Tag Archives: Pacific Great Eastern Railway

Adeline the Alta Lake Donkey

The cover of the February 1969 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News featured a photo of Tex Rodgers guiding cars through the parking lot for Whistler Mountain on horseback. Over the years that Tex worked for the lift company, it was not uncommon for skiers to see him astride his horse directing traffic, but his was not the only four-legged mount that could be found in the area. Also glimsped around Alta Lake and, at times, at Whistler Mountain was Karen Gow’s donkey Adeline.

Tex Rodgers directing traffic for Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection

The Gows first moved to Alta Lake in 1955, when Don Gow began working as the station agent at the Alta Lake Station. He had previously worked for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) as a relief agent, traveling with his family from station to station to provide relief for agents going on holidays. Alta Lake was the family’s first permanent station and Don and Joyce moved into the “PGE green” station agent house with their two young daughters, Connie and Karen.

When the Alta Lake Station closed around 1959 and became a flag stop, the Gows moved first to the station at Shalalth and then further along the tracks to the station in Clinton. However, they had fallen in love with the Alta Lake area and built a cabin on a lot leased from the PGE with their friend Bill Russell. They continued to visit Alta Lake on weekends and holidays.

In 1965, Don was given the choice of bidding on a station even further north or leaving the PGE. He contacted Laurence Valleau and was offered a position as the bookkeeper for Valleau Logging, and so the Gows moved back to Alta Lake. Connie took Grade 9 by correspondence while Karen attended the Alta Lake School for Grade 7 and Joyce began working at the post office at Mons.

The Alta Lake Station that first brought the Gows to Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Gow Family

While living in Clinton, Karen had desperately wanted a horse. In a 2015 oral history interview, she recalled that she had spend many of her weekends with her friends in Clinton, who mostly lived on ranches and all had horses. Karen began saving up for a horse of her own, saving both her allowance and that of her sister, who generously contributed her 25 cents/week to the cause. When they moved back to Alta Lake, however, her parent’s didn’t think it was the best place to have a horse.

Around the same time that Karen was saving up for a horse, Tex Rodgers was opening a stable called Buckhorn Ranch in the area now known as Nicklaus North. He was arranging to bring his horses from California and, unbeknownst to Karen, Don arranged for Tex to bring a donkey along as well. Karen was told there was something for her to collect at Mons and so she and her friend Renate Ples walked down the tracks from the Gow house. There, they found a donkey tied up outside the post office. As Karen recalled, “I was excited, excited and disappointed all at once… I wanted a horse, and it wasn’t really a horse, but, oh, we had so much fun.”

Karen and Adeline at the gondola barn. Photo courtesy of Gow Family

The donkey was given the name Adeline by Myrtle Philip, who thought she was sweet like the song “Sweet Adeline,” and lived in the barn at the back of the cabin that had belonged to Bill Bailiff before his death. According to Karen, Adeline’s braying could be heard all around the lake.

Don and Joyce continued to live at Alta Lake until 1975, when they both retired and bought a sailboat to live on, which Karen said had long been a dream of her dad’s. Karen did eventually get her horse, and even got her coaching certifications and taught horseback riding. As far as we know, however, her donkey Adeline is the only donkey to have been photographed hanging around the base of Whistler Mountain.

Remembering Trips to Alta Lake

When the museum conducts oral history interviews, one of the questions asked is how the interviewee first came to the Whistler area. This question is often interpreted in one of two ways, with answers as varied as the individuals. Some interpret it as why they visited or moved to the area, while others answer more literally (one memorable answer was simply “car”). In a 2012 conversation with Kenneth Farley, he provided answers for both variations, including a description of traveling from Vancouver to Alta Lake in the 1940s, featuring at least three different means of transportation.

Kenneth’s parents, Frank and Hilda Farley, first visited Alta Lake in 1943 and rented a cabin at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake for a week in the summer. Frank was a keen fly-fisherman and so the couple decided to buy property along the railroad tracks by Alta Lake from a Mr. Noble, who they knew from their home in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. According to Kenneth, he came to Alta Lake “to see what it was all about” after his parents told him they had already bought the property. This was the first of many visits for Kenneth and his family.

