Tag Archives: Eleanor Kitteringham

Changing Seasons – Harvest Time

Wow. And just like that, it’s Autumn. In a matter of days everyone went from lounging at the beach to excitedly gossiping about snow at the Roundhouse, ski-movie premieres and the upcoming La Nina redux.

For our valley’s pioneer-era residents the end of summer was an equally momentous event, but for completely different reasons.

In Alta Lake’ early days, there were no grocery stores or farmer’s markets. Shipping fresh food up from Vancouver was expensive and unreliable, so Alta Lake residents procured as much food locally as possible.

Fresh vegetables were especially hard to import, so virtually everyone had a large garden. Today fresh local produce is treated like a delicacy; back then it was the norm. All summer long residents and visitors alike dined on greens mere yards from where they were plucked from the rich valley-bottom soil.

Where Myrtle grew the greens that kept Rainbow Lodge guests happy.

The alluvial fan between Nita and Alpha Lakes, near where Nita Lake Lodge is today, was one of the best growing sites. In the 1920s Harry Horstman had a small farm there, whose produce he sold throughout the Alta Lake community. Russ Jordan bought most of this land from Horstman, building Jordan’s Lodge (pictured here) in 1931. Jordan maintained a large orderly garden to help provision his guests.

Needless to say, winter was a different story. To fend off culinary boredom (not to mention scurvy), locals spent much of the fall preparing produce to keep through the cold, deep winter.

Most year-round residents kept root cellars, something which our Pembertonian friends are familiar with. With no refrigerator, Parkhurst Mill housewife Eleanor Kitteringham depended on this vital household appliance to keep her family well fed:

There was a door cut in our floor in the kitchen, with a leather handle to lift an stairs going down under our house to put potatoes, carrots, cabbages, etc. in, as well as shelves for canned goods.

Demonstrating pioneer-era resourcefulness, Eleanor remarked how the root cellar “also made a great dark room to develop pictures in.”

Much of the canned and pickled goods were produced locally, preserving excess produce drawn from backyard gardens. The museum has a recorded interview with Myrtle Philip, describing her preferred techniques for making jams and jellies (these were made primarily with boxes of Okanagan-grown fruit).

Myrtle made jams from wild, local berries, crabapples, peaches and much more. It turns out Myrtle thought most people used too much sugar, and that she preferred jellies to jams (jellies have the seeds and pulp strained out using cheesecloth).  The most remarkable aspect of the interview is that Myrtle was making apricot jam while the interview was being recorded in 1982, at the ripe old age of 91!

Today we take such things as fresh pineapples in February for granted. Back in the day, if you didn’t work for it, you didn’t get it. With the recent “locavorian” resurgence, however, people are becoming reconnected to the hard work and dedication needed to bring nature’s abundance to our dining room table.

With our region’s agricultural renaissance in full swing, there’s no excuse for missing out. The easiest way to sample fresh, organic produce (of course, all farming was organic before the twentieth-century advent of chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and of the glorious creations by our community’s many talented culinary artisans–many of whom employ traditional food-preparation techniques–is at the Whistler Farmer’s Market. The market will keep running every Sunday until October 9th. Don’t miss out!

Family Life at Parkhurst Mill

One of the greatest criticisms of mainstream and academic history is that it focuses on, and thus legitimizes  “dominant” narratives from the perspective of societies most powerful figures such as politicians, business leaders, and so on. A lot of this has to do with the materials that historians have traditionally used to craft their stories: written and printed documents.

To correct this imbalance social historians began employing different sources and methods, most notably oral history, to help preserve and interpret the perspectives of society’s more marginalized and oft-forgotten members such as ethnic minorities, working-class families, and women.

The Whistler Museum is fortunate to hold in its archives dozens of oral history interviews and written correspondence conducted since the early 1980s that tell important and insightful aspects of our valley’s history that would have otherwise been lost with the passage of time.

Between 1948 and 1956 Olie and Eleanor Kitteringham, along with their children Ron, Jim, and Linda (born Valentine’s Day, 1949), called Parkhurst their home. Thanks to a 1989 letter written to the Whistler Museum by Eleanor entitled “Our Family Life at Parkhurst” we have insights into the tight-knit community.

Eleanor’s recollections are full of details about the seemingly endless work it took to raise a family in this remote mountain outpost, but she clearly looked back fondly upon those trying years.

Surviving three changes in ownership and one full-fledged fire, a lumber mill operated more or less continuously from 1923 to 1966 at the Parkhurst site (named after the first colonial landowners) on the north-east shore of Green Lake. Afterwards, the remaining structures were occupied by ski bums during Whistler’s squatting heyday, and the collapsed remains of a dozen or so houses (along with a few decaying vehicles and the squatters’ garbage heap of broken bottles, rusty tin cans and the like) can still be found on the largely grown-over site.

Of the roughly 30 men who ran the mill from May to November, (up to fifty had worked at the older, less efficient mill), only about one third were family men, and at first, the Kitteringham’s were the only ones who lived at Parkhurst year round. While daily life entailed constant labour, even more challenging was dealing with the inevitable illnesses that come with raising three young children. Unconventional healthcare strategies became essential, as Eleanor recounted:

I always said to the family, if you are going to get sick it has to be on Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, that’s the days the passenger train went on through from Lillooet to Squamish… (Once) Ron was delirious for 3 days with a very high temperature. My doctor book said it might be bronchial pneumonia, so I phoned the doctor [there was a hand-dial phone in the mill office] and asked that I have some Penicillin thrown off by the next freight train at our station – it worked.

Winters were isolated, but not completely alone. Their nearest neighbours were the Greens, 2 miles to the north, and the MacKinnons, roughly the same distance to the south. Along with the Greens the Kitteringhams formed a band called the Valley Ramblers, often playing benefit dances around the country to raise money for the Squamish Hospital. Musical get-togethers with their neighbours were a weekly highlight on the Kitterringham’s social calendar:

We walked the tracks in the winter with [baby] Linda in a clothes basket tied onto a sled … We played canasta, drank homebrew. Pretty hard to have to wake the kids and walk the two miles back. Those nights were quite beautiful though, when you can touch the stars and everything sparkles and glistens and that “crunch” of dry snow.

Schooling for the children was a makeshift affair. Only in 1956, their last year at the mill, were there the requisite 11 children for a proper school to run at the mill. In other years the children were home-schooled by Eleanor, while for a few years the boys made the daily trek to the trek to the Alta Lake schoolhouse. The day started with a 6am ride on the Queen Mary tugboat down to the end of Green Lake – often driven and docked by the eldest brother Ron! After moving back to Vancouver, Eleanor proudly reported that all three children graduated high shool with “high standards” despite ” a somewhat sketchy education.”

Middle child Jim later settled in Emerald Estates – the only original Parkhurst resident to live in Whistler. He took his mother for a tour of the old mill site three decades after they lived there. By then most of the site had been flattened by neglect and and persistent winter snowpacks, but she could still identify the remains of the family chicken coop, rabbit pen, children’s playhouse and the single-log wharf they swam from in the summers.

Despite the hard work and the obvious lack of modern creature comforts (Eleanor singled out disposable Pamper’s diapers and a TV for the children to watch Sesame Street as wished-for items), Eleanor sums up her 8 years on the quiet shores of Green Lake fondly: “Life was very peaceful, no traffic, crowds, etc., beautiful country all around us. [We had no idea} that anything like Whistler and Blackcomb would develop.”