Tag Archives: Myrtle Philip

Summer Adventures of Mollie Stephenson

It’s a story everyone in Whistler has heard – young person comes to the valley to work for a season, but ends up staying a few years longer than expected.  What makes the story of Mollie Stephenson unique, however, is that she first came to the Whistler valley in the summer of 1926.

Mollie Stephenson at Rainbow Lodge, 1929.

In 1924, after having graduated from Ladysmith High on Vancouver Island, Mollie moved with her parents to Victoria where her father served as the reverend at St. Saviour’s Church in Victoria West.  Mollie spent the next two years enjoying life in Victoria as a young woman, including swimming at the Crystal Garden and attending tea dances at the Empress Hotel where she and her friends would try to outdo each other at the new dance the Charleston.  As Mollie said, she adored the Flapper Age with its “beads, feathers and best of all the short skirts.”

Mollie enrolled at Normal School (what teacher college used to be called) but was unable to attend as a bad chest cold turned into bronchitis and her doctor prescribed a drier climate.  Alex and Myrtle Philip were advertising for girls to work in the dining room and Mollie left for Alta Lake in May of 1926 intending to attend Normal School in the fall.

Life at Alta Lake soon cleared Mollie’s cough and in July she transferred from the dining room to work as a wrangler and guide for the rest of the summer.  Each day she would spend 12 to 14 hours out in the forest with the 15 horses Rainbow Lodge had use of.  Trail rides were popular with Rainbow Lodge guests and Mollie would often take groups for breakfast at Lost Lake, Green Lake or near a stream.  Lam and Sam, the cooks, would pack ingredients and every rider was given a job, whether building a fire, making the coffee or preparing the pancake batter.  By the time the food was ready everyone in the group would have a hearty appetite.

A picnic during a ride included a tablecloth and china as well as jobs for every guest.

When September arrived Mollie was already looking forward to her next season at Rainbow Lodge and instead of returning to Normal School in Victoria accepted a temporary job at the Uppingham School kindergarten in Oak Bay.

Mollie Stephenson pretending to ride a foal at Rainbow Lodge.

By June Mollie was once again en route for Alta Lake where she found a few changes: George Thompson was now manager of Rainbow Lodge and Pearl Thompson had taken over the post office.  (Over 60 years later Mollie and George married – she was 83 and he was 90.)  Luckily George had bought the horses Mollie had previously worked with for continued use by Rainbow Lodge.  Again Mollie worked as a wrangler and guide.

Early in the season a man arrived at Rainbow Lodge asking about an abandoned copper mine.  Mollie had found the mine the previous year while exploring the trails on the mountains and offered to guide him there.  He brought in a crew and made a deal with George to use packhorses to bring in mail and supplies.  Three from Mollie’s group were picked: Danger, Ginger and Dark Devil.

While taking the horses up to the mine one day Ginger, who happened to by carrying the explosives, got caught between two trees.  Mollie had been warned by one of the PGE rail crew to be careful of any sudden blows or jolts to the packs containing the dynamite and she was terrified while working Ginger out from the trees.

Mollie arrived at the mine and recounted her harrowing adventure over lunch, proud of having gotten herself out of a dangerous situation.  What she didn’t expect, however, was for her tale to be greeted with laughter from the men at the camp.  She soon discovered that the warning of the PGE rail crewman had been a joke at her expense; the sticks of dynamite and the caps were kept in separate packs and Ginger had never been in danger of exploding.

Bill MacDermott, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. As well as working as a wrangler, Mollie hiked, swam and attended Rainbow Lodge events.

