Tag Archives: Bill MacDermott

Bill Bailiff’s Records of Alta Lake

Living in a place with such a beautiful landscape, where people spend a lot of time enjoying activities outdoors, environmental concerns are always relevant.  One of the first residents to voice concern for the environment was Bill Bailiff, back in the 1950s.

John William Bailiff moved to Alta Lake from England and lived in the area for 45 years.  Reportedly, his fiancé had died and left him heartbroken, so he picked up and moved to British Columbia.  Bailiff joined a construction crew for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, but in 1913 he had an argument with the foreman over the safety conditions of his work and ended up quitting.  He then moved to settle at Alta Lake permanently.

(L to R) Bill Holloway, Jimmy Fitzsimmons, Bill Bailiff, Bill MacDermott, Alex Philip Sr. and Tom Wilson prepare to head out to Fitzsimmons’ mine, about 1916. Philip Collection.

Bailiff kept a whitewashed log cabin near Mons Creek and Alta Lake, as well as additional shelters at each end of Cheakamus Lake.  He became an excellent trapper and would spend five weeks at a time out in the wilderness.  He also had trap lines in the Spearhead Range and Callaghan Creek areas that he tended to over the winters, snowshoeing between them.  The traps would catch wolverine, mink, marten, lynx, and weasel.  One continual nuisance was squirrels that continued to get caught in his traps.  In 1928, Bailiff caught 28 squirrels, so he froze them and stored them in his woodshed, where they were stolen by a marten and then hidden in a rockslide.

The summers were spent by Bailiff putting in railway ties and clearing trails around the lakes for the government.  He was also a prospector, looking for copper on the Fitzsimmons side of Whistler Mountain.  He and Bill MacDermott were looking for a vein that ran north from Britannia but, despite years of looking, they were never successful.

Bill Bailiff (far left) waits for the train at the Alta Lake Station with a group in 1937. Clarke Collection.

Surviving on subsistence living, Bailiff used any food available.  He was known to make the best bread using potato water and Pip Brock, whose family had property on Alta Lake, said he enjoyed his time with Bailiff “sharing his bottled beer and Blue Jay pie.”

Bailiff was often chosen to be Santa Clause at school Christmas parties and the descriptions people remembered him by explain why he was a clear choice for that position.  Brock said Bailiff “had a large belly which shook when he laughed,” and he was also described as a gentle man with round rose cheeks.

An active member of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) and even president in 1958, Bailiff wrote an ongoing series about the history of Alta Lake and preserving the environment in the ALCC newsletter.  He dedicated his column, which included pieces on geography, forestry, topography and more, to the one room Alta Lake School.

This illustration accompanied Bill Bailiff’s article on black bears in the Community Weekly Sunset in July, 1958.

While describing the topography of the area, Bailiff wrote that “Before the advent of the Pacific Great Eastern Rly in 1914 the only access to [Alta Lake] was by pack horse trail which ran from Squamish to Pemberton through a virgin forest of magnificent timber as yet unspoiled by human hands.”  In the next issue, when discussing progress in the area, he described how the construction of the railway led to the “first despoilation (sic) of the forest.”  He also talked about the Hemlock Looper and other insects that attacked the local trees in the early 20th century, the dangers of human caused fires in the area (including a fire by Green Lake supposedly started by a cigarette butt “thrown carelessly into dry slash”), and the decrease in wildlife sightings as human activity began to destroy habitats.

Although he spent a lot of time on his own in the wilderness, Bailiff was a well known and well liked member of the Alta Lake community until his death later in 1958.

Summer Getaways at Alta Lake

Summertime in Canada, especially for children, is often portrayed as a series of long, carefree days spent exploring the outdoors, playing in and on the water and spending time with friends and family.

While this is certainly not how the season plays out for everyone, the Matheson children of Vancouver would seem to have close to the quintessential summer vacation from 1927 to 1934.

In 2011, the Whistler Museum received an account of their summers at Alta Lake from Betty Jane Warner, the youngest of the three Matheson children.  Every year the Matheson family would spend two months renting one of William “Mac” MacDermott’s three cabins (the same cabins later lived in by Bob and Flo Williamson and the descendants of Grace Woollard).

Alta Lake was an amazing summer retreat for the Matheson children, who spent a good part of the time in and on the lake. Philip Collection.

The final days of June would see Betty Jane, her siblings Jack and Claudia, her mother Violet and, in some years, a maid board the Union Steamship in downtown Vancouver bound, eventually, for Alta Lake.  The family did not travel light – they brought a steam trunk and five bags – but unfailingly, Mac would meet them at the PGE station and see them and their luggage across Alta Lake to what Betty Jane called their “summer cottage”.

