Tag Archives: Myrtle Philip

Alta Lake Dances

Before the ski resort brought power and paved roads to the valley, and it was renamed Whistler, Alta Lake was a fairly small and remote town. Without developed roads it could be hard getting around and residents from opposite sides of the valley rarely crossed paths. One thing that would bring the community together, however, was the Alta Lake dances. While the music and location of the dances varied over the years, fond memories are recounted by many people that visited or called Alta Lake home.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods lived in Alta Lake with their children from around 1926 until the 1940s, and during this time their family band was the staple entertainment at dances and community events. Dances featuring the Woods family band helped raise money for the first Alta Lake School, which children Helen, Pat, Jack and Kenneth Woods attended. When the one room schoolhouse was built in the 1930s it doubled as a community hall where regular dances continued to be held.

Pat Woods was quite young when he started playing at the Alta Lake dances with his family. “We used to load the toboggan with the guitars, accordion, and a violin. We’d ride the toboggan down to the dance hall, play crib, then make some music. We weren’t very old then, but everybody was up dancing. We were 9 or 10.”

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers.

Almost everyone was up dancing. School desks were pushed to the side for the dances and really young children would sleep through the event under the desks. The schoolhouse, like most buildings, was lit by coal oil lamps. When the home waltz started and the lamps turned off it was time to bundle up and head home.

Kenneth Farley’s family came to Alta Lake in 1943, after the Woods family band had moved on. “The music was the wrangler,” recounted Kenneth. “Philip’s wrangler looked after the horses. He played a fiddle and he would keep the time with the heel of his cowboy boots to set the pace, while the whisky in his back pocket would be sloshing away. You didn’t need to be able to dance because it was so crowded you could hardly move.”

Alta Lake School doubled as the community hall where dances were regularly held. Philip Collection.

For those living along the lake, the festivities started before arriving at the dance. A boat with an outboard motor would start at the north end of the lake, picking up everyone in rowboats on the way past. By the time they arrived to the dance there would be a long string of boats pulled along behind the motorboat.

John Burge first came to Alta Lake in 1956 and spent the summers here while growing up. Not quite the same as the dances you’ll find at Garfs or The Longhorn today, he remembers learning the foxtrot, waltz, schottische and polka from Florence Petersen. “We just learned all these dances and people did them. It was a fun time.”

John started working at Rainbow Lodge when he was around 13 and after working for five summers he had saved enough money to pay for university. One of his jobs was to wax the floors after the Saturday night dances held in the Rainbow Lodge dining room, which could be attended by up to 100 people. By then Rainbow Lodge was owned by Alec and Audrey Greenwood, who had bought the lodge from Myrtle and Alex Philip when they retired in 1948. The lodge was made of wood and the whole building would dance, with the deteriorating wood floor bouncing up and down as much as six inches as people boogied.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

For the Love of Pants

Trousers, slacks, britches, pantaloons or jodhpurs. There was a time, relatively recently, when local women were challenging societal expectations when choosing to wear pants.

Many will be familiar with the picture of Whistler’s ‘first lady’, Myrtle Philip, in her chequered pants with a big smile and hands on her hips. The image has been immortalised on the side of the Whistler Museum along with many posters and pamphlets. What may surprise some is how shocking it was at this time for visitors from Vancouver to see a women wearing pants.

When Myrtle first came to Alta Lake, now known as Whistler, in 1911 there was no highway or train line and the journey from Vancouver was a difficult three days. The first day involved catching a steamship from Vancouver to Squamish. In Squamish Myrtle and Alex Philip picked up packhorses and then spent the next two days on foot travelling over rough terrain, climbing around boulders and fallen logs, and weaving in and out of deep gullies. The trail was barely 2 feet wide and seldom used, but women were still expected to traverse it in long, heavy skirts as per the fashion and societal expectations at the time.

Myrtle (right) with guests at Rainbow Lodge. Skirts and dresses were the accepted clothing for women at this time. Myrtle had to make her own pants because you could not buy pants for women in stores. Philip Collection.

