Tag Archives: Betty Clarke

Grace Woollard at Alta Lake

While some of the stories we hear or read about at the museum provide only a glimpse into the lives of individuals who lived in the Whistler Valley (such as Josef Janousek, the subject of last week’s article), others provide a much more complete picture of an individual or family.  One such individual was Grace Woollard, a nurse who began visiting Alta Lake in the summer of 1912.

When Woollard first came to Alta Lake, there was not train service to travel by, or Rainbow Lodge to stay at.  She traveled first by boat, and then on foot and by horse with two friends, fellow nurse Grace Archibald and her brother Ernie Archibald, who were looking to preempt land around Alta Lake.  The two Graces stayed at a cabin on the east side of the lake, while Ernie stayed at the survey camp of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway on the west side.  This first excursion introduced Woollard to an area that she would continue to visit for the next six decades.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

Woollard grew up in Ontario, where she met and married Frederick Ray.  The two had twin boys, but after the death of Frederick and of both her sons from whooping cough in 1910, Woollard decided to train as a nurse.  By 1912, she was working at the Bute Street Hospital in Vancouver, where she befriended Grace Archibald.

Two years after her trip to Alta Lake, she married Charles Woollard, a doctor in Vancouver.  The pair returned to Alta Lake and bought their own lot, where they had a summer cabin built.  They were not, however, able to spend much time at this cabin.  In February of 1915, Charles joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps and traveled to England.  He was soon joined there by Grace and their newborn daughter Betty.

Grace stands on the path to the cabin during the winter of 1944/45. Clarke Collection.

 

Grace and Betty stayed in England while Charles went on to serve with the Field Ambulance, a mobile frontline medical unit, in France.  The family returned to Vancouver in 1918, where Charles would become the commanding officer of the Vancouver Military Hospital.

When the Woollards did make it back to their Alta Lake cabin, they found it already occupied.  A family, supposedly from Victoria, had a daughter who was suffering from tuberculosis and had moved into the cabin after a doctor suggested the fresh mountain air might benefit her.  Rather than make a fuss, the Woollards let the family keep the cabin and found a new lot for themselves.  They settled in the area known today as Blueberry Hill, alongside friends of theirs, the Clarke family.

Though she did not live at Alta Lake full-time, Grace often found her nursing skills in demand there.  The nearest doctor was usually a day trip away and until 1948 (when a hospital was built in Squamish), the nearest hospital was in Vancouver.  Grace was called on for help in medical emergencies, such as when a woman in labour unexpectedly disembarked from the train at Rainbow Lodge and Grace delivered her twins.  She even gave advice at community events such as dances.

Betty Woollard (left) and her sister Eleanor along the tracks at Alta Lake. Lundstrom Collection

Charles and Grace had two daughters, Betty and Eleanor.  Grace sold their cabin on Blueberry Hill in 1941 and bought a cabin at the south end of Alta Lake to be close to Betty and her daughter, who were living there while Betty’s husband, Douglas Clarke, was away at war.  Eleanor and her husband Maison Philip, (nephew of Alex Philip of Rainbow Lodge) would also stay at that end of the lake.

Though Charles died in 1924, Grace continued to visit Alta Lake until her death in 1969.

Generations of Alta Lake

Though there are some scattered throughout the valley, not many houses in Whistler have been passed down through generations, and fewer can claim to have been occupied by five generations of the same family.  The cabin of the Woollard/Clarke/Bellamy family, is one such home.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912.

Betty Woollard, later Betty Clarke, was the second teacher at the Alta Lake School, replacing Margaret Partridge in 1936.  Betty’s mother, Grace Woollard, first came to Alta Lake along the Pemberton Trail in 1912 with Grace Archibald.  Both nurses in Vancouver, the two Graces came to visit Ernie Archibald (who would later disappear into Alta Lake in 1938) and fell in love with the valley.  After her marriage to Charles Woollard, a doctor, Grace Woollard returned to Alta Lake and the couple preempted a quarter section of land.  Their two daughters, Betty and Eleanor, spent their summers at Alta Lake, along with the Clarkes, family friends of the Woollards who built a cabin on what is now Blueberry Hill.

Betty earned a combined honours in English and History at the University of British Columbia and then attended normal school to become a teacher.  She was visiting her mother at Grace’s cabin in the valley when the search was on for a replacement for Margaret Partridge, the school’s first teacher who had previously been a waitress at Rainbow Lodge, and Betty got the job.

The Alta Lake School where Betty Clarke taught in the 1930s.

Betty Woollard taught at the one room schoolhouse for a couple of years.  While at the school she, like Margaret Partridge before her, was devoted to the students and even went to great lengths to teach the The Sailors Hornpipe, a dance which imitates the life of a sailor and their duties aboard ship.  As her daughter Margaret Bellamy recalled, Betty had to write out the directions for her students but found the only way she could do that was by doing the dance herself.  She would do one step, write it down, do two steps, write down the new step, do three steps, write it down, and so on until she made it through the whole dance.  It took Betty hours and she was completely exhausted.

Betty Woollard (left) and her sister Eleanor along the tracks at Alta Lake.

Both Betty and her sister married men they knew from Alta Lake.  Eleanor married Mason Philip, the nephew of Alex Philip, and Betty married Douglas Clarke, one of the Clarke boys she had grown up knowing.  While Doug was overseas during World War II Betty and her young daughter Susanne bought their own cabin at the south end of Alta Lake.  Betty’s mother, Grace, sold her original cabin and moved to be closer to her daughter.  So far five generations of Betty’s family have spent summers in that cabin, including her mother, her daughter, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.