Tag Archives: Ernie Archibald

Generations of Alta Lake

Though there are some scattered throughout the valley, not many houses in Whistler have been passed down through generations, and fewer can claim to have been occupied by five generations of the same family.  The cabin of the Woollard/Clarke/Bellamy family, is one such home.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912.

Betty Woollard, later Betty Clarke, was the second teacher at the Alta Lake School, replacing Margaret Partridge in 1936.  Betty’s mother, Grace Woollard, first came to Alta Lake along the Pemberton Trail in 1912 with Grace Archibald.  Both nurses in Vancouver, the two Graces came to visit Ernie Archibald (who would later disappear into Alta Lake in 1938) and fell in love with the valley.  After her marriage to Charles Woollard, a doctor, Grace Woollard returned to Alta Lake and the couple preempted a quarter section of land.  Their two daughters, Betty and Eleanor, spent their summers at Alta Lake, along with the Clarkes, family friends of the Woollards who built a cabin on what is now Blueberry Hill.

Betty earned a combined honours in English and History at the University of British Columbia and then attended normal school to become a teacher.  She was visiting her mother at Grace’s cabin in the valley when the search was on for a replacement for Margaret Partridge, the school’s first teacher who had previously been a waitress at Rainbow Lodge, and Betty got the job.

The Alta Lake School where Betty Clarke taught in the 1930s.

Betty Woollard taught at the one room schoolhouse for a couple of years.  While at the school she, like Margaret Partridge before her, was devoted to the students and even went to great lengths to teach the The Sailors Hornpipe, a dance which imitates the life of a sailor and their duties aboard ship.  As her daughter Margaret Bellamy recalled, Betty had to write out the directions for her students but found the only way she could do that was by doing the dance herself.  She would do one step, write it down, do two steps, write down the new step, do three steps, write it down, and so on until she made it through the whole dance.  It took Betty hours and she was completely exhausted.

Betty Woollard (left) and her sister Eleanor along the tracks at Alta Lake.

Both Betty and her sister married men they knew from Alta Lake.  Eleanor married Mason Philip, the nephew of Alex Philip, and Betty married Douglas Clarke, one of the Clarke boys she had grown up knowing.  While Doug was overseas during World War II Betty and her young daughter Susanne bought their own cabin at the south end of Alta Lake.  Betty’s mother, Grace, sold her original cabin and moved to be closer to her daughter.  So far five generations of Betty’s family have spent summers in that cabin, including her mother, her daughter, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

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A Christmastime Mystery: The Disappearance of Ernie Archibald

With Christmas closely behind us, ‘tis the season to recall one of Whistler’s most curious Christmastime mysteries – an event that took place over seventy years ago on a cold December night in 1938. I’m referring to the disappearance of Ernie Archibald. Aside from the mystery of Ernie’s disappearance, the story itself is somewhat inconclusive due to its varying accounts.

Ernie Archibald came to Whistler in 1912 and lived on the east side of Alta Lake. What we know for certain of this story is that on the night of his disappearance, Ernie had a guest, George Trites, staying with him at his home.  As Florence Petersen distinguishes in her book First Tracks: Whistler’s Early History, Ernie and George were heading to Fred Woods’ home located across the lake from the Archibald residence. However, in an interview in 2012, Glen Smith (Ernie’s grandson) recalls his mother telling him the story and stating that Ernie and George were actually on their way to catch a train to Vancouver. The two men – whether it be to catch a train or to visit a friend’s house for dinner – left Ernie’s house and attempted to cross Alta Lake. Prior to visiting Ernie, George had injured his leg and therefore, in order to cross the lake, Ernie had to pull George in a sleigh. The two men never made it to their destination.

Ice on Alta Lake, ca. 1935. Philip Collection

Ice on Alta Lake, ca. 1935.
Philip Collection

As days wore on, friends began to notice Ernie’s absence. As one story goes, Fred Woods noticed a lamp burning in the front window of Ernie’s home – at this time it was the custom to leave a gas lamp burning in your window before leaving your home so that you could find your way back after dark. Eddie Droll, a young man visiting Fred, offered to walk across the iced-over lake to find out if George and Ernie were home. The two men, of course, were not.

George’s sleigh was later found on top of the frozen lake, while George’s body was found in the lake. Ernie Archibald, however, was never found. This is where the story takes an interesting turn. First, some people thought it was strange that the sleigh had not also fallen through the ice with the two men. Secondly, George Trites had sustained a serious wound to his forehead.

Despite the strange plot twists, many believe that Ernie Archibald is still in Alta Lake. Of course, it is all speculation and hearsay. But it makes you wonder what really happened on that cold December night in 1938.

Believed to be Ernie Archibald's residence on Alta Lake, ca. 1930. Smith Collection

Believed to be Ernie Archibald’s residence on Alta Lake, ca. 1930.
Smith Collection