Tag Archives: ice cutting

Family Life at Parkhurst: Before the Modern Kitchen

With the holiday season upon us many people will be heading to their kitchens to create the meals and treats associated with this time of year, or, alternatively, enjoying the labours of others who head into the kitchen.

Today the standard kitchen in Whistler usually includes running water (hot and cold!), electric refrigeration and an oven of some kind.  Eleanor Kitteringham, however, prepared meals in a very different kind of kitchen.

Parkhurst when the mill was operating in the 1930s, taken before the Kitteringham family’s time at the site. Debeck Collection.

The Kitteringham family (Olie, Eleanor and their children Ron, Jim and Linda) lived at Parkhurst from 1948 until the mill shut down in 1956.  During that time Parkhurst employed about 30 men, including millwright Olie.

For the first few years the Kitteringhams were the only family to stay at Parkhurst through the winter.  They made extra money shovelling the snow off the mill’s buildings so that they wouldn’t collapse in the spring when the rains made all that snow very heavy.  According to Eleanor, Olie hated snow for years after their time at Parkhurst.

Though the Debecks lived at Parkhurst before the Kitteringhams, their photos are some of the few we have of the site as an operational mill. Debeck Collection.

The Kitteringham kitchen was equipped with a sawdust-burning stove, a convenient fuel when living at a sawmill.  Sawdust was loaded into the hopper attached to the side and then fed through the hopper into the burn pot.

The stove took eight large pails of sawdust a day, a daily chore for Ron and Jim.  The winter supply was hauled up before the mill closed in the fall and stored in the back of an old log cabin near the house.

Although a sawdust-burning oven may sound like a lot of work today, when one can just push a few buttons or turn a dial, Eleanor seemed fond of her stove and remembered it making wonderful bread:

This old stove also had a wonderful warming-closet, on top of the back of the stove – perfect place to put the bread to raise.  I used to bake 10 big loaves every other week, between grocery orders.  You could smell the bread baking when coming up the trail from the tracks.  What a wonderful smell on a cold winter day.

The grocery order arrived on the train every second Thursday so any special meals had to be planned in advance.  With their closest neighbours two miles away it was next to impossible to quickly run over through the snow and borrow a missing ingredient.

After the stove, the two most important parts of the kitchen were the icebox and the root cellar.  Ice cut out of the lake in the winter and stored in sawdust provided refrigeration through the summer.  Bins of sawdust underneath the house held potatoes, carrots and other vegetable grown in the summer.

The root cellar also had shelves to hold cases of canned goods (and apparently made an excellent dark room).  Not adverse to advancements, Eleanor wrote, “Later on we got a fridge run by kerosene – it was beautiful.”

Alf Gebhart’s house in the 1930s. The houses at Parkhurst did not change too much between then and the 1950s. Debeck Collection.

Water came from a creek near the house, first using a flume and then piped in by Olie, who could “fix or do anything that was needed.”  He got Ron and Jim to help dig down through the bush at 5¢ a foot.  A water-jacket that lived on the stove provided hot water for washing dishes.  Those washing up after holiday dinners this year should enjoy just how easy running water make it.

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Ice harvest on Alta Lake

Usually, we don’t think about ice very often, unless there’s none in the freezer. The cold, slippery truth is that our local ice deserves more consideration than that. Wrap up warm, and we’ll take you back to the times when the ice harvest was a hard, but fun, event in our valley.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground together with Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Since amenities were few before the 1960s, ice was one of the only ways to keep things cool and food from spoiling. Ice blocks were cut out of the frozen Alta Lake during February, when the ice was thickest. In the 1920s, it would take Myrtle and Alex Philip, the owners of Rainbow Lodge (Whistler’s first resort lodge), about two weeks to get enough ice to last the summer. The ice cutting was very hard work – as one can imagine due to fact that our early settlers had no modern tools. “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw” noted Myrtle on the back of her photos. Blocks were cut out of the chilled Alta Lake, loaded onto a sled, and pulled to an ice house where the blocks were kept to provide refrigeration through the summer months.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A couple of small ice houses dotted the valley’s landscape at this time. Ice houses were double-walled, tightly insulated structures packed with sawdust, capable of keeping large amounts of ice through the warm months. At first, Myrtle and Alex built their ice house near Rainbow Lodge. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled.

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

Of course, the hard work had to be duly celebrated. In her book Whistler Reflections, Florence Petersen, founder of the Whistler Museum, remembers that after the ice-cutting work Alta Lake locals like Alex Philip would gather at the cabin of Bill MacDermott, an American who settled on the south end of Alta Lake in 1919: “His jugs of homebrew would be brought out from under the floorboards to help celebrate.”