Tag Archives: Gerhard Reimer

The ‘new’ Myrtle Philip Community School turns 30!

The first Myrtle Philip Elementary School opened in 1976 in the area that would become the Village, more specifically where the Delta Hotel is today. Although the school opened with only 57 students, the town of Whistler was growing rapidly and the number of students quickly outgrew the school. By 1987, the Howe Sound School Board had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school. By 1991, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary School needed eight portables to house the 268 students. It was definitely time for a new school.

Figures published by the Whistler Question in 1985 indicated that by 1991 ‘room for 336 elementary students is required – three times the current number’. However, despite this, the new school was built to hold 300 students. Unsurprising to those who completed the 1985 study, the numbers already exceeded 300 when the school opened for learning in 1992. Rooms originally planned as extra conference rooms were converted to classrooms as nearly 340 students enrolled for the opening year. In press coverage for the grand opening, the Whistler Question included the line, ‘If the baby boom continues in Whistler, plans for expansion will be examined.’

Students and staff relocating from the old Myrtle Philip Elementary School in the Village, to the new Myrtle Philip Community School on Lorimer Road in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

A celebration for the grand opening was held on September 18, 1992 and included tours led by student hosts and an opening ceremony hosted by principal Mike Edwards, the Master of Ceremonies. It also included the presentation of a portrait of Whistler’s ‘First Lady’, Myrtle Philip, painted by Isobel MacLaurin. The painting showed two images of Myrtle side-by-side; 19 year-old Myrtle, new to Alta Lake, next to Myrtle on her 95th birthday. Myrtle was a dedicated school board trustee for nearly four decades and helped raise the money for the first school in the valley, the Alta Lake School. In recognition of her efforts, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary was named after her, in what Myrtle would describe as the greatest honour of her life. The painting of the school’s namesake can still be seen in Myrtle Philip Community School today.

Isobel MacLaurin next to the painting of Myrtle Philip. MacLaurin Collection.

The new Myrtle Philip Community School was a far cry from the first school that Myrtle helped build in the 1930s. Designed by Vancouver architects Dalla Lana Griffin, it made an impression with it’s comfortable, learning focussed design. As described in the Whistler Question, ‘Windows surround the low lying school and skylights flood the halls with light. Classrooms are not simply square, but feature curved study areas, built-in window counters that look out to the fields and mountains, and courtyards that offer quiet study areas.’ The project cost was $9,174,000, also a far contrast from the first one room Alta Lake schoolhouse that the community raised a total of $300 to build.

The new Myrtle Philip School opened with 16 teachers, plus support staff and teacher assistants. The names of some of the inaugural staff will be familiar to current Myrtle Philip students, with Gerhard Reimer and Donna Williams among the teachers.

One Ringy-Dingy. Vice-principal Rick Price rings an old fashioned bell to call students to the first day of classes after staff couldn’t figure out how to operate the electric bells in the new Myrtle Philip Community School. Whistler Question Collection.

The original Myrtle Philip Elementary School was demolished almost immediately after the new school opened to make way for commercial development in the Village. However, the new Myrtle Philip School had similar challenges to the first. By 1999, the new Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half of the school’s population. A second elementary school was required, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw up catchment boundaries for two elementary schools within Whistler. Spring Creek Community School opened in 2004. This week students will be returning to both of these schools, as well as École La Passerelle, and multiple independent and private schools in the area.

Staff and students in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

Blackcomb Mountain’s Blabcomb

We love newsletters at the museum.  They’re a great way of keeping interested parties up to date and sharing information and, when donated to the archives, are an interesting record of changes to an organization over time.  Recently, some of the museum’s resource binders were digitized to make them text-searchable to help with our own and others’ research projects.  One of these binders housed a collection of newsletters published by Blackcomb Mountain over the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Blabcomb.

The 18 foot cake prepared by Gourmet for the opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980.  By the time the Blabcomb began publishing the mountain had been open for skiing for only seven seasons.  Whistler Question Collection.

When the first edition of the Blabcomb came out on March 17, 1988 the newsletter was only four pages of news and updates related to Blackcomb operations; the last issue that the museum has a copy of, from July 12, 1991, had grown to twelve.

Early issues of the Blabcomb came out with payroll every two weeks, then switched to monthly publication for the summer months.

The issues included lists of birthdays, staff changes, discounts, meetings and recognition of the latest ICE (Inspire Continued Excellence) Awards.  Even birth announcements made it in,

Thought the newsletter included frequent calls for volunteers and contributions, it would seem Blabcomb was spearheaded by Eric Sinclair of Blackcomb’s accounting department.  The name “Blabcomb” was the product of Wayne “Chookhead” Burt, who won out against competing submissions such as “Snow News” (Bart Parsons), “Seventh Heaven Express” (Peter Bacholtz), and “Blackcomb Briefs” (Gerhard Reimer).

Considering the chatty (and, at times, perhaps gossipy) tone of the newsletter, Blabcomb seems like a perfect fit.

The suitcase races on Blackcomb were a popular event, and would have made for great television. Blackcomb Collection.

In some ways the resort described in the Blabcomb is very different from the Whistler Blackcomb operations of today.  Events such as the Celebrity Challenge Suitcase Race (you can learn more about that event here) no longer run and with the merger between Whistler and Blackcomb guest numbers are no longer a competition.  Other parts of their spring 1988 newsletters, however, could almost be published today.

The Blabcomb reportedly began “in order to maintain the Blackcomb spirit,” which some feared was being lost as the company grew (a feeling not unknown in Whistler).  In early March 1988 the Blackcomb staff (combining both employees of Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises and of Alta Lake Foods, which ran the food and beverage operations for the mountain) surpassed the 600 employees mark.  The creation of the Blabcomb recognized that it could be “difficult to maintain that feeling of ‘family’ among such a large employee base.”

Original pin that was used to promote the new Wizard Chair at Blackcomb Mountain. Whistler Museum.

With expanded food service and five new lifts added in 1987 (Magic Chair, Wizard Express, Solar Coaster Express, 7th Heaven Express and Horstman Glacier T-Bar) the 1987-88 season was a big year for Blackcomb Mountain.  By early April it had exceeded 512,000 visits (to put the number is perspective, the previous record of 508,000 had been set by Whistler Mountain in the 1984/85 season) and looked on track to exceed 600,000 by the time the season ended.

Employees asked by the Blabcomb described the season as “exciting, exhausting, wild and, of course, magical” but the newsletter also acknowledged the toll the season had taken.

As they put it, “Not only did Blackcomb employees have to adjust to a massive expansion project that included new lifts, buildings and added responsibilities, they were overwhelmed by the number of skiers we received in Whistler Resort this year… A shortage of employees, cramped, and sometimes marginal living conditions made these ‘adjustments’ even more difficult.”

Over the next few years the Blabcomb continued to update employees about changes in operations and events on the mountain, while also covering topics that we still discuss in Whistler today, such as the construction of employee housing (it was during this period that Blackcomb and CP Hotels, later the Chateau, built some of the housing currently in use).

Though newsletters are often written thinking of the present and future, they can be really useful resources when examining our past.