Tag Archives: Hillcrest Lodge

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.

The Many Schools of Bev Mansell

With most schools in Whistler just a couple of weeks away from closing for the summer, students in the valley are looking forward to a couple months without homework or classes.

Five schools now operate within Whistler and it’s easy to forget that for many years children living around Alta Lake had to learn from correspondence courses at home or leave their families to attend school in a bigger town.

Alta Lake School opened in the 1930s and was the first opportunity many of the local children had to attend school.  When the Howe Sound School District was formed in 1946 the school closed and local students attended schools in Squamish or Pemberton.  Alta Lake School opened again in 1952 but closed again in 1962.  For one student this last closure was especially traumatic.

Bev Mansell attended Grade One at the Alta Lake School for only one month before it closed.

Beverly (Bev) Mansell, the daughter of Doug (whose parents built and operated Hillcrest Lodge) and Barb (a former Hillcrest guest) Mansell, was born in 1956.  Growing up on the east side of Alta Lake, Bev was isolated from the small number of children living on the west side of the lake and those living at Parkhurst so it’s not surprising that she was pretty excited to start school.

Bev started Grade 1 at the one-room schoolhouse on Alta Lake in September 1962.  At the time the school had ten students.  Disaster struck for Bev at the end of September when one family with four children moved away and the school no longer had enough students to stay open.

With the closure of her first school, Bev was sent to live with her aunt in Vancouver so that she could attend school there.  By this time Jack and Cis Mansell had retired; Bev’s parents were running Hillcrest Lodge and Doug and Barb could rarely get to Vancouver.

Doug and Barb Mansell managed Hillcrest Lodge from 1958 to 1965.

After two years at school in Vancouver Bev returned to the reopened Alta Lake School which once again had the requisite ten students.  She spent Grade 3 through Grade 6 at the small schoolhouse.

In the fall and spring Bev’s trip to and from school consisted of a boat ride across the lake.  When ice started to form on Alta Lake she would be walked around the south end of the lake, always accompanied in case of a run in with a wolverine or coyote.  In the winter, when the ice was thick enough, Bev would arrive at school by snowmobile – much more fun than a bus ride.

Before Bev started Grade 7 the school board decided that she should attend school in Squamish where there were more students her own age.  This lasted for one month before the school board decided to move her to the school in Pemberton.

Bev Mansell rode the school bus to Pemberton until she graduated, as did many students after her.

Luckily for Bev, this was the last move she would have to make during her school years as she continued to attend school in Pemberton until her graduation in 1975.  Students from Whistler continued to attend high school in Pemberton until 1996 when Whistler Secondary School opened, making it possible to graduate in Whistler.

Hillcrest Lodge: Alta Lake’s Other Summer Resort

The story of Rainbow Lodge and the Philips may be the best known, but Rainbow Lodge was certainly not the only summer resort that opened on the shores of Alta Lake.

Dick Fairhurst opened Cypress Lodge, the Harrops had a popular tearoom and across the lake, around where Lakeside Park is located today, stood Hillcrest Lodge.

Guests were met at Alta Lake Station by Rainbow Lodge and rafted across the lake.

Jack Mansell first came to Rainbow Lodge in 1944 and, like Myrtle and Alex before him, was so impressed with the area that he began looking into purchasing the Patterson property across the lake.  Jack sold his three shoe repair stores in Vancouver and moved his wife Cis and their two sons Loyd and Doug in May 1945.

It was not the easiest move for the family.  Cis recalled living in a two-room shack, warming bricks in the oven for heat, and keeping the Christmas tree outside because it couldn’t fit in the shack.  For a family used to plumbing and electricity in the city, life at Alta Lake was a big change.

By January 1946 the entire family was involved in building the new lodge, which was ready to open that July.  The first guests the Mansells welcomed to Hillcrest Lodge were the Right Honourable Mr. Charlie Cockcroft, a politician from Alberta, his  wife and their party of family and friends.  Later guests would include Lady Oslow and Lady Wemise from England.  A reservation was even made by Bob Hope, though his wife became ill and they couldn’t come.

