Tag Archives: Hillcrest Lodge

Reimagining Hillcrest Lodge

When Hillcrest Lodge first opened for business in 1946 it was not meant to be a year-round operation.  Summers were so busy with regular visitors and guests that Jack and Cis Mansell, who built the lodge with their sons Doug and Loyd, would “say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.”  In October, Hillcrest Lodge closed for the season and Jack and Cis would often leave Alta Lake to spend winters in warmer climes.  This seasonal closure would, however, change in the 1960s.

Hillcrest Lodge, originally built and run by the Mansell family, was renamed the Mount Whistler Lodge under new management soon after Whistler Mountain opened.  Mansell Family Collection.

Jack and Cis retired in 1958 and Doug and his wife Barb took over the management of the lodge.  In the early 1960s Doug and Loyd kept the lodge open on weekends through the winter and even built a small rope tow on the property that they ran for skiers.  In 1965, as the first lifts were completed on Whistler Mountain, Doug and Barb sold Hillcrest Lodge to a group from Vancouver led by Glen Mason.  The lodge’s name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge and, instead of attracting summer guests, was marketed towards skiers.

Mount Whistler Lodge at the bottom of Whistler Mountain in 1972. Mason Collection.

By the winter 1967/68, winter guests could pay $9.50/day to stay and receive three meals at Mount Whistler Lodge (for those who brought their own sleeping bags, the rate was only $8.50), conveniently located only one mile (1.6km) from the gondola.  The lodge also offered entertainment in the form of pizza and music, including a jug band on Thursday nights.

An advertisement from the winter of 1971/72 announced that the lodge was under new management and introduced “The Purple Ski Cabaret,” though it featured few details about what the cabaret included.  Through the early 1970s the Mount Whistler Lodge also marketed itself as “open all year round.”  Its close proximity to the lifts appealed to skiers while the lodge also drew summer visitors with promises of swimming, fishing, boating and waterskiing on four nearby lakes, horseback rides through the valley, and more.

The Whistler Lodge in the Whistler Answer, October/November 1979.  Photo by George Benjamin.

Mount Whistler Lodge also became popular among Whistler area residents.  According to an article from the October/November 1979 issue of the Whistler Answer, Mount Whistler Lodge (which had by then ceased operations) was “quite simply, the best damn boogie, rockin, boppin, rip-roarin, down home, funky, shit kickin place to ever serve a beer.”  The lodge itself was described as “a log cabin right on the lake, with cracked Tiffany lamps and mildew stains on the ceiling.”  The Answer attributed the “looseness” of the lodge between 1973 and 1974 to managers Rob and Jen Houseman, who figured the best way to ensure rules were not broken was to have no rules.  Before it closed permanently in the mid 1970s, Mount Whistler Lodge was even the venue for the first two Freakers’ Balls.

The Answer ended its article by declaring that, “The Whistler Lodge, although closed today, remains one of the few structures today in Whistler that could be labelled heritage buildings.”  Two years earlier, in 1977, Rainbow Lodge had been mostly destroyed by a fire on the other side of Alta Lake and other buildings, such as the Soo Valley Logging Camp and the Alta Lake Community Hall, had already been burnt down.  In 1986 the main building of the Mount Whistler Lodge joined them and was burnt down as practice for the Whistler Fire Department.  The cabins remained for some years, but today few physical traces can be found of Hillcrest or Mount Whistler Lodge.

These steps are one of the few remaining physical reminders of the Hillcrest Lodge and Mount Whistler Lodge.

Garibaldi Lifts’ Early Employees

Since Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. first began hiring staff in 1965, Whistler Mountain has employed thousands of people in the area, some for a season and some for careers that span decades.  Like today, one of the challenges facing lift company employees then could be find a place to stay while working.  In an oral history interview conducted with Lynn Mathews this past summer, there were some names of employees that came up again and again while discussing early mountain operations.  One thing that three of these names, Doug Mansell, Denis Beauregard, and Frank Arundel, had in common was that they all had a place to stay well before the lifts began operating on Whistler.

