Tag Archives: John Millar

The Early Days of Alex & Myrtle

Working at the Whistler Museum we sometimes forget that not everyone has heard of the story of Rainbow Lodge and its owners Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Every so often we’ll be reminded, sometimes by a student on a field trip fascinated to learn that their school was named after a real person or a visitor to Rainbow Park who wants to know why there are old buildings in the bushes.

The story of Alex and Myrtle Philip began far away from Alta Lake, on the other site of the continent in Maine.

The Philip family emigrated to Maine from Scotland when Alex was just a baby.  Some members of the family later traveled and worked in British Columbia and as a young man Alex joined his father to work on the west coast.

The Philip family c. 1891. Alex Philip sits in the centre. Around him are John, William, John (sr.), Elise, Elisabeth (sr.) and Elisabeth. Philip Collection.

In 1906 Myrtle was fifteen, attending school in Maine prior to becoming a teacher, and boarding at the Philip family house.  The two met when Alex returned home to visit his mother.  As Myrtle described it, “I came home from school that day for lunch, dashed into the front door and threw my sweater on the stair rail and dashed through to the kitchen where we were to have our lunch and I ran plumb into his arms in the little hallway… And that was it.”  For four years the pair wrote to each other (Myrtle called it “courtship by correspondence”) and were married in Oregon in 1910 before moving to Vancouver.

Alex and Myrtle Philip, far more dressed up than they tended to be at Alta Lake. Philip Collection.

In Vancouver Alex met John Millar, who was then living near Alta Lake in a cabin on the Pemberton Trail.  Though described as a “funny looking little fellow,” Millar made such an impression on the Philips that the next summer they made the journey up to visit him. (You may have seen John Millar as part of the museum’s parade float for Canada Day yesterday!)

In the archives we have a recording of Myrtle’s account of their first trip to Alta Lake.  After arriving at Squamish by boat they took the stagecoach to Brackendale where they stayed the night at the Bracken Arms, “a quaint hotel.”  They had arranged for the use of a packhorse to carry their supplies and, after getting some help to attach the pack to the horse, they started on their way up the Pemberton Trail.

Myrtle & Alex Philip coming up the Pemberton Trail on their first visit to Alta Lake,August 1911.

By the time they reached Millar’s cabin two days later Myrtle had become proficient in attaching the pack but both were happy to reach the relative comfort of Millar’s hospitality.  His accommodations may have been described as “three or four old shacks” but his cooking more than made up for the structures.  Myrtle, who prided herself on her pies, claimed he made “pastry that would just melt in your mouth and bread that was just out of this world.”  (Millar has also been mentioned by others for his muskrat stew and steller’s jay pie.)

This trip also featured Myrtle’s first time fly fishing.  Using old rafts they found at the lake (also described as “three or four poles tied together with any old thing”) Myrtle and Alex ventured out on Alta Lake.  Thinking that using two flies might mean catching two fish, Myrtle put two flies on her line and, unexpectedly, caught two fish.  Fortunately the fish were small, as Myrtle claimed that “I got so excited that I nearly fell off the raft.”

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

The Philips returned for another visit and in 1913 they purchased property along Alta Lake from Charlie Chandler.  With help from Myrtle’s father Sewall Tapley and her brothers and sister they built the main lodge and were open for business by 1915.  The construction and operation of Rainbow Lodge could (and has) fill multiple articles but the roles of Alex and Myrtle over the decades may have been most succinctly described in “A Short History of the Garibaldi Area” by Ian Barnet: “Alex is the drinker and greeter of guests; Myrtle the business operator.”

Discover Nature at Family Après

If you’ve been at Family Après in Olympic Plaza over the past couple months, you might have recognized a tent from the Discover Nature summer program at Lost Lake.  In July and August the Discover Nature team shared its knowledge of Whistler’s natural history through touch tables, activities and nature walks around Lost Lake.

Discover Nature at Family Après focuses on some of the animals that are active in Whistler during the winter.  The challenge is to identify eight mammals in Whistler that neither migrate nor hibernate using replicas of their skulls, tracks and claws.  This may not sound like a whole lot to go on but the teeth can give you clues about what an animal eats and the shape of the skull can indicate traits such as a keen sense of smell or better than average night vision.  Hints and help are also on hand if you get stuck.

