Tag Archives: canoeing

Summer and Races at the Whistler Museum

For many, the month of May signals either the end of the ski season or the beginning of the summer season in Whistler, or possibly both. In the 1950s and early 1960s, this change of season was marked by the first dance of the season at the Alta Lake Community Hall. As the area began to be known for skiing rather than its summer activities, other kinds of events became more common such as races and competitions.

Canoeists prepare for their part in the exciting ninth annual Great Snow, Earth, Water Race. Although the weather was great Sunday and Monday, Saturday was a damp one and it actually snowed on Tuesday. Whistler Question Collection.

In May of 1975, Bryan Walhovd organized a race that would become a long-running springtime staple in Whistler: the Great Snow Earth Water Race. When it began, the four stages of the relay race were skiing, cycling, canoeing and running. The teams of five were required to have at least one woman on each team. The race started on Whistler Mountain, where skiers raced to the end of the snow and then had to make their way down to the gondola base in today’s Creekside, ensuring that they still had their skis and boots with them. From there, the baton was passed to a cyclist who rode to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams to pass the baton to the two canoeists. Canoes then travelled across Alta Lake to pass the baton to the team’s runner for the final leg of the race back to the gondola base.

Whenever conversations turn to the Great Snow Earth Water Race, those who have participated invariably describe how much they enjoyed the experience. The first years of the race did not have many rules, leading to inventive ways of getting around the course and memorable stories featuring motorcycles, trucks, and even downloading in the gondola with varying degrees of success. It would appear that the race made a lasting impression on those who attended, whether they were running down Whistler Mountain with ski boots around their neck or watching the chaos of the canoes.

It was no easy task, but for the second year in a row Stoney’s team walked away with first-place honours in the Great Waters Race. (L to R) Dave Murray, Jinny Ladner, Ken Hardy, Lisa Nicholson and Brian Allen. Whistler Question Collection.

To find out more about the race and those who raced in it, the Whistler Museum has added an extra event to our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series this evening (Tuesday, May 25). We’ll be speaking with Bryan Walhovd, Nancy Greene Raine, Trudy Alder, and others to learn more about this race that is remembered so fondly.

While this will be the last event of our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series (we will be hosting April’s postponed event on freestyle skiing at a later yet-to-be-determined date), we are busy at the museum preparing for an exciting summer. Our Valley of Dreams Walking Tour will run daily through July and August, with the same precautions and restrictions that we introduced last year. Crafts in the Park, a partner program with the Whistler Public Library, will also return this summer in a remote format. Thanks to Young Canada Works, we’ll have help with our programs and museum operations in the form of two student employees.

You can find out more about upcoming programs and events and the latest museum updates at whistlermuseum.org.

Canoeing through Whistler’s Past

This evening (Tuesday, July 7) the museum will be hosting our first virtual Speaker Series, an adapted version of the talk and film screening with Mike Stein that we were originally planning to present in March.  Though Whistler is known internationally as a ski resort, the film features a different form of recreation and transportation that is commonly found in the valley: canoeing.

In the 1980s there was even a Whistler Canoe Club, which held races on Alta Lake.  Whistler Question Collection.

Canoeing has a much longer history in the area than snowsports, as canoes are important to both the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations.  The Great Hall of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre features a 40 foot long Salish hunting canoe carved from a single cedar tree which at times is removed from the exhibition and taken on an ocean journey.  Learn more about this canoe and others by visiting the Squmaish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, which reopened last month.

The Whistler Museum also has records of canoes being used to transport people and products around the valley for over a century.

In the early 1900s the Barnfield family established a dairy farm on their property at the northeast end of Alta Lake.  As summer tourism became more popular in the area following the arrival of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in 1914, the Barnfield’s dairy began supplying the lodges and visitors with fresh supplies.  They used a dugout canoe to deliver milk, cream, eggs, news and gossip to the different lodges on Alta Lake.  By 1920 their largest customer was Rainbow Lodge, which had a daily order of 80 quarts of milk, 4 quarts of cream, and 2 quarts of table cream.

This dugout canoe is similar to the one Alfred and Fred would have used. It may in fact be the one they used, but we have no records to confirm or deny that.

