didn’t seem quite as promising.  A lack of snow, however, didn’t seem to be as unwelcome as the thawing ice on Alta Lake.  By the beginning of December, there was reportedly “beautiful” ice forming on the lake, but rain and warmer temperatures washed it away with the snow.  This, it would seem, was particularly frustrating for some “would-be skaters who got their Christmas presents early.”

Though ice stock sliding came later in the 1970s, Alta Lake residents spent many winter days out on the frozen lake. Petersen Collection.

Unlike today, when many people arrive for the season in November and businesses are busily preparing for a bustling winter, Alta Lake residents were looking ahead to a slower pace after a full summer.  Rainbow Lodge officially closed for the season soon after the Armistice Day Holiday, and the fishing season would appear to have been finished.  Bill and Phyllis House, who visited Alta Lake each November to fish, determinedly went out in the snow but reportedly caught nothing, a first in 20 years.

Some Alta Lake residents took the slow winter season as a chance to take a holiday, visit friends and family, or even return home after seasonal work, such as Ivor Gunderson who returned to Norway once Valleau Logging ceased operations for the winter.  Alex and Audrey Greenwood, the owners of Rainbow Lodge, left for two weeks to San Francisco, and Russ and Maxine Jordan, the proprietors of Jordan’s Lodge, left to wait out the cold season in warmer climes.

Many of the cottages and lodges on Alta Lake were built for the summer, and were not always winterized to keep occupants warm through the winter. Photo: Mitchell

There were few evening entertainments at Alta Lake once the summer guests left and the days grew shorter.  The ALCC began organizing poker sessions in November.  Participants took turns hosting, and some games were played at the Alta Lake School building.  Though scores and winnings were not printed, the Alta Lake Echo did give a fair impression of how the games went, reporting on December 8 that, “Last week saw a good turnout at Cruickshank’s Casino.  This week, Kelly & Dick [Fairhurst] are going to win their shirts back.  They’ll use their own cars.  Come one, come all…”  Interestingly, these reports were printed in the newsletter’s “Wildlife” section.

We, and many others, are looking forward to a busy winter, but it was not so long ago that winters meant something very different in the Whistler valley.

Honeymooning at Rainbow Lodge

Though built as a fishing lodge, Rainbow Lodge was a destination for more than eager fishermen.  With its location on Alta Lake relatively easy to access, though still feeling remote in the 1950s, it was a popular resort for honeymooners looking to escape life in the city.

Les and Marge Stevens came to Rainbow Lodge on their honeymoon in September 1953.  They later recounted their stay while revisiting Alta Lake and staying with Cloudesley and Dorothy Hoodspith, the publisher of the Squamish Citizen, in 1981.

Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.  Barber Collection.

Les Stevens, an advertising manager for Wosk’s in Vancouver, first visited Alta Lake with his family in the summer of 1944.  His parents had booked a cabin at Jordan’s Lodge for two weeks and Les and his sister spent what he called a “typical holiday” swimming and fishing.  Later, when planning his and Marge’s honeymoon, Les thought of his earlier holiday at Alta Lake and suggested Rainbow Lodge.  The couple enquired with the lodge, looked over their brochure, and made a reservation for the day following their wedding.

The Stevenses made the journey to Rainbow Lodge in the same fashion guests had decades earlier.  They caught the Union Steamship from Vancouver to Squamish and then rode the PGE to the station at the lodge.  According to Les, “The coaches in those days were like old street cars with the wooden slat seats with the flip over backs so you could face either way and for heat they had a potbelly stove at one end.”

The newlyweds were met at Rainbow Lodge by Alec and Audrey Greenwood, who had bought the lodge from the Philips in 1948.  They were assigned Cabin 11 for their stay.  For the next week the Stevenses spent their time boating on Alta Lake and hiking.  They took one day to hike up to Rainbow Falls.  On their way they found a deserted log cabin and spent part of their hike speculating on who had built it.

The entrance to Rainbow Lodge during the Greenwood’s tenure.  Greenwood Collection.

The Stevenses had always planned to return to Rainbow Lodge for a second honeymoon, perhaps inspired by a couple they met during their stay who had come back to celebrate their 10th anniversary.  Unfortunately, by the time they had made it back, much of Rainbow Lodge had been destroyed by a fire.  The Stevenses visited the remaining cabins and even took a photo outside of Cabin 11.  Les claimed that the visit was “like going back in time, because coincidentally the weekend we were there was the weekend of the ’50s dance and everyone was dressed for the period.”

Only some cabins survived the fire, a few of which still stand at Rainbow Park today. Photo by Robyn Goldsmith.

Rainbow Lodge was not the only part of the valley that had changed drastically by 1981.  Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains were both open, the Resort Municipality of Whistler had been formed, and construction was well underway on the new town centre.  According to the Stevenses, not being skiers, they were amazed by all the development.  They claimed that, “looking back it doesn’t seem so long and it’s hard to believe it’s the same spot that 28 years ago seemed so remote.”

The gondola area showing the early arrivals in the parking lot – the Wosk lot is the empty one centre right.  Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

Despite their surprise, the Stevenses were not entirely unconnected to the development in the area.  Their story was found while doing a keyword search of our research files for “Wosk” after reading about a proposed development in the Summer 1969 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News.  Benjamin Wosk, who had built the Wosk department store chain with his brother Morris, proposed to develop a hotel, shopping centre, condominiums, swimming pool, and youth hostels on 40 acres in today’s Creekside.  These plans, however, were never realized.  The area, known as the Wosk lot, was used on and off as a parking lot for the lifts into the 1980s.  As an advertising manager for Wosk’s, Les Stevens’ employers played their own part in the development of the Stevens’ remote honeymoon destination.