The touch table at Discover Nature in the summer. Some of the same skulls, pelts and tracks are on display this Monday in Olympic Plaza.

While hiking, biking and even skiing around Whistler I have encountered over half of the animals featured at the Discover Nature tent, but one that I have never seen is the wolverine.  After learning about an encounter John Millar once had with a wolverine, I’m not so sure I want to.

Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel family, which also includes martens, mink and river otters.  Sometimes described as a mixture of a dog, a bear and a skunk, wolverines have short legs, long hair and distinctive markings, including a dark mask around their eyes and a light stripe on each side running from their shoulders to the base of their tails.  Although wolverines are typically about the size of a medium-sized dog they are effective predators and can even smell prey hibernating beneath six metres of snow.  Their diet can range from berries, rodents and ground squirrels to mountain goats and moose.

John Millar outside his cabin (today the area of Function Junction). Millar Creek was named for this early settler. Photo: Philip Collection.

Millar is perhaps best known as the trapper who introduced Myrtle and Alex Philip to Alta Lake.  A Polish immigrant, Millar arrived in the valley sometime before 1906 by way of Texas, where he worked as a cook at a cow-camp.  He purchased some land along the Pemberton Trail near the junction of Millar Creek and the Cheakamus River (today the area of Function Junction) and built a roadhouse for travellers, supplementing his income from trapping by charging 50 cents for a bed (meal not included).

From the account of Dick Fairhurst, Millar may not have always been the most successful trapper.  He regularly caught marten, rabbit, mink, muskrat (the basis for a memorable stew), and beaver.  Once, however, while out on his trap line Millar caught a wolverine.  Thinking it was dead he added it to his pack and walked on.  Unfortunately for him, the wolverine was still very much alive and came to while still on his back.  It ate a hole through Millar’s pack and “grabbed John by the seat of the pants.”  While Millar managed to extricate himself from the angry wolverine it was awhile before he could sit comfortably again.

Discover Nature will be back at Family Après in Olympic Plaza this Monday, March 5.  If you think you can tell a wolverine from a bobcat, come by and say hello.

Train Wreck Mystery Revealed

Train Wreck – the site of several abandoned box cars just south of Function Junction – has always been a little bit of a mystery to visitors.

We had always known that it had been there since the 1950s, but apart from that we knew very little about it. In 2013, our “Museum Musings” column in the Whistler Question newspaper featured the “mysterious” train wreck. We were subsequently approached by two members of the Valleau family (who ran a big logging operation in Mons at the time of the accident) who set the record straight once and for all.


The abandoned box cars have been given new life by Whistler’s artist community.

The first to approach us, Rick Valleau, remembered his father talking about the train wreck. The second, Rick’s uncle Howard Valleau, actually remembered the incident first-hand!

Museum staff are frequently asked about Train Wreck’s backstory, so  we are delighted to have these accounts which shed light on one of Whistler’s most unique attractions.

Here, therefore, is the firsthand account of the definitive guide to Train Wreck: The crash occurred in 1956 shortly after the Valleau family had moved to the area. The wreck happened on an area of track constricted by rock cuts, and there were three boxcars loaded with lumber jammed in there, blocking the line. The PGE Railway’s equipment couldn’t budge them so the company approached the Valleau family.

The Valleaus took their logging machinery (a couple of D8 Cats) down to the site, put a hitch (luff) on with two moving blocks to the boxcar and pried them out. They then dragged the cars up the track and into the forest, where they lie today. To all those who were confused by the fact that there is no damage to the trees around the wreck, this is because the train did not come off the rails at this point, but the boxcars were moved there after the fact.


The unique ambiance of these colourfully graffitied boxcars amidst mature, open forest (not to mention the impressive mountain bike stunts) makes for one of the Whistler Valley’s favourite attractions.

The train had been assembled in Lillooet by John Millar, a conductor for the PGE. Millar told the story to Howard Valleau, as follows: The train had four engines. There was a mistake made on the tonnage of the train, making it too heavy, and they had to split the train to get up the grade to Parkhurst (on Green Lake). This put them behind schedule, and they tried to make up time by  travelling a little faster than usual. The speed limit on that section of rail was only 15 mph (24 km/h). The fourth engine turned a rail, causing the train wreck. They checked the tape in the engine, which told how fast they were going – the crew had thought the speed was 15mph, but in fact it was 35 mph (56 km/h).

