Tag Archives: history

Carving Our Way to the International Stage: The History of Ski Racing in Whistler

The Winter Olympics can be an exceptionally exciting time for Whistler residents because of the abundance of local athletes competing in the games. This year’s Sochi Olympics are no exception. Athletes from in and around Whistler will be participating this month, and with that, Whistler Museum has decided to host our February Speaker Series on the plentiful topic of Ski Racing – a thriving, momentous sport in the Winter Games.

The event will take place on Wednesday, February 19th, with an exciting lineup of guest speakers including Rob Boyd, Tom Prochazka, John Preissl and Andrée Janyk. Rather fittingly, Andrée’s son Mike will be participating in the Giant Slalom that day, and we are planning a live stream of the games – pre-event. The evening will focus on the history of ski racing in and around Whistler. Our guest speakers, accompanied by some photographic gems from their personal collections, will be highlighting topics such as the first ski races in Whistler, early ski race pioneers, local World Cup athletes, World Cup races, summer camps and more.

Tyrol Giant Slalom, 1967. Photograph by Frank Grundig.

Tyrol Giant Slalom, 1967. Photograph by Frank Grundig.

Doors will open at 6pm and the actual presentations will begin at 7pm. Admission is $7 ($5 for museum members), and if you purchase a new museum membership for the year for just $25, we’ll include a ticket for free!

Get your tickets early as only 50 seats are available and Speaker Series events tend to sell out fast. Complimentary coffee and tea will be provided courtesy of the Whistler Roasting Company and Namasthé Tea Co., in addition to a cash bar.

This is going to be a jam-packed night filled with local legends! Word is there may even be door prizes for some lucky guests.

Rob Boyd’s 1989 Downhill win. Photograph by Greg Griffith.

We hope to see you there for insight and discussion on the wonderfully elaborate topic of ski racing in Whistler!

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Building an Identity: Whistler the First Resort Municipality.

When the Resort Municipality of Whistler was incorporated in 1975, the town was a far cry from its beginnings as the small settlement of Alta Lake. Development had transformed the town, now with a permanent population of over 500 people, into a recreational park and ski area with huge touristic appeal This led to competing groups battling out the issue of how best to manage the burgeoning resort town.

Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association pamphlet.

Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association pamphlet.

The composition of the town at this time was made up of a small, local population whose property holdings were dwarfed by non-resident holders: more than 80% of the residences in the town were second homes, mostly belonging to owners in Vancouver. The Provincial Government was also a presence in the area, considering the high quality recreational opportunities an invaluable resource for the province – and investment in their development a means of stimulating the tourism industry in British Columbia. These groups had some very different ideas about what successful advancement would look like for the area. There were non-residents who would be content to see the ski hill remain an under-developed weekend getaway, locals who urgently sought improvement in community resources such as a sewage system and externally-run dump site, and outside investors looking to expand the town’s resort potential, particularly with regards to bed capacity.

1971-1972 Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association sticker

1971-1972 Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association sticker

So who represented the town’s interests in the early ‘70s The Alta Lake Ratepayers’ Association was a committee of residence owners who raised funds in order to seek legal advice and have a voice in local affairs concerning the longevity of the community. They took on responsibility for many local services, one of which was the regulation of the volunteer-run community dump before the incorporation of the municipality. Whistler was governed at regional level by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which had been incorporated in 1968, and at provincial level by the Department of Municipal Affairs. The issue, as the Ratepayers’ saw it, was that property owners were paying taxes to an entity that did not represent them and their needs. For the Regional District and the Province, Whistler’s disperse population could not raise sufficient taxes to support the necessary facilities for its many weekend and seasonal visitors. There were calls for local, self-representative government at many levels, as Whistler continued to emerge as a town with unique needs. interior

The issue of government became more urgent in the face of a bid to host the Winter Olympics in 1976 – if the bid were to prove successful, huge development would take place in the town. In 1974, sensing how crucial the next few years would be for the town and its recreational facilities, the Provincial Government instigated a land freeze and undertook a development study. Their results formed the framework of priorities for a new local government.

Whistler’s first council. Left to Right: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce (municipal clerk & treasurer), Pat Carleton, John Hetherington, Garry Watson

Whistler’s first council. Left to Right: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce (municipal clerk & treasurer), Pat Carleton, John Hetherington, Garry Watson

On September 6, 1975 the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the first of its kind, was incorporated by the RMOW Act. This Act bestowed the Council with the duties of law-making and service provision, while also endowing it with the responsibility to “promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.” The Council’s position was to be one that involved a careful balancing of interests between residents, visitors, and investors.

Even after such huge development that has taken place in Whistler up to today – with almost 10,000 permanent residents and over two million visitors annually – the diverse groups that make up the identity of the town have remained much the same. The Council still represents the interests of a local community, second-home owners, and seasonaires, while maintaining Whistler’s status as a destination that draws tourists from all corners of the globe.

