Tag Archives: environmental history

Bill Bailiff’s Records of Alta Lake

Living in a place with such a beautiful landscape, where people spend a lot of time enjoying activities outdoors, environmental concerns are always relevant.  One of the first residents to voice concern for the environment was Bill Bailiff, back in the 1950s.

John William Bailiff moved to Alta Lake from England and lived in the area for 45 years.  Reportedly, his fiancé had died and left him heartbroken, so he picked up and moved to British Columbia.  Bailiff joined a construction crew for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, but in 1913 he had an argument with the foreman over the safety conditions of his work and ended up quitting.  He then moved to settle at Alta Lake permanently.

(L to R) Bill Holloway, Jimmy Fitzsimmons, Bill Bailiff, Bill MacDermott, Alex Philip Sr. and Tom Wilson prepare to head out to Fitzsimmons’ mine, about 1916. Philip Collection.

Bailiff kept a whitewashed log cabin near Mons Creek and Alta Lake, as well as additional shelters at each end of Cheakamus Lake.  He became an excellent trapper and would spend five weeks at a time out in the wilderness.  He also had trap lines in the Spearhead Range and Callaghan Creek areas that he tended to over the winters, snowshoeing between them.  The traps would catch wolverine, mink, marten, lynx, and weasel.  One continual nuisance was squirrels that continued to get caught in his traps.  In 1928, Bailiff caught 28 squirrels, so he froze them and stored them in his woodshed, where they were stolen by a marten and then hidden in a rockslide.

The summers were spent by Bailiff putting in railway ties and clearing trails around the lakes for the government.  He was also a prospector, looking for copper on the Fitzsimmons side of Whistler Mountain.  He and Bill MacDermott were looking for a vein that ran north from Britannia but, despite years of looking, they were never successful.

Bill Bailiff (far left) waits for the train at the Alta Lake Station with a group in 1937. Clarke Collection.

Surviving on subsistence living, Bailiff used any food available.  He was known to make the best bread using potato water and Pip Brock, whose family had property on Alta Lake, said he enjoyed his time with Bailiff “sharing his bottled beer and Blue Jay pie.”

Bailiff was often chosen to be Santa Clause at school Christmas parties and the descriptions people remembered him by explain why he was a clear choice for that position.  Brock said Bailiff “had a large belly which shook when he laughed,” and he was also described as a gentle man with round rose cheeks.

An active member of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) and even president in 1958, Bailiff wrote an ongoing series about the history of Alta Lake and preserving the environment in the ALCC newsletter.  He dedicated his column, which included pieces on geography, forestry, topography and more, to the one room Alta Lake School.

This illustration accompanied Bill Bailiff’s article on black bears in the Community Weekly Sunset in July, 1958.

While describing the topography of the area, Bailiff wrote that “Before the advent of the Pacific Great Eastern Rly in 1914 the only access to [Alta Lake] was by pack horse trail which ran from Squamish to Pemberton through a virgin forest of magnificent timber as yet unspoiled by human hands.”  In the next issue, when discussing progress in the area, he described how the construction of the railway led to the “first despoilation (sic) of the forest.”  He also talked about the Hemlock Looper and other insects that attacked the local trees in the early 20th century, the dangers of human caused fires in the area (including a fire by Green Lake supposedly started by a cigarette butt “thrown carelessly into dry slash”), and the decrease in wildlife sightings as human activity began to destroy habitats.

Although he spent a lot of time on his own in the wilderness, Bailiff was a well known and well liked member of the Alta Lake community until his death later in 1958.

Snow Expectations

Recently Whistler Blackcomb announced the first snowfall of the season on the mountains and it has many thinking about what the winter will look like this season.  Snow is always a major topic of conversation in Whistler, as we can see by looking back on previous years.

In 1972, Garibaldi’s Whistler News noted that the snowfall in the valley was a record high at 943 cm, and according to their Fall 1972 issue “there was snow covering the mountain tops mid-September and it looks like another year for early skiing.”  The average snowfall in the years leading up to 1972 was recorded at 12.8 m.

Unsurprising for a town built on skiing, snowfall has been the talk of the town in Whistler for decades. Benjamin Collection.

