Every now and then a long term and frequent visitor of Whistler will grace us with their stories of this valley’s past. Gordon Cameron is one such character. As a young man, Gordon (also known as G.D.) would spend summers at Alta Lake with his family. A few years ago, Gordon wrote two letters to the museum outlining some fascinating stories from his childhood here in Whistler. One story he recalls involves a cougar, a bear, and a boisterous Myrtle Philip.
Alta Lake from Rainbow Lodge, 1944. Photograph by G.D. Cameron. Philip Collection.
Firstly, to paint a better picture of Gordon and Myrtle’s relationship, Gordon explains Myrtle’s unorthodox method of teaching a young G.D. how to ride a horse. Basically, Myrtle tied Gordon’s feet together underneath the horse’s belly and let boy and animal be! The horse reluctantly traipsed around Alta Lake with the boy strapped firmly astride for most of the day, until it finally managed to shake loose the ties and buck the young Gordon into the River of Golden Dreams.
Myrtle with saddle horse and workhorse, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.
In 1934, a few years after Gordon’s unconventional horseback riding lesson, Gordon and some other boys in the area were recruited by Myrtle to fix a trail that often flooded in high run-off years. The crew got to work slashing the bushes to make the trail wider, while one of the boys held the horses. All of a sudden, one horse bolted; everyone stopped to see what was happening only to observe that just down the trail was a mean looking black bear sniffing the wind. The crew turned to their escape route and had the unpleasant sight of a large tawny cougar stalking towards them. Whilst the boys were scrambling their thoughts into some sort of action, a “whoop and a holler” was heard coming up the trail “in a slightly off-key feminine voice that would have curdled the milk.” Faced with such a vision, the bear took off straight up the mountain and the cougar took one look at the apparition coming charging down the trail and disappeared. Myrtle was so mad, she let off steam in a language that was certainly not “ladies chit-chat.”
Myrtle on a white horse, ca. 1940. Philip Collection.
As if we didn’t have reason enough to adore Myrtle and her courageous ways!
It’s always nice when you come across a story in the archives that shows you how human nature doesn’t change despite the passing of the years. When we came across this tale of teenage humiliation recently, it felt like it could have happened yesterday. A letter from Gordon Cameron outlines his moment of shame, brought on by that eternal bringer of teenage blushes – his mother.
The venue of the incident was the Alta Lake Hotel. This establishment was burnt down in an accidental fire in 1933, but before that time it was situated on the southwest shore of Alta Lake.
Alta Lake Hotel in its heyday.
When the Cameron family stayed at the Alta Lake Hotel it had seen better days. Gordon writes: “every time you slammed the door to your room, there was a cloud of moths that flew all over the room”. Despite the run-down conditions and despite being out the middle of the backwoods (as Whistler was in those days), Gordon’s mother wished her son to be smartly dressed on his vacation. I will leave Gordon to describe what happened next in his own words. “Nothing would do but be attired in white shirt, white pants, white socks and white tennis shoes. Now, the picture was simply this: here was almost everyone else attired in anything that did not find itself into the rag bag, and out of nowhere arrives this veritable vision in white.” Gordon’s entrance into the dining room was met with gales of laughter from everyone present. One of the other guests acted out a “stage-door swoon” much to the amusement of all but poor Gordon, who was naturally mortified. “I was so embarrassed that I scuttled back into the room, and donned some rough-and-tumbles. When I arrived back on the scene, the hooting was louder, my mother glowered at me all through dinner; my dad has a smirk that would not wipe off.”
Poor Gordon! At least he could laugh about it decades later when he wrote to the Whistler Museum. It certainly goes to show that when it comes to teenagers being embarrassed by their parents, some things never change!
Casual dressing is not a new concept in Whistler