Tag Archives: Don MacLaurin

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.

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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.

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?

Remembering Don MacLaurin

On May 7th, a dear friend to the museum and an influential figure in Whistler, Don MacLaurin, died peacefully with his family by his side. Our Executive Director Sarah Drewery had the pleasure of knowing him well, and in this week’s Whistler Question Newspaper she shares a commemorative piece:

On May 7, Don MacLaurin passed away peacefully.

Don made substantial contributions to the development of Whistler for over 50 years and was truly part of the fabric of this town. His loss will be felt deeply by so many in our community.

Don first came to Whistler in 1951 and visited several more times while working for the BC Forest Service before deciding to buy land here for a summer cabin. He and his wife Isobel walked all over this valley to find their perfect location. In 1961 they finally settled on a beautiful spot overlooking Alpha Lake, where their original (albeit, extended) A-frame cabin still sits today.

Don, who later worked in education, teaching courses in forestry, recreation and parks management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), was a passionate outdoorsman. He strongly believed in the value of getting out into the mountains and was one of the first people to champion summer enjoyment of our alpine, creating trails on Whistler Mountain, Rainbow Mountain and all around the region.

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In 1973, he organized a volunteer group to build cairns on Singing Pass. He was the instigator behind building the Russet Lake and Wedgemount Huts, and drew probably the first hiking trail map for Whistler Mountain in 1973.

He was also the driving force behind preserving Lost Lake as a park. The area was under timber licenses that were due to expire and a slew of developers were standing by, ready to build on the premiere lakeside property.  Don saw the value of this area and with the help of his contacts in BC Parks, was instrumental in ensuring it was preserved as the park that we all enjoy today.

He also initiated and designed the Whistler Interpretive Forest; the suspension bridge over Cheakamus River is named “MacLaurin’s Crossing” after him.

All this activity earned him the nickname “Parks Planner,” which seems more than apt.

Alongside all the work he did for our community Don knew how to enjoy himself. He and Isobel got up to countless adventures together. In their youth they would spend their weekends touring B.C. in Don’s red 1951 MGTD. They travelled the world together and got in many amusing situations over the years.

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In an interview in 2007 Don recalled a time when he and Isobel got stranded up on Whistler Mountain in the dark. When their flashlight fell in the creek they had to cut their losses and wait it out till dawn. Isobel’s mother was looking after the children that night, so the two made their way back down the mountain at first light and at 4 a.m. snuck into bed like naughty teenagers. Isobel’s mother never knew!

This is just one of many hilarious tales that Don would tell. There are many, many more — anyone who knew Don could not doubt that he lived life to the fullest. He did so much for Whistler and he was a wonderful, knowledgeable, intelligent man. He will be greatly missed.