Though Mollie spent the majority of her time at Rainbow Lodge working as a wrangler, she also participated in other aspects of life at the resort including dances, masquerades, tennis, hiking and swimming.  She once even out-swam visiting naval officers, a tale that is perhaps best told through her own words:

I loved swimming, although racing never appealed to me.  Swimming for miles was like an interesting hike but on the water.  I had been swimming across the lake all summer, although never the length of the lake.  One day a couple of naval officers staying at the Mons Hotel asked Alex Philip if any of his guests would join them in a friendly race from McDonald’s cabin, at the south end, to the River of Golden Dreams, at the north end.  Alex approached me.  I explained that I wasn’t into fast swimming or racing, but as there were no other contenders I would swim along with them, on condition that they didn’t expect me to win.  Soon they were ahead, but when we were more than half way across we hit an unexpected glacial current that took one’s breath away.  At this point the fellows had had enough and headed to the beach.  The “tortoise” kept on going until I walked onto the beach at the River of Golden Dreams.  There was a huge bonfire burning and Myrtle had a warm blanket to wrap me in.  My prize came after dinner when the two officers asked me to dance with them!

Mollie spent several summers at Rainbow Lodge and, like many who have come after her, unexpectedly fell in love with the area and its outdoors lifestyle.  Though she went on to marry and live elsewhere, Mollie will always be remembered as one of the first seasonal workers who just couldn’t keep away from the Whistler valley.

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Whistler Museum Celebrates 30 Years

It was the chance for a weekend get-away spot that spurred Florence Petersen and four friends to purchase a small cabin at Alta Lake in the mid ’50s.

Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) and her friends (left to right) Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice "Kelly" Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) and her friends (left to right) Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

At the time, the valley was a quaint summer fishing resort with only a handful of year-round residents.  In the years following, the valley would transform from its humble beginnings into the internationally renowned four-season resort we now know.

With so much change taking place in the ’70s, early pioneer Myrtle Philip and Cypress Lodge owner Dick Fairhurst confessed to Florence a worry that the early days would soon be forgotten.  Florence eased their fears by promising them that she would somehow ensure that their stories would be remembered and, true to her word, Florence started the Whistler Museum and Archives as a charitable non-profit society.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1977: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1977: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen, Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

Since incorporating on February 12, 1987, the Museum’s basic function has been to collect and preserve the history of the Whistler Valley and to display, educate and disseminate information about Whistler’s history and its role in the greater society of British Columbia and Canada.

To that end, the Museum collects and preserves artefacts, archives and oral histories.  To date we have acquired some 275 feet of archival records, including documents and photographs.  Our collection includes 2332 artefacts; 80 oral interviews that have been conducted, digitized and transcribed; approximately 300,000 photographs, both negatives and prints; 150 hours of video (VHS, SVHS, DVD, DVcam, hi8 and U-Matic formats); and 13.5 hours of film in both 8mm and 16mm.

Our Collections Manager Alyssa strives to organize, catalogue and digitize our ever-growing archive.

Our Collections Manager Alyssa strives to organize, catalogue and digitize our ever-growing archive without being swallowed by it.

In order to make the Museum’s information easy to access there is a consistent ongoing project to organize, catalogue and digitize its collection.  The artefact collection is 99% catalogued.  150 archival collections have been catalogued and are available online at the Museum’s ICA-Atom archival database.  Approximately 42,000 photographs have been digitized to archival standards.  The Museum endeavours to interpret the history of Whistler and the Museum’s information collection for visitors and the community with its exhibits, walking tours, blog and programs such as our very successful Discover Nature Project.

2016 was the busiest year in the Museum’s history in terms of exhibit visits, with a 7% growth over 2015 (another record year).  We hope to continue our momentum in growing our numbers in regards to both our exhibit visits and the amount of material that we can make available to the public.

An original gondola from Whistler Mountain sits proudly as part of our exhibits.

An original gondola from Whistler Mountain sits proudly as part of our exhibits.

A special thank you to everyone who has volunteered, donated, visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our stories and helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating heritage over the past 30 years.

The Whistler Museum would like to invite you to our 30th Anniversary Open House on Sunday, February 12, 7:30 – 9 pm.  Join us for an evening of food, music and free admission to explore the museum, venture into the archives and meet our staff.  Everyone is welcome and we hope to see you there.

