Tag Archives: Cis Mansell

Summer Preparations at Alta Lake

With last Friday (June 21) officially marking the beginning of summer, we’ve reached the time when all the plans and preparations for the season come to life.  This change of seasons would have been a particularly busy and expectant time for the residents of Alta Lake in the first half of the 20th century.  Long before Whistler became known internationally as a ski resort, Alta Lake was a popular summer destination that drew short-term visitors and summer residents to join those who stayed in the area year round.

For Alta Lake, summer was the busy season of the year while winters were very quiet. This would change dramatically with the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s. Fairhurst Collection.

Sixty years ago Alta Lake had no local government, no newspaper and certainly no Facebook groups to notify residents of the goings on (official or unofficial) in the area.  Social gatherings and community initiatives were often organized through the Alta Lake School and the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), founded in the early 1930s and 1926 respectively.  When it came to preparing for an eventful summer, the ALCC played an active role in preparations and kept its members up to date on community efforts through its newsletter, the Alta Lake Echo.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow. Philip Collection.

The Echo was published from 1958 to 1961 and ran weekly through the summer months of 1959.  At this time it was edited by Don Gow, who brought a personal touch to the sharing of news, the description of events and updates on comings and goings, seemingly of everyone in the valley – this led to some entertaining issues. (In one issue calling for newsletter subscription renewal, Gow threatened to cut off the circulation or, even worse, “we will print your names in the paper and let everyone know how cheap you are.”)

Members of the Alta Lake community began preparing for summer in May with a dance at the Community Hall to kick off events for those in the area.  Before this could happen members of the ALCC were reminded of a “Hall Clean Up Day,” the main purpose of which was to wash and wax the floor.  Those planning to pitch in were urged to bring their own tools and reminded that “the more who show up the quicker we can get fishing.”

By May preparations and repairs were also also underway at the lodges around Alta Lake as they looked forward to welcoming their first guests.  Jack and Cis Mansell returned from a winter presumably spent in warmer climes to ready Hillcrest for the season, and Russ and Maxine Jordan improved the porches at Jordan’s Lodge.  Smitty and Don (surnames were rarely included in the Echo) had plans to rebuild the Mansells’ raft in front of Alta Lake Station, used to ferry guests across the lake.

The first dance of the season, scheduled to start at 9 pm and end “when we’re dang good and ready” over the May long weekend, was well attended and a good time by all accounts.  While Rainbow Lodge had not yet opened, the other lodges and accommodations around the lake were full.  Though many people returned to Vancouver and other cities after the weekend, the ALCC continued planning events through the month.  Weekly dances and shows were scheduled to begin in June and the annual Fish Derby was set to run from July 1 through September 6.  A $10 prize was on the line for the largest Rainbow Trout caught in Alta Lake “by any legal method.”

This Rainbow Trout came out of Alta Lake in the 1980s but is a good indication of what the Fish Derby was looking for. Whistler Question Collection.

Summer was in full swing by July as families returned to their summer cottages and the lodges were filled with those escaping the city.  Work days such as the “Hall Clean Up Day” would resume in the fall and the lodges might undergo more renovations, but until then those at Alta Lake were too busy enjoying all the area had to offer, and the events they had planned for so long.

The Many Schools of Bev Mansell

With most schools in Whistler just a couple of weeks away from closing for the summer, students in the valley are looking forward to a couple months without homework or classes.

Five schools now operate within Whistler and it’s easy to forget that for many years children living around Alta Lake had to learn from correspondence courses at home or leave their families to attend school in a bigger town.

Alta Lake School opened in the 1930s and was the first opportunity many of the local children had to attend school.  When the Howe Sound School District was formed in 1946 the school closed and local students attended schools in Squamish or Pemberton.  Alta Lake School opened again in 1952 but closed again in 1962.  For one student this last closure was especially traumatic.

Bev Mansell attended Grade One at the Alta Lake School for only one month before it closed.

Beverly (Bev) Mansell, the daughter of Doug (whose parents built and operated Hillcrest Lodge) and Barb (a former Hillcrest guest) Mansell, was born in 1956.  Growing up on the east side of Alta Lake, Bev was isolated from the small number of children living on the west side of the lake and those living at Parkhurst so it’s not surprising that she was pretty excited to start school.

