Tag Archives: Florence Petersen

A Virtual AGM: A First for the Whistler Museum

This Thursday (June 11) the Whistler Museum & Archives Society will be hosting our 2020 AGM online beginning at 5 pm using Zoom, one of the many online platforms that have become increasingly popular over the past few months.  Though this will be the first time in over thirty years of operations that we will not be able to welcome our members in person, we’re looking forward to connecting with all who attend using the means currently available.

Most years our AGM includes dinner and a chance for members to catch up, but this year members will all be responsible for providing their own refreshments.

The Whistler Museum & Archives Society became an official non-profit organization in February 1987, but work to start a museum had begun well before that.  In the late 1970s Myrtle Philip and Dick Fairhurst, both early Alta Lake residents, had expressed their concerns to Florence Petersen that the history of the small community would be lost as skiing became more and more popular in the area.  In the summer of 1986 Florence and a group of dedicated volunteers began gathering items and archival records to tell their stories.  Sadly, both Myrtle and Dick passed away before the first museum opened as a temporary showcase in the back room of the Whistler Library in the basement of Municipal Hall.

The first museum displays in the Whistler Library, then located in the basement of Municipal Hall.  Whistler Museum Collection.

The Whistler Museum moved into its own space in January 1988 when it took over the old municipal hall building in Function Junction.  Thanks to the generosity of the Whistler Rotary Club, who helped renovate the space, the museum was able to open to the public in June 1989 with exhibits on skiing and natural history and even a replica of Myrtle Philip’s sitting room.  Over its first season of operations, the Whistler Museum attracted over 2,000 visitors.  The following summer that number increased to over 3,800 visitors.

Florence poses at the Function Junction location with the new Museum sign in 1988 – this same sign adorns the side of the Museum today.  Whistler Museum Collection.

The museum remained in its Function Junction location until 1995, when it and the library both moved into temporary spaces on Main Street.  Though the new location was actually quite a bit smaller than the old one, this was more than made up for by its increased visibility and prime location.  In the first month of operation in the Village the museum attracted 2,168 visitors to is new exhibits.  The museum began to offer programs, such as walking tours and school trips, participated in community events such as the Canada Day Parade, and even published cookbooks sharing recipes from local restaurants and community members.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

In 2009 the Whistler Museum reopened in its current location (conveniently right next door to its previous building) with a new interior and new permanent exhibits with support from the RMOW, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the American Friends of Whistler and, of course, many community members.  From this space the museum has continued to offer programs and events, participate in community events, and offer temporary exhibits on different topics (though there have been no cookbooks published recently, First Tracks, Florence Petersen’s book on the history of Alta Lake, is now in its third printing and is available at the museum by request).

We hope that all of our members will be able to join us next Thursday to look back on the past year of museum operations (our busiest on record!).  For information on how to attend or to check on the status of your membership, please call the museum at 604-932-2019 or email us at events@whistlermuseum.org.

Pranks at Witsend

When describing summers spent at Alta Lake, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) once explained how she, June Collins, Kelly Fairhurst, Betty Atkinson, and Jacquie Pope (her fellow Witsend residents) would plan their days: “You’d take a walk, and say ‘What’ll I do today?’  Something would happen that would lead to something else.”  Sometimes these walks would lead to days that, though not necessarily the most productive, were still remembered by the Witsend group for their fun nearly fifty years later.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen continue to share a laugh well after their Witsend days. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Florence remembered one walk in particular that ended with an elaborate prank being played on one of the seasonal forestry workers staying at Alta Lake.

She and Julie, a visiting friend, were out walking when Julia accidentally killed a grouse while tossing rocks down the path.  As a biology teacher, Julie had with her all the necessary equipment to skin the bird, after which the pair decided to stuff the skin.  They took it and poultry meant for their dinner with them to the forestry cabin.  They suspended one bird above a door, to fall into the face of the next person to enter, and arranged the other on the table so that it appeared to be sitting cross legged while staring at the door.  This might have been startling enough, but the pair went further and filled the bottom of the sleeping bag with the cabin’s cutlery.