This cottage consisted of a sleeping porch, a small sitting area, a kitchen complete with wood stove, and two bedrooms.  Mac provided use of a shared outhouse and woodpile and each of his three cabins came equipped with its own outhouse.

Mac at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. During his time at Alta Lake Mac took many people hiking through the valley and some of his cabins are still standing today. Philip Collection.

As Betty Jane recalled, “We loved Alta Lake and looked forward to our happy times each summer – no matter how basic our living conditions were compared to our city living.”

It’s easy to see why they looked forward to summer.  The three children took walks around the lake picking ripe blueberries, rowed among the water lilies and dragonflies, and joined Mac on treks to Lost Lake and Green Lake where “there were always rotting old logs to climb over and the threat of lots of bees!”

Over the years they got to know their summer neighbours and packed picnics for train excursions with permanent Alta Lake residents.  With the nearest store at Rainbow Lodge, even going out to get groceries could be an adventure.

Baths in the copper tub were reserved for Saturday nights and few days required dressing up.  Once every summer Betty Jane and Claudia rowed up the lake for tea at Mrs. Harrop’s tearoom, requiring them to “shed our blue denim coveralls for something a little more dressy to wear for the occasion.”

Every summer, Betty Jane and Claudia visited the Harrop’s tearoom where they had a floating cottage right on Alta Lake.

The Matheson family chose Alta Lake after their father, Robert, met Mac and the Philips while staying at Rainbow Lodge with Violet and became “enchanted with the area.”

He was unable to join his family in the summers and remained in Vancouver where he worked as an architect.  His firm, Townley & Matheson, designed quite a few buildings still standing in Vancouver today, including Vancouver Motors, the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Point Grey Secondary and Vancouver City Hall.

It was after his death in 1935 that the Matheson family stopped coming to Alta and, according to Betty Jane, “our happy summers came to an end.”

When Trains Connected People to Alta Lake

When Bob Williamson first arrived at Alta Lake (now Whistler) in February of 1930, he found himself in a valley bearing little resemblance to the bustling resort town of today.  Even getting there was a completely different experience.

Bob came to work as a lineman for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, at the time the most common and reliable transportation to and from the valley, or, as Bob put it, “the only means of transportation with the outside world.”

Bob Williamson at work on the transmission lines, well before Alta Lake was able to access the electricity they carried.  Smith Collection.

For most people, travel was confined to four days of the week: north on Mondays and Thursdays, south on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Passengers travelling from Vancouver would leave on a Union Steamship at 9 am and, after switching to a train in Squamish, would arrive at Alta Lake about 4:30 pm.

The view of Brandywine Falls clearly shows the railway bridge which provided a unique view to passengers. Philip Collection.

When Bob’s wife Florence (Flo) joined him at Alta Lake in September, the pair travelled south, leaving their car in Lillooet and taking the train the rest of the way.

During the summer months a couple of special trains were added to the usual schedule.  An excursion train on Sunday ran from Squamish to Alta Lake and back and a Fisherman’s Special headed north to Lillooet on Saturday and back south on Monday.  Later, a third through train was added going north on Wednesdays and south on Fridays.

Today, the only trains that come through Whistler are either freight or the Rocky Mountaineer.  Those that passed through the valley in the 1930s were mixed trains, carrying a combination of freight and passengers.

They stopped at various restaurants along the way, including Rainbow Lodge when heading south, to provide meals for passengers until dining cars were added later in the 1930s.

 

A southbound PGE train pulling in to Rainbow Lodge.  Jardine Collection.

Alta Lake had two railway stations, the Alta Lake Station at Mile 37 and the Rainbow Lodge Station at Mile 38.  Mileages were measured from the Squamish dock, where the railway began (when the railway was extended to North Vancouver in 1956 the mileages were changed to read from there, creating some confusion when looking at older documents).

Bob and Flo rented a cabin from Bill “Mac” MacDermott on the south end of Alta Lake.  As Mac usually rented his cabins out to summer visitors, he had to do a bit of winterizing when the Williamsons moved in year round.

By 1934, with the addition of a generator, a pump for indoor plumbing, a gas-powered washing machine and a propane fridge (possibly Alta Lake’s first refrigerator) Bob and Flo were comfortably settled.

Life at Alta Lake had quiet periods, but Bob remembered some exciting moments as well, one of which arrived on the train from Pemberton.  A woman was on her way to Vancouver to have her baby, but made it only as far as Rainbow Lodge.

