It’s a story everyone in Whistler has heard – young person comes to the valley to work for a season, but ends up staying a few years longer than expected. What makes the story of Mollie Stephenson unique, however, is that she first came to the Whistler valley in the summer of 1926.
Mollie Stephenson at Rainbow Lodge, 1929. Philip Collection.
In 1924, after having graduated from Ladysmith High on Vancouver Island, Mollie moved with her parents to Victoria where her father served as the reverend at St. Saviour’s Church in Victoria West. Mollie spent the next two years enjoying life in Victoria as a young woman, including swimming at the Crystal Garden and attending tea dances at the Empress Hotel where she and her friends would try to outdo each other at the new dance the Charleston. As Mollie said, she adored the Flapper Age with its “beads, feathers and best of all the short skirts.”
Mollie enrolled at Normal School (what teacher college used to be called) but was unable to attend as a bad chest cold turned into bronchitis and her doctor prescribed a drier climate. Alex and Myrtle Philip were advertising for girls to work in the dining room and Mollie left for Alta Lake in May of 1926 intending to attend Normal School in the fall.
Life at Alta Lake soon cleared Mollie’s cough and in July she transferred from the dining room to work as a wrangler and guide for the rest of the summer. Each day she would spend 12 to 14 hours out in the forest with the 15 horses Rainbow Lodge had use of. Trail rides were popular with Rainbow Lodge guests and Mollie would often take groups for breakfast at Lost Lake, Green Lake or near a stream. Lam and Sam, the cooks, would pack ingredients and every rider was given a job, whether building a fire, making the coffee or preparing the pancake batter. By the time the food was ready everyone in the group would have a hearty appetite.
A picnic during a ride included a tablecloth and china as well as jobs for every guest. Philip Collection.
When September arrived Mollie was already looking forward to her next season at Rainbow Lodge and instead of returning to Normal School in Victoria accepted a temporary job at the Uppingham School kindergarten in Oak Bay.
Mollie Stephenson pretending to ride a foal at Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.
By June Mollie was once again en route for Alta Lake where she found a few changes: George Thompson was now manager of Rainbow Lodge and Pearl Thompson had taken over the post office. (Over 60 years later Mollie and George married – she was 83 and he was 90.) Luckily George had bought the horses Mollie had previously worked with for continued use by Rainbow Lodge. Again Mollie worked as a wrangler and guide.
Early in the season a man arrived at Rainbow Lodge asking about an abandoned copper mine. Mollie had found the mine the previous year while exploring the trails on the mountains and offered to guide him there. He brought in a crew and made a deal with George to use packhorses to bring in mail and supplies. Three from Mollie’s group were picked: Danger, Ginger and Dark Devil.
While taking the horses up to the mine one day Ginger, who happened to by carrying the explosives, got caught between two trees. Mollie had been warned by one of the PGE rail crew to be careful of any sudden blows or jolts to the packs containing the dynamite and she was terrified while working Ginger out from the trees.
Mollie arrived at the mine and recounted her harrowing adventure over lunch, proud of having gotten herself out of a dangerous situation. What she didn’t expect, however, was for her tale to be greeted with laughter from the men at the camp. She soon discovered that the warning of the PGE rail crewman had been a joke at her expense; the sticks of dynamite and the caps were kept in separate packs and Ginger had never been in danger of exploding.
Bill MacDermott, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. As well as working as a wrangler, Mollie hiked, swam and attended Rainbow Lodge events. Philip Collection
Though Mollie spent the majority of her time at Rainbow Lodge working as a wrangler, she also participated in other aspects of life at the resort including dances, masquerades, tennis, hiking and swimming. She once even out-swam visiting naval officers, a tale that is perhaps best told through her own words:
I loved swimming, although racing never appealed to me. Swimming for miles was like an interesting hike but on the water. I had been swimming across the lake all summer, although never the length of the lake. One day a couple of naval officers staying at the Mons Hotel asked Alex Philip if any of his guests would join them in a friendly race from McDonald’s cabin, at the south end, to the River of Golden Dreams, at the north end. Alex approached me. I explained that I wasn’t into fast swimming or racing, but as there were no other contenders I would swim along with them, on condition that they didn’t expect me to win. Soon they were ahead, but when we were more than half way across we hit an unexpected glacial current that took one’s breath away. At this point the fellows had had enough and headed to the beach. The “tortoise” kept on going until I walked onto the beach at the River of Golden Dreams. There was a huge bonfire burning and Myrtle had a warm blanket to wrap me in. My prize came after dinner when the two officers asked me to dance with them!
Mollie spent several summers at Rainbow Lodge and, like many who have come after her, unexpectedly fell in love with the area and its outdoors lifestyle. Though she went on to marry and live elsewhere, Mollie will always be remembered as one of the first seasonal workers who just couldn’t keep away from the Whistler valley.
In 2010 Mollie’s daughter sent the museum part of an autobiography that her mother wrote, including information about her time at Rainbow Lodge. The bulk of the information we have about Mollie Stephenson comes from her own writing.