Trail rides had always been a part of summer at Rainbow Lodge, and sometimes the Witsend group would ride along on the extra horses. Philip Collection.

The Witsend group was well acquainted with “the forestry guys,” and knew that the joke would be taken well.  Unfortunately for the occupant of the cabin, his boss from the city happened to be visiting that day and his departure was delayed.  The boss had to stay the night, and the forester kindly offered to take the couch while his boss used the sleeping bag.  After being greeted by flying poultry and finding a fork with his foot while going to bed, this was a stay that the boss would remember.  As Florence recalled, “Of course, all of the forestry kids knew who it had been, but they wouldn’t say.”

Perhaps the best story of a Witsend prank came from June Collins.  The group used to ride horses at Alta Lake, often getting to take the spare horses on Rainbow Lodge trail rides.  One day, there were only four horses and five hopeful riders.  Kelly very kindly volunteered to stay behind and the other four happily went off to spend the day on the trail.  According to June, when they returned to Witsend they found Kelly looking “like she was going to burst.”  When asked what she had gotten up to that day, a sparkling eyed Kelly told them “Nothing.”  When they tried to go to bed, however, the other four discovered just what Kelly had spent her day doing.

The beds had been apple-pied and filled with pop bottle caps, and Kelly had meticulously sewn their pyjamas shut an inch in, making them impossible to put on.

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

They never got mad at each other but took such practical jokes as the fun they were meant to be.  Despite their antics, those who lived at Witsend could also be serious and practical.  As June described it: “All of us had been the same kind of people.  We worked hard, we had always worked hard.  We all had jobs in the summer and we taught in the winter and we went through school.  We did everything right and we never had time for fun.  When we got up there, wow, what a difference.  Why not have it?  So we had a good time.”

Traveling to Witsend with June Collins

On March 26, 2013, one of the staff at the Whistler Museum sat down to record an oral history with June Collins.  June Tidball, as she was known during her time at Alta Lake, was one of the original owners of Witsend, a cabin on Alta Lake.

June was born in Banff, AB to Tom and Anne Tidball.  Though she grew up in Alberta, June’s family had strong ties to Vancouver and the west coast.  Her father was a well-known lifeguard at English Bay, where he met her mother who worked as a ticket taker.  The pair married, moved to Alberta, and then returned to British Columbia in 1941.

June attended the University of British Columbia and after graduating went on to teacher training.  Her first teaching job was at Burnaby North High School in 1953, the same school at which Florence Petersen (then Strachan) taught.  The two did not meet during that first year, as Florence was on exchange in England.  June said that the next year, however, “We made an instant friendship.”

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

June, Florence, and three friends began to get together, going on weekend trips and outings.  June’s friend Betty Atkinson taught in Armstrong, BC, and Florence knew Jacquie Pope and Kelly Forster from teaching in Burnaby.  Betty had worked summers at Rainbow Lodge while attending university and Jacquie and Kelly had both stayed there.  When Betty heard of a cabin for sale on Alta Lake in 1955 the group decided to go in on it together.

June had many stories to share about their time at Alta Lake.  She described the long, often rainy, journeys which began with the Union Steamship from Vancouver to Squamish, followed by a train journey.  According to June, the couple of hours spent waiting for the train in Squamish was when everyone would run to the hotel to buy a case of beer.  She described how, when the train was ready to go, “He’d give two toots on the train and eveybody’d come running with their beer.”  With no store at Alta Lake apart from a general store at Rainbow Lodge, Squamish was the last stop for most supplies.

The Rainbow Lodge Post Office & Store was the only shop in the area and didn’t have too much variety.  Philip Collection.