Rainbow Lodge itself had a number of boats, including canoes, for guests and staff to use for fishing or paddling down the River of Golden Dreams, one of which now resides in the museum’s collection.  In 2011 the museum, with the generous support of the Province of British Columbia, was able to purchase a cedar canoe bought by Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1916 for Rainbow Lodge.  After the Philips sold the lodge in 1948, Myrtle kept the canoe for her own personal use for the next 25 years.  The canoe and aged and, before coming back to Alta Lake, was restored by Dave Lanthier, an expert vintage canoe restorer and member of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.  The canoe is currently displayed in the Whistler Public Library, as the museum does not have the space to exhibit such a large item.

Myrtle’s canoe, pre-restoration.  The canoe now hangs on the wall of the Whistler Public Library, until such a time as we have space to display it at the museum.

The popularity of canoeing continued even after skiing came to Whistler.  In 1975 canoes represented the water part of the first Great Snow Earth Water Race, with cyclists passing the baton to canoeists who worked their way up Alta Lake to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams, where they handed off to the runners.  From all reports, the canoeing was the most fun for the spectators.  According to Dave Steers, “Most of the teams had members who could tell the front of a canoe from the back.  A few teams didn’t even have that.”  As you can imagine, quite a few canoes tipped and those watching got to see a lot of splashing.

The canoe portion of the Great Snow, Earth, Water Race heads out on Alta Lake.  Whistler Question Collection.

Three years before that inaugural race, Mike Stein, Adolf Teufele, Wink Bradford, Ferdi Wenger, and Jim McConkey set out on their own journey by canoe on the Liard River.  Teufele captured their adventures in the Grand Canyon, a 20 km stretch of the Liard, on 16mm film and the film has now been digitized, edited, and narrated by Stein.  This evening we’ll be hearing from Stein about the film and the journey, as well as screening Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard, via Zoom.  Visit here to learn more about the event and register.

What do canoeing and powder skiing have in common?

With the beginning of the new year, we have been spending some time looking back at what 2018 brought to the museum (new records, new exhibits and many new donations of artifacts and archival materials!) as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Each year January marks the beginning of our annual Speaker Series.  We’re very excited to start off our 2019 series Thursday, January 17 with Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard River.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard River containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike Stein not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the trip.

While looking through a copy of Garibaldi’s Whistler News published three years prior to the trip down the Liard River, I found an article written by another participant in the canoe trip, Jim McConkey.  McConkey came to Whistler Mountain to take up the position of Ski Director in the spring of 1968 and began writing instructional articles about ski techniques for the publication during his first season.  In early 1969, Whistler Mountain received weeks of what he described as “beautiful, deep powder snow.”  This led to “Learning Powder Snow Technique,” an article in which McConkey instructs skiers on the proper way to ski powder.

‘Diamond’ Jim McConkey’s official Whistler Mountain portrait.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article begins by defining true powder snow as “very light snow that flies out from underneath the skis, sometimes bellowing up over the skier’s head.”  Once the skier found the right snow, they also had to ensure they had the right equipment, meaning flexible deep snow skis, with little camber and soft heels.

When the skier was ready to head for the hill, McConkey recommended starting with a long, gently slope to practice the “continuous, flowing motion of linked turns straight down the hill” that is powder skiing.  According to the article, there is no room for traversing a run on a powder day as “traversing like a cautious old woman is Taboo.”

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972 (the same year as the trip).  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The article ends with hints that still hold up well today, such as “establish a rhythm”, “keep your head and shoulders facing down the fall line,” and “keep your feet locked together.”  Especially useful is McConkey’s last reminder:

Be sure to laugh when you take a giant clobber in the deep snow.  You will get your chance to laugh with your friends when they fall.  Powder snow and clobbers too are for everyone.

We may not be able to promise weeks of powder skiing this January, but you can join us at the museum Thursday, January 17 for a unique look back at an incredible journey from 1972.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum; $10 or $5 for museum or Club Shred members.  Doors open at 6:30 pm, the talk and film will start at 7 pm.  See you there!

Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard

Heading through the Liard Canyon, 1972. Photo courtesy of Mike Stein.

In 1972 Mike Stein and five fellow adventurers filmed their journey on the Liard River, which flows 1115 km through parts of the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.  Their trip focused on the Grand Canyon, a 30 km stretch of the Liard containing numerous class IV and higher rapids.  For decades the resulting 16mm film was thought lost, but recently Mike not only found a copy but had it digitized.

Thursday, January 17 Mike Stein will be at the Whistler Museum for the first screening of Highways of the Past and to discuss his own experiences before, during and after the journey.

Tickets are on sale at the Whistler Museum.  $10 or $5 for Museum or Club Shred members.

Doors open at 6:30 pm; the talk and film begin at 7 pm.