Tag Archives: Nancy Wilhelm-Morden

Having a Blast

When talking to people from Alta Lake and Whistler there are many stories that are almost universal- people come to Whistler for a visit and stay for life, and along that journey most people have experienced housing woes. One experience that I did not expect to be shared among so many locals was the stories of working in drilling and blasting. While the rocky, mountainous landscape draws people to Whistler from around the world, it also creates additional engineering challenges. Lots of rock needed to be moved for the rapid growth of Whistler, and blasting was a relatively well paying summer job.

The Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE), also known as the ‘Province’s Great Expense’ arrived in Alta Lake in 1914, bringing tourism as well as an increase in mining and forestry. The earliest known commercial mining in the area was on Whistler Mountain around 1910, with Green Lake Mining and Milling Company running ten small claims between 1000 and 1300 metres elevation.

Some of the first blasting in the valley was for mining. Here a horse is laden with dynamite bound for Jimmy Fitzsimmons’ copper mine on the north flank of Whistler Mountain, circa 1919. Rainbow Lodge can be seen in the background. Philip Collection.

Many other small operations opened and closed over the years but none struck it rich. As a word of caution, after finding an abandoned mine shaft in the mountains, some early mountaineers were pushing rocks down the shaft and set off unexploded dynamite. Nobody was hurt, but it is worth giving abandoned mines a wide berth for the many hazards they pose.

It was a logging company that gave Andy Petersen dynamite in the 1960s to help put a water line to Alta Lake Road for running water. Andy and Dick Fairhurst, owner of Cypress Lodge, had never used dynamite before. “We drilled about 27 holes and put three sticks of dynamite in each hole. Well, this thing went off. Three of them went off and boulders came up over our heads and hit the power lines. We thought we were going to take the power down. That was our experience with dynamite, but we learned.”

There were more hazards than just flying rock. During blasting and clearing of a trail along Nita Lake in 1985, Jack Demidoff and his 25-tonne hoe fell off the trail and through the ice into the lake. Whistler Question Collection.

When skiing arrived Whistler became a tourist destination in the winter but remained very quiet in summer. Many locals who worked on the mountain would have summer jobs in construction and blasting, including Murray Coates who was in ski patrol and had a blasting company. Fellow patrollers, Brian Leighton and Bruce Watt also worked some summers blasting. “There were no safety precautions”, Bruce recalled on his podcast ‘Whistler Stories that Need to be Told’, “It was just get out there and don’t be a wimp”.

Brian Leighton had a similar experience. “I was way over my head in what I was doing. But no one died, no one was hurt.” One memorable moment occurred after loading some explosives into the drill holes while creating Whistler’s sewage system. “I said to Murray, ‘I think the trucks parked a little close here.’ He said, ‘No, no, no, it’s fine.’ So we get underneath the truck and he hits the blasting machine. Sure enough, a rock the size of a soccer ball goes through the rear window of the truck. I mean we were safe, but the truck not so much”.

An dog finds refuge from the rain beneath a Wedgemont Blasting truck parked in village, not unlike Murray Coates and Brian Leighton hiding from the falling rocks. Whistler Question Collection.

Before she became a lawyer and later the Mayor of Whistler, Nancy Wilhelm-Morden also worked as a driller and blaster for the Department of Highways. She wasn’t so worried about rocks landing on her, but as her boss watched closely to make sure she was setting the dynamite correctly, “I was always worried that he was going to spit this horrible chewing tobacco on the back of my head.”

The Whistler Museum has more stories about drilling and blasting than will fit in one article, but nowadays we are much more familiar with the sound of avalanche bombs. Hopefully they are ringing throughout the valley again soon!

This Week In Photos: October 11

This week had some major events in the 1980s, some of which resemble things happening in Whistler today.  For more photos of the construction of Lift No. 6 (Jersey Cream) on Blackcomb take a look here.  For more photos of the 1984 floods, check here.

1978

A quiet day at Garibaldi Building Supplies Ltd.

Dancing was a must at the recent Quonset hut party, and few people were left off the dance floor.

Diners fill their plates at the Community Club dinner this past weekend.

1979

The game is on! Students from Signal Hill play the Myrtle Philip School soccer team on Wednesday.

Construction of the town centre continues as this building stands alone.

Builder and artist, Trudy Salmhofer decorates one of her new chalets in Blackcomb Estates.

Lorne O’Connor (left) from the Vancouver Olympic Committee and Whistler alderman Rolly Harsey lead the visiting C.O.A. delegates from the plane on Saturday. Following behind are Frank Shaugnessy and Cliff Powell, both from Montreal.

1980

The dinner part of the Community Club dinner & dance hosted in the Myrtle Philip School gym.

Paul and Jane Burrows take a turn around the the floor.

Kelly and Max Maxwell with their new daughter Fiona at the Community Club dinner.

Whose legs were on display at the dinner?

The Whistler Liquor Store has a curb outside but there still remains some paving to be done.

RCMP & wrecker crews remove the van from the fast flowing Lillooet River.

1982

Whistler’s future firefighters examine the tools of the trade at Myrtle Philip School.