As most would understand, hiking, horseback riding and working outside in long skirts is not very practical; however, you could not buy pants for women. Myrtle tried various men’s pants, including overalls, but did not like them. In an oral history from 1971, Myrtle explained the solution – she would make all of her own pants. “I had a pattern and then that’s what I wore all of the time.” For many of the visitors from the city, a woman wearing pants was not a regular sight and was seen as rather scandalous by some.

Famed mountaineer, Phyllis Munday, who lived in North Vancouver during this time, also had to explore her limited clothing options. Summiting over 100 mountains during her career, including many around Whistler, she came up with a solution that ensured she did not face prejudice for wearing pants in the city. In an interview with Olga Ruskin she said, “You were never seen on the street with britches in those days, so we would wear a skirt over our britches. Then when you got to the foot of the mountain or the foot of the trail or wherever you happen to be, you took your skirt off and cast it underneath a log and there it would stay until you came down.”

Phyllis Munday on Franklin Glacier. MONOVA: Archives of North Vancouver, INV 9782.

Thankfully societal expectations have changed in Whistler today, and women are not expected to ski, ride and hike in skirts and bloomers. However, this change was more recent than many people would expect. When the lifts were turning on Whistler Mountain in 1966, 55 years after Myrtle had first visited the valley, Renate Bareham lived near Myrtle on West Side Road. Between 1931 and 1976 the local school opened and closed regularly based on the fluctuating number of residents. For Renate, and many other kids in the valley, it was a long and snowy trek to get to the bus, followed by the bus ride to Squamish or Pemberton for school.

After the one hour hike to the bus, Renate remembers, “At that time, you weren’t allowed to wear pants to school when you were a girl. So we would have to wear our pants over to the bus, then as soon as we got to school we had to change into our dresses or skirts.”

My appreciation goes out to those who challenged and continue to challenge the status quo. Thankfully things have changed, and women are not expected to ride the bike park in long dresses.

Vancouver Girl Guides at the top of Grouse Mountain. Phyllis James (later Munday) is on the far right, still hiking in a long skirt in 1912. MONOVA: Archives of North Vancouver, INV 5655.

The ‘new’ Myrtle Philip Community School turns 30!

The first Myrtle Philip Elementary School opened in 1976 in the area that would become the Village, more specifically where the Delta Hotel is today. Although the school opened with only 57 students, the town of Whistler was growing rapidly and the number of students quickly outgrew the school. By 1987, the Howe Sound School Board had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school. By 1991, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary School needed eight portables to house the 268 students. It was definitely time for a new school.

Figures published by the Whistler Question in 1985 indicated that by 1991 ‘room for 336 elementary students is required – three times the current number’. However, despite this, the new school was built to hold 300 students. Unsurprising to those who completed the 1985 study, the numbers already exceeded 300 when the school opened for learning in 1992. Rooms originally planned as extra conference rooms were converted to classrooms as nearly 340 students enrolled for the opening year. In press coverage for the grand opening, the Whistler Question included the line, ‘If the baby boom continues in Whistler, plans for expansion will be examined.’

Students and staff relocating from the old Myrtle Philip Elementary School in the Village, to the new Myrtle Philip Community School on Lorimer Road in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

A celebration for the grand opening was held on September 18, 1992 and included tours led by student hosts and an opening ceremony hosted by principal Mike Edwards, the Master of Ceremonies. It also included the presentation of a portrait of Whistler’s ‘First Lady’, Myrtle Philip, painted by Isobel MacLaurin. The painting showed two images of Myrtle side-by-side; 19 year-old Myrtle, new to Alta Lake, next to Myrtle on her 95th birthday. Myrtle was a dedicated school board trustee for nearly four decades and helped raise the money for the first school in the valley, the Alta Lake School. In recognition of her efforts, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary was named after her, in what Myrtle would describe as the greatest honour of her life. The painting of the school’s namesake can still be seen in Myrtle Philip Community School today.

Isobel MacLaurin next to the painting of Myrtle Philip. MacLaurin Collection.

