Tag Archives: Don MacLaurin

A Glimpse into the Don MacLaurin Collection

As with many newcomers, I only know the basics of Whistler’s history when I moved here, and I hadn’t even though about the influence forestry has had – and still has – on the community, development, and economy of the area.  I have been working on the Don MacLaurin archival collection for the past few months, and it has shown me an important side of Whistler that I may not have discovered otherwise.  I know more now about forestry and sustainable ecology than I ever could have imagined, and it’s becoming very clear to me just how much MacLaurin and the rest of Whistler’s fantastic long-term residents have shaped the way the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has developed.

For those of you who don’t know, MacLaurin was instrumental in the promotion of sustainable forestry and recreation within the RMOW and the Sea to Sky corridor.  He spent many years – decades, in fact – working on the development and maintenance of the Whistler Interpretive Forest, from creating interpretive signs and self-guided tour pamphlets, to organizing the installation of a suspension bridge over the Cheakamus River.  That suspension bridge is now known as MacLaurin’s Crossing in his honour.

Members of the Whistler Rotary Club working to fill remaining orders are, left to right: Bill Wallace, Don MacLaurin, Bob Brown, Paul Burrows, Richard Heine, Brian Brown, Sid Young and a visiting Rotarian from New Zealand. Whistler Question Collection.

MacLaurin also acted as a consultant for many other projects in the region, and was very involved in the Whistler Arbour Day Committee during the 1990s, which was responsible for organizing tree planting events and other environmental awareness activities during National Forest Week.

I could go on listing MacLaurin’s many accomplishments, but there’s not enough room for that in this article.  These are only a few of the many roles he took on (the entirety of his résumé could fill a very interesting book, I’m sure) and the documents in his archival collection are a brilliant, detailed illustration of his extensive involvement.

Among the donations from the MacLaurins over the years are a series of photos of the “highway” between Squamish and Whistler around 1959. MacLaurin Collection.

Archival collections (and donations to the archives, of course) are extremely important in the preservation of a community’s history, especially in a place as flowing and dynamic as Whistler.  Collections like MacLaurin’s are an invaluable resource for researching the industries, events, and programs that have influenced Whistler, even in recent history.

As of 2017, 23 per cent of British Columbia’s exports were forestry-related, so the documents in this particular collection are not only invaluable to the history of Whistler, but they also provide an important insight into the history of the province.  MacLaurin’s collection is a wealth of information on sustainable forest management that will aid forestry researchers for decades to come, and this is only one of the many magnificent collections housed within the Whistler Museum and Archives.

Don MacLaurin, Isobel MacLaurin and friends hiking in the mountains. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

If you’re interested in learning more about MacLaurin and his dazzling wife, Isobel, I would highly recommend checking out Pique’s online articles, as well as articles on this blog and the Arts Whistler website.  They are easily accessible through a search on each organization’s website, and paint a beautiful picture of these lovely Whistler locals.

Hailey Schmitke is the current Collections Coordinator summer student at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She recently received a Bachelor of Arts from Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Archaeology and Religious Studies.

Driving the Sea to Sky (when it was mostly dirt)

If you’ve ever taken a look at the Whistler Museum’s YouTube channel you might have seen a short film from the Petersen Film Collection that features the drive to Whistler in 1958.  The footage makes it clear that the drive was an interesting one, full of steep hills, narrow roads and bumpy track.  At one point the car obviously overheated, a problem solved with the help of a nearby river.

The footage from the Petersens is only one account of coming to Whistler by car when the area was still known as Alta Lake.  Another well-known figure in Whistler, Don MacLaurin, also made the journey up the “highway” in 1958.

At the time Don was working in the forest service and was part of a cruising crew staying in Pemberton (cruising crews measure volume and quality of timber before it is harvested).  In a 2007 with John Hammons and Karen Overgaard, Don shared photos of his trip that are now part of the Whistler Museum archives.  As Don recalled, it took “two crews, two land rovers, winches, prayers and eight hours to go from Squamish to Pemberton.”

The road through the Cheakamus Canyon. MacLaurin Collection.

One shows a portion of the original road through the Cheakamus Canyon.  When asked to describe the drive, Don chose the word “precarious.”  The one-way road had a cliff on one side and, according to Don, “logs cabled through the road into the cliff… trying to hold the road in.”  Another photo shows a cable running back to a land rover.  It was a good thing the crews had two, as one would frequently be used to pull the other out when stuck.

