Tag Archives: Jean Tapley

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

The story of Tapley’s Farm (yes, it involves farming).

With the sun coming out and vanquishing the snow from the valley, and next week’s Green Talk all about growing your own food in Whistler, now is as good a time as ever to look into the history of agriculture in Whistler. Last fall we featured a post providing a bit of an overview of the topic, so this week we’ll take a more focused look at Whistler’s most well-known farm, Tapley’s Farm.

Yes, that Tapley’s Farm: the quiet residential neighbourhood which also holds the distinction of being the Whistler Valley’s first attempt at employee-designated housing. Although the area didn’t get it’s nickname “Mothers, Dogs, and Children” (a play on the acronym for Mountain Development Corporation, which developed the subdivision in the 1970s), there was a family with far more animals than just dogs living off the land along the northeast shore of Alta Lake.

While Alex and Myrtle Philip are widely recognized as the founders of the the community of Alta Lake (even though they were not the first settlers), fewer people are aware that Myrtle’s family, the Tapley’s were here from the beginning as well.

Myrtle's brother Phil Tapley, looking very much like a farmer.

Myrtle’s brother Phil Tapley, looking every bit the farmer that he was, July 1967.

When construction began on the Philip’s Rainbow Lodge in 1913, they were assisted by Myrtle father Sewall, and her sisters Jean and Margaret, and her brother’s Frank and Phil. Once Rainbow Lodge was completed, Sewall moved in with Alex & Myrtle, Phil returned to his home in Squamish (he had first moved there from Maine in 1912), and Jean and Margaret moved further afield, though they returned often for visits.

In 1925 Sewall purchased a large parcel of level land running along the north shore of Alta Lake, including the marshes surrounding the River of Golden Dreams, from a trapper named George Mitchell. That same year Phil Tapley married Dorothy Disney of Squamish and together they moved north to clear and settle Sewall’s land (first, Myrtle had to convince her father that he was getting too long in the tooth to try clearing his own farm).

In ensuing years Phil, Dorothy, and eventually their daughter Doreen (born in 1926) cleared, developed and managed a productive farm with various grain and veggie crops, an orchard, plenty of cows, chickens, horses, and plenty of hay. In addition to producing the majority of their own families needs, they were able to provide plenty of milk, veggies, and eggs for other settlers and lodge guests throughout the valley, as well as hay for their livestock.

What appears to be Phil Tapley (on the wagon), Alex Philip (at right) and an unidentified helper haying along the shores of Alta Lake. Note the Blackcomb Mountain backdrop, with Couloir Extreme and Chainsaw Ridge plainly visible near the righthand skyline, and a far more extensive Horstman Glacier at middle.

What appears to be Phil Tapley (on the wagon), Alex Philip (at right) and an unidentified helper haying along the shores of Alta Lake. Note the Blackcomb Mountain backdrop, with Couloir Extreme and Chainsaw Ridge plainly visible near the righthand skyline, and a far more extensive Horstman Glacier at middle.  Circa 1920s.

In every sense the Tapley’s were a model, self-sufficient pioneer family. In winter Phil also operated traplines in the surrounding mountains, and he was a keen adventurer. Dorothy was the only resident of the Whistler Valley to receive a Canadian Centennial Pioneer’s Medal in 1967.

Together they continued eking out a living through traditional means, pumping water from a well, and deriving heat and light from fire well into the 1960s, when the rest of the Valley was turning to modern conveniences such as electricity and plumbing. Dorothy passed away in 1968 at the age of 81, and Phil stayed on the farm for 3 more years until his death in 1971 at the age of 83.

Myrtle, Dorothy, and Phil in front of the Tapley farmhouse.

Myrtle, Dorothy, and Phil in front of the Tapley farmhouse, circa 1960s.

The Tapley’s exemplify perhaps better than any other Whistler Valley residents the potential to draw sustenance from the Earth, even in harsh climates such as our own. They should serve as inspiration to any Whistlerite frustrated by their inability to grow a ripe tomato, or a crisp head of lettuce.

Times certainly have changed; no doubt the Tapley’s drew from extensive farming knowledge passed on through the generations, and favourable (more precisely, non-existent) zoning–try raising chickens, let alone cattle, in Whistler today.