Hillcrest Lodge added cabins, dorms and other buildings as they grew.

Hillcrest grew quickly and had a total of 16 cabins open for the summer by 1947.  During the summer Jack and Cis employed University of British Columbia students and teachers to work in the lodge.  Like many employed in the hospitality industry, Jack and Cis worked hard during peak season.  As Cis put it, “Jack and I would say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.  ‘Cause we didn’t live for ourselves, we lived for that guest.”

Apart from the usual summer activities such as swimming, hiking and boating, Hillcrest also offered their guests organized recreation.  Guests were expected at the main lodge in the evening for masquerade parties and square dancing (lessons included).

Current Hillcrest guests would meet arriving guests in costume. Hillcrest Lodge can be seen across the lake.

The Mansells also organized musical raft rides, kangaroo courts and mock weddings and took part in the Saturday night dances at the community hall.  Arriving guests were greeted at the train station by current guests in costumes and then rafted across the lake.  Though it wasn’t ideal for young families, as there was no beach and only deep swimming off the dock, a regular group of 30 or so “young kids” came to Hillcrest every year and other regulars would come for a week or two throughout the summer.

As they grew up, both Loyd and Doug fell in love with and married Hillcrest guests, Sharen and Barb.  When Jack and Cis retired in 1958 Doug and Barb took over the management of Hillcrest before selling it in 1965.  Eventually, like many other early buildings at Alta Lake, the lodge was burnt down as a fire practice in 1986.

Halloween Inspiration from Whistler’s Past

So, if you were somehow unaware, tomorrow is Halloween. If you didn’t know that, then chances are you don’t have your costume sorted yet. Fret not! The Whistler Museum is here to help.

Just because you’re thinking up your costume last minute doesn’t mean you need to resort to some cliché pop culture reference like Game of Thrones or Matt Damon from the Martian. Whistler’s past is full of great ideas for timeless costumes to impress your friends. As a bonus, your costume can spark intriguing discussions about Whistler’s history at your Halloween party, something we fully endorse.

It’s no secret that Whistlerites love to party, especially when dressing up is involved. Let’s examine some examples of party dress from Whistler’s past.

First off we have the Freaker’s Ball, a party of legendary proportions that occurred in the 1970s in the Christiania Inn, in Alta Vista. Based on a rather freaky song by Dr. Hook, people liked to dress, well, freaky. This could mean anything, basically, which isn’t a bad place to start when trying to come up with up with unique costume ideas.

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Mozart, anyone? He was like the classical Taylor Swift.

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Is this guy having a good time, or what? Buccaneer baby!

Not into the whole hippie thing? OK, let’s go further back in time for some pioneer-era inspiration.

Unfortunately, this next photo from our archives doesn’t have any real explanation. One could even assume that it’s not a costume, but historically appropriate farming attire from the period. We’re not going to dwell on this for too long. It’s a sweet costume idea.

It's Halloween every day in Whistler! (When I first saw this I thought it was a KKK thing, but I think maybe this person is dressed as a wizard).

Know a member of the opposite sex? Well you can always borrow their clothes and dress in drag! These guests at Hillcrest Lodge donned some feminine attire to great effect, freaking out passersby on the PGE railway.

Hillcrest Lodge guests dressed to meet the train

We'll never forget the year Dad put on a one man show of Swan Lake.

Admittedly, cross-dressing is a more interesting costume idea for men, generally. It’s hard for a woman in men’s clothing to look this stunning. I’m sure some creative ladies out there could pull it off though!

Of course, Myrtle and Alex Philip, Whistler’s founding couple, had a distinct sense of style. A quick check through your wardrobe, your tickle-trunk, or trip to the Re-Use-It centre might be enough to pull one of these off. Bonus points for couples who pull of the historic pair.

