Tag Archives: Don MacLaurin

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.

How Lost Lake Park Was Nearly Lost

With clear, refreshing waters surrounded by a wooded shoreline, a relaxing beach, a massive network of biking, hiking, and cross-country ski trails—and yes, the nudist dock—Lost Lake Park is one of Whistler’s gems.

In the days of Rainbow Lodge Alex & Myrtle Philip would often ride horses or hike to Lost Lake with their guests for an afternoon of swimming, fishing, and picnics. Lesser known is the story of how, in later years, the park was almost lost before it ever came to be.

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

It is Whistler’s great fortune that a young forester named Don MacLaurin decided to make Alpha Lake his summer home during the early 1960s. In his spare time Don was an avid hiker and climber, and was very interested in parkland management (he would later teach this subject at BCIT).

At Lost Lake, Don foresaw a beautiful natural playground. His combination of insider knowledge of the forestry industry, and land conservation policies were put to good use, as Don recalled during a 2007 interview with the museum,

There were two timber licenses straddling the lake.  North to South.  And [local mill operator] Laurence Valleau, bless his heart, was trying NOT to log any more around the lake.  He recognized the value of the Lake… The timber licenses around Lost Lake I knew were expiring.  I also knew that people KNEW that they were expiring and there were posts driven into the ground for people applying for waterfront property.

An early logging operation on Lost Lake, ca. 1940s.

With amazing foresight (remember, this was before the arrival of downhill skiing, and Whistler Village was still more than 15 years away), Don used his connections to convince the Parks Branch to designate Lost Lake as a potential UREP (Use, Recreation and Enjoyment of the Public) area, preventing land privatization. and preserving the space in perpetuity.

Lost Lake in the early 1980s, a wooded oasis increasingly surrounded by clearcuts and urbanization.With the construction of Whistler Village and ever-expanding development in ensuing decades, Lost Lake’s value as a public space increased even more.  The trail networks we know today came later, thanks to the dedication of community groups such as the Alta Lake Sports Club and WORCA, but their possibility was created thanks to Don’s early vision.

It’s easy to take Whistler’s immense natural beauty for granted. A closer look, however, reveals that it is only thanks to individuals like Don that so much has been preserved in its present state to be equally enjoyed by future generations.

Our Mountain Home

As some of you may know, last Sunday was International Mountain Day (IMD). In recognition of this, and in conjunction with the Whistler Forum’s efforts to raise the profile of IMD in Whistler, a very special event was held at the Whistler Museum on Saturday Evening. Three elder statesmen of the mountains were invited to share stories from their lives in the mountains, and to communicate what the alpine realms meant to them.

Our distinguished panel began with the 92-years-young Howard Rode, who has been climbing and skiing in our local mountains since he was a young man, and remains active today! His light-hearted recollections of early trips into Garibaldi Park recalled an era when far more effort was required of those seeking alpine adventures. Despite this, Howard spoke of his experiences with an undeniable fondness, clearly enriched from over seventy years playing in the mountains.

Howard was followed by well-known local Don MacLaurin. Don, a retired forester, educator, and parks planner, was an active mountaineer for half a century, achieving multiple first ascents in the area and even acting as President of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club for some time. Don was no stranger either to physical exertion in the name of mountain play, but his talk focused on his lifelong efforts as an educator, and his desire to share the wonder of mountain environments with others.

Our final speaker was the Honourable John Fraser, former Speaker of the House of Commons, Federal Environment Minister, and Canadian ambassador to many key international summits including the 1992 Rio Summit on Environment and Development.  Mr. Fraser gave a fascinating talk on his early adventures growing up in a forestry family and running a pack train in the Yukon before settling into his professional career as a lawyer and politician. Perhaps the most interesting moment came when he described his involvement in a committee tasked with identifying potential winter Olympic sites in the 1960s.

The distinguished legislator and statesmen concluded with several pointed suggestions for Whistler, which has been his part-time home for several decades, and more generally, for younger, environmentally minded citizens.

It was a pleasure to be able to take part in this event, and it was truly an honour to host such a distinguished and impassioned panel. Whenever you have the opportunity to listen to anyone with this much experience and accomplishment, let alone three, you should take advantage.

These three gentlemen had the great fortune (and foresight) to make the mountains a major part of their long, productive lives, and they made it quite clear that this was no coincidence. If I had to single out one lesson (among the many) to take away from the evening it has to be this : We live in a special town immersed in a truly inspiring and empowering natural landscape.  No matter how busy you find yourself this winter,  make sure you make the time to actually get up into the mountains and take advantage of all they have to offer.