Tag Archives: Nita Lake

The Dangers of Cycling in Whistler

Over the last week or so, the Whistler Museum hosted various events as part of our fourth annual Mountain Bike Heritage Week, including a Post-Toonie Retro Bike Show & Shine, a bike maintenance course, a film screening of Ride to the Hills, and talks on the Cheakamus Challenge and bike manufacturing in Whistler.  We’d like to thank everyone who helped with this year’s Mountain Bike Heritage week and all of our amazing sponsors.  With all of this going, it’s no surprise that biking got a little stuck in our heads.

Usually when we discuss the history of mountain biking, we look at events, races and the growing popularity of the sport.  Reading through press clippings from the Squamish Citizen and the Whistler Question from the 1980s, however, a large portion of the reporting on biking covers accidents, injuries and growing concerns for safety.

Constable F. Pinnock runs through the bike safety testing course that he and Constable Gabriel of Pemberton set up at Myrtle Philip Elementary. Contrary to the advise of medical professionals, Pinnock seems to have forgotten to put on a helmet.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

A July 1986 article in the Citizen reported on two separate accidents two days apart, both of which caused serious injuries.  In one, a Whistler resident and a Maple Ridge resident collided on the bike path along Nita Lake, resulting in a broken hand and possible concussion for the Maple Ridge resident.  The other claimed that a resident of North Vancouver “lost control of her rented bicycle and careened into a tree,” causing a broken leg and another possible concussion.  Both injured parties were transported to Vancouver.

The RCMP received many complaints of bikers not following the rules of the road and particularly urged riders to carry lights when riding in the dark.  In June 1987, a cyclist was reported to have struck an unidentified object while riding on Highway 99 and was transported to Vancouver for surgery for sever facial injuries.  In an effort to encourage the use of lights, the RCMP began ticketing cyclists who didn’t have any, many of whom were shocked to receive a $75 fine.

By May 1987, it would seem bike accidents were so numerous in Whistler that the Whistler Ambulance Chief Jeff Sopel made a statement appealing to cyclists to “use common sense when using the Valley Trail.”  Part of his appeal included a call to wear helmets and to be aware of their location in case an ambulance had to be called.

These helmets look suspiciously like they may also be used when skiing. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

The Whistler Medical Clinic, then located in the basement of Municipal Hall, saw quite a bit of business from cyclists over the summer of 1987.  Dr. Ron Stanley collected data from all the bicycle accidents that passed through the clinic between May and September and found that about 50 per cent of the accidents resulted in road lacerations or abrasions (also described as “Road rash – very painful”), 30 per cent caused head and/or facial injuries, 15 per cent resulted in fractures of some kind, 15 per cent of the injuries were serious enough to require a transfer to Vancouver, and 15 per cent of the accidents occurred while the rider was drunk or impaired.

According to Dr. Stanley, there was no obvious pattern to the incidents, which occurred all over Whistler on both roads and trails.  He echoed Sopel’s call, urging riders to use common sense and wear helmets, also adding that wearing adequate clothing (such as shirts, shoes and gloves) would help prevent road rash and noted that the majority of serious injuries occurred when the rider was impaired.

Bike decorating contests for the children of Whistler often accompanied the safety demonstrations put on by the RCMP. Even ET made an appearance. Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Mountain biking as a sport and bike safety in general have come a long way in the decades since the 1980s (as has the Whistler Medical Clinic, which moved out of the basement and into its current facility in 1994).  One thing we’ve learned from talking about biking all week, however, is that the advise of Sopel and Dr. Stanley still applies today: use common sense and wear your helmet.

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Chilly Days at Toad Hall

Looking back at the early days of skiing in Whistler might make you long for a time when life seemed simpler and cheaper.  Living in the valley in the 1960s, however, was challenging for residents, including those living in buildings like the original Toad Hall.

The first Toad Hall was originally the home of Alf and Bessie Gebhart.  They moved their family to Alta Lake in 1936 when Alf purchased a sawmill and lumber camp.  After operating the mil for some years, Alf built a house by Nita Lake in the 1950s.

Alf Gebhart poses with Ben Dyke and an unknown woman in front of his house at Parkhurst, before he built the house at Nita Lake. Photo: Debeck Collection

Unlike many structures built around Alta Lake at the time, the Gebharts’ was more of a house than a cabin or cottage.  It had four bedrooms (two downstairs and two upstairs), a living room, a kitchen and an adjoining breakfast room, as well as a basement with thick walls of stone.

Alf and Bessie remained in the house until their sawmill closed and they moved out of the valley.  Their son Howard and his wife Betty then took up residence while Howard worked for the railway before they, too, left the valley.  The house was then sold to Charles Hillman who rented it out through the 1960s.

Without the mill, it’s not that surprising the Gebarts chose to leave the house by Nita Lake, especially over the winter.  According to John Hetherington, an early resident of the house when it was known as Toad Hall in the late 1960s, the house could best be described as “cooold.”  Fittingly for the owner of a sawmill, the house was built of wood and used sawdust for the insulation.  Unfortunately, as Hetherington pointed out, “what happens with sawdust is at all settles down in the bottom, in between the studs, and provides no insulation whatsoever.”  The old, single-pane windows didn’t help retain heat either.