Though it seemed everybody else was traveling up with beer, June described how the Witsend group decided that they would be “very elegant” and have a gin and tonic on their porch at 4 o’clock every afternoon.  They bought maraschino cherries and the proper glasses, but ran into a problem getting the gin.  The Squamish liquor store did not stock gin and they had to place a special order to have it brought in.  When they ran out at Alta Lake, they would tell a man they knew who worked on the train, and he would pick it up and bring it to them.  According to June, their gin was delivered in a shoebox, and the man would very discreetly tell them “Here’s the shoes you ordered.”

The group would spend most of their summer at Alta Lake, though June would travel to Vancouver from time to time to visit George Collins, then a dentistry student at McGill back for the break.

Three of the original Witsend owners share a laugh in the 1980s. (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen. Whistler Question Collection.

Though it is not currently business as usual at the Whistler Museum (especially as we are not at the museum, but working from home) we will continue to bring you more stories from Whistler’s past, including a few more stories from June Collins, each week.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@whistlermuseum), where we’ll be sharing photos, trivia and more each day.  We hope to see everyone back at the museum soon!

Jacquie Pope’s “Vatican”

Earlier this month, we were invited to attend the Alta Lake Road Block Party.  While sharing information about the neighbourhood’s history with residents, a couple came by to share some history of their friend Jacquie Pope with us.

Jacquie Pope first visited Alta Lake in 1953, when she and Kelly Forster (later Kelly Fairhurst) took a two week vacation at Rainbow Lodge.  After that holiday, Pope remembered that they returned every chance they got, including “the following summer and every long weekend in between.”  At the time travel to Alta Lake was an all-day affair and weekend trips took dedication.

Rainbow Lodge under the Greenwoods in the 1950s.

In 1955 Jacquie and Kelly were part of a group of teachers who bought a cabin together on Alta Lake Road.  The five women were Jacquie, Kelly, Florence Strachan (later Petersen), Betty Gray, and June Tidball.  At Alta Lake they learned to split wood, cook on a wood-burning stove, and lime an outhouse.  Their cabin, soon named “Witsend” after a particularly trying and rainy journey to Alta Lake, was a much-loved summer and weekend getaway for the group.

Jacquie sold her shares in Witsend in 1964 and bought her own lot further along the road.  She paid $1,500 to a PGE employee for Lot 30 and her house, built by Alta Lake Road neighbour Colin Ramsay, was completed in 1965.  In a play on her last name, the house was named “The Vatican”.  At that time it wasn’t uncommon to see names attached to properties, including Valhalla, the Gowery, Whispering Leaves, Woodbine Cottage, Worlebury Lodge, Primrose, the Vicarage, and Kelso Lodge.

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

Jacquie continued teaching in Burnaby and spent her summers at Alta Lake.  After retiring in 1983, she moved to Whistler full-time.

Florence remembered Jacquie as “the life of many a gathering,” especially when she led the sing-a-longs with her ukulele.  Jacquie had a passion for sports and had even played field hockey for Canada in the Netherlands in 1959.  During her retirement in Whistler she hiked, fished and even sailed her own Sabot, a sailing dinghy that is sailed single handedly, as part of the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Jacquie stayed at “The Vatican” on Alta Lake Road until 2001, when she sold the property and moved to Squamish to enjoy easier winters and a longer golf season.  James Collingwood, who bought Lot 30, demolished the house built by Colin Ramsay.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The sign that hung outside “The Vatican” moved to Squamish with Jacquie and was reportedly displayed in her garden.  After her death in 2011, friends and neighbours of her inherited the sign and kept it in their own garden.

These friends of Jacquie’s attended the Alta Lake Road Block Party and brought with them the sign from her Alta Lake property, surprising us by donating it to the museum collections.  Despite spending decades outside, it is in remarkably good condition and the carved lettering is still easy to read.  The sign represents a period in the area when Alta Lake was a popular summer cottage destination, before visitors traded their sailboats for skis.  Though Jacquie’s house is no longer standing, artefacts like her sign provide insight into Whistler history.