Millar told Howard Valleau that had they known the actual speed, they would have taken the tapes out. The engineer and crew were subsequently fired after the investigation into the wreck.

Access to the Trainwreck site has in recent years been complicated by the fact that it involved a sustained stretch of walking on the train tracks – illegal trespassing. We are very excited to spread the news that the RMOW has overseen the construction of a pedestrian bridge across the Cheakamus River, providing alternative, legal  access to the outdoor museum and impromptu art gallery. We hope you are able to go visit the Trainwreck, for the first or the fiftieth time, again soon.


Multicultural Festival June 2014

On Friday June 13th the Multicultural Festival will be held in the Florence Petersen Park between the Whistler Library and the Whistler Museum. This event is a delightful way to learn about the many corners of the world the people of Whistler have originated.

The festival is free and open to the public. There will be performances, food, music, games, and arts and crafts all happening between 4 and 8pm.


A group from the SLCC perform during the opening of the 2013 Multicultural Festival. Photo courtesy of the Whistler Multicultural Network.

Whistler has always been a place for people from all over the world. It has developed into what we see today through the multicultural influences of not only its first settlers – such as Myrtle and Alex Philip, who were Americans from Maine, and Polish John Millar – but also everyone who has followed in their footsteps.

ACCESS WMA_P86_0619_Philipblog

Myrtle hunting at Mahood Lake.

This includes individuals such as Billy Bailiff a trapper from Cumberland, England who wrote about the importance of preserving Whistler’s environment in the local newsletter.

And then in later years, skiing was brought to the valley by a variety of people, many of which came from European countries where skiing was a popular sport – such as Switzerland and Austria. A great example of this is Franz Wilhelmsen, a Norwegian who became the first President of Whistler Mountain.

The Whistler Museum will be open by donation for the duration of the Multicultural Festival.


Franz Wilhelmsen (left) at the top of Whistler looking toward the peak.

From Drinks to Whistler

Wandering around the Village late afternoon in March, you would be hard-pressed not to stumble across patrons enjoying a frosty glass of suds in one of the many frequented Après-ski bars here in Whistler.

Ski-après often includes food, music, dancing, socializing, and having a few drinks after a long day of skiing

A woman holding up an empty beer keg peers into the camera outside a lodge on Whistler or Blackcomb.

A woman holding up an empty beer keg peers into the camera outside a lodge on Whistler or Blackcomb.

The act of Après-ski originated in Telemark, Norway during the 1880s after a rise in the popularity of Telemark Skiing (named after the region).  At this point recognizable ski-après made a modest entry, first informally in skier’s homes, then in newly developed ski clubs—the inevitable second step of the arrival and growing popularity of skiing [Lund, Morton. (2007, March). Skiing Heritage, 19(01), 5-12]

WORLD CUP WEEK '93 - National Team members Luke Sauder, Ralf Socher, Cary Mullen and others pour beer at Tapley's

WORLD CUP WEEK ’93 – National Team members Luke Sauder, Ralf Socher, Cary Mullen and others pour beer at Tapley’s

In 1893, Ski-Après made its way to the Alps with the founding of Ski Club Glarus in Switzerland, one of the first ski clubs in the Alps, and from this point ski-après started to spread through Switzerland, France, Austria, and the rest of Europe. Sometime after the First Winter Olympic games in 1924 in Chamonix, France, the French coined the phrase après-ski.

A man, still in his ski boots, carries two flats of 'Canadian' beer on his shoulders, fittingly a huge grin is spread across his face.

A man, still in his ski boots, carries two flats of ‘Canadian’ beer on his shoulders, fittingly a huge grin is spread across his face.

The arrival of Ski-Après to Whistler may have its roots in the arrival of the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club, whose members (composed of mostly Austrian and German people) started to frequent Whistler during the late 1950s/early 1960s, eventually buying a 5-acre lot in 1962, and building Tyrol Lodge in 1966.

Long time Whistler Local Trudy Alder worked as the caretaker at the lodge from 1968 to 1970. At the time, she considered entertaining lodge guests with spirited ski-après to be as important a duty as clean linens and stacked firewood.

The two bad boys. Ivan Ackery and Alex Philip drinking beer.