-Written by guest blogger, Melinda Muller

“The Evolution of Skiing in Whistler” Exhibit Launch!

We’re really excited to announce that we are on schedule to re-open the museum next weekend with our brand new exhibit “The Evolution of Skiing”! Almost 50% of our exhibit space has been revamped, renovated and replaced, making this our most significant exhibit upgrade in over 3 years. The project was made possible thanks to generous support from the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation.

Our new display case! Curious as they look, these humans won't be on display once we re-open to the public.

Our new display case! Curious as they look, these humans won’t be on display once we re-open to the public.

Our re-arranging made room for some new non-ski content as well. This panel shares some of the joys of exploring our mountains in summer.

Our re-arranging made room for some new non-ski content as well. This panel shares some of the joys of exploring our mountains in summer.

There are a whole slew of new informative panels, display cases full of artifacts, interactive displays, and some pretty big surprises that we just can’t wait to share. We don’t want to give away all our secrets, so you’ll just have to come and see them for yourselves!

While we think our new exhibit is plenty of an attraction in itself, we’ve decided to sweeten the pot and have a full program of launch events that will compliment our displays and give you even more reason to pay us a visit. Here’s a quick overview. Expect more details in the coming days.

November 23 – Feeding The Spirit. Our annual Welcome Week extravaganza, featuring free food provided by the fine folks at Creekside Market and tons of door prizes from awesome local businesses. Everyone welcome, from new arrivals to long-time residents. 5:30-8pm. Free!!!

November 28 – Official Exhibit Launch.  We’re dying to show off our new exhibit, come check it out! There will be some short speeches by museum staff & board, but the focus for the evening will simply be on exploring the additions and updates to our permanent exhibits, particularly our new section exploring “The Evolution of Skiing in Whistler.” 6pm- 9pm. Admission will be free to all.

November 30 – Backcountry Skiers Alpine Responsibility Code. We all know the Alpine Skiers Responsibility Code, that yellow card that lists the rules to abide by when at a ski resort. Well, what about the backcountry? Increasing crowds and obvious safety concerns mean a backcountry code of conduct is in order. This evening we will craft a draft of this code, featuring a very esteemed panel and a healthy dose of audience participation. 7-9pm. Tickets: $10/$7 museum members.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our "Filming Mountains" presenters, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our “Filming Mountains” presenters, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

December 8 – Filming Mountains. This new event, in partnership with the Whistler Film Festival, celebrates our town’s proud history at the forefront of the ski and snowboard film industry. Heralded filmmakers will share clips and stories from the past that will entertain while giving unique insights into the filmmaking experience. 3-6pm, Tickets: $10/$7 members.

December 11 – The Whistler vs Blackcomb Debate. Without a doubt the most important topic yet to be tackled by our Whistler Debates series. With your help, this evening will decide, once and for all, which is the superior mountain in this valley (and, therefore, on Earth). Heavy stuff, indeed. 6:30-9pm. Tickets: $7/$5 members.

Two huge mountains, but only one can reign supreme. On December 11th help us decide!

Two huge mountains, but only one can reign supreme. On December 11th help us decide!

A Vision in White

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

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!

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Casual dressing is not a new concept in Whistler

Lam Shu and Sam: The Culinary Gods of Rainbow Lodge

Whistler provides more than ample selection in fabulous food – far more than you would find in any other town of 10,000 permanent residents. However this area had a reputation for good food long before anyone had conceived of constructing a mountain village on top of a garbage dump.

Myrtle Phillip was known as an excellent cook – her pies and preserves were legendary.  However, she was not the full-time cook at Rainbow Lodge. When the Phillips ran the Horseshoe Grill in Vancouver, before moving to Alta Lake, Alex Phillip employed a young Chinese man by the name of Lam Shu.  Alex and Lam Shu became friends and when business started booming at Rainbow Lodge, Alex invited the young man to work full-time at the Lodge.

Rainbow Lodge staff with Skookum the dog, approximately 1919. The man in the middle of the photograph is presumed to be Lam Shu.

By 1916 Lam Shu was living and working at the Lodge. It took a few years, but he eventually became a terrific cook and created such desserts at “Divinity Pie” which was made with peaches and a custard meringue.  Visitors flocked to the dining room of Rainbow Lodge for the excellent food to be had.

Lam Shu shown outside Rainbow Lodge in 1926.

During the 1930s Lam Shu went back to China for a visit.   It seems, although it is a little unclear, that when he came back he also brought his younger brother Sam with him.  Unfortunately, Lam Shu also brought back a chronic case of Influenza with him.

Portrait of Sam. Circa 1940.

It appears that by 1934 Lam Shu had permanently returned to China.  However his brother Sam remained at the lodge and was the head cook there until 1948, when the Phillips sold the property.   Other than these few basic details, we know very little about Lam Shu and Sam.

