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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”