Doug Mansell was a superintendent of lift operations for almost two decades.  He first moved to Alta Lake with his family in 1945 at the age of 8, after his father purchased property on the east side of the lake.  There the family built and operated Hillcrest Lodge, which opened its doors to guests in July 1946.  Doug and his brother grew up at Hillcrest Lodge, and Doug even married a Hillcrest guest, Barb.  At 14, Doug began working in Alf Gebhart’s Rainbow Lumber Mill and from 1951-56 he worked as a telephone lineman for the PGE Railway.  Doug and Barb took over the management of Hillcrest when his parents retired in 1958 and later sold the lodge to Glen Mason in 1965.  Hillcrest later became known as the Mount Whistler Lodge.

Doug Mansell, Franz Wilhelmsen, Stefan Ples and Jim McConkey pose together at the dedication ceremony for Franz’s Run. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection

After selling, Doug and Barb both went to work for the lift company.  As Lynn put it, “Growing up in Alta Lake, you had to be handy, and know how to do things.  And Doug was really good.”  Doug continued working on Whistler Mountain until he and Barb retired to North Vancouver in 1983.

Like Doug, Denis Beauregard, an electrician for the lift company, was an Alta Lake resident before runs and lifts were built on Whistler Mountain.  He and his wife Pat began visiting Alta Lake with the “Witsend” group and built their own summer cottage on the lake in 1961.  The story we’ve heard is that a party at Rainbow Lodge in 1966, Denis remarked that if he could get a job in the area, he would move up permanently.  Brian Rowley, who worked for the lift company at that time, told Denis he could supply the job, and neighbour Don Gow offered to share his well water with the Beauregards in exchange for use of their washing machine.  The Beauregards moved up and both Denis and Pat began working at the mountain.  Both continued to be active members of the Alta Lake community, and even hosted the community club film screenings in the lift company cafeteria.

Denis and Pat Beauregard receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain’s 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Both of the Beauregards’ sons worked for the lift company as well, and in 1991 Denis and Pat received silver coins commemorating their 25 years of service.  The pair retired to Squamish in 1994.

Frank Arundel worked for the lift company as a heavy-duty mechanic.  He and his family lived outside of the Alta Lake area, in Garibaldi Townsite, until an Order in Council and subsequent government actions cleared all residents from the area in the 1980s.  Frank had a workshop on the top of the mountain, which, according to Lynn, “was usually buried in snow.”  For Julie Gallagher, who grew up at Brandywine Resort in the 1960s and early 1970s, Frank’s work at Whistler Mountain was very convenient as she and his daughter were able to catch rides up to go skiing whenever he went to work.

We know there are many more stories of early employees (such as Stefan Ples, who perhaps knew the mountain better than anyone) and the early days of mountain operations, and we would love to hear them at the museum, whether you worked for the lift company yourself or heard stories passed down through the decades.

Summer Preparations at Alta Lake

With last Friday (June 21) officially marking the beginning of summer, we’ve reached the time when all the plans and preparations for the season come to life.  This change of seasons would have been a particularly busy and expectant time for the residents of Alta Lake in the first half of the 20th century.  Long before Whistler became known internationally as a ski resort, Alta Lake was a popular summer destination that drew short-term visitors and summer residents to join those who stayed in the area year round.

For Alta Lake, summer was the busy season of the year while winters were very quiet. This would change dramatically with the development of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s. Fairhurst Collection.

Sixty years ago Alta Lake had no local government, no newspaper and certainly no Facebook groups to notify residents of the goings on (official or unofficial) in the area.  Social gatherings and community initiatives were often organized through the Alta Lake School and the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), founded in the early 1930s and 1926 respectively.  When it came to preparing for an eventful summer, the ALCC played an active role in preparations and kept its members up to date on community efforts through its newsletter, the Alta Lake Echo.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow. Philip Collection.

The Echo was published from 1958 to 1961 and ran weekly through the summer months of 1959.  At this time it was edited by Don Gow, who brought a personal touch to the sharing of news, the description of events and updates on comings and goings, seemingly of everyone in the valley – this led to some entertaining issues. (In one issue calling for newsletter subscription renewal, Gow threatened to cut off the circulation or, even worse, “we will print your names in the paper and let everyone know how cheap you are.”)

Members of the Alta Lake community began preparing for summer in May with a dance at the Community Hall to kick off events for those in the area.  Before this could happen members of the ALCC were reminded of a “Hall Clean Up Day,” the main purpose of which was to wash and wax the floor.  Those planning to pitch in were urged to bring their own tools and reminded that “the more who show up the quicker we can get fishing.”

