Tag Archives: Fred Woods

Alta Lake Dances

Before the ski resort brought power and paved roads to the valley, and it was renamed Whistler, Alta Lake was a fairly small and remote town. Without developed roads it could be hard getting around and residents from opposite sides of the valley rarely crossed paths. One thing that would bring the community together, however, was the Alta Lake dances. While the music and location of the dances varied over the years, fond memories are recounted by many people that visited or called Alta Lake home.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods lived in Alta Lake with their children from around 1926 until the 1940s, and during this time their family band was the staple entertainment at dances and community events. Dances featuring the Woods family band helped raise money for the first Alta Lake School, which children Helen, Pat, Jack and Kenneth Woods attended. When the one room schoolhouse was built in the 1930s it doubled as a community hall where regular dances continued to be held.

Pat Woods was quite young when he started playing at the Alta Lake dances with his family. “We used to load the toboggan with the guitars, accordion, and a violin. We’d ride the toboggan down to the dance hall, play crib, then make some music. We weren’t very old then, but everybody was up dancing. We were 9 or 10.”

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers.

Almost everyone was up dancing. School desks were pushed to the side for the dances and really young children would sleep through the event under the desks. The schoolhouse, like most buildings, was lit by coal oil lamps. When the home waltz started and the lamps turned off it was time to bundle up and head home.

Kenneth Farley’s family came to Alta Lake in 1943, after the Woods family band had moved on. “The music was the wrangler,” recounted Kenneth. “Philip’s wrangler looked after the horses. He played a fiddle and he would keep the time with the heel of his cowboy boots to set the pace, while the whisky in his back pocket would be sloshing away. You didn’t need to be able to dance because it was so crowded you could hardly move.”

Alta Lake School doubled as the community hall where dances were regularly held. Philip Collection.

For those living along the lake, the festivities started before arriving at the dance. A boat with an outboard motor would start at the north end of the lake, picking up everyone in rowboats on the way past. By the time they arrived to the dance there would be a long string of boats pulled along behind the motorboat.

John Burge first came to Alta Lake in 1956 and spent the summers here while growing up. Not quite the same as the dances you’ll find at Garfs or The Longhorn today, he remembers learning the foxtrot, waltz, schottische and polka from Florence Petersen. “We just learned all these dances and people did them. It was a fun time.”

John started working at Rainbow Lodge when he was around 13 and after working for five summers he had saved enough money to pay for university. One of his jobs was to wax the floors after the Saturday night dances held in the Rainbow Lodge dining room, which could be attended by up to 100 people. By then Rainbow Lodge was owned by Alec and Audrey Greenwood, who had bought the lodge from Myrtle and Alex Philip when they retired in 1948. The lodge was made of wood and the whole building would dance, with the deteriorating wood floor bouncing up and down as much as six inches as people boogied.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

The Woods at Alta Lake

The Woods family moved to Alta Lake around 1926 and worked in the area, both for the railway and in the logging industry, until the 1940s. Fred Woods was born in the Isle of Man and immigrated to Canada after a time in the army. He worked on the railroad in Broadview, Saskatchewan where he met and married Elizabeth. Their first child, Helen, was born in Broadview in 1921 and a couple of years later the family moved to Port Coquiltam, where Fred continued to work on the railroad. While there Fred and Elizabeth had two sons, Jack and Pat. Fred then took a job as a section foreman for the PGE Railway and the entire family moved to Alta Lake.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods on the train tracks at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

After a few years, Fred lost his job with the PGE and the family moved out of the company house. After living for a time in a much smaller house, the family was able to rent a property from Jack Findlay, who charged them only the cost of the property taxes. The property included a house, barn, hayfield, and garden and was located across the creek from the Tapley’s farm. Fred began working for the logging operation of B.C. Keeley of Parkhurst during the summers and clearing trails and bridges as relief work in the winters.

The family kept a cow, horse, chickens, and, at times, a pig and grew their own vegetables. In the summer the children would pick berries that Elizabeth would use to make jam. She also canned meat from their animals. When the logging camp closed at the end of the summer Fred would order groceries such as flour and sugar wholesale through the cookhouse to last through the winter. Vegetables were stored in the roothouse and the children would keep the path from the house clear of snow.

Pat Woods, Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland and Jack Woods skating at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

Helen, Pat, Jack and later their younger brother Kenneth went to the Alta Lake School, though Pat remembered some days when snow prevented them from attending. As they got older they also began working outside of their home. When Jack was fifteen and Pat fourteen they spent a summer working in the sawmill at Lost Lost (after a fire at Parkhurst in 1938, logging operations were temporarily moved to Lost Lake before returning to Green Lake). Their employment ended abruptly when Jack lost all the fingers on his right hand in a workplace accident. According to Pat, it took years for Jack to receive compensation, as he was supposed to be sixteen before working in the mill.