Christmas at Rainbow Lodge: The Musical

If you take a walk along the Village Stroll in December you’re sure to notice signs of the holiday season anywhere you look; there is snow on the ground, tree are lit up, wreaths have been hung, and beneath the voices of crowds of people strains of holiday music can be heard.  As in many communities, music plays an important part in Whistler’s holiday traditions, many of which began in the 1980s when the Whistler of today was still developing.  Events such as the Bizarre Bazaar (now the Arts Whistler Holiday Market) would not be complete without festive music in the background and for thirty-three years the Christmas Eve Carol Service has brought local residents and visitors together to sing carols as one community.  Though rarely performed, Whistler even has its own Christmas musical.

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of "Christmas at Rainbow Lodge".

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of “Christmas at Rainbow Lodge”.

“Christmas at Rainbow Lodge” was written by Bob Daly and Molly Boyd and first performed by the students of Myrtle Philip School in December 1984.  Daly was the principal of the school from 1981 to 1985 and returned to head the school twice more before retiring in 2002.  During her twelve years living in Whistler, Boyd was heavily involved in Whistler’s music scene and its holiday activities – she founded the Whistler Children’s Chorus, was involved in starting the Christmas Eve Carol Service and directed the Whistler Singers.  During December she could often by spotted leading the Singers caroling through the Village with here battery-operated keyboard balanced on a shopping art.  The two were inspired to create a musical by Myrtle Philip’s stories of her life as a pioneer in Alta Lake as told to them over tea and Myrtle’s famous rum cake.

The musical tells the shortened and somewhat fictionalized story of how Myrtle and Alex Philip came to build Rainbow Lodge, beginning with Alex’s chance meeting of John Millar in Vancouver in 1911.  The story includes their first three-day journey to Alta Lake and meeting with loggers, trappers, railroad workers, miners and hunters who already lived or were working in the area.  Each group of people the pair meets helps them in some way as they begin settling and building.  To thank all these people for their kindness they all are invited to share in the Philips’ first Christmas at Rainbow Lodge.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

Unlike many holiday concerts, most of the music in “Christmas at Rainbow” is not about Christmas.  Instead, the majority are folk songs from the Pacific Northwest such as “Acres of Clams” and “The PGE Song”, many of which were collected by Philip J Thomas, a composer, singer, teacher and folklorist who founded the Vancouver Folk Song Circle and instrumental in collecting and preserving the folk music of British Columbia.

Since its inaugural performance in 1984, “Christmas at Rainbow” has been performed only twice more: once by the students of the current Myrtle Philip Community School in the 1990s and once by the intermediate students of Spring Creek Community School in 2012.

Happy Holidays from the Whistler Museum!

Fall getaways

Even paradise can get stale. Here in Whistler, locals often speak of the “Whistler Bubble” and their desire to escape this bubble from time to time. Fall is traditionally a time when many locals take extended holidays out of town, as the tourist trade quiets down substantially and, if ski bums get their wish, Whistler weather can get quite gloomy this time of year.

Sun-drenched surf retreats to Latin America or Indonesia are probably the current favourite Whistler escape, but Whistlerites are well-travelled people by nature. Come October you can find our locals scattered across the far corners of the globe.

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Myrtle hunting near Mahood Lake, circa 1950s, perhaps searching for a big stag deer like the one depicted on her rather fashionable hunting vest. 

This tradition of Whistler residents turning the tables and becoming tourists in the Fall is older than many might think. Our valley’s original vacation hosts, Myrtle and Alex Philip of Rainbow Lodge fame, were always keen to pack their bags and get out of town once their busy summer season wound down.

The Phillip’s were avid anglers, and thus many of their getaways focused on fishing. They made several autumn excursions to visit their friends Baldwin & Grace Naismith, who had a cabin on Mahood Lake in the Cariboo region of central British Columbia.

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Myrtle casting out into Bridge Creek, southwest of Mahood Lake, 1929.

 

Not only did the Mahood Lake area offer much larger fish than Alta Lake, lake trout in particular, it must have been a pleasure for the Philip’s to switch roles and be guests rather than hosts in this beautiful setting.

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Myrtle with her close friend Grace Naismith and the day’s catch, 1949.

The images span the decades and include a wonderful colour photo from 1961 of a smiling Myrtle (now 70 years young) piloting a small boat across Mahood Lake’s glass-calm waters with vivid fall colours framing the shoreline.