A land rover is pulled up the road by another land rover – it’s handy to have two. MacLaurin Collection.

The road through what is now the Tapley’s Farm neighbourhood (and at the time would have been around the actual Tapley’s Farm) was “very, very wet and very soft and you were lucky to get through that as well.”  Once past Alta Lake the crews still had to get past what they called “suicide hill” which was located “under the power lines on the railroad side of Green Lake when you made the descent back down to the Green River.”  With a “so-called road” and “baseball-sized boulders” it’s no wonder Don described that section as “very, very tricky.”  Despite these challenges, the crews did eventually make it to Pemberton.

The “roads” in Whistler. MacLaurin Collection.

This was not the first time Don had come through the Whistler valley.  In 1951 he travelled through on the PGE on his way from Quesnel to Vancouver.  By 1961, when he returned with Isobel and a couple of neighbours, there was still no dependable road, and certainly not one that could sensibly be used in the winter, so again they came by rail.

Going through the Cheakamus Canyon on the PGE. It still has quite the drop. MacLaurin Collection.

By 1964 visitors to Whistler could come along a gravel road called Highway 99.  Two years later Highway 99 was paved from Squamish to Mons Station and to Pemberton in 1969.  With changes made over the decades and work done prior to the 2010 Olympics, the road Don, the Petersens and others travelled in 1958 is almost unrecognizable in the road we travel today.

The Origins of Whistler’s Interpretive Forest

After the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway in the fall of 1914, logging and other industrial activities started to develop in and around the Whistler Valley.

Logging was a vital industry in the Whistler area throughout the 20th century and evidence of its impact can be found throughout the valley, from the abandoned Parkhurst logging town on Green Lake to various patches of forest in different states of regrowth.

The forestry industry has a long history throughout the Whistler valley and many of the valley’s early settlers worked in logging. Photo: Fairhurst Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest, located off Highway 99 adjacent to Cheakamus Crossing, was created in 1980 as a joint project between the British Columbia Forest Service and Pacific Forest Products Ltd. to provide forest interpretation and education opportunities while demonstrating integrated resource management.  The area is approximately 3,000 hectares.

The earliest logging in the Interpretive Forest began in 1958 and continues into present day.  The area now consists of old growth stands plus a variety of plantations of differing ages.  The Forest Service manages this area to provide benefits for large numbers of people with diverse interests.  Many things are considered in planning for human needs in the forest: hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, biking, as well as continued logging operations.

This photo was taken by Don MacLaurin during his time working in BC’s forestry industry. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

The Whistler Interpretive Forest became part of the Cheakamus Community Forest (33,000 hectares) in 2009.  The Community Forest is managed under an ecosystem-based management approach and run jointly by the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and the Ministry of Forests.  This means that indigenous flora and fauna are given a chance to flourish and recreational opportunities and expand, while new sustainable forestry practices are explored and refined.  Under this management regime, an average of 40 hectare per year is harvested.

The area has become a favourite amongst locals and tourists, with many of Whistler’s most popular trails located in the area.  The trail network includes the Riverside Trail, which explores the Cheakamus River with the help of the MacLaurin Crossing suspension bridge.

Don MacLaurin, Isobel MacLaurin and friends hiking in the mountains. Photo: MacLaurin Collection

The bridge was named after Don MacLaurin, a local forester who helped develop, map and design the area to help people understand the forest and its importance.  Other popular trails include the Loggers Lake Trail, which climbs a rock bluff to a hidden lake and a wooden pier, and the Cheakamus Trail, which wanders through the forest to the glacier-fed Cheakamus Lake.

Scattered amongst the roads and trails in the area are interpretive displays about the local flora, fauna, geology and logging history, along with details about the forest types of the region and the replanting techniques used in the Interpretive Forest.

Peter Ackhurst and John Hammons at work in the Whistler Interpretive Forest.

The Whistler Rotary Club, with financial help from the Community Foundation of Whistler, have been updating the interpretation displays and signs in the Whistler Interpretive Forest over the past two years, as many have fallen into disrepair.  The Whistler Museum has been a supportive partner in this project, helping with the design and, at times, installation of these new signs.

More information on this project can be found at: cheakamuscommunityforest.com.