While waiting out changes to local agriculture by-laws (don’t hold your breath), you can beef up on your cultivation knowledge this Wednesday evening at the Whistler Museum, as AWARE hosts a series of short presentations all about overcoming the many present-day challenges of growing your own food in Whistler: from soils and sunlight, to selecting seeds, maximizing your growing space, and bear-proofing your crops. Hope to see you there!

Swimming Through the Ages

With the sun hopefully returning to Whistler to stay the local lakes are once again teeming with those who prefer to cool off in the water.  Looking through photos in our archive it’s easy to see that swimming has always been a popular summer pastime in Whistler, one that has changed relatively little in the past hundred years.

Swimming at Rainbow Lodge on Alta Lake

While Alex and Myrtle Philip operated Rainbow Lodge Alta Lake was the most popular summer destination for days spent in the water.  Not only did the lake make a hot summer day tolerable but with views such as those seen from the shore it would be hard not to enjoy your surroundings.  Like today, guests and residents alike could be found splashing around the docks, though for some the idea of a cool swim doesn’t appear to have been such an appealing one.  Although diving boards have disappeared from Whistler lakes the water is still cold enough to cause hesitation in some people.

Diving board and a hesitant swimmer on Alta Lake

The only glaringly noticeable difference between swimming in the early twentieth century and swimming now is the bathing costume, or swimsuit.  Though the same strokes are used to move through the water it is rare to find someone on the beach in apparel similar to that modeled by Jean Tapley, Katie McGregor and their friend.  Though not covering quite as much as the popular two piece suits of the nineteenth century which included a knee-length gown and trousers to the ankles, these suits are still very modest compared to those found today.

Jean Tapley, Katie McGregor and friend

Alta Lake, along with Lost Lake, Alpha Lake, and others, is still a popular place to spend a day, whether you live here or are visiting.  Though Rainbow Lodge is now gone (apart from a few cabins still at Rainbow Park) it is still possible to have the same swimming experience as the first guests to Whistler.

Swimmers and boaters enjoy the docks at Rainbow Lodge


Postcards of the Whistler Museum Archives – Pt.2

This week’s postcards have more of a direct link to Whistler’s history than the ones featured in last week’s post (read pt.1 here) – they represent a fraction of the correspondance sent between Whistlers’s best-known pioneer Myrtle Philip and her relatives. Both of the postcards shown were sent to Jean Tapley, Myrtle’s sister who lived in Seattle.

In this era prior to text messaging, Facebook and other forms of quick communication, the postcard was the fastest means of contact, something you would send when you couldn’t find the time to write a full letter.

Rainbow Lodge Postcard

This first postcard was meant to advertise all of the amenities at Alta Lake and Rainbow Lodge – it shows a view of Alta Lake with mountains in the background, the bridge to Rainbow Lodge, an interior shot of Rainbow Lodge, and swimmers enjoying the chilly waters of Alta Lake. Myrtle sent this postcard to her sister on July 13th, 1927 – nearly 85 years ago today!

On the back, written in Myrtle’s own cursive, is a message which reads “Dearest – How do you like the new style postcards? Dr & Mrs. Naismith are here – look fine – send love to you – Wish you were here now, but Sept will be a lovely holiday time. Dad is fine. Was very pleased with your letter. Best love Myrtle.”

Lost Lake Postcard

This second postcard shows Lost Lake, and was mailed to Jean by Rhi Philip, who was married to Alex Philip’s brother, John. Rhi, John and their two children were frequent visitors to Rainbow Lodge.

Rhi appears to have been in a rather bad mood the day she penned this postcard in 1929. The message on the back reads, “Dearie – Owe everyone (sic) of my sisters letters but couldn’t write this mail. Didn’t feel like it. (illegible) feeling queer & restless all over. Rotten weather cold & pouring. Coming up in the summer time next year. Just when does your holiday begin? Think I have rent my house but had to come down to 27.50 but building no garages of anything else so (illegible) as far ahead & if I get it rented this week the two months rent will help pay my $70.00 taxes – Bye dear hope your feeling better – Rhi.”

We hope you enjoyed this journey back in time! If you have kids, keep an eye on our blog and website for details on our Family Saturdays – on Saturday July 21st we will feature a postcard craft and a short presentation on Myrtle Philip, who was in fact Whistler’s first postmistress. Family Saturdays activities run from 2:30-4:30pm.