Tag Archives: British Columbia

Hippie style of smokin’ salmon

You may think that a fridge is only used for conventional things such as keeping cucumbers, Coca-Cola, and beer cool. However, there are many other uses for old refrigerators. In the museum, we have a fridge that serves as a chronological monument documenting Whistler life from the beginnings of our ski town to the famous destination resort it is today. Gordy Harder’s fridge truly is a tribute to the spirit of the early ski bum – and, of course, “stickermania” at its best.

Bruce Prentice and Bob Sanderson (r.) smoking and hanging fish. Whistler Museum, Benjamin collection, early 1970s

One more purpose of a fridge is – believe it or not – salmon smoking. In the early 1970s, this old fridge actually garnished the backyard of the Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, a property which is now owned by Roger McCarthy. Back then, using an old fridge was a common way of smoking a fish or meat, remembers long-term local and president of the Whistler Museum, John Hetherington.

Someone would get an old fridge from the dump, cut a hole in the side for the stovepipe leading from an airtight stove, and light a fire. An airtight was a cheap heater stove made of a sheet of metal, he recalls. Ask Bruce Prentice or Bob Sanderson. Maybe they will share their fridge construction plan for the white dragon with you. Enjoy!

What is “round” about the Roundhouse Lodge?

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the

Simply stunning: Aerial view of the “flying saucer-shaped” original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1967

Have you ever sat at the Roundhouse Lodge and — while munching a delicious burger — asked yourself why this light-flooded but pretty square-cut, mid-mountain venue is called “Round”-house?

Here is the answer to the brain-twister: Today’s Roundhouse Lodge had a much smaller, flying saucer-shaped precursor that perched atop Whistler Mountain just across from where the Valley View Room is located today.

When Whistler Mountain opened in January 1966 there was no cafeteria. In the first season, hot drinks, soup and sandwiches were served off a picnic table using a Coleman camp stove in the so-called Red Shack at the top of the Red Chair.

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1966

Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, summer 1966

The original Roundhouse was built in the summer of 1966 and opened in the following winter. It was a copy of a building in California and was designed as a warming hut with a huge fireplace in the middle where the skiers warmed their feet. No food or washrooms were in the design for the original building. Back then, Skiers couldn’t use inside toilets, only outhouses on the hill below the Roundhouse. John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum and ski patroller in the late 1960s, remembers that part of their job was to shovel out and clean the outhouses. “Ugly job” he says.

Early plans for the original Roundhouse. Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

Early plans for the original Roundhouse: Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s

The ironic truth is: They built the Roundhouse on a large rocky knob that wooed them with a magnificent all-round view but then left them high and dry. They couldn’t find any water on that knoll. Two hydraulic engineering companies were engaged to study the area – without any success.

They were so desperate that they brought up a professional water dowser from Vancouver Island. Hugh Smythe, a teenage ski patroller at that time who went on to become the CEO of Blackcomb Mountain and all of Intrawest, remembers actually being with the dowser when he located the water which was one year after the original Roundhouse was built. “We found a number of locations but the best was just below where the Peak2Peak terminal is now” he recalls.

The dowser wandered around for a while. Just beside the Roundhouse his willow stick bent down like crazy, and he declared that there was running water about 30 feet below. The next spring they brought up a company with a water drilling rig. And guess what? They really found water. Relieved, a pump was sunk that brought up enough running water for the kitchen and the toilets of the Roundhouse.

The old Red Chair. In the back is the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

The top of the old Red Chair with the original Roundhouse in the background. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s

In the following years, there were constant renovations done on the building. When first built, the Roundhouse stood on posts with the wind blowing freely beneath the building, making it almost impossible to heat. One of the major alterations was digging out and enclosing a lower floor. Indoor toilets were installed. The fireplace was removed to make room for a kitchen. They wired the place for electricity, and installed a large diesel generator in the basement which was stolen during a later winter in the 1970s, remembers John.

Finally, in 1998 the original Roundhouse was replaced by the new palatial building. Though, the original Roundhouse hasn’t disappeared entirely. Pieces of it became part of the wall of fame in today’s Roundhouse.

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl

Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl

A dream job you probably didn’t know existed

Alpine caretakers recall their stories from above the tree line.

It’s a stormy January evening in 1987. At the top of the Red Chair (also known as Tower 18), an empty chair swings around the bull wheel, its weight rocking it back and forth before propelling it back down the mountain. It disappears quickly into the blinding snowstorm. 23-year-old Janet Love Morrison picks up the phone, and calls the mid-station: “Last chair arrived, number 62, we’re clear.” She hits the red button and steps out of the shack. It’s 5:30 p.m., pitch dark. Now that the last person has downloaded, she zips up her coat a little higher, steps off the ramp and heads for the Roundhouse. She locks the front doors up for the night, questioning the necessity. By day the restaurants are filled with thousands of skiers; by night the high plateau belongs to the packer drivers, her, Gordy Rox Harder and a few ravens.

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

There is nothing as stunning and peaceful as living in the mountains: The view from Janet’s and Gordy’s kitchen in the Alpine Service Building was unrivalled. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

In the late 1980s, Janet and Gordy lived as alpine caretakers on top of Whistler Mountain for almost two years. Clearing the Red Chair lift was one part of their unique and – as one can imagine – very coveted job. Gordy earned his salary as a carpenter and Janet got paid eight dollars an hour, free rent, hydro, and ski passes. Priceless, of course, are the moments when they were the only souls in their mountain kingdom, enjoying V.I.P. seats in front of the afterglow scenery while the whole valley was in the shadow yet. They also had the best opportunities to ski fresh powder. Janet remembers that she sometimes would ski to the valley as soon as it was light: “The valley gondola opened at 7 a.m. to upload staff and I would get in a couple of alpine to valley runs in complete aloneness.”

