Tag Archives: Doug Mansell

Fire at Alta Lake

Prior to the formation of the Alta Lake Volunteer Fire Department (ALVFD), the Alta Lake area had no official response to fires – they were put out by the small community.  But after two large fires in the early 1960s, some residents decided to form their own fire department.

The first fire is still a little mysterious.  One a reportedly beautiful morning in April, a single passenger got off the Budd car at the Alta Lake Station.  His outfit, a trench coat and dress shoes, drew the notice of everyone at the station as he asked Don Cruickshank, the station agent, how to get to the other side of the lake.

Waiting for the train at Alta Lake station, 1937. Left to right: Bill Bailiff, Mr and Mrs Racey, Ed Droll, Betty Woollard, Larry, Flo and Bob Williamson.

Later that same day, Dick Fairhurst received a call from Cruickshank to check on smoke coming from the area of an old empty lodge.  Fairhurst and Louis White grabbed a small fire extinguisher and a bucket each and ran to Fairhurst’s boat.  When they arrived at the lodge, they found that the fire had taken hold in some piles of lumber inside the three-storey building and that their buckets and extinguisher would be of no use.  They also found a piece of candle at the back of the lodge, and footprints from dress shoes in the soggy ground.

By the time the evening train arrived, two RCMP officers from Pemberton were aboard and waiting to arrest the stranger in the trench coat, who had been pacing in the station while waiting for the train.  Though we don’t know what happened to this mysterious man after his arrest, we do know that the date of the trial was set for June 6, 1962, the date of the second fire.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

This second fire appears to have been far more accidental than the first.  The provincial government was building a new highway to connect old logging roads, small community roads, and the Pemberton Trail.  The surveyors and their families were staying in cabins and lodges throughout Alta Lake.

One couple, Bruce and Anne Robinson, were staying in a cabin at Cypress Lodge, owned by Dick and Kelly Fairhurst.  Anne chose June 6, a warm day with no wind, to make bread in the old Kootenay Range in the cabin.  Dick was at the trial in Vancouver and Kelly had gone to vote at the Community Hall (it’s not entirely clear what the vote was for, but it is likely it was for the federal election).  She and her children had just arrived home when Bruce arrived at Cypress Lodge to discover the roof of his cabin on fire.  Kelly got on the party line, interrupting Alec Greenwood’s call to his mother-in-low to announce the fire.

Bert Harrop built cedar-bark furniture that was used in Harrop’s Tea Room, later the site of Cypress Lodge.  The museum has some of his creations in our collection, but most were destroyed in a fire.  Philip Collection.

Luckily, Bill and Joan Green and a group of loggers were hanging out at Rainbow Lodge after voting.  Bill radioed to the Van West logging operation to bring their fire pump, and Alex loaded his pump onto his tractor.  Soon everyone in the area know about the fire, and many of them came to help.

The fire, which had started from smouldering sparks in needles on the shake roof, had spread to a storage shed, but the lack of wind prevented it from spreading further.  Someone moved Dick’s truck onto the road, but other vehicles, piles of dry wood, and cans of gasoline, paint, diesel and propane were still around the property.

The two pumps were used to get the fire under control, and then to keep wetting everything down.  The Robinsons lost almost everything in the cabin, and many pieces of Bert Harrop’s cedar-bark furniture that were stored in the shed were lost, along with the two-rope for skiing on Mount Sproatt.

Alex Philip spent the night patrolling the area for sparks, but the fire was truly out by the time Dick arrived home the next day.  The community came together again to help with the clean up.

Dick Fairhurst, Stefan Ples and Doug Mansell rafting the fire shelter and its contents across the lake to Alta Vista, 1967. Petersen Collection

When the ALVFD was formed later in 1962, its members were Dick Fairhurst, Doug Mansell, Stefan Ples, and Glen Creelman.  They held regular practises and, until the formation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975, relied on fundraisers such as the Ice Break-Up Raffle and the Fireman’s Ball to buy supplies.  The residents of the valley relied on them in case of emergencies.

Garibaldi Lifts’ Early Employees

Since Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. first began hiring staff in 1965, Whistler Mountain has employed thousands of people in the area, some for a season and some for careers that span decades.  Like today, one of the challenges facing lift company employees then could be find a place to stay while working.  In an oral history interview conducted with Lynn Mathews this past summer, there were some names of employees that came up again and again while discussing early mountain operations.  One thing that three of these names, Doug Mansell, Denis Beauregard, and Frank Arundel, had in common was that they all had a place to stay well before the lifts began operating on Whistler.

Doug Mansell was a superintendent of lift operations for almost two decades.  He first moved to Alta Lake with his family in 1945 at the age of 8, after his father purchased property on the east side of the lake.  There the family built and operated Hillcrest Lodge, which opened its doors to guests in July 1946.  Doug and his brother grew up at Hillcrest Lodge, and Doug even married a Hillcrest guest, Barb.  At 14, Doug began working in Alf Gebhart’s Rainbow Lumber Mill and from 1951-56 he worked as a telephone lineman for the PGE Railway.  Doug and Barb took over the management of Hillcrest when his parents retired in 1958 and later sold the lodge to Glen Mason in 1965.  Hillcrest later became known as the Mount Whistler Lodge.