This wasn’t the case for every year, however.  In 1976, the winter ski season was off to a sluggish start.  A lot of rainfall and sunny weather in November caused the snow on the mountain to melt, thereby pushing back the opening of the mountain.  The Whistler Question reported in December that employees were let go or not hired due to the lack of snow, leaving about 25 fewer people working for Whistler Mountain.  This also affected the number of tourists that came in to town and had an impact on the economy.  Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays, but all skiers had to download using the gondola.  In February 1977, the first snow gun was obtained for Whistler Mountain to help combat the lack of snow.

Luckily, the next winter, 1977/78, was “marked with the return of good snowfalls and a good season for the ski school,” as reported by the Whistler Question.

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.  Whistler Question Collection, December 1979.

Winter came early again in 1981 as Blackcomb Mountain announced it would be opening a week earlier than planned, while Whistler Mountain remained closed until the scheduled opening on November 26.

El Nino was blamed for the warmest winter of record  in 1992 by then Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe, as reported in the Blackcomb Mountain Staff News.

There was a feeling of déjà-vu in 1995/96, as rain affected the beginning of ski season and workers were laid off.  American Thanksgiving usually marks the beginning of skiing but that year Whistler Mountain’s alpine didn’t have a sufficient base of snow, while Blackcomb was pumping water out of its snow guns and hoping the freezing level would drop enough to make snow.  Blackcomb Mountain opened on the US Thanksgiving weekend, but with only a limited number of lifts and trails.

A Whistler wonderland appeared overnight Sunday, October 17 with the season’s first snow in the valley.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Once again, a slow opening was followed the next year by great snowfalls.  Meteorologist Marilyn Manso in December 1996 said, “by mid-December we’ve had more snow on the ground than at any time since records were kept.”  There was 74 cm of snow on the ground in the valley at this time in December, compared with the previous year of 34 cm.

The first week in December 2001 brought about 1.2 m of snow on the mountains, which allowed for half of Whistler Blackcomb terrain to be open.  This was more than any other ski resort in North America at that time, and allowed for the snow guns to be moved lower on the mountain and provide ski-out access.

Last winter also got off to a slow start, so let’s hope that this season brings great snowfalls.

A Wet End to August, 1991

Recently, we were tasked with finding more information about a flood that washed out and damaged several bridges over Fitzsimmons Creek in the 1990s.  As it turned out, the flooding had happened exactly 28 years before we looked into it, with the bulk of information found in the September 5, 1991 edition of The Whistler Question.

The first mention of an unusually wet end to August appeared in the previous week’s editorial section, where editor Bob Barnett opened a piece on government money granted in the area with the thought, “The old adage it never rains, it pours, has applied to the weather this week, but also to government handouts.”  Between August 16 and 31, 155 mm of rain were reported to have fallen in Whistler, with the bulk of the rain falling between August 29 and 30.  The average rainfall for the entire month of August was historically under 50 mm; this unusually large quantity of water caused destruction throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.

An excavator removes rock and gravel carried down Fitzsimmons Creek during Labour Day weekend’s floods. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

During the five days of intense rain, water levels at the Pemberton Airport and the Golf and Country Club were recorded at over two metres and BC Rail recorded at least twelve places between Britannia Beach and Lillooet where the crushed rock that supported the rails was washed away, leaving sections suspended over the ground.

In Britannia Beach severe flooding caused Britannia Creek to change course through the lower townsite and the highway around Squamish was blocked for 36 hours.  According to the Ministry of Forests, three quarters of the forest service roads in the Squamish Forest District were closed from washouts, flooding or slides, with multiple bridges destroyed.  North of Pemberton, some residents around Skookumchuck were evacuated to Pemberton by helicopter.

Within the Pemberton Valley, a Friday afternoon community effort to shore p a dike behind the Van Loon property attempted to mitigate the damage caused by the flood.  Approximately 100 people were reported to have come out to fill sandbags.  Their success was limited as the dike was breached a few kilometres north of their work, flooding fields and homes and ruining potato crops.

An aerial view of the flood at the airport. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

Compared to other areas of the Sea to Sky, the flooding would appear to have caused relatively little destruction in Whistler, mainly due to the community effort to keep Fitzsimmons Creek in its channel.