The two bad boys. Ivan Ackery and Alex Philip drinking beer.

Ski-après certainly is an important part of socializing in Whistler with many locals and tourists alike gathering around to enjoy a fine wine, a cold pint, and other spirited drinks. Enjoying a glass of intoxicating beverage is nothing new to the valley, and certainly didn’t arrive in the valley with the arrival of the skiers. Whistlers own origin story involves liquor to some extent with John Millar, a trapper who was living in Alta Lake, meeting Alex Philip at the Horseshoe Bar and Grill (a  restaurant owned by Philip) in 1911 on one of his yearly trips to Vancouver. Millar told Alex of Alta Lake’s beauty and excellent fishing, and though inebriated, he got Alex very excited, for Alex had always wanted to run a fishing lodge. Millar was invited to dinner the following night, with Alex and Myrtle making plans for a trip the following summer. In August 1911 they set out on a trip to visit AltaLake, eventually developing Rainbow Lodge and tourism in the Valley.

Rainbow Lodge became the centre of socializing in the valley in the following years, with fine food, dancing, and of course enjoying a few drinks. Alex Phillip was known to partake in a few glasses of suds with guests while they were staying at the lodge, with some guests later becoming good friends

Brad Wheeler and Ben Schottle of the Whistler Brewing Company (1995)

Brad Wheeler and Ben Schottle of the Whistler Brewing Company (1995)

These days, Rainbow Lodge no longer stands, and Ski-après is no longer confined to Tyrol Lodge and Dusty’s. There’s no shortage of pubs, clubs, and lounges around WhistlerVillage to provide a wide variety of après experiences. Between the Whistler Brewing Company and the Brewhouse, locals and visitors alike can enjoy a number of Whistler beers after a hard day on the slopes. Looks like Whistler, as per usual, has put a new twist on an old tradition!

Let’s Get Poetical

We’ve brought you dozens of blog posts about historical characters and events from our archives, crazy photos, and other Whistler stories. One thing that we feel we’ve brought you too little of is poetry composed by Museum staff. I’m sure you’ve been thinking the same thing. I can almost hear you thinking, “‘H – E – double hockey sticks’, when will Sarah, Jeff, Robyn, Allyn, and Myles write some goddamn poetry? A limerick maybe? A Haiku? Is that really too much to ask?”

Well, patient reader, the wait is over. Without further delay, here is a selection of poetry (mostly haiku) composed by the Museum staff (and friends).

Two mountains, strung with
cable- rise above this town,
this valley of dreams.

– Robyn

Seppo Makinen:
The mighty man among us.
His spirit rests here.

– Robyn

Stillness on Alta –
Alex Philip falls in drunk,
Myrtle shakes her head.

– Sarah

Myrtle and brother Phil Tapley on shores of Alta Lake

We love history.
We love Whistler’s Whistory!
Whistler is awesome.


Extreme sports paired with
endless good times, paradise
is Whistler-Blackcomb.

– Robyn

Jack Bright and Jim McConkey skiing Whistler Mountain, 1972

Silently gliding
Through deep, endless white powder –
Another Whistler day.

– Robyn

Truth Hurts

Rainbow Lodge, Seppo,
Crazy Canucks, HISTORY!
Kids just want LEGO.

– Jeff

On hot afternoons
Molly and McGee nap on
While Freckles watches.


Molly and McGee share a nap while a forlorn Freckles the Dog surveys the scene, alone in the distance.

Outside is too hot?
Museum has two words for you:
Air conditioning.


There once was a Texan named Millar
Whose life was something of a thriller.
He first was a cook,
But two lives he took,
So he fled here where life was much stiller.


There once was a pub called the Boot
Just next to the highway’s main route.
It had dancing girls
And drinkers who twirled
In a “ballet” of well-known repute.


Ski Boot Hotel, later the Shoestring Lodge and Boot Pub

An ode to the archives

Last night I dreamt of a magical place,
Dreamers, doers, and icons all shared one space.
Oh, to visit this land where our legends can thrive.
Why, it already exists, our almighty archives!

Our collections are vast, rich with ripe tales,
From diaries and drawings to bent, rusted nails.
All with the ineffable scent of the past,
A real-life time machine that’s built to last.