Though the living room may look cozy, winters could be harsh. Benjamin Collection.

Hetherington and three other Whistler Mountain employees, Jim Burgess, Drew Tait and Mike Wisnicki, moved into the house the winter of 1967/68.  Luckily for the four, they got their firewood split and stacked the day before the snow came that year as the wood became their main source of heat.

The house came with a woodstove, a furnace in the basement and a fireplace, all of which shared the same chimney.  For their first winter in the house, the four covered the windows with plastic and slept in sleeping bags on cots in the large upstairs bedroom, which the chimney ran through providing some radiant heat.

Master Climax, the woodstove that tried to keep Toad Hall warm. Benjamin Collection.

Though at first the woodstove was used mainly for heat, the four also began learning to cook on it.  Food was kept in the walk-in fridge and freezer at the lift company in Creekside or else sat through the temperature fluctuations of the kitchen.

In an effort to keep warm, they would throw occasional parties when, with most of the people in the valley inside the house and the fireplace and woodstove going, it would “get warm for a few hours,” said Hetherington.

These parties also highlighted another challenge of life at Toad Hall – there was no electricity.  Tait had a stereo system (a turntable and two speakers), but in order to use it a generator had to be borrowed and a mechanic friend had to be invited over to keep it running.  Light was provided by kerosene-burning Coleman lamps.

The front porch of Toad Hall, lit by a kerosene-burning lamp.  Benjamin Collection.

After a season or two, all four of these residents moved on from the house, leaving it to other residents until its owner decided to take possession.  Despite needing “a sawmill to keep the place heated,” Toad Hall was considered by its residents a “sort of legitimate place to live” at a time when there were not many places to live in the valley.

Nita Lake’s First Hotel: Jordan’s Lodge

Just as today many of Whistler’s hotels and lodges are centrally located in the Village, the lodges built in the 1920s through 1950s tended to be located on or close to the shores of Alta Lake.  One outlier was Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.

Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake.  Photo: Barber Collection

Russ Jordan first came to Alta Lake with his wife Laura and their two sons, Eugene and Stanley, in 1915 when he began working at a a logging mill at the south end of Green Lake.  The family then bought the Alta Lake Hotel on the southwest shore of Alta Lake.  After this purchase, the family’s story takes an unusual turn for its time: Laura divorced her husband and took their two sons to live with her in Vancouver.  Russ continued to operate the Alta Lake Hotel until it was destroyed in a fire in 1933.  He then went to sea as a barber on the ‘Empress of Japan’, an ocean-liner.

Russ Jordan with his catch, c.1922.  Photo: Jordan Collection

In 1936 Russ returned to Alta Lake and bought a quarter section of land (about 160 acres) from Harry Horstman.  For $2000, Russ’ property stretched from the south end of Nita Lake to the current location of the highway.  He hired Bill Bailiff to help construct his lodge on the lake.  Named Jordan’s Lodge, the property included the main lodge building, cabins, a barn for storing equipment, and a plot of land for Russ’ gardens, including a large vegetable crop and flower gardens.  Russ’ granddaughter Wilma Cates remembered “each cabin had its own rowboat so guests could go out on the lake… It was all water by pump and kerosene or gas lamps.”

For many years Russ’ sons spent the school year in Vancouver with their mother and their summers at Alta Lake with their father and his second wife Beatrice.  As a barber, Russ would give both boys their summer haircut when they first arrived in the spring.  According to Wilma, “he used to shave their heads and that did them for the summer.”

Nita Lake, with Jordan’s Lodge and Alpha Lake behind.  Photo: Barber Collection

Although Stanley would later live mostly in Vancouver where he had a taxi business, Eugene spent some time living at Alta Lake.  When Eugene was about 19 he built himself a log cabin, reportedly where the Rimrock Cafe stands today, and made a living trapping furs in the Black Tusk meadows.  He later returned to live at Nita Lake with his wife Lorraine and their family for summers while working in forestry, following the train on a speeder and checking for fires.  As Lorraine recalled, “There were quite a few fires, you know, people would throw a cigarette out.  And the trains used to themselves, the brakes would give off sparks and start fires.”  Lorraine also remembered walking to Rainbow Lodge to pick up the mail and gathering with neighbours for dances, cards and socializing.

After the land was sold the cabins remained standing and were used for varying purposes. Photo: Benjamin Collection

With the beginning of the war Eugene and his family moved first to Vancouver, where he worked in the shipyards, and later to Squamish, where he opened some businesses of his own.  Russ Jordan and his third wife Maxine stayed at Nita Lake and eventually the land was sold to John Taylor in 1967.  Much of the Creekside we know today was built on Russ’ property.  The cabins of Jordan’s Lodge continued to stand on the shores of Nita Lake, though in increasingly dilapidated condition, until 2003 when they were torn down before the construction of Nita Lake Lodge.