Through the evening of Thursday and Friday, local contractors, excavators and heavy equipment crews worked to shore up the banks of Fitzsimmons Creek and keep the waters out of the village and White Gold.  According to Tony Evans, public safety director, “If we hadn’t had that we could have made Britannia Beach look like a walk in the park.”

The footbridge over Fitzsimmons Creek, 1991. Photo courtesy of Jan Jansen

As it was, the high waters and debris in the creek took out two supports of the Nancy Greene Drive bridge, partially washed out two footbridges linking the village and benchlands, and destroyed Fitzsimmons Creek Park.  The flooding also damaged sewer pipes and interrupted water supplies to White Gold.

At this time 28 years ago, Whistler and the surrounding communities were still in the midst of their clean up efforts as the water receded.  It would take weeks to clear debris, assess damages, rebuild bridges, and construct measures to prevent future flooding, such as deepening Fitzsimmons Creek.  Some of these measures can still be seen while walking across Fitzsimmons Creek today.

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.

Records of Environmental Change: Why the Stories Matter

For our last 2018/19 Speaker Series on Thursday, April 11 the museum had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University for his presentation on environmental change in Alta & Lost Lakes.  The head of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Spooner and his students, working with Cascade Environmental Resource Group, have been using lake sediment cores to study Alta Lake for the past five years.  In 2018 Spooner took a core from Lost Lake.

Alta Lake has seen a lot of change over the past 150 years, both around its shores and in its water and sediment. Fairhurst Collection.

Sediment cores provide a record, not entirely unlike tree rings, of minerals and organic matter found in the lake sediment.  The core taken from Alta Lake was about 40 cm long and went back around 500 years.  By dating the different layers, Spooner and his student Dewey Dunnington were able to tell a lot about how the lake has changed over time and, by connecting the dates to historical records and stories told by locals, what might have contributed to these changes.

During his talk, Spooner highlighted the changing presence of copper and arsenic in Alta Lake.  Though there is always some change over time, the presence of both copper and arsenic increased considerably from the 1880s, as the Pemberton Trail and PGE Railway were built and the area became more settled.  While both have shown a decrease in more recent years, a spike in copper sometime around the 1960s illustrates how important stories are to adding context to this data.

The building of the PGE Railway and the development that followed disturbed the landscape around Alta Lake, changing the presence of minerals in its records. Philip Collection.

From the data and records, it had been assumed that the spike in copper was part of the increasing and continued development around the lake.  However, during a talk Spooner did at the museum in 2016 one audience member offered a different reason.  He got up and informed Spooner, “No, you’re wrong.  We dumped that copper in the lake, back in the 60s.  We wanted to get rid of an invasive species.” (Copper is used in some places as a biocide as it effectively kills parasites such as those that cause Swimmer’s Itch.  It also, however, will kill all the fish.)

When asked where one might find records of or a permit for this action, the man told Spooner there was none, they “just did it.”

There is no doubt that as stories are collected to add context to the core taken from Lost Lake, this attitude of “just do it” will come up again.  After all, we already know of some such cases.

In 1977 a group of Whistler freestyle skiers made plans to build their own ski jump on the shores of Lost Lake.  With no development permit or any official permission from the district, Lost Lake offered an inconspicuous, out-of-the-way site.  To go with the lack of permission, the ski jump also had no funding for materials or labour.  Timber was scrounged from a number of sources and the plastic grass ski out from the Olive Chair was taken from the dump and given a second life as the ski jump’s new surface.  Once the materials were gathered construction took only two weeks.

A jumper unfolds their flip into Lost Lake.  Whistler Question Collection,

The finished ramp projected out 20 feet over the lake (not too far from where the sediment core was taken) and willing skiers could launch themselves up to 40 feet above the water.  According to David Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “Injuries were commonplace but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.”

In 1981 the ski jump began hosting competitions and the next summer saw the first Summer Air Camp at Lost Lake.  Freestyle skiers came to Whistler to train with Peter Judge, the national team coach.  Far from being inconspicuous, film crews arrived to record events for television broadcasts.

Stories like these aren’t always included in the official records (permits weren’t always applied for in the 1960s and 70s) and so contributions from people who have been in the area are incredibly important for explaining the data.  As Spooner puts it, “The science isn’t worth anything without the stories.  We get it wrong.”