Archival documents in acid-free boxes,
Fight group amnesia from LSD memory losses.
Fifty thousand pictures worth fifty million words.
Fishing rods, ice axes, taxidermied birds!

We record more than elections, wheelings and dealings,
Our shelves carry facts, dates, but also a feeling.
Whistler’s free spirit – it’s impossible to fake it,
Live here long enough you’ll end up in here naked!

Cynics deride Whistler’s history as short,
But we prove that the truth is none of the sort,
Our peaks, trees, and tales are all very tall,
And we’ve done big things for a town that’s so small.

Next time you’re curious of Whistler’s glorious past lives
Stop in (appointments only) at the Whistler Archives!
Thus concludes these haiku, limericks and jingles,
From the only folks in town still selling Boot Pub shingles!



All night long (all night)
All night (all night) All night long,
All night long (Ooh yeah)

– Lionel Ritchie


The Story Behind “100 Years of Dreams”

*Note: this post was originally published in July 2011*

While deep snowpacks, sprawling ski lifts and downhill dirt made Whistler the international mega-resort it is today, it was actually fish that brought the valley’s first fun-seekers. And it was 100 years ago, this summer.

In a community as young as Whistler, 100 years is nothing to sneeze at. In celebration of the centennial of the Philip’s fateful first visit to this valley, the Whistler Museum and partners are hosting a 5-day series of free events, entitled “100 Years of Dreams.”

John Millar in front of his cabin, where you could get a plate of steller’s jay pie for 50 cents.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, the Whistler Valley–then known as Alta Lake–was home to a handful of trappers, prospectors, and loggers. Life was rough and the only connection to the outside world was the Pemberton Trail, a rugged path leading from Squamish (then Newport) to Lillooet and the interior goldfields.

In the spring of 1911, a local trapper named John Millar (for whom Millar Creek in Function Junction is named) was in Vancouver selling some of his furs and picking up provisions. One day a hungry Millar stopped by Gastown’s Horseshoe Bar & Grill where he struck up a conversation with the restaurant manager, Alex Philip.

Millar’s description of his secluded mountain valley struck a chord with Alex, who had recently moved to BC from Maine with his wife Myrtle. It was the Philips’ dream to one day open a fishing retreat in the Canadian wilderness, so they were enthralled by this string of glacier-fed lakes teeming with trout. They took  Millar up on his offer and made the 3-day trek to Alta Lake that August.

The Philips on the Pemberton Trail, en route to Alta Lake, August 1911.

It was perfect. They fell in love with Alta Lake, instantly recognizing that this was the place to pursue their fishing-retreat dreams.

In 1913 they returned and purchased 10 acres of land on the west side of Alta Lake from another local trapper, Charlie Chandler. To raise money Alex returned to managing the Horseshoe in Vancouver, while Myrtle’s family, the Tapleys, moved out from Maine to help build their lodge.

The next summer Rainbow Lodge–named after the bountiful rainbow trout in Alta Lake–was ready to go. That same year the PGE railway, running from Squamish into the BC Interior, opened up, making Rainbow Lodge a much more accessible day-trip from Vancouver.

Rainbow Lodge

The Philips jumped at the PGE’s offer of running “fisherman’s excursion” packages in partnership with Rainbow Lodge. The first such trip brought 22 men up from Vancouver, who returned to the city raving of the great fishing and grand mountain views. From that moment on the Philips had little trouble attracting business.

Rainbow Lodge quickly became the centre of the Alta Lake community. By the 1930s the Philips had added 45 outbuildings to support their growing operation, including a general store, a horse-stable, tennis courts, and a dedicated railway station. Rainbow Lodge advertisements boasted that it was the most popular tourist resort west of Jasper.

An expanded Rainbow Lodge and surrounding facilities, ca 1930.

It may seem modest compared to the excess and grandeur of Whistler today, but Rainbow Lodge and the Philips deserve credit for recognizing Whistler’s unique beauty and promoting it to the outside world. They’re one of the biggest reasons why you live here today (or wish you did).

Alex and Myrtle Philip were the first in a long line starry-eyed visionaries to visit the Whistler Valley and encounter a landscape grand enough to fit their dreams. 100 years later, the Whistler Valley continues to be re-shaped by the Philips’ special brand of hard work and bold ambition.

3 remaining guest cabins at Rainbow Park. Jeff Slack Photo.