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Myrtle on Mahood Lake, 1961.

But just like today’s Whistlerites, Myrtle & Alex also pined for tropical shores to relax and rejuvenate. Here’s a photo from a month-long vacation they took to Tahiti in 1930-31:

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The annotation on the back reads: “Mr & Mrs Philip with their catch of Barracuda, Bonita and Miare.”

Just like Myrtle’s hunting vest shown above, in this picture the Philip’s once again demonstrate their fashion sense with their striking white outfits, Alex even wearing his trademark pith helmet.

Do you have plans to skip town this fall? Which would you prefer, fishing in Northern BC, or fishing in the South Pacific?

Soundbite-Sized History: Whistler Heritage Minutes

In our never-ending quest to spread the word of Whistler history as far and wide as possible, a few months ago we started producing a weekly series of audio clips called Whistler Heritage Minutes that air every Monday on Mountain FM.

We’ll continue to produce a new one to be played on the air every week, after which they will be uploaded to our SoundCloud page where our entire catalogue is hosted.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to share a few of our favourites here to this blog for your listening pleasure.

First off, Myrtle & Alex Philip are considered the founders of the community that became Whistler, as it was their Rainbow Lodge, built in 1914, that first established this valley as a tourist destination. In this clip, Myrtle recalls the first time she ever laid eyes on her future husband and life-partner:

Myrtle & Alex with their dog Skookum, circa 1920.

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Long-time local, professional forester, and dedicated environmentalist Don MacLaurin made innumerable contributions to our community over the more than 50 years that he lived here. In this audio clip he recounted how Lost Lake was nearly lost in the early 1960s, and what he did to save it.

 

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

 

One of Whistler Village’s major assets is the abundance of gorgeous sight lines towards the surrounding mountains. If these seem almost too perfectly aligned, well, they’re no happy accident. In this clip, Eldon Beck, the lead architect of Whistler Village, explains some of the early inspiration for his designs.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Lots of attention was paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains when designing Whistler Village.

 

When snowboarding first emerged in the 1980s, the new sport was met with a lot of skepticism and outright opposition. Blackcomb Mountain was one of the first ski hills in Canada to allow the sideways sliders on all of its slopes. In this clip Blackcomb Mountain VP-Marketing Dave Perry explains his mountain’s rationale.

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

We’ve got 8 clips so far, with lots more to come! Make sure to check out all of our Heritage Minutes at http://www.soundcloud.com/whistlermuseum

A Century of Skiing in Whistler

Sunday February 21st was International Ski History Day. At the museum we hosted a delegation from the International Ski History Association and put on our Speaker Series “Celebrity Athletes & the Growth of Modern Skiing” featuring Stephanie Sloan, John Smart, and Rob McSkimming. There were also events up on Whistler Mountain during the day.

We have an incredibly rich skiing heritage to celebrate here in Whistler. And though Whistler Mountain’s 50th anniversary is the big story this season, it’s not the only milestone worth celebrating this year.

As we’ve profiled on this blog previously, there were plenty of skiing pioneers doing things the old-fashioned way prior to the installation of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain. Examples include Tyrol Club members like Stefan Ples who regularly skinned up Whistler Mountain in the 1950s and early 60s, and famed explorers Don & Phyllis Munday, along with summer resident Pip Brock, who undertook ski-mountaineering expeditions into the heart of the Coast Mountains in the 1930s.

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A 1939 ski-mountaineering expedition near Black Tusk led by George Bury, in search of appropriate locations to build a ski resort. They found excellent skiing and remarkable landscapes, but their plans were interrupted by the outbreak of WW2.

Skiing, mostly of the cross-country variety, was also a popular pastime at Rainbow Lodge during the quieter winter months. We’re fortunate enough to hold in our archives dozens of photographs from that era of skiers trekking around the valley, posing on Alta Lake, or schussing down a small wooded slope near Rainbow. We even have a few shots of Bob the Workhorse pulling Myrtle around the lake on her skis, otherwise known as skijoring.

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Just out for a rip!