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

There she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.  As Bob recalled, the boy was named Philip for Alex Philip and the girl Grace after Grace Woollard, a retired nurse living at Alta Lake who helped with the delivery.

In 1942, Bob and Flo left Alta Lake for Lillooet and a promotion within the railway.  By that time, float planes had started arriving in the valley, but the railway remained residents’ main connection between Alta Lake and the outside world.

Early Dining, Whistler Style

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The first Alta Lake Community Club picnic in 1923 was a chance for residents to share a meal. Photo: Philip Collection

Whistler hasn’t always been a resort town. In the 1920s and 30s, Whistler was a a collection of permanent and part-time residents on the shores of Alta Lake. In those days, storing and preparing food was a little different than it is today. There were no grocery stores- instead, most food and supplies were brought up on a train from Vancouver, that came once every two weeks. Residents depended on this supply train for their meat and other essentials into the 50s. Since the deliveries were so infrequent, the food needed to be well-stored. Florence Petersen and the others living at her cabin, Witsend, kept their meat and butter fresh in a crock- a hole dug in the ground about three feet deep, lined with planking, which kept the food cool and the bugs out in the hot summer. Some residents, such as Bill MacDermott, used an ice box to keep meat fresh. Ice was cut from one of the lakes in February and stored year-round in an ice house, insulated with sawdust. Eleanor Kitteringham, who lived in Parkhurst with her family, remembers using a sawdust-filled root cellar, under the kitchen. “Later on, we got a fridge run by kerosene,” she recalls. “It was beautiful.”

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Canned food kept for long periods and was easy to store and serve- even on top of a mountain. Photo: Carter Collection

The only other ways for families to get their food besides the train were to make it, grow it, or buy local. Trout and salmon could be fished from the lakes, and ducks and deer caught in the woods. Most people kept vegetable gardens, and picked blackberries and blueberries in the summer. Phil and Dorothy Tapley owned a farm on Alta Lake, with an orchard, cows, chickens, and turkeys. As well, Alfred and Daisy Barnfield ran a summer dairy farm, and sold milk to the locals, which Alfred and his son Fred delivered in a dugout canoe. Many prospectors also brewed their own beer.  Like most area mothers at the time, Eleanor Kitteringham baked her own bread, and remembers making ten loaves every other week. She baked it in a big sawdust-burning stove, which used up as many as eight pails of sawdust a day.

myrtle cooking copy

In Whistler’s early days, trail cooking was an important skill. Photo: Myrtle Philip

Some creativity and flexibility were often needed to get everyone fed. Bannock, was a popular food- an unleavened bread traditional to Indigenous people and adapted with the introduction of European flour and cooking tools. The usual recipe required only water, flour, and lard, which could be mixed together and pan-fried for a quick meal on the trail, providing fat and carbohydrates inexpensively and easily.  Both J’Anne Greenwood and Louise Betts Smith, residents of the valley in the 30s, made a buttermilk chocolate cake with sour milk as one of it’s ingredients- a good way to get the most out of your milk, even if it had curdled. Many recipes were also used that worked around the occasional inavailability of eggs and dairy. Edna Stockdale’s Oatmeal Cookies consisted mainly of margarine, oats, and sugar.

Many also employed some unconventional cooking methods, such as Alta Lake resident Kokomo Joe, who was known to make a meal of soup and toast with his airtight heater. He would set the soup on top to boil, and stick the bread to the heater’s sides. You knew the toast was done when it fell off. Says Dick Fairhurst, “A lot of [people] copied him, but we put something on the floor to catch the toast.”

Ice harvest on Alta Lake

Usually, we don’t think about ice very often, unless there’s none in the freezer. The cold, slippery truth is that our local ice deserves more consideration than that. Wrap up warm, and we’ll take you back to the times when the ice harvest was a hard, but fun, event in our valley.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground together with Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Since amenities were few before the 1960s, ice was one of the only ways to keep things cool and food from spoiling. Ice blocks were cut out of the frozen Alta Lake during February, when the ice was thickest. In the 1920s, it would take Myrtle and Alex Philip, the owners of Rainbow Lodge (Whistler’s first resort lodge), about two weeks to get enough ice to last the summer. The ice cutting was very hard work – as one can imagine due to fact that our early settlers had no modern tools. “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw” noted Myrtle on the back of her photos. Blocks were cut out of the chilled Alta Lake, loaded onto a sled, and pulled to an ice house where the blocks were kept to provide refrigeration through the summer months.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A couple of small ice houses dotted the valley’s landscape at this time. Ice houses were double-walled, tightly insulated structures packed with sawdust, capable of keeping large amounts of ice through the warm months. At first, Myrtle and Alex built their ice house near Rainbow Lodge. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled.