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Myrtle Philip in riding garb. She designed and tailored most of her outfits herself.

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The all-white safari ensemble was an Alex Philip staple. This elegant get-up is sure to impress the ladies.

A little Myrtle & Alex dress-up inspiration. Photo: Joern Rohde/wpnn.org

A little Myrtle & Alex dress-up inspiration.
Photo: Joern Rohde/wpnn.org

To be fair, these costumes rely on some pretty unique clothing items that you may not have lying around the house. Fair, I guess. Have a bunch of cardboard and some metallic spray paint? Well you can go as the original Creekside Gondola!

You can be the hottest aluminum box at the party!

One bonus with this costume is that the original gondola had a four-person capacity, so you can host your own mini party within the party!

If an inanimate metal structure isn’t your thing, that’s cool. How about a marmot? These fuzzy little creatures are the reason Whistler Mountain got it’s name.

Not feeling energetic? Wear all brown and chill out on a couch. Just like a marmot.

All it takes is some furry brown clothing, buck teeth, and an ability to whistle. You might be dressed as a marmot already, and not even realize it! With the proliferation of animal onesies, this should be easy.

Why stop there. There are plenty of other icons from Whistler’s past that could become killer costumes with a little creativity: Willy Whistler, the Roundhouse Lodge, Black Tusk… BLACK TUSK!!!

Remembering Hillcrest Lodge

While flipping through the 1979 October/November issue of the Whistler Answer, I came across a fascinating story titled “The Whistler Lodge (1973-74) or the Heyday of a Cabaret.”  I love the Whistler Answer for its bare all writing styles that would most definitely be deemed inappropriate in today’s local news. This story has all that quirkiness one expects from the paper, as the author, an old doorman at Whistler Lodge (also known as Hillcrest Lodge), gives his first-hand history of the place in as many outlandish adjectives as one can muster.

The article highlights the delight of the lodge, going as far as to describe it as “phantasmagorical”–a bold claim, the author admits. He attributes the liberal nature of the lodge to the managers, Rob and Jen Houseman, whose bureaucratic strategy was “don’t make any rules and none will get broken.” Have a read for yourself:

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This fun recollection of Whistler Lodge inspired me to dig for some more facts about the place, leading me to the story of the Mansell family. Jack Mansell first came to Whistler (then Alta Lake) on a fishing trip in 1944. While staying at Rainbow Lodge, he got word of property for sale across the lake. Luck would have it that the owner of the land was a regular at Jack’s shoe repair shop in Vancouver. The two negotiated and that same year, Jack bought the property on Alta Lake.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

By May 1945 Jack had sold his three shoe repair stores and moved to Whistler with his family–wife, Cecile ‘Cis’ and sons Loyd and Doug. The family lived in a little cottage on the property before deciding to build a few cabins and develop the site as a fishing lodge. Interestingly enough, the place became a very successful tearoom; Myrtle Philip of Rainbow Lodge brought horseback riding groups round the lake to stop for refreshments at the Mansell property.

In January 1946 the family began building the main lodge, and it was complete by July of that same year. By 1947 Hillcrest Lodge was open for business with a total of sixteen units for rent. The lodge opened for guests on the May long weekend and closed after Thanksgiving in October. Guests would arrive at Alta Lake on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and were often greeted by current guests… in costume!

Hillcrest Lodge guests dressed to meet the train, ca. 1950s.

This free spirited welcome set the tone for a typical stay at Hillcrest Lodge. Common activities and events included musical raft rides around the lake, masquerade parties, square dancing, kangaroo courts and mock weddings.

Jack and Cis eventually retired,  leaving management of the lodge to their children Doug and Barb. Doug and Barb managed the lodge from 1958 to 1965 before selling it to a group of Vancouver based businessmen led by Glen Mason. At this time, the name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge. After operating for about ten years it closed due to lack of business. Thankfully, the stories live on.