The solid wooden skis are generally massive, even putting your 30-year-old 210cm racing planks to shame, and the fashion is as nostalgic as it gets. One specific image, a little fuzzier than the rest but otherwise inconspicuous, is especially relevant to today’s story.

The image portrays Myrtle Philip with two other women posing while skiing on a frozen Alta Lake. They are adorned in wool tops and baggy bloomers, and are all using a single, solid wooden pole in the traditional Scandinavian style.

And written on the back of the image is the simple phrase “the first skiing guests at Rainbow about 1916. Janet Drysdale and friend and Myrtle Philip.”

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The dawn of skiing in Whistler.

Needless to say, the 3 ladies were unaware of the historical significance of this simple ski outing.

Of course it is completely possible that skis were used in the Whistler Valley prior to this visit, but we have come across no such stories or evidence. At that time trappers and prospectors generally used snowshoes and considered skis more toy than tool.

Local prospector Harry Horstman, when he encountered Pip Brock climbing Sproatt Mountain on a set of skis, apparently proclaimed “what the hell you got them flanks for? I can get around twice as fast as on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin’ boards!”

Needless to say, we don’t share Harry’s disdain. Three cheers to 100 years! 

Pants? We got Pants!

Building and growing Rainbow Lodge into a bustling resort amidst the vast and isolated Coast Mountain wilderness, Myrtle Philip and her husband Alex had to draw upon an almost endless supply of resourcefulness, ingenuity, and old-fashioned hard work.

There was no shortage of tasks to be completed, much of it incongruous of the social expectations of a lady at that time. Thankfully, Myrtle wasn’t the type to be inhibited by such expectations, and she more than pulled her weight in the lodge’s year-round operations. Thus arose that eternal question: “What to wear?”

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Myrtle Philip in typical riding garb.

Well, as Myrtle recalled during a 1971 oral history interview that is preserved in the Whistler Archives:

“I used to try and wear dresses, but they weren’t practical. I had to go and do outside work, maybe harness a horse or something. You just can’t do these things in skirts.” When asked if she ever wore an apron, Myrtle bluntly replied “No. Never. To hell with it!”

And while Rainbow Lodge is generally remembered as a fishing lodge, as Myrtle explains, horseback riding quickly became a popular activity for lodge guests as well.

Fast-forward to late January and we were pleasantly surprised by a visit to the museum by Kristi King of Pemberton, BC. Kristi brought with her an old pair of leather riding breeches that had been given to her by Myrtle Philip! Kristi’s family had been close with the Philips, and since Kristi was an avid horse-person as well, Myrtle had decided to pass them on when she no longer had use for them.

Museum staff with Myrtle's overcoat and riding pants.

Museum staff with Myrtle’s overcoat and riding pants.

In the early days of Rainbow Lodge, Myrtle made most of her clothes herself, including her riding breeches. These leather pants, however, were made by the Berlin Glove Company, of Berlin, Wisconsin. Founded in 1869, B.G.C. specialized in high-end, western-style leather goods and apparel. While we are uncertain when Myrtle acquired these pants we suspect that it was later in Myrtle’s career, perhaps the 1940s or 1950s.

But wait, there’s more! A fascinating and under-appreciated aspect of the Philip’s life story is that, while they were certainly at home welcoming guests to this remote mountain valley, they were equally at ease donning formal attire and rubbing elbows with Vancouver’s social elite. They frequently entertained Vancouver’s well-connected and well-to-do up here at Alta Lake, and enjoyed trips to the big city to visit with their many friends.

Along with Myrtle’s riding pants, a formal overcoat that belonged to Myrtle was also included in the archival donation. Myrtle’s rugged, mountain lifestyle would have gone completely unsuspected by passersby while adorned in this full-length, black-sequinned coat.

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We don’t have any photos wearing this specific overcoat, but here’s an image of her and Alex looking rather sophisticated at the Rainbow Lodge 25th anniversary celebration at Vancouver’s iconic Commodore Ballroom. 1940.

Considering Myrtle’s revered position in our community’s history—if anyone could lay claim to being the founder of the community of Alta Lake, it would be her—we were naturally thrilled to receive these new donations to our archives.