Crowds swarmed to Whistler Village over the Thanksgiving weekend to enjoy some sun and relaxation.

Chop-chop! Dozens of Whistlerites took advantage of a stockpile of free timber left on the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain after trail clearing operations. The mountain was open to the public Saturday and Sunday.

Sikorski S61 chopper lifts cement for the tower pads of Blackcomb’s new Lift No. 6.

Worker welds part onto tower head assembly due to be installed on Lift No. 6, under construction on Blackcomb Mountain.

It’s a dog’s life at the pound when your master hasn’t shown up yet to pay the fine and bring you home again.

Sergeant Jim Hogarth settles into his new duties as head of the Whistler RCMP detachment. With 17 years on police forces, Hogarth brings a good deal of experience to the position. He resides in Emerald Estates with his wife and two daughters.

1983

It was a case of a bridge too high and a house too wide last Thursday at the Fitzsimmons Creek Bridge in White Gold. Although the house owned by Len and Patty Richie was eventually moved from Garibaldi Estates to Lot 30 on Ambassador Crescent, it couldn’t go by the bridge for more than six hours.

House mover Bob Malaughney takes a chainsaw to one of three bridge-posts (one had already been ripped off) that have to be removed.

And resting behind it all on a beam supporting the house was the fragile bird’s nest.

John Robinson puts final touches on his MDC home with help of wife Diane and daughter Kristal.

1984

Pat Carleton, ex-mayor of Whistler, came out of the closet Sunday to join aldermanic candidates Paul Burrows and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in celebrating the official opening of Whistler’s new municipal hall. The building, which was opened six weeks ago, was formerly used by Keg Restaurants, relocated and later renovated at a cost of $492,000.

Passersby saw the Soo River leap its banks on Highway 99 close to Pemberton Monday, but highway crews soon had the river under control.

Fifteen loaded freight cars were forced off the B.C. Rail track just north of Pemberton after the Lillooet River eroded material supporting ties and tracks. The railcars were part of a 96-car freight train southbound when the accident occurred early Monday morning. Elsewhere in Pemberton, houses, farmland and roads were flooded badly, but by Tuesday afternoon the flood was on the wane, although more rain was forecast.

Pemberton fire chief Milt Fernandez, who supervised rescue and flood control operations in the besieged town, takes a moment out at the rescue centre for victims of the Meager Creek disaster. Fernandez and other rescue workers laboured around the clock Monday and Tuesday before outside help arrived to push back the rising waters. But Pemberton wasn’t the only victim of torrential rains.

In Whistler, two log jams developed on the Cheakamus River and by Tuesday had reached a precarious point. Mailoch and Moseley logging company employees survey a major buildup at the garbage dump bridge six miles south of Whistler. Clean up operations began Tuesday night.

A Fitting Honour – Florence Petersen Park Unveiling Ceremony

For most of the summer, the empty lot between the museum and the public library has been a fairly heavy duty construction zone.  There has been a steady hive of activity as RMOW staff and various contractors have been busy transforming the dusty, under-utilized space into a verdant work of art. The work is nearly done, and we couldn’t be more excited to share the finished product with you.

This Wednesday, August 28th at 2pm you are invited to join RMOW & Museum staff, Her Worship Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, friends and family of the Petersen family for the official unveiling ceremony for Florence Petersen  Park.

The landscaping work is still underway, but already the park is a very beautiful and welcoming space.

The landscaping work is still in progress, but already the park is a beautiful and welcoming space.

Florence, a cherished and influential resident of the Whistler Valley for more than five decades, and the founder of the Whistler Museum, passed away on August 28th last year. It is fitting that this public space dedicated in her honour be located right next to the building that is such an important part of her legacy, and that the unveiling ceremony occur on the 1-year anniversary of her passing.

The park acts as a natural extension of the Museum itself. The open lawn provides the perfect space for outdoor talks, children’s crafts, and other activities when the summer weather permits. There will be a large memorial plaque for Florence surrounded by flowers symbolic of her long-time role as local marriage commissioner; at least two of the staff who helped construct the park were personally wed by Florence.

The gentle slope creates a wonderful natural ampitheatre effect.

The gentle slope creates a wonderful natural ampitheatre effect.

The bright green lawn perfectly complements the wonderful mural painted last year by local artist Kris Kupskay, making the vibrant colours pop that much more. New trails link the park with the pre-existing Village Park, with its historical logging stumps and fascinating nurse trees.

This western redcedar tree grew straight out of an old logging stump. Coastal forests are fertility and regeneration defined.

This western redcedar tree grew straight out of an old logging stump. Coastal forests are fertility and regeneration defined.

As well, an original Red Chair has been installed, for those who find the picnic tables lacking historical gravitas. With all these elements (and a few more still to come), Florence Petersen Park immediately becomes one of the best picnic/lunch spots in Whistler Village.

Not your average bench.

Not your average bench.

We’re thrilled for this beautiful park, and the fitting memorial it provides for our dear friend. We hope you have a chance to join us for the park’s unveiling ceremony and that this modest green space becomes a cherished rest spot for all tourists and visitors alike.

Florence Petersen