Home of the three musketeers: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Schoki patrols, and makes sure that everything is in order on top of Whistler Mountain. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Gordy and Janet’s home on top of Whistler Mountain: the Alpine Service Building with the Little Red Chair. Photo courtesy: Janet Love Morrison, Gordy Rox Harder

Janet and Gordy remember that getting groceries was always an interesting affair. In between them and the grocery store in the village, there was a 45-minute trip up the four lifts from the village to the top of the mountain. “We never wasted a trip, every time we were in the valley we’d bring something up” they recall. If they had been done a big shop in Squamish everything was loaded onto the Creekside Gondola, and then offloaded at mid-station and reloaded onto the Red Chair. “One of us would go ahead on the Red Chair, while the other loaded numerous milk crates full of our groceries. Who ever got off at the top would unload the crates. Then we would ski them over to our apartment.”

The position of alpine caretaker first began in 1978 with the completion of the Alpine Service Building close to the top of the Red Chair. In 1987/88, there were actually three teams sharing the positions: Gordy and Janet lived in the alpine (2,100m); their neighbours Laird Brown and Colleen Warner lived at mid-station (1,350m); and Sandy and Molly Boyd lived in the valley (650m). In the summer of 1988, the Express Lift was installed from the village to the alpine, and the position was terminated. The mid-station position remained for another winter, and the valley caretaker position until 1992.

A Prime Minister in love

Throughout the decades, the grandeur and excitement of Whistler has inspired a lot of couples to spend their honeymoons at our beautiful valley hideaway. Roots of Whistler’s honeymoon history date back to the 1920s when Rainbow Lodge was one of the main destination accommodations for newlyweds on the west coast. Alex Philip, proprietor of Whistler’s first lodge, would paddle honeymooners down the River of Golden Dreams in a large canoe, often by moonlight, where they could snuggle up and soak in the valley’s natural beauty.

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After an afternoon of skiing, the Prime Minister and his bride attended the Sunday Catholic service in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection.

The most famous honeymooners in Whistler are undoubtedly former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his bride, Margaret. Pierre Trudeau was a 48-year-old bachelor when he became the Prime Minister of Canada in 1968. In March 1971, the hearts of many Canadian women were broken upon the announcement that Trudeau had married 22-year-old ‘flower child’ Margaret Sinclair. They surprised the media with their secret wedding in Vancouver, and afterwards drove directly to Whistler for a three day stay. Here, the newlyweds took a skiing honeymoon, media in tow, with everyone excited about the refreshing hipness of Canada’s First Couple.

Clearly, such esteemed guests required ‘above-and-beyond’ service. So, Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain, and Jim McConkey, Whistler’s prominent ski school director, served as the newlyweds’ personal ski instructors during their stay.

“Ski conditions were excellent during their stay with snow falling all three days.” proudly reported Garibaldi’s Whistler News in their spring issue of 1971. The photo shows Area Manager Jack Bright, flowed by Margaret Trudeau and the Prime Minister ski down the Red Chair run. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

“Ski conditions were excellent during their stay with snow falling all three days.” proudly reported Garibaldi’s Whistler News in their spring issue of 1971. The photo shows Area Manager Jack Bright, flowed by Margaret Trudeau and the Prime Minister ski down the Red Chair run. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

The couple stayed at the Sinclair family condo in the Alpine Village complex near the base of the lifts. “This was the second ski holiday at Whistler for Mr. Trudeau” proudly reported the Garibaldi’s Whistler News later in their 1971 spring issue, including three pages of colorful, side-filling photos of the couple. The news also commented on the couple’s ski skills: “Mrs. Trudeau is a good and stylish skier who is able to keep up with her husband. At one point during their stay at Whistler, Trudeau announced that his wife was a better skier than he is. ‘It’s not true, it’s not true’ she laughed.”

Mrs. Trudeau, the former Margaret Sinclair of West Vancouver, had a season’s pass at Whistler and skied the mountain many times before her marriage. This photo shows her skiing with Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

Mrs. Trudeau, the former Margaret Sinclair of West Vancouver, had a season’s pass at Whistler and skied the mountain many times before her marriage. This photo shows her skiing with Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

Victor Irving, a RCMP officer in charge of the Prime Minister’s security at that time, shares a sweet anecdote of the Whistler honeymoon in the book Pierre: Colleagues and Friends Talk about the Trudeau They Knew. He remembers to drive the Trudeau’s to the Sinclair condo in Whistler after the secret wedding which was by then no secret anymore. “The next morning I received a request from them for ice cream and all the Vancouver papers. I delivered these, leaving the happy couple kneeling on the living-room floor reading the papers. (Pierre still owes me $5.75.) “

Margaret included this photo of her honeymoon in her memoirs Changing My Mind and noted: “Both athletes, we chose to spend our first day of marriage skiing at Whistler.” Source: Changing My Mind by M. Trudeau, Harper Collins Publishers

Margaret included this photo of her honeymoon in her memoirs Changing My Mind and noted: “Both athletes, we chose to spend our first day of marriage skiing at Whistler.” Source: Changing My Mind by M. Trudeau, Harper Collins Publishers

Also, Margaret remembers that first honeymoon morning in Whistler in her memoirs Changing My Mind: “We were woken next morning at 6:30 a.m. by the telephone. The queen was calling to congratulate Pierre; she had got the time difference wrong. Later came a telegram from the president of the United States, Richard Nixon. Scary, but also the stuff of fairy tales.”

Looks like, when it comes to fairy tales, our enchanted Whistler is the right place to be.