Doug Mansell, Franz Wilhelmsen, Stefan Ples and Jim McConkey pose together at the dedication ceremony for Franz’s Run. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection

After selling, Doug and Barb both went to work for the lift company.  As Lynn put it, “Growing up in Alta Lake, you had to be handy, and know how to do things.  And Doug was really good.”  Doug continued working on Whistler Mountain until he and Barb retired to North Vancouver in 1983.

Like Doug, Denis Beauregard, an electrician for the lift company, was an Alta Lake resident before runs and lifts were built on Whistler Mountain.  He and his wife Pat began visiting Alta Lake with the “Witsend” group and built their own summer cottage on the lake in 1961.  The story we’ve heard is that a party at Rainbow Lodge in 1966, Denis remarked that if he could get a job in the area, he would move up permanently.  Brian Rowley, who worked for the lift company at that time, told Denis he could supply the job, and neighbour Don Gow offered to share his well water with the Beauregards in exchange for use of their washing machine.  The Beauregards moved up and both Denis and Pat began working at the mountain.  Both continued to be active members of the Alta Lake community, and even hosted the community club film screenings in the lift company cafeteria.

Denis and Pat Beauregard receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain’s 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Both of the Beauregards’ sons worked for the lift company as well, and in 1991 Denis and Pat received silver coins commemorating their 25 years of service.  The pair retired to Squamish in 1994.

Frank Arundel worked for the lift company as a heavy-duty mechanic.  He and his family lived outside of the Alta Lake area, in Garibaldi Townsite, until an Order in Council and subsequent government actions cleared all residents from the area in the 1980s.  Frank had a workshop on the top of the mountain, which, according to Lynn, “was usually buried in snow.”  For Julie Gallagher, who grew up at Brandywine Resort in the 1960s and early 1970s, Frank’s work at Whistler Mountain was very convenient as she and his daughter were able to catch rides up to go skiing whenever he went to work.

We know there are many more stories of early employees (such as Stefan Ples, who perhaps knew the mountain better than anyone) and the early days of mountain operations, and we would love to hear them at the museum, whether you worked for the lift company yourself or heard stories passed down through the decades.

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.

Remembering Hillcrest Lodge

While flipping through the 1979 October/November issue of the Whistler Answer, I came across a fascinating story titled “The Whistler Lodge (1973-74) or the Heyday of a Cabaret.”  I love the Whistler Answer for its bare all writing styles that would most definitely be deemed inappropriate in today’s local news. This story has all that quirkiness one expects from the paper, as the author, an old doorman at Whistler Lodge (also known as Hillcrest Lodge), gives his first-hand history of the place in as many outlandish adjectives as one can muster.

The article highlights the delight of the lodge, going as far as to describe it as “phantasmagorical”–a bold claim, the author admits. He attributes the liberal nature of the lodge to the managers, Rob and Jen Houseman, whose bureaucratic strategy was “don’t make any rules and none will get broken.” Have a read for yourself:

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This fun recollection of Whistler Lodge inspired me to dig for some more facts about the place, leading me to the story of the Mansell family. Jack Mansell first came to Whistler (then Alta Lake) on a fishing trip in 1944. While staying at Rainbow Lodge, he got word of property for sale across the lake. Luck would have it that the owner of the land was a regular at Jack’s shoe repair shop in Vancouver. The two negotiated and that same year, Jack bought the property on Alta Lake.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

By May 1945 Jack had sold his three shoe repair stores and moved to Whistler with his family–wife, Cecile ‘Cis’ and sons Loyd and Doug. The family lived in a little cottage on the property before deciding to build a few cabins and develop the site as a fishing lodge. Interestingly enough, the place became a very successful tearoom; Myrtle Philip of Rainbow Lodge brought horseback riding groups round the lake to stop for refreshments at the Mansell property.

In January 1946 the family began building the main lodge, and it was complete by July of that same year. By 1947 Hillcrest Lodge was open for business with a total of sixteen units for rent. The lodge opened for guests on the May long weekend and closed after Thanksgiving in October. Guests would arrive at Alta Lake on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and were often greeted by current guests… in costume!

Hillcrest Lodge guests dressed to meet the train, ca. 1950s.

This free spirited welcome set the tone for a typical stay at Hillcrest Lodge. Common activities and events included musical raft rides around the lake, masquerade parties, square dancing, kangaroo courts and mock weddings.

Jack and Cis eventually retired,  leaving management of the lodge to their children Doug and Barb. Doug and Barb managed the lodge from 1958 to 1965 before selling it to a group of Vancouver based businessmen led by Glen Mason. At this time, the name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge. After operating for about ten years it closed due to lack of business. Thankfully, the stories live on.