The new Myrtle Philip Community School was a far cry from the first school that Myrtle helped build in the 1930s. Designed by Vancouver architects Dalla Lana Griffin, it made an impression with it’s comfortable, learning focussed design. As described in the Whistler Question, ‘Windows surround the low lying school and skylights flood the halls with light. Classrooms are not simply square, but feature curved study areas, built-in window counters that look out to the fields and mountains, and courtyards that offer quiet study areas.’ The project cost was $9,174,000, also a far contrast from the first one room Alta Lake schoolhouse that the community raised a total of $300 to build.

The new Myrtle Philip School opened with 16 teachers, plus support staff and teacher assistants. The names of some of the inaugural staff will be familiar to current Myrtle Philip students, with Gerhard Reimer and Donna Williams among the teachers.

One Ringy-Dingy. Vice-principal Rick Price rings an old fashioned bell to call students to the first day of classes after staff couldn’t figure out how to operate the electric bells in the new Myrtle Philip Community School. Whistler Question Collection.

The original Myrtle Philip Elementary School was demolished almost immediately after the new school opened to make way for commercial development in the Village. However, the new Myrtle Philip School had similar challenges to the first. By 1999, the new Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half of the school’s population. A second elementary school was required, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw up catchment boundaries for two elementary schools within Whistler. Spring Creek Community School opened in 2004. This week students will be returning to both of these schools, as well as École La Passerelle, and multiple independent and private schools in the area.

Staff and students in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

The Disappearance of Rainbow Lodge

While visiting Rainbow Park, you may have noticed a few old cabins by the railway tracks; these are the last remaining structures of Rainbow Lodge. Opened by Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1914, Rainbow Lodge operated fo decades as a successful summer destination for those looking to fish, sail, hike, and more. The Philips sold their business to the Greenwood family in 1948, who continued to run the lodge until 1970, when they retired to Arizona and sold Rainbow Lodge to Joan Saxton. As Rainbow Lodge at one time included forty cabins, stables, and a store, as well as the main lodge, you might wonder why there are so few buildings left on the site today.

A panorama view of Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s, though the cabins by the lakeshore are difficult to make out. Barr Collection.

In the early 1970s, Rainbow Lodge ceased operating as a summer resort, though rooms and cabins could still be rented out. Then, on April 21, 1977, the main lodge building caught fire. According to the report in the Whistler Question at the time, there were plumbing alterations being done on the upper level of the building and somehow the fire began in the course of this work. Because the plumbing was being worked on, the water to the building had been shut off. The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department arrived at Rainbow Lodge only fifteen minutes after the call had gone out to its members and were able to contain the fire. However, they ran out of water and had to get a pump to supply water from Alta Lake as the nearest hydrant that could fill their tanker truck was at the located on Timber Lane in Alpine Meadows. The fire department was still able to prevent the fire from spreading to most of the buildings on the property but the main lodge and part of the bathroom block were described as “burned out.”

Rainbow Lodge on fire, April 1977. Busdon Collection.

The remaining cabins on the Rainbow Lodge property continued to be lived in by tenants, often younger people working in Whistler, but the main lodge building was not rebuilt after the fire. Ten years later, the municipality announced that it was going to expropriate the Rainbow Lodge property in an effort to increase public access to the waterfront. Their plan was to turn the property into a public park (the Rainbow Park that we have today). At that point, the property had quite a number of the cabins of Rainbow Lodge still standing, many of them along the shore of Alta Lake, and the municipality took over the rental agreements with any tenants.

The result of the fire in 1977. Busdon Collection.

In February 1989, a master plan for Rainbow Park was presented to Council. This plan aimed to “integrate the historical character of the area with recreation.” The central area of the park, including the location of the main lodge building, was to be lest as a seeded grassy area, which would leave open the option of rebuilding the lodge. The plan also suggested building a boardwalk to link the trail that would come through the park with the remaining buildings, which would house concessions. As well, the plan called for the reconstruction of the Bridge of Sighs and the Rainbow Lodge gateway at the park’s entrance.

Though not an exact copy, you will find a similar looking sign welcoming you to Rainbow Park today. Philip Collection.

As Rainbow Park was developed, the Bridge of Sighs and the gateway were rebuilt according to plan. Most of the buildings on the property were removed and three structures were moved further back from the shore. Today, the remaining cabins at Rainbow Park are used to share the history of the Rainbow Lodge property through interpretive panels installed in many of the windows.