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers, held in the school.

Though the family worked hard during their years at Alta Lake, both Pat and Helen had fond memories of living in the area. Elizabeth loved music and taught her children to play violin and guitar. She played accordion and the family would perform at community dances. They also remembered the kindness of various “bachelors” who lived at Alta Lake, such as Bill Bailiff and Ed Droll, who would visit with their father and sometimes give the children carrots from their gardens on their way to school.

In the early 1940s Fred Woods joined the Canadian army and the family, apart from Helen who had left home and lived in Squamish, moved to North Vancouver. In later years, members of the Woods family returned as visitors to Alta Lake and then Whistler, though they never forgot the years they spent living and working in the area.

Discovering Alex Philip (Part Two)

As briefly mentioned in our article “The Crimson Paradise Turkey” in The Question (coming out Tuesday Aug. 26th), depending on whose perspective you get, the ‘facts’ of history may be different. Below is a quote from an interview completed by Sally Mitchell with Pat and Lou Woods from 1989, in which they discuss how a donation from Myrtle really got the museum going.

Sally: She left us the entire contents of her house.

Lou: Oh she did, eh’?

S: That’s how it first got started, the museum. So we were a little, almost biased to begin with because we had all her things, and we didn’t have anything from anybody else.

L: Oh I see.

S: That’s why it’s so important that we get out and talk to other families.

L: Well in every human community for heaven sakes there’s pros and cons on everything.

S: Oh yeah.

L: It doesn’t matter what the issue is or what the point is, there’s always different angles.

S: As long as you get all those different angles, then you don’t get stuck.

L: Then you get, kind of, nubs coming in there. There’s touching lines, right? Yeah, then you say, “Oh that could have been fact.”

I bring this up because since I began working at the museum in June, I have been told of what kind of person Alex Philip was, and it has not painted the best picture of his character. However, while doing research, I have read many positive remarks about Alex (Alec to most people in the early days). This is not to say that young Alec and old Alex had the same personality, or that the traits that made him a likeable proprietor of Rainbow Lodge, and author, did not betray him later in life.

Alex Philip and his dog, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

Alex Philip and his dog, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

In the interview quoted above, Pat Woods discusses Alec a few times, stating, “He was a hell of a nice old guy.” Pat worked for Alec and Myrtle for a short period of time when he was around 13, bringing firewood into the cabins of Rainbow Lodge. In the interview clip below he tells a story about one time when he forgot to bring the wood into the hall.

Pat: I remember one time I forgot to put the wood in. They had a big fireplace in the… dining room. Then they’d move the tables to dance at night. And sometimes it’d get cold. My job was to pile the wood by that fireplace. I went to work the day. I don’t know what happened. They were delivering milk. And cut into some beer… The next morning packing wood into these cabins…(Run into Alec?)…I think there was a few people around. He said, “Pat, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. I guess I’ll give you one more chance.” …He said can you imagine in front of 100 guests here’s Mr. Philip, the proprietor, with his while flannels and white shoes, silk shirt, packing wood into the dining room?” I said “Oh my God.” He said “Cause that’s what I did.” And then he started to laugh. And I says “You did it yourself?” “Well I found someone to help me.” That was his humour ‘eh. But I remembered not to do it again.

It seems that the Woods family had a close connection with Alec. Fred Woods, Pat Woods’ father, also had many positive things to say about Alec. In an interview conducted by Tim Cornish with Fred Woods in 1982, Fred states that “Alec was a very strange man, tall, but a very good-natured man, very kind. Although, he was considerate, mind you he never threw his money away. Just pleasant.”

Alex Philip on his boat, 1956. Philip Collection.

Later in this interview when asked to say more about Alec, Fred states:

“He was the one that attracted the tourists, because Alec’s got more stories than Carter’s got pills. And he was a clean living man. He enjoyed a drink, but that was all, he never got intoxicated or nothing, he was a pleasant man. There was an awful lot of B.C. telephone girls that would go up there on their’ holidays. It was close to home and quite reasonable in those days. And of course Alec would get them in a bunch and tell them stories; he could make stories up in his mind. They were all stories that the girls liked. That’s how Rainbow started.”

Throughout my research it has become clear that Alec was indeed a very well liked by other men. It seems from the archives, that those who knew him in the days of Rainbow Lodge knew Alex as a kind host, entertainer, storyteller, and the life of the party. However, there are many sides to every story.

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