Tag Archives: BC Rail

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

This Week in Photos: January 25

1979

New signs recently put up in the area of the new Whistler Village by the Whistler Village Land Company.

Powder snow and sunshine – the way it was at Whistler several times during the past week.

1980

Work continues on the town centre buildings despite the snow and cold temperatures.

The new ski shop located in the Roundhouse addition at the top of Whistler.

All that remained of the BC Hydro Ski Club cabin at 7:30 on Saturday morning. Not only was the large cabin reduced to a heap of burning rubble, but the trees in the area caught fire also. Lack of access prevented the Whistler Fire trucks from getting close to the fire.

A group of happy skiers zips down one of the new Blackcomb runs. (Blackcomb did not officially open until the beginning of Winter 1980/81.)

1981

Bob Ainsworth, Whistler Mountain area manager (left), and Peter Alder, Whistler Mountain Vice-President (right), celebrate the first new snow at base level in over a month with the photographer as a target for some hefty snowballs.

Two of many skiers that made use of BCR (BC Rail) passenger service last week.

Volunteers transport federal mail after BCR dropped it at Whistler Station.

An aerial view of the winding Highway 99.

1982

Dogs have been sprouting up all over the place – including this planter at Tapley’s.

Get Lucky! Take a chance like Vicki Larson-Rodgers and Susan Gestrin are! Get your Lot-tery ticket from Rita Knudson who will be selling them in front of the Grocery Store Fridays and Saturdays 2-6 pm and Sundays 1-4 pm. All proceeds go to the Whistler Health Care Society – and you might win a $100,000 lot in Whistler Cay Heights.

Looking as though he is kneeling on his skis, a racer heads through a gate during the recent telemark dual slalom on Blackcomb. For every gate that the racers pass through when not in the telemark position, they are assessed a penalty point.

Jan Holmberg and Ted Nebbeling keep the dough moving at the new Chef & Baker.

1983

A podium finish at the Fleischmann Cup held on Whistler Mountain.

Sue Worden of Body Works puts a group of Corporate Cup die-hards through the paces in Village Square Saturday.

Ah, for the delectable treat of glaced salmon, especially when it’s been served up through two hours of hard work by the Envirocon team during Saturday’s Corporate Cup. This jaunty fellow was the first-place finisher out of 27 entries in the ice sculpture contest.

Here’s a race we can get behind! Inner tube pullers are put to the test in another fun contest – Sliding Inflation.

Does anyone remember the rules for this race? If so, can they please explain?

A more easily recognized competition – a game of volleyball in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

1985

First you pick it up… “Now how do I put this thing on?” wonders five-year-old Troy Hansen-Wight of Vancouver. Young Troy was seen Sunday at Whistler Mountain’s Ski Scamps program trying to figure out just how to fit on a racing helmet – it’s not easy.

Construction continues on the Conference Centre in Whistler Village.

Belly up to the bar, for 2400 shooters at The Longhorn’s Silverstreak party Saturday, compliments of the one and only Silverstreak himself. The lively host picked up the tab, while Longhorn bartenders Delmar Page (left) and Gerry Heiter poured the honours.

Staff at Pemberton Secondary played against the Senior Girls team last Friday and the lunch hour game ended in a 12-12 tie. School board officials expect to replace the gym floor sometime this summer at an estimated cost of between $30,000 and $40,000.

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.