Tag Archives: cooking

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.

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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.”

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Lam Shu and Sam: The Culinary Gods of Rainbow Lodge

Whistler provides more than ample selection in fabulous food – far more than you would find in any other town of 10,000 permanent residents. However this area had a reputation for good food long before anyone had conceived of constructing a mountain village on top of a garbage dump.

Myrtle Phillip was known as an excellent cook – her pies and preserves were legendary.  However, she was not the full-time cook at Rainbow Lodge. When the Phillips ran the Horseshoe Grill in Vancouver, before moving to Alta Lake, Alex Phillip employed a young Chinese man by the name of Lam Shu.  Alex and Lam Shu became friends and when business started booming at Rainbow Lodge, Alex invited the young man to work full-time at the Lodge.

Rainbow Lodge staff with Skookum the dog, approximately 1919. The man in the middle of the photograph is presumed to be Lam Shu.

By 1916 Lam Shu was living and working at the Lodge. It took a few years, but he eventually became a terrific cook and created such desserts at “Divinity Pie” which was made with peaches and a custard meringue.  Visitors flocked to the dining room of Rainbow Lodge for the excellent food to be had.

Lam Shu shown outside Rainbow Lodge in 1926.

During the 1930s Lam Shu went back to China for a visit.   It seems, although it is a little unclear, that when he came back he also brought his younger brother Sam with him.  Unfortunately, Lam Shu also brought back a chronic case of Influenza with him.

Portrait of Sam. Circa 1940.

It appears that by 1934 Lam Shu had permanently returned to China.  However his brother Sam remained at the lodge and was the head cook there until 1948, when the Phillips sold the property.   Other than these few basic details, we know very little about Lam Shu and Sam.

In an interview with Vera (Barnfield) Merchant, the picture of Sam becomes a little clearer. Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge as a young woman from 1934-1936.  During that time she got to know Sam a little.  She remembered that her father, who owned, a dairy farm, would make sure to stop everyday and have tea or coffee with Sam.

In the interview Vera commented on Sam and his cooking “ He was just so loveable…and could he ever cook!  And those cakes he used to bake!” Vera would often sit with Sam for a cup of tea and he would tell her stories of his childhood in China.

Sam always made sure that the staff of Rainbow Lodge could sit down to a plentiful meal after serving the crowded Rainbow Lodge dining room. He would also make lots of special cookies and put them in big metal tins and order the girls to help themselves, which of course they absolutely did.