In an interview with Vera (Barnfield) Merchant, the picture of Sam becomes a little clearer. Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge as a young woman from 1934-1936.  During that time she got to know Sam a little.  She remembered that her father, who owned, a dairy farm, would make sure to stop everyday and have tea or coffee with Sam.

In the interview Vera commented on Sam and his cooking “ He was just so loveable…and could he ever cook!  And those cakes he used to bake!” Vera would often sit with Sam for a cup of tea and he would tell her stories of his childhood in China.

Sam always made sure that the staff of Rainbow Lodge could sit down to a plentiful meal after serving the crowded Rainbow Lodge dining room. He would also make lots of special cookies and put them in big metal tins and order the girls to help themselves, which of course they absolutely did.

The Mysterious Harry Horstman

One of the most mysterious Whistler characters is Henry ‘Harry” Horstman.  The details are pretty slim.  We know that he moved to Alta Lake sometime around 1913 from Kansas.  He pre-empted two pieces of land – one between Nita and Alpha Lakes and another at the end of Alpha Lake.

He came to the area with dreams of striking it rich through mining.  He mined on Sproatt Mountain for copper, but always had a hope of finding gold.  Horstman had a small farm near Nita Lake on which he raised chickens and grew vegetables. He would haul his goods on the train tracks using a cart he built himself.  Harry would supply fresh produce and eggs to Rainbow Lodge and was of course willing to sell to anyone willing to pay.

Harry Hortsman on Sproatt Mountain, probably not far from his mining claim. Harry first came to Alta Lake with dreams of finding a rich copper vein. Unfortunately, this dream never came true.

Jack Jardine recalled visiting Harry and having bacon and eggs with him – Horstman kept his greasy frying pan in the woodpile, of all places.  In an interview conducted in 1991 Jack recalled:

[…] we’d go to old Harry Horstman’s place there and he’d be having bacon and eggs for breakfast or something like that and he would just take his frying pan and he’d walk over and he turned it upside down on the woodpile, that’s what he did to his bacon grease.  He just turned it upside down on his kindling pile.  And then when he used his frying pan he just picked it up and put it in the stove. […] I mean the bacon used to hang on the wall on a piece of string!  You went to hang it from the wall, the same as a ham would hang from the ceiling, three or four hams hanging from the ceiling!

 Other residents didn’t really get to know Hortsman very well – often referring to him as an odd man, or only every seeing him and his beard from a distance.

Harry Hortsman at his cabin.

Horstman often led a solitary life, which is probably why we know so little about him.  Pip Brock, who often visited Alta Lake, remembers passing Horstman’s cabin on a hike one day and Harry remarked “ Gosh all Dammit. This hiking is getting to be quite a fad.  You’re the second party this year!”

In the summer of 1923 the Alta Lake Community Club held their fist official gathering at Rainbow Lodge.    It was an informal picnic and Horstman was designated as the official coffee provider.  He took this position of responsibility so seriously has actually wore a suit, tie and fedora to the picnic!

First official meeting of the Alta Lake Community Club in 1923. Harry is pictured here on the right carrying the coffee pot, as part of his duties as ‘Official Coffee Provider.” Check out the full suit and fedora!

Although Harry dug many tunnels on Sproatt Mountain, looking for copper, there of course came a time when he just couldn’t take the physical labour any longer.  He retired to his cabin on Alpha Lake.  Eventually he moved to Kamloops to live the remainder of his life in a nursing home.

While we don’t really know much about Harry Horstman, his memory lives on in the name of the Horstman Glacier.  In fact, the remnants of his cabin at the 5300-foot level on Sproatt Mountain can still be found.  Harry would no doubt be very impressed indeed by the number of hikers passing by these days.

Image of the Hortsman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain.

Name Whistler’s history!

Local historian Florence Petersen has been quietly working away on her book on Whistler’s pioneers for the last three years and with the help of the Whistler Museum, she hopes to get it published in the next few months. There’s only one problem…. it doesn’t have a name!

Whistler’s pioneers searching for a good name.

The book tells the story of Whistler before skiing came to the valley. Myrtle Philip and Rainbow Lodge are of course featured, but there are many other early residents whose tales are told here, including trappers, loggers, prospectors and summer cottage owners. It covers the period from about 1900 to 1965, the year the ski-hill was built.

The book can’t be published without a title, so we are running a competition in the hope that you lovely people in internet-land might be able to help us out.

If you have a good idea for a title then we would love to hear it.

There are lots of ways to enter!

–       post a comment on our blog post here

–       email collection@whistlermuseum.org

–       write on our Facebook wall at http://www.facebook.com/WhistlerMuseum

–       tweet us at @WhistlerMuseum

If we select your title you’ll win a free museum membership and a copy of the book signed by the author, and, of course, the GLORY of naming a book! Closing date for entries is March 1st.