Tag Archives: Myrtle Philip

Before Opening Day

One of the most-talked about topics in Whistler each November is opening day: when it will be, what the conditions will be like, and how the rest of the snow season looks.  Often this causes us to look back at previous opening days, but this week we thought we’d look further back, and see what the community of Alta lake was talking about 60 years ago, years before lifts started operating on Whistler Mountain.

 

 

Alex Philip stands on the snow he’s been clearing from the door. A fascination with snow and weather was just as popular in the early days of Whistler. Philip Collection.

According to the Alta Lake Echo, the (more or less) weekly newsletter of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC), those living at Alta Lake in 1959 found the topic of November weather just about as fascinating as we find it today.  The newsletter of November 3 reported clear skies, a brisk north wind, and snow within a couple hundred metres of the lake, with a chance of flurries int he afternoon.  Don Gow was even reported to have said, “This is the year of the big snow.”

The next few weeks didn’t seem quite as promising.  A lack of snow, however, didn’t seem to be as unwelcome as the thawing ice on Alta Lake.  By the beginning of December, there was reportedly “beautiful” ice forming on the lake, but rain and warmer temperatures washed it away with the snow.  This, it would seem, was particularly frustrating for some “would-be skaters who got their Christmas presents early.”

Though ice stock sliding came later in the 1970s, Alta Lake residents spent many winter days out on the frozen lake. Petersen Collection.

Unlike today, when many people arrive for the season in November and businesses are busily preparing for a bustling winter, Alta Lake residents were looking ahead to a slower pace after a full summer.  Rainbow Lodge officially closed for the season soon after the Armistice Day Holiday, and the fishing season would appear to have been finished.  Bill and Phyllis House, who visited Alta Lake each November to fish, determinedly went out in the snow but reportedly caught nothing, a first in 20 years.

Some Alta Lake residents took the slow winter season as a chance to take a holiday, visit friends and family, or even return home after seasonal work, such as Ivor Gunderson who returned to Norway once Valleau Logging ceased operations for the winter.  Alex and Audrey Greenwood, the owners of Rainbow Lodge, left for two weeks to San Francisco, and Russ and Maxine Jordan, the proprietors of Jordan’s Lodge, left to wait out the cold season in warmer climes.

Many of the cottages and lodges on Alta Lake were built for the summer, and were not always winterized to keep occupants warm through the winter. Photo: Mitchell

There were few evening entertainments at Alta Lake once the summer guests left and the days grew shorter.  The ALCC began organizing poker sessions in November.  Participants took turns hosting, and some games were played at the Alta Lake School building.  Though scores and winnings were not printed, the Alta Lake Echo did give a fair impression of how the games went, reporting on December 8 that, “Last week saw a good turnout at Cruickshank’s Casino.  This week, Kelly & Dick [Fairhurst] are going to win their shirts back.  They’ll use their own cars.  Come one, come all…”  Interestingly, these reports were printed in the newsletter’s “Wildlife” section.

We, and many others, are looking forward to a busy winter, but it was not so long ago that winters meant something very different in the Whistler valley.

The Beginnings of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway

If you’ve ever been out hiking near the train tracks on the western side of Whistler, you know how difficult the terrain can be.  The cliffs, creeks, and rivers running through the valley make for beautiful scenery and photographs, but they can make travel very difficult.  As a result, building a railway from coastal British Columbia to the Interior was an expensive, difficult venture, and it took a long time to build the rail line that exists today.

The first company that was meant to build a railway from coastal BC to the BC Interior was incorporated in 1891, but not much came of it.  Once the Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company (HSN) was incorporated in 1907, however, things really started moving in the right direction.  Surveys from Squamish through the Cheakamus Canyon were conducted in secret by the Cleveland and Cameron engineering firm, and the demand for a railway into the BC Interior was very high.  When a feasibility report was published by the HSN Railway Company in 1909, it was the talk of the town, making headlines in the Daily Province newspaper.  The feasibility report announced that the construction of a railway through the Cheakamus Canyon was possible, and the first rails were laid that very same year.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

The HSN Railway was taken over by the Foley, Welch, and Stewart Firm in 1912.  They renamed the company the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE), and within a year of the new company’s incorporation, track was being laid on two separate sections of the route.  The PGE Squamish Line finally reached Pemberton in October of 1914.  The new railway brought many opportunities for people in the Whistler valley, especially Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Their Rainbow Lodge opened the same year the railway reached Pemberton, and they received a lot of encouragement from the PGE workers to host fishing tours.  The first tours were held in May of 1915, and fishermen, with rods and tackle in hand, arrived by train to stay at Rainbow Lodge.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

Expansion of the rail line continued, but not without difficulty.  The PGE line from Squamish reached as far as Lillooet, but going further was a financial problem.  The BC Provincial Government stepped in, and the PGE received a loan of $10 million ($200 million adjusted for inflation today) in order to continue extending the rail line in 1916.  The money didn’t help much, through, and in 1918 the PGE was forced to default on the loan.  The Provincial Government took over the PGE Railway Company, but, again, building a railway was very expensive.  The Provincial Government even listed the PGE for public sale in 1924, but there were not takers.