If you have your own stories to add, you can send them to Dr. Ian Spooner at ian.spooner@acadiau.ca or come visit us at the museum and we can pass them on.

Whistler’s Lakes: Records of Environmental Change in Alta and Lost Lakes

*Due to generous private support, this event will now be offered with FREE ADMISSION

Dr. Ian Spooner (Acadia University, Nova Scotia) is an environmental scientist who uses lake sediment records to determine how development, atmospheric pollution and local geology influence lake water quality and chemistry.  Over the past seven years he and his students along with staff at Cascade Environmental Resource Group have studied the sediment records in Alta Lake and, more recently, Lost Lake.

Both lakes have provided detailed and complex records of environmental change dating back to the 1700s.  Research to date has indicated that both natural processes and anthropogenic influences have had a significant impact; the data provides some guidance for future development in both watersheds.

Thursday, April 11 Ian will be at the museum to show how the lake records were obtained and analyzed and discuss what they can tell us about both the resilience and vulnerability of these lakes to future environmental change.  Local context (written records, personal experiences) is critical to effective interpretation of the lake sediment records and he hopes that everyone who has an interest in or a story about our lakes can attend.

Dr. Ian Spooner (Department Head, P. Geo) has been a professor at Acadia in the Earth and Environmental Science Department for 25 years.  His primary research interest is using lake sediment records to investigate environmental impact and he has active research programs in Atlantic Canada, Alberta and British Columbia.  His secondary research interests include applied geomorphology (fluvial, coastal) and landslide hazard assessment.  He also has consulted in the areas of environmental risk assessment, groundwater and surface water contamination, coastal erosion and has been involved in hazard assessments for resource companies in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

The Great Toad Migration

Whistler Western toad migration is almost done!

If you’ve been up at Lost Lake recently, you may have seen these tiny toads behind the black carriers in the wetlands or crossing the paths around you.  You may have even helped us move them off the path (thank you!).

Just in case you didn’t have a chance to see them or to speak with one of the Nature Interpreters at our Discover Nature booth, we’ll be providing answers here to some of the questions people have about the toads and the steps taken to protect them.

The great Western toadlets on their annual migration at Lost Lake. Photo: Kristina Swerhun

Every spring, a female Western toad will lay approximately 12,000 eggs in shallow water.  These eggs become tadpoles in just three to 12 days and are ready to leave the water after six to eight weeks.  At Lost Lake, this means crossing the beach, the Valley Trail and the road to join the adult Western toads in the forests and grasslands.  In nature, less than one per cent of these toads make it to breeding age.  It is our responsibility to make sure human activities don’t increase their mortality rate.

To help the toads survive this journey, the RMOW is working towards a more “toad friendly” environment around Lost Lake Park.  Barriers and fences have been put in place to direct toads towards the forest and nature interpreters from the Whistler Museum’s Discover Nature program educate passersby about this sensitive and protected species.

The toads are helped across the trail by volunteers who also encourage people to walk their bikes and step carefully.

At some point, the toads must cross the Valley Trail and Lost Lake Road on their way to the upland forest areas where they will hibernate for the winter.  To protect them on their journey, Lost Lake Road is closed and people are asked to please watch their step and walk their bikes.

Although the toads are pretty cute, visitors to Lost Lake are asked not to touch the toads with their bare hands as the toads’ skin is very sensitive to human oils and sunscreen.  Picking up the toads or poking them can cause them serious harm or even kill them.

The toadlets blend in well to their surroundings, making them easy to miss.

These steps, which may seem inconvenient, are taken not only to protect a sensitive species but also because Whistler is home to many different creatures, including people.  All of these creatures deserve to be respected.

If you are interested in the Great Toad Migration and would like to help, come visit the Whistler Museum Nature Interpreters at Lost Lake.  We can supply you with gloves and cups and teach you  how to handle the toads without harming them.

If you see the toads anywhere other than Lost Lake, we would love to know!  To report sightings or if you have any questions, please contact us at DiscoverNature@WhistlerMuseum.org.

Kara is a Nature Interpreter with the Whistler Museum’s Discover Nature Program and a recent graduate of Whistler Secondary.  Find her at Lost Lake under the white tent by the concession or on our Nature Walks meeting at the PassivHaus at 11 am Tuesday to Friday until the end of August.