Tag Archives: Glen Smith

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

Down the River of Golden Dreams

Floating the River of Golden Dreams is an ideal way to pass a hot Whistler summer’s day. Its lazy pace and winding course makes it an idyllic journey, which Alex Philip, proprietor of Whistler’s first lodge, recognized early on. Alex would paddle honeymooners down the River of Golden Dreams in a large canoe, often by moonlight, where they could snuggle up and soak in the valley’s natural beauty.

Alex Philip paddling guests down the River of Golden Dreams (and Romance).

According to Myrtle Philip, Alex (who was a hopeless romantic) named the river and dubbed it ‘The River of Golden Dreams (and Romance)’ in honour of these moonlit journeys.  However, that version of the naming of the river is somewhat contentious. According to Glen Smith, his mother Peggy Archibald named the river in honour of the famous song ‘Down the River of Golden Dreams’. The song Glen Smith was likely referring to was popularized by The Boswell sisters around 1930. Its peaceful tune and wistful lyrics certainly match atmosphere that Alex Philip was trying to promote: “Down the River of Golden Dreams, drifting along, humming a song of love…”. The popular folk song was later recorded by both Slim Whitman and The Platters. Click the link below to listen to the song on YouTube:

The Platters singing ‘Down the River of Golden Dreams’

Regardless of who actually gave the river the moniker ‘The River of Golden Dreams’, the name is apt for the river. Its true name, however, is Alta Creek, as its source is at the Northern end of Alta Lake. It meanders from Alta Lake to Green Lake.

Floating down the river is still a popular activity for honeymooners, locals, and summertime visitors to Whistler. Whether by inner tube, stand-up paddle board, canoe, kayak, or any other water craft, the trip continues to be a great way to pass a hot summer’s afternoon.

A bearded paddler cools off on a summer’s day.