A southbound PGE train pulling in to Rainbow Lodge. J Jardine Collection

Despite everything, the railway pushed on.  The Provincial Government undertook a $10 million redevelopment program for the PGE in 1949 (over $110 million today).  It took a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of time, but the PGE did eventually reach its destination.  Finally, after over 50 years of planning and development, the PGE Railway reached Prince George on September 11, 1952.

If you would like to learn more about the influence the PGE had on Whistler, stay tuned for future articles!

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.”

Discovering More About the Chefs of Rainbow Lodge

As the museum’s collection grows, so too does our understanding of the people who made Whistler’s early resort days possible.  Some names, such as Myrtle and Alex Philip, are already well known while others are far more obscure.  In this article, I’m going to shine a light on two lesser-known but very important figures from Alta Lake: Rainbow Lodge’s two cooks Lam Shu and Wing Sam.

Lam Shu shown outside Rainbow Lodge in 1926. Philip Collection.

Lam Shu was born in China around 1896 and immigrated to Canada in 1908 aged about 12.  It is unknown whom, if anyone, he was travelling with.  While living in Vancouver, he was hired by Alex Philip to work at the Horseshoe Grill.  Alex was running this restaurant to raise money for the newly established Rainbow Lodge, which Myrtle was operating on Alta Lake.  By 1916, Rainbow Lodge had become so successful that Alex sold the grill and moved up to Alta Lake full-time.  Lam Shu, now a young man of about 20, accompanied him to become the lodge’s chef.

Although little is known about Lam Shu himself, historical accounts give us a glimpse of a hardworking, talented and well-liked man.  His cooking skills were among the many draws of Rainbow Lodge, giving guests from across the country yet another reason to look forward to their visits.

Rainbow Lodge staff with Skookum the dog, approximately 1919. The man in the middle of the photograph is presumed to be Lam Shu. Philip Collection.

One of his signature dishes was divinity pie, filled with fresh peaches and topped with custard meringue.  In fact, the recipe was so sought-after that Lam Shu offered to teach it to Myrtle if she was interested.  He would also pack the ingredients for popular trail breakfasts, taken by guests on horse rides and prepared out in the bush.

Lam Shu wasn’t the only member of the Rainbow Lodge culinary team – the 1921 census reveals a fellow cook, Wing Same, living with him as a “lodger.”  According to oral histories given by Whistler pioneers Vern Lundstrum and Vera Barnfield, he may have been Lam Shu’s brother, although this has not been confirmed.  Wing Sam was born in China around 1900 and moved to Canada in 1911.

The census gives some tidbits of info on the men’s personal lives – both were Confucian and could read and write.

At some point before 1932, Lam Shu visited his family in China.  Upon his return to Canada he unfortunately caught a chronic case of influenza.  For the sake of his health and to spend more time with his loved ones, he decided to return permanently to his birth country.  The museum has recently been given a letter, dated December 15, 1932, from Lam Shu to fellow Rainbow Lodge staff members George and Pearl Thompson.

In it, he states: “I am very sorry to say that I leave for China owing to my sickness.  I miss the Rainbow Lodge very much.  Hoping you are well and Kathleen (the Thompsons’ daughter) too.  Wishing everybody to have Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, so good bye to you all.  Sincerely, your friend, Lam Shu.”

After Lam Shu’s departure, Wing Sam took over as Rainbow Lodge’s head chef.  He remained in this position until the lodge was sold in 1948.

Wing Sam remained the chef at Rainbow Lodge until it was sold by the Philips in 1948. Philip Collection.

After this, Lam Shu and Wing Sam seem to have disappeared into history.  It is unfortunate that more is not known about these two men and their contributions to Whistler’s not-too-distant past.  If you know of any information on Rainbow Lodge’s chefs, the museum would be more than happy to hear from you!

Holly Peterson worked as the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She was here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ont.).  She is now moving on to a new contract at another museum and we wish her all the best!

Chilly Days at Alta Lake

Unsurprisingly, the sub-zero temperatures and arctic winds have left the museum feeling a bit chilly.  Rather than dream of warmer climes, this weather has inspired us to look back at photos of winters from Alta Lake’s past.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. Here is Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Philip Collection.

Some photos in the Philip Collection were donated to the archives with notes on the back detailing who is in the image and what they are doing.  A few of these photos (such as the one above) portray an activity that you would be surprised to see happening on Alta Lake today: an ice harvest.

Before hydro lines came to the valley (and then for an additional few years before that power could be accessed) most residents kept food from spoiling using cellars dug into the ground or ice houses.