Bev started Grade 1 at the one-room schoolhouse on Alta Lake in September 1962.  At the time the school had ten students.  Disaster struck for Bev at the end of September when one family with four children moved away and the school no longer had enough students to stay open.

With the closure of her first school, Bev was sent to live with her aunt in Vancouver so that she could attend school there.  By this time Jack and Cis Mansell had retired; Bev’s parents were running Hillcrest Lodge and Doug and Barb could rarely get to Vancouver.

Doug and Barb Mansell managed Hillcrest Lodge from 1958 to 1965.

After two years at school in Vancouver Bev returned to the reopened Alta Lake School which once again had the requisite ten students.  She spent Grade 3 through Grade 6 at the small schoolhouse.

In the fall and spring Bev’s trip to and from school consisted of a boat ride across the lake.  When ice started to form on Alta Lake she would be walked around the south end of the lake, always accompanied in case of a run in with a wolverine or coyote.  In the winter, when the ice was thick enough, Bev would arrive at school by snowmobile – much more fun than a bus ride.

Before Bev started Grade 7 the school board decided that she should attend school in Squamish where there were more students her own age.  This lasted for one month before the school board decided to move her to the school in Pemberton.

Bev Mansell rode the school bus to Pemberton until she graduated, as did many students after her.

Luckily for Bev, this was the last move she would have to make during her school years as she continued to attend school in Pemberton until her graduation in 1975.  Students from Whistler continued to attend high school in Pemberton until 1996 when Whistler Secondary School opened, making it possible to graduate in Whistler.

Hillcrest Lodge: Alta Lake’s Other Summer Resort

The story of Rainbow Lodge and the Philips may be the best known, but Rainbow Lodge was certainly not the only summer resort that opened on the shores of Alta Lake.

Dick Fairhurst opened Cypress Lodge, the Harrops had a popular tearoom and across the lake, around where Lakeside Park is located today, stood Hillcrest Lodge.

Guests were met at Alta Lake Station by Rainbow Lodge and rafted across the lake.

Jack Mansell first came to Rainbow Lodge in 1944 and, like Myrtle and Alex before him, was so impressed with the area that he began looking into purchasing the Patterson property across the lake.  Jack sold his three shoe repair stores in Vancouver and moved his wife Cis and their two sons Loyd and Doug in May 1945.

It was not the easiest move for the family.  Cis recalled living in a two-room shack, warming bricks in the oven for heat, and keeping the Christmas tree outside because it couldn’t fit in the shack.  For a family used to plumbing and electricity in the city, life at Alta Lake was a big change.

By January 1946 the entire family was involved in building the new lodge, which was ready to open that July.  The first guests the Mansells welcomed to Hillcrest Lodge were the Right Honourable Mr. Charlie Cockcroft, a politician from Alberta, his  wife and their party of family and friends.  Later guests would include Lady Oslow and Lady Wemise from England.  A reservation was even made by Bob Hope, though his wife became ill and they couldn’t come.

Hillcrest Lodge added cabins, dorms and other buildings as they grew.

Hillcrest grew quickly and had a total of 16 cabins open for the summer by 1947.  During the summer Jack and Cis employed University of British Columbia students and teachers to work in the lodge.  Like many employed in the hospitality industry, Jack and Cis worked hard during peak season.  As Cis put it, “Jack and I would say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.  ‘Cause we didn’t live for ourselves, we lived for that guest.”

Apart from the usual summer activities such as swimming, hiking and boating, Hillcrest also offered their guests organized recreation.  Guests were expected at the main lodge in the evening for masquerade parties and square dancing (lessons included).

Current Hillcrest guests would meet arriving guests in costume. Hillcrest Lodge can be seen across the lake.

The Mansells also organized musical raft rides, kangaroo courts and mock weddings and took part in the Saturday night dances at the community hall.  Arriving guests were greeted at the train station by current guests in costumes and then rafted across the lake.  Though it wasn’t ideal for young families, as there was no beach and only deep swimming off the dock, a regular group of 30 or so “young kids” came to Hillcrest every year and other regulars would come for a week or two throughout the summer.

As they grew up, both Loyd and Doug fell in love with and married Hillcrest guests, Sharen and Barb.  When Jack and Cis retired in 1958 Doug and Barb took over the management of Hillcrest before selling it in 1965.  Eventually, like many other early buildings at Alta Lake, the lodge was burnt down as a fire practice in 1986.