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

Of course, the hard work had to be duly celebrated. In her book Whistler Reflections, Florence Petersen, founder of the Whistler Museum, remembers that after the ice-cutting work Alta Lake locals like Alex Philip would gather at the cabin of Bill MacDermott, an American who settled on the south end of Alta Lake in 1919: “His jugs of homebrew would be brought out from under the floorboards to help celebrate.”

Ol’ Mac

Last week’s post profiled a former Whistlerite who came to this valley with dreams of resort development, so I figured I’d switch it up this week and recount the story of a local figure who came here with very different intentions, to escape from the stresses of modernity into a quiet life of mountain-bound solitude.

William “Mac” MacDermott was born somewhere in the American Midwest in 1869 or 1870. We know little of his early life, but his experiences as a soldier during World War 1 eventually led him to the Canadian wilderness. Mac suffered severe injuries while fighting (some Alta Lake contemporaries mentioned that he also suffered from shell shock) and he left the army disillusioned with the senseless violence of modern civilization.

Mac (left) with local guest-lodge owner Russ Jordan and a boy (possibly Russ’s son) near Singing Pass, 1920s.

After the war he spent a brief stint prospecting for gold in the Cariboo before heading back down the PGE railway to Alta Lake, where he settled in 1919. The tranquility of this quiet mountain valley was perfectly suited to his gentle demeanor; Mac made Alta Lake his home for the next 25 years.

He built a handful of log cabins at the south end of Alta Lake, one for himself, the others he operated as rental properties during the summer months. I guess, in a sense,  Mac was a real estate developer too.

Vancouver’s Matheson family spent two months at Mac’s cabins every summer from 1927 until 1934. Betty Jane Warner (née Matheson) was just a young girl during this period, but in correspondence with the Whistler Museum from June of 2011, she vividly recalled those action-packed summer getaways.

We children thought [Mac] was wonderful, truly a favourite of ours and we would visit him often in his cabin. He played the juice harp, smoked a lot, was a great spitter, swore and turned his flapjacks by tossing them sky-high, hitting the ceiling and miraculously catching them back in the pan. A marvellous feat… He was a great hiker and would take [Matheson siblings] Jack, Claudia and me on many treks to Lost Lake and Green Lake.

A lifelong bachelor, Mac endeared himself so much with the Matheson family that he would often trek down to the city during the winter holidays, which could be quite cold and lonely up in the mountains. As Betty remembers

We would pick him up at the Abbotsford Hotel on Pender Street… He would always present each of we three children with one green dollar. There was no better gift or more welcome guest around our festive table than to have Mac join us for Christmas Day.

While beloved by children, other Alta Lake locals recall Mac’s cabin as a preferred spot for some of the men to “get away from the wives” for a few hours. On one occasion, Some of Alex Philip’s Vancouver friends were having such a good evening that they didn’t want to get back on the train to head back to the city, even though they had to work the next day. Knowing the PGE wouldn’t let them on the train soaking wet, the two men accidentally “fell” into the lake. Now stuck at Alta Lake, the men had no choice but to return to the party.

Ice-cutting day was an Alta Lake February tradition (ice blocks were cut out of the lake ice to provide refrigeration in insulated through the summer months), and after the work Alta Lake staples like Alex Philip and Bert Harrop would come over to enjoy some of Mac’s popular homebrews.

Aside from managing his cabins, Mac supported his simple mountain lifestyle with a variety of casual jobs; carpentry, building rowboats, and trapping, but it as a guide for work crews and hikers heading up into the mountains that he is best remembered.

Mac (2nd from left) with a crew of men helping Jimmy Fitzsimmons set up a load of dynamite to be hauled up to Fitzsimmons’ copper mine on the north flank of Whistler Mountain, circa 1919. The creek that they followed to get to the mine is known today as Fitzsimmons Creek, which runs along the edge of Whistler Village and provides the hydro-electricity for Whistler-Blackcomb mountain operations.

Mac’s stamina and enthusiasm on the trail were renowned among locals. Bob Williamson recalled how Mac would brew extra-strong tea to keep energy levels up ( “Awful tasting stuff” Bob remembered), and when that wouldn’t suffice, he’d engage in some “verbal coaching”: “holy ol’ moccasins can’t you climb that little bit?’ he’d shout. Everybody loved Mac.”

