Tag Archives: Hillcrest Lodge

Tales of Whistler’s Early Water Supply and Sanitation Facilities

This year I spent thanksgiving with a group of new friends. As tradition goes, we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. This has got to be one of the most beautiful holiday rituals, as the room generally goes from silly and sarcastic to completely genuine as soon as the first person says their thanks. This sincerity and gratefulness got me thinking about Whistler’s early days when there was a bit less to be thankful for in terms of amenities–more specifically, regarding Whistler’s water supply and sanitation facilities.

Whistler’s early settlers had to locate their homes near rivers, creeks or lakes in order to have access to water. Rainbow Lodge and Hillcrest Lodge had holding tanks of water pumped from Rainbow Creek and Alta Lake, respectively; however, most properties weren’t so fortunate. Some residents used flumes to direct water from the source to their property, though this method was quite unreliable.

Betsy DeBeck recalls her and her father constructing a flume for her brother and sister in-law, Denis and Dorothy DeBeck. Denis and Dorothy had recently built a house on the shores of Green Lake, and Betsy and her father figured they could ‘help’ the new homeowners by providing a more convenient water supply system. The two got to work, building a V flume that reached approximately 100 yards up the slope from Green Lake, right into Denis and Dorothy’s backyard. This would prevent them from having to go down the stream to retrieve buckets of water. While great in theory, during the winter months the flume and all the water in it froze and they were left with this ‘huge big iceberg,’ as Dorothy describes. Dorothy quickly grew to curse the flume.

By 1925, the town installed a water line from Scotia Creek in order to service new subdivisions on the west shore of Alta Lake. It operated on the gravitation principle, by which water flows downward from a large wooden holding tank built up on a hill. In 1954, Dick Fairhurst of Cypress Lodge received the rights to Scotia Creek and took over the system.

Along the railway line at the main stations, public outhouses were build for passengers' convenience. Someone with a sense of humour added the sign.

Along the railway line at the main stations, public outhouses were build for passengers’ convenience. Someone with a sense of humour added the sign.

Early sanitation systems were nothing to write home about either (because people write home about their plumbing all the time). Whistler’s early sanitation systems consisted of outhouses and, in later years, septic tanks. Surprisingly, the outhouses were considered quite the establishments and are remembered fondly by many of the first skiers to live in the valley.

Jean McDevitt in front of Petersen's old outhouse, 1968.

Jean McDevitt in front of Petersen’s old outhouse, 1968.

These outhouses brought many tales of hilarity. One in particular is the sizzling story of Charlie Chandler. Charlie Chandler, a local trapper, had been given a small amount of high-grade aircraft fuel by a kindly visiting floatplane pilot, which he used to clean some of his exceedingly grimy overalls. When finished cleaning his clothes, Charlie felt that the best way to dispose of the remaining fuel was to chuck it down the ‘biffy.’ He went on with his day as usual, and when it came time for his next visit to the outhouse he sat down and lit his pipe, as was his habit. The explosion was heard from miles away. Charlie’s nearest neighbour, Phil Tapley, rushed to the scene where he found a singed but otherwise unscathed Charlie with his pants around his ankles, wondering what had occurred.

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.