Tag Archives: Isobel MacLaurin

Painting the Past – Artists History

Whistler is home to a variety of artists working in many different mediums. Many of the artists throughout Whistler come from all over the world but all of them now call this beautiful area home. The variety of artists include photographers, fine artists, sculptors,  digital artists, artisans, illustrators, and more, and are spread out all over the valley. There are hundreds of artists with different styles and who work in different mediums so you can find almost any type of art being produced in Whistler.

The most commonly celebrated theme, however, is easily the scenic views and beautiful nature that can be found all around the Whistler area. Whether artists literally depict scenes from the landscape or merely take influence from them, the natural wonder of Whistler has not escaped the artists who call this place home. As well, many of these artists have been featured in places outside of Canada not just outside of Whistler.

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Isobel sitting in her hand-painted coffin.

The first well-known artist in Whistler is Isobel MacLaurin. Her and her late husband Don have called Whistler their full-time home for more than 30 years (and a part-time retreat for decades before that) and they saw the town grow into what it is today, all while Isobel helped the art scene in Whistler get on its feet. In the days before the creation of the Whistler Arts Council (now known as Arts Whistler) Isobel was the only professional artist in town. That meant she was asked to do a lot of work for the mountains, which included signs that are still on the mountains to this day and all of which were painted by hand in Isobel’s studio.

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Isobel painting on her deck.

Among her more memorable jobs was being flown up into the alpine in a helicopter to sketch the landscape for many of her interpretive signs. Isobel often was not paid for her work, instead preferring an exchange for season’s passes to the mountain for her family. One drastic difference that Isobel herself notes is the budget for signage in the early days compared to now; in the early days of the village Isobel did up a handful of signs for the community and got paid $18 per sign, but nowadays Whistler has a multi-million dollar budget for signage every year!

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Each sign was painted by Isobel. She received $18 per sign.

Once the Arts Council was set up, other artists began to come to the area as well. The same year it started the Council also set up their first Children’s Art Festival in which Isobel helped lead free arts courses for the children. Isobel talks fondly about how attentive the children were and how well they all did learning to draw. Isobel MacLaurin has been in Whistler for many years, originally she was one of the only artists and now that number has grown into the hundreds. Whistler’s beauty lends itself easily to the inspiration for many a young artist who finds their way here.

By Michaela Sawyer

Remembering Don MacLaurin

On May 7th, a dear friend to the museum and an influential figure in Whistler, Don MacLaurin, died peacefully with his family by his side. Our Executive Director Sarah Drewery had the pleasure of knowing him well, and in this week’s Whistler Question Newspaper she shares a commemorative piece:

On May 7, Don MacLaurin passed away peacefully.

Don made substantial contributions to the development of Whistler for over 50 years and was truly part of the fabric of this town. His loss will be felt deeply by so many in our community.

Don first came to Whistler in 1951 and visited several more times while working for the BC Forest Service before deciding to buy land here for a summer cabin. He and his wife Isobel walked all over this valley to find their perfect location. In 1961 they finally settled on a beautiful spot overlooking Alpha Lake, where their original (albeit, extended) A-frame cabin still sits today.

Don, who later worked in education, teaching courses in forestry, recreation and parks management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), was a passionate outdoorsman. He strongly believed in the value of getting out into the mountains and was one of the first people to champion summer enjoyment of our alpine, creating trails on Whistler Mountain, Rainbow Mountain and all around the region.

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In 1973, he organized a volunteer group to build cairns on Singing Pass. He was the instigator behind building the Russet Lake and Wedgemount Huts, and drew probably the first hiking trail map for Whistler Mountain in 1973.

He was also the driving force behind preserving Lost Lake as a park. The area was under timber licenses that were due to expire and a slew of developers were standing by, ready to build on the premiere lakeside property.  Don saw the value of this area and with the help of his contacts in BC Parks, was instrumental in ensuring it was preserved as the park that we all enjoy today.

He also initiated and designed the Whistler Interpretive Forest; the suspension bridge over Cheakamus River is named “MacLaurin’s Crossing” after him.

All this activity earned him the nickname “Parks Planner,” which seems more than apt.

Alongside all the work he did for our community Don knew how to enjoy himself. He and Isobel got up to countless adventures together. In their youth they would spend their weekends touring B.C. in Don’s red 1951 MGTD. They travelled the world together and got in many amusing situations over the years.

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In an interview in 2007 Don recalled a time when he and Isobel got stranded up on Whistler Mountain in the dark. When their flashlight fell in the creek they had to cut their losses and wait it out till dawn. Isobel’s mother was looking after the children that night, so the two made their way back down the mountain at first light and at 4 a.m. snuck into bed like naughty teenagers. Isobel’s mother never knew!

This is just one of many hilarious tales that Don would tell. There are many, many more — anyone who knew Don could not doubt that he lived life to the fullest. He did so much for Whistler and he was a wonderful, knowledgeable, intelligent man. He will be greatly missed.

Family Saturdays at the Whistler Museum

The Whistler Museum and Archives Society looks forward to a summer full of family fun!  We would like to welcome the Whistler Sailing Association, Isobel MacLaurin, and Michael Allen to the Whistler Museuma s they guide our activities and share with us their knowledge of all aspects of Whistler’s culture and history.

Every craft activity is a great addition to your visit to the Whistler Museum, perfectly complementing our exhibits.  Fun and interactive activities will have your child curious and eager to learn more.  Activity included with admission.