By May preparations and repairs were also also underway at the lodges around Alta Lake as they looked forward to welcoming their first guests.  Jack and Cis Mansell returned from a winter presumably spent in warmer climes to ready Hillcrest for the season, and Russ and Maxine Jordan improved the porches at Jordan’s Lodge.  Smitty and Don (surnames were rarely included in the Echo) had plans to rebuild the Mansells’ raft in front of Alta Lake Station, used to ferry guests across the lake.

The first dance of the season, scheduled to start at 9 pm and end “when we’re dang good and ready” over the May long weekend, was well attended and a good time by all accounts.  While Rainbow Lodge had not yet opened, the other lodges and accommodations around the lake were full.  Though many people returned to Vancouver and other cities after the weekend, the ALCC continued planning events through the month.  Weekly dances and shows were scheduled to begin in June and the annual Fish Derby was set to run from July 1 through September 6.  A $10 prize was on the line for the largest Rainbow Trout caught in Alta Lake “by any legal method.”

This Rainbow Trout came out of Alta Lake in the 1980s but is a good indication of what the Fish Derby was looking for. Whistler Question Collection.

Summer was in full swing by July as families returned to their summer cottages and the lodges were filled with those escaping the city.  Work days such as the “Hall Clean Up Day” would resume in the fall and the lodges might undergo more renovations, but until then those at Alta Lake were too busy enjoying all the area had to offer, and the events they had planned for so long.

Powering Whistler

If you’ve been in Whistler over the past couple of months you probably experienced or heard about power outages around town, most notably on October 18 when most neighbourhoods experienced a loss of power.

The most common reason Whistler residents lose electricity seems to be from trees coming down on the lines due to rain, wind and snow storms.  The recent outages remind us how dependent we are on electricity today but only 52 years ago using electricity in the Whistler valley was luxury and something of a rarity.

Residents of Alta Lake made do without connecting to the grid for decades.  Ice blocks cut from Alta Lake and covered in sawdust provided refrigeration through the summer months.  Wood stoves and fireplaces, as well as a few oil or coal furnaces, provided heat through the winter.

Hillcrest Lodge was one of the buildings which had its own generators, though the lights went out at 10pm.

Individual properties used generators to provide their own power, though some were more reliable than others.  Bob Williamson installed a wind-powered turbine at the south end of Alta Lake.  As he recalled, “I thought there’d be a lot of wind there, but there was only enough to charge the batteries of the radio, but when the wind was blowing we had lights.”

At Rainbow and Hillcrest Lodges the Philips and Mansells installed generators that ran until 10 pm when the lights went off.  Cypress Lodge, as well as a few neighbours, was powered by a water wheel and generator installed on Scotia Creek by Dick Fairhurst.  Having a generator meant you could charge a battery-operated lamp to use after the generator was turned off for the night.

Even the Alta Lake School had a gas-powered generator for community use.  It ran the weekly movies and played the records for dances, though dances always ended when the gas ran out.

Amenities such as gas-powered washing machines and propane fridges also appeared in the valley, though as Bob remembered, “In those days there was a lot of red tape to put these sort of things in, you had to get a permit, and in these days there was no one to do the inspecting so it was left to this Walter Giel to do the inspecting and he says to me, ‘I don’t known a damn thing about it, just you inspect it yourself.'”

Bob Williamson at work on the transmission lines, well before Alta Lake was able to access the electricity they carried.

Though Alta Lake had no hydro service, transmission lines did run through the valley as early as the 1930s.  Bob Williamson even worked on the power lines in the 1940s, despite having no home access to the electricity they carried.  More transmission lines were put in by BC Electric in the 1950s, connecting Seton Portage (about 25 km west of Lillooet) to Squamish.  It was this project that first brought long-time resident Peter Alder to Alta Lake in 1956 as part of the construction crew.

It was almost 10 years later, just months before Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, that the Rainbow Substation (near Nesters) was completed and Alta Lake was able to utilize the power running through the valley.

Alex and Myrtle Philip were invited to open the Rainbow Substation in November, 1965, even getting to flip the switch.

Alex and Myrtle Philip were invited to officially open the substation on November 18, 1965, and Alex even got to flip the switch.  Today it has become hard to imagine Whistler operating without power throughout the valley.

Don’t forget, this Tuesday (December 5) is our annual Big Kids LEGO Building Competition!  We’ll provide the LEGO and electricity – you bring you ideas and skills.