Mac’s favourite destination was up the Fitzsimmons Valley along the  Singing Pass Trail. In the sub-alpine meadows there was an old trappers’ cabin maintained by Mac and fellow Alta Lake mountain man Billy Bailiff, which they used on overnight hikes towards the larger peaks at the back of the Fitzsimmons Range.

In the Whistler Archives we have a great collection of photos from a 1928 hike that Mac took with Myrtle Philip, and two of her young staff from Rainbow Lodge, Lena Hanson and Mollie Stephenson.

Mac with Lena Hanson and Mollie Stephenson at the Singing Pass trapper’s cabin (photo by Myrtle Philip), 1928. The Seventh Heaven ski area and Blackcomb Peak are visible at far right background.

 

Inside the cabin.

After spending a night at the cabin, they headed up over Cowboy Ridge to Fissile (then known as Red Mountain).

Mac and the girls snow-climbing on the flanks of Fissile Mountain, during the same 1928 hike.

This was exactly the life that Mac had envisioned when he first escaped to this remote Canadian outpost. He stayed on at Alta Lake until his death in 1946 at the age of 76.

Back to School!

With calendars flipping over to September one thing immediately comes to mind… Back to School! (some might disagree with my choice of punctuation there). Those who dread the end of summer freedom and the return of classrooms, homework, and detention might be surprised to read how, by most accounts, local children were excited by the arrival of the first Alta Lake school (if only because it meant a break from their endless chores).

In the decades following the construction of the PGE railway through the valley, a full-fledged community emerged at Alta Lake. By 1930 there were a dozen school-aged children who lived at Alta Lake year-round. Myrtle Philip began lobbying the provincial government for funds for a new school, but Alta Lake was deemed too small and remote so local residents were forced to take it upon themselves.

A local school committee was formed. Minutes from a November 12 1932 meeting record how Myrtle Phlip, Bill Bailiff, and Bob “Mac” MacDermott were elected as the Alta Lake School Board of Trustees, and that their efforts had been officially recognized by the Provincial Department of Education. Almost immediately the community set about renovating a room at the near-abandoned Alta Lake Hotel near the south end of the lake where the first classroom sessions were held.

At that point there was already a fledgling Alta Lake community club which had a few hundred dollars saved up. It was decided that these funds would be put towards the construction of a dedicated schoolhouse/community centre. The $1500 structure (1930s figures) was completely funded and built by local residents.

Raising a flagpole outside the school, 1935.

Margaret Partridge, a 21-year old from Vancouver, was hired to be the first teacher, lured away from the big city with the promise of an extra $10 per month from regular teacher’s wages. By all accounts she did an excellent job juggling the varying ages, grades, etc. It should be noted that in its inaugural year this was the first day of school for all the children, regardless of age. Still, as Myrtle proudly reported, every single student from those early days went on to study at least at the high school level after graduating from Alta Lake.

Group portrait of the entire Alta Lake Schol 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.

The new schoolhouse was completed in 1934. For the next twelve years children trekked from all over the valley to learn the 3 R’s, but also about healthy living: report cards from that era stressed the importance of sleep, a healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, and, most importantly, lots of outdoor play in the fresh air (as if this needed stressing back then!)

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse, ca late 1930s.

The school closed temporarily in 1946 when the regional Howe Sound School District was formed. Then local kids went to Squamish or Pemberton, until 1952 when local children had their own school at Alta Lake again. For the Kitteringham boys of Parkhurst mill (more on them next week), school was an eleven-hour day, beginning with a tugboat ride down Green Lake at 6am – sometimes a 12-year-old Jim drove and docked the boat himself — followed by a 2 mile-trek to school. A ride on the northbound PGE was hitched at 5 pm, getting them home just in time for dinner (and doubtless a bunch of chores).

The schoolhouse doubled as a community centre where regular dinners and dances were held.

Despite never having children of her own, for nearly four decades Myrtle Philip was a dedicated school board trustee. In recognition of her efforts, when a larger school was built in 1977 (near today’s Cascade Lodge at the Village Gate), it was christened Myrtle Philip Community School. Myrtle recounted that she was uncharacteristically speechless, and that it was the greatest honour of her life.

Myrtle Philip (left) at the 1977 opening ceremony of the first Myrtle Philip Community School.

By the 1990s it was evident that the Whistler Village location was less than ideal for an elementary school, and so it was moved to its present location in Whistler Cay. True to our inaugural school, today’s Myrtle Philip school also doubles as a community centre.