Whistler Forest History Project

A few weeks ago we posted about Whistler’s Wildfire History. That post included a time-lapse video that showed the impacts of wildfires on the regional landscape, by decade. The video was produced using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data that had been compiled by the Whistler Forest History Project (WFHP), and we figured that we might as well dedicate a whole post to the WFHP, explaining in more detail what this really important initiative was all about.

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The Parkhurst logging settlement on Green Lake was one of the largest forestry operation in the history of the Whistler Valley.

The WFHP was a project undertaken to develop a comprehensive understanding of landscape change in the Whistler Valley since 1914, from causes such as logging, urbanization, wildfires, and more. Using aerial photographs, historical maps, archival sources, oral interviews, and more, a GIS database tracking this landscape change was produced thanks to the extensive volunteer efforts of three Whistler residents and professional foresters: Don MacLaurin, RPF ret., Peter Ackhurst, RPF and John Hammons, RPF, ret. The project was administered by the Forest History Association of British Columbia and the Whistler Museum, and funding was generously provided by the Community Foundation of Whistler’s Environmental Legacy Fund.

 

Here’s a short video summarizing their work and their findings:

This information provides important information for environmental and planning professionals, as well as serving broader educational purposes for the general public about landscape change. We’ve already used it as the basis of a few blog posts and research projects, and will continue to do so in the future.

Next time you walk through the woods, try to guess the age of the trees you are walking past, and reconstruct the history of the forest!

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Using the information in the WFHP database, we were able to discover that this undated photo was from the early 1940s.

Painting the Past – Artists History

Whistler is home to a variety of artists working in many different mediums. Many of the artists throughout Whistler come from all over the world but all of them now call this beautiful area home. The variety of artists include photographers, fine artists, sculptors,  digital artists, artisans, illustrators, and more, and are spread out all over the valley. There are hundreds of artists with different styles and who work in different mediums so you can find almost any type of art being produced in Whistler.

The most commonly celebrated theme, however, is easily the scenic views and beautiful nature that can be found all around the Whistler area. Whether artists literally depict scenes from the landscape or merely take influence from them, the natural wonder of Whistler has not escaped the artists who call this place home. As well, many of these artists have been featured in places outside of Canada not just outside of Whistler.

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Isobel sitting in her hand-painted coffin.

The first well-known artist in Whistler is Isobel MacLaurin. Her and her late husband Don have called Whistler their full-time home for more than 30 years (and a part-time retreat for decades before that) and they saw the town grow into what it is today, all while Isobel helped the art scene in Whistler get on its feet. In the days before the creation of the Whistler Arts Council (now known as Arts Whistler) Isobel was the only professional artist in town. That meant she was asked to do a lot of work for the mountains, which included signs that are still on the mountains to this day and all of which were painted by hand in Isobel’s studio.

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Isobel painting on her deck.

Among her more memorable jobs was being flown up into the alpine in a helicopter to sketch the landscape for many of her interpretive signs. Isobel often was not paid for her work, instead preferring an exchange for season’s passes to the mountain for her family. One drastic difference that Isobel herself notes is the budget for signage in the early days compared to now; in the early days of the village Isobel did up a handful of signs for the community and got paid $18 per sign, but nowadays Whistler has a multi-million dollar budget for signage every year!

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Each sign was painted by Isobel. She received $18 per sign.

Once the Arts Council was set up, other artists began to come to the area as well. The same year it started the Council also set up their first Children’s Art Festival in which Isobel helped lead free arts courses for the children. Isobel talks fondly about how attentive the children were and how well they all did learning to draw. Isobel MacLaurin has been in Whistler for many years, originally she was one of the only artists and now that number has grown into the hundreds. Whistler’s beauty lends itself easily to the inspiration for many a young artist who finds their way here.

By Michaela Sawyer

Soundbite-Sized History: Whistler Heritage Minutes

In our never-ending quest to spread the word of Whistler history as far and wide as possible, a few months ago we started producing a weekly series of audio clips called Whistler Heritage Minutes that air every Monday on Mountain FM.

We’ll continue to produce a new one to be played on the air every week, after which they will be uploaded to our SoundCloud page where our entire catalogue is hosted.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to share a few of our favourites here to this blog for your listening pleasure.

First off, Myrtle & Alex Philip are considered the founders of the community that became Whistler, as it was their Rainbow Lodge, built in 1914, that first established this valley as a tourist destination. In this clip, Myrtle recalls the first time she ever laid eyes on her future husband and life-partner:

Myrtle & Alex with their dog Skookum, circa 1920.