Ice houses were double-walled structures that were tightly insulated and packed with sawdust.  Once filled with blocks of ice, these houses could keep food from spoiling through the hot summer months.  Places such as Rainbow Lodge cut blocks of ice out of Alta Lake in February, when the ice was usually thickest.  As Myrtle Philip noted on the back of one photo, “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw.”  The ice was then dragged to the ice house on a sled, by person or by horse.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake.  Philip collection.

The ice harvest on Alta Lake could be a social event for those spending the long winter in the valley.  William MacDermott, also known around Alta Lake as “Mac,” had his own ice house and once his harvest was done those who helped harvest gathered in his cottage to celebrate with jugs of Mac’s homebrew brought out from under the floorboards.

Winter tales from Rainbow Lodge often seem to end in a celebratory drink.

In an audio recording Myrtle relates the story of a railway crew she accompanied through the snow from Rainbow Lodge to the Cheakamus Canyon around 1913 or 1914.  The crew arrived at Rainbow Lodge to rest for a couple days after walking from Pemberton on wooden skis.  Myrtle fed them pea soup and baked beans and then accompanied them to a camp somewhere between Alta Lake and Squamish.  At the camp the group waited for an older and exhausted engineer to catch up.  He arrived two hours late, saying, “I’m all through boys, I can’t go any further.  I’m going to lie right here and die.  I’ve had it.”

Myrtle and her sister Jean Tapley pose with their skis and an unidentified friend outside Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

From the camp they were able to call for an engine and caboose to come from Squamish.  The crew met the train almost 10 km south of the camp; it had run into the snow at the end of a bridge over the Cheakamus River and could go no further.  It was here that they, like the ice harvesters, were rewarded with a drink,

As Myrtle described it: “I’ll never forget the bucket of tea they had sitting on the stove.  A big ten quart bucket and it was full of boiling water and a man came in and poured practically a pound of tea in that pail wanting to give us a nice warm cup of tea.  It could have pretty well stunned a horse it was so strong!”

Though some drank homebrew while others had tea, in the early winters of Alta Lake everyone seemed to welcome a chance to get warm after being out in the snow.

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.

It’s Women’s History Month!

October may be more widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but in 1992 the Government of Canada also designated October as Women’s History Month to “celebrate the achievements and contributions of women and girls across the country and throughout our history.”

Though any month could have been selected, October includes two important dates: the International Day of the Girl on October 11 and Persons Day on October 18.

Persons Day commemorates the decision Edwards vs Canada (AG) – also known as the Persons Case.  On October 18, 1929, Canada’s highest court of appeal (which at the time was in England) ruled that women are considered “persons” under the British North America Act of 1867 and should be eligible for appointment to the Canadian Senate.

Countless women have contributed to Whistler’s community over the years.  Some, such as Myrtle Philip and Nancy Greene (whose own appointment to the Senate was made possible by the Persons Case), are well known while others are less acknowledged though no less important. To celebrate Women’s History Month we’ll be sharing the stories of a few of these women, beginning with a group of young women who first came to the valley in the 1950s.

(Left to right) Florence Strachan, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.  Petersen Collection.

Eunice “Kelly” Forster, Better Gray, June Tidball, Jacquie Pope and Florence Strachan were all teachers in the Lower Mainland when they first visited Alta Lake.  Together, the five managed to purchase a lot along the railway from the Massons.  While the asking price was $2,500, the group was able to get a reduced price of $1,500 due to their obvious love of the area and offer to pay in cash.  This price included a furnished summer cottage, dock, rowboat and toolshed.

The cottage, named Witsend after a particularly long and rain-soaked voyage up from Vancouver, became the women’s summer home for the next 10 years.  In 1956, some of them even bought the lot next door.  Sadly, Witsend burned down in November 1965.

June Tidball sold her shares after the fire, but by this time most of the women had ties to Alta Lake and the others remained in the valley, at least part-time.  Kelly Forster had married Dick Fairhurst in 1958 (the same Dick Fairhurst who would later recall Paul Golnick) and moved to Cypress Lodge.  She and Dick were active members of the growing community and Cypress Lodge acted as the base for the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

In 1965, Jacquie bought another lot on Alta Lake and, with help from friends, had a house built in 1965.  She kept this house, nicknamed the Vatican, until 2001 when she moved to Squamish.

This left Witsend and the other shared lot to Betty and Florence.  Betty kept the site of Witsend until 2000.  Next door, Florence had the lot cleared and a house built under the supervision of Andy Petersen.  She and Andy married in 1967.

Even before retiring and moving to the house on the lake permanently in 1983, Florence was active in many of the community groups in first Alta Lake and then later Whistler.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.  Petersen Collection.

In 1986 she founded the Whistler Museum & Archives Society and, with a group of volunteers, gathered the beginnings of our current collection.  While serving as a marriage commissioner Florence performed over 1,000 services.

In recognition of her volunteer contributions, Florence was made Citizen of the Year in 1986 and awarded the Freedom of the Municipality of Whistler in 2012, the second woman to receive this honour (the first was Myrtle Philip).  Florence passed away in 2012 and is remembered today in Florence Petersen Park.