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Long-time local, professional forester, and dedicated environmentalist Don MacLaurin made innumerable contributions to our community over the more than 50 years that he lived here. In this audio clip he recounted how Lost Lake was nearly lost in the early 1960s, and what he did to save it.

 

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

 

One of Whistler Village’s major assets is the abundance of gorgeous sight lines towards the surrounding mountains. If these seem almost too perfectly aligned, well, they’re no happy accident. In this clip, Eldon Beck, the lead architect of Whistler Village, explains some of the early inspiration for his designs.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Lots of attention was paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains when designing Whistler Village.

 

When snowboarding first emerged in the 1980s, the new sport was met with a lot of skepticism and outright opposition. Blackcomb Mountain was one of the first ski hills in Canada to allow the sideways sliders on all of its slopes. In this clip Blackcomb Mountain VP-Marketing Dave Perry explains his mountain’s rationale.

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

We’ve got 8 clips so far, with lots more to come! Make sure to check out all of our Heritage Minutes at http://www.soundcloud.com/whistlermuseum

Mountain Profile: Wedge Mountain

On this blog we try to highlight many of the unique characters in Whistler’s history. Being a mountain community, however, many of the local mountains are arguably as familiar as any person.  In the past we’ve set the spotlight on Fissile Mountain; today we shift slightly northwards to Wedge Mountain.

Wedge is an iconic local peak first and foremost because at 2895 m (9497 ft) it’s the tallest peak around. In fact, it’s summit is the highest point in Garibaldi Provincial Park (not Mount Garibaldi, as is commonly assumed), and all of the southern Coast Mountains. To find a higher peak you need to go the remote Mount Dalgleish, 100km to the north west, or to Mount Baker, across the border in Washington State.

Wedge Mountain is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. Wedge is the most prominent peak, directly above the cabin in this photo, it's wedge-like shape quite evident from this angle.

Wedge Mountain (at right, above the cabin) is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. The mountain’s wedge-like shape is quite evident from this angle.

The origin of the name Wedge Mountain is uncertain, although it presumably describes it’s triangular, wedge-like shape as seen from the Whistler Valley. The name is probably local in origin (like Whistler Mountain), as this name was already in use when Vancouver mountaineers Neal Carter and Charles Townsend made the first recorded ascent of the peak in 1923. When Garibaldi Provincial Park expanded in the late 1920s, a suggestion was made to rename the peak “Mount Vancouver,” but for whatever reason it never stuck.

Speaking of Carter & Townsend, we have already written about their two-week exploratory mountaineering trip to the region in 1923 which included the first ascent of Wedge (blog article here, full photo gallery here, and a virtual video recreation of their climb, using their own written account here), but needless to say, it was a dream trip.

The view south from Wedge to our familiar W-B backcountry: (l to r) Overlord, Pattison, Fissile, Trorey, Davidson, Castle Towers and Decker.

The view south from just below the summit of Wedge,  towards our familiar W-B backcountry. Charles Townsend, photograph by Neal Carter.

Today, most people know Wedge because of the notorious Wedgemount hiking trail, arguably one of the toughest and steepest around. The trail leads up above treeline to Wedgemount Lake and the Wedgemount Hut, built by the BC Mountaineering Club in 1970 under the guidance of long-time local outdoorsman, environmentalist and community icon Don MacLaurin. The hut is of the same gothic arch design as the Himmelsbach Hut at Russet Lake, and many other backcountry huts in the region.

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The idyllic Wedgemount Hut and Wedgemount Lake, with Wedge Mountain looming in the distance, right above. Jeff Slack Photo.

This is as far as most people make it, and that’s more than enough. Summiting Wedge is a far more challenging ordeal, requiring proper ice and rock gear and the skills to use them, but the standard North Arete route is considered one of the classic mountaineering routes of the Coast Mountains. There are also a number of popular steep skiing lines on the mountain, the most popular being the massive NW couloir visible from Highway 99 at the north end of town.

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Wedge’s massive North face. Jeff Slack Photo.

Few places in our region feel as “big” as the high alpine area around Wedge Mountain, but it is just one of many peaks that make our mountainous milieu special. What mountain would you like to see profiled in a future Whistorical post?