The Farleys’ trips began in Kerrisdale on 49th Ave. From there they would walk eight blocks down to 41st, where the family caught the number 7 streetcar, which would take them downtown. The next step was to walk across the overpass above the fright yards to the waterfront, where the Union Steamship would be waiting.

Grace Woollard on a Union Steamship on the way up to Squamish, a bit earlier than the Farley family’s trips. Clarke Collection.

The trip aboard the Union Steamship was hardly an express route. After sailing through the Narrows, the ship stopped at most of the small colonial settlements along the Howe Sound, including Woodfibre and Britannia, before arriving in Squamish. As Kenneth recalled, it was often so windy in Squamish that the journey was made even longer as the captain faced the challenge of docking. Upon arrival in Squamish, Kenneth recalled navigating around “great big puddles full of water” to the Chinese restaurant, where they would eat apple pie while waiting for the train to be loaded with its freight. Eventually, the engineer would whistle and everyone would run to board the train before it went “rambling off in a cloud of dust and smoke.”

According to Kenneth, the cars used by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway were “real antique,” with sliding windows, a potbelly stove for warmth, and oil lamps suspended from the ceiling. The views along the route, however, made up for any discomfort on the train. Passengers could even disembark at Brandywine Falls to walk over and take a look at the Falls before continuing north.

The view from the train through the Cheakamus Canyon. Traveling to Alta Lake by train provided views that the highway could not. Clarke Collection.

The train usually reached the Alta Lake Station around 5:30pm and the Farleys would leave their baggage there while they walked to their cabin. When making the first trip of the spring, they often had to fix the chimney (which the snow had pushed over) and bail out the skiff made of rough planks. Once the skiff was emptied, someone would have to row back to the station to collect the baggage and then row back, finally completing the journey.

Kenneth remembered one memorable occasion traveling with his wife Shirley and sons Patrick and Greg when an additional stage was added to the journey. As he recalled, “It was raining, rain was slashing against the windows, and the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. And people started to get out of the train and go across the ditch on a 2×12 plank and the conductor was helping them across. And I thought, ‘Gee, this must be some new settlement or something or other,’ and then he came and said, ‘It’s your turn.'” There had been a derailment ahead and the passengers were taken to dump trucks with makeshift benches that took them up rough logging roads to a point further along the railway. There they boarded what Kenneth described as “vintage rolling stock,” with him and his family riding the caboose at the end.

During the Farleys’ early trips, the “road” to Alta Lake wasn’t smooth sailing.. MacLaurin Collection.

The Farley family began driving to Alta Lake after a road was constructed from Vancouver in the 1960s, though the journey could still be eventful. Kenneth Farley’s recollections of earlier trips, however, provide useful information about how visitors used to travel.

The Woods at Alta Lake

The Woods family moved to Alta Lake around 1926 and worked in the area, both for the railway and in the logging industry, until the 1940s. Fred Woods was born in the Isle of Man and immigrated to Canada after a time in the army. He worked on the railroad in Broadview, Saskatchewan where he met and married Elizabeth. Their first child, Helen, was born in Broadview in 1921 and a couple of years later the family moved to Port Coquiltam, where Fred continued to work on the railroad. While there Fred and Elizabeth had two sons, Jack and Pat. Fred then took a job as a section foreman for the PGE Railway and the entire family moved to Alta Lake.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods on the train tracks at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

After a few years, Fred lost his job with the PGE and the family moved out of the company house. After living for a time in a much smaller house, the family was able to rent a property from Jack Findlay, who charged them only the cost of the property taxes. The property included a house, barn, hayfield, and garden and was located across the creek from the Tapley’s farm. Fred began working for the logging operation of B.C. Keeley of Parkhurst during the summers and clearing trails and bridges as relief work in the winters.

The family kept a cow, horse, chickens, and, at times, a pig and grew their own vegetables. In the summer the children would pick berries that Elizabeth would use to make jam. She also canned meat from their animals. When the logging camp closed at the end of the summer Fred would order groceries such as flour and sugar wholesale through the cookhouse to last through the winter. Vegetables were stored in the roothouse and the children would keep the path from the house clear of snow.

Pat Woods, Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland and Jack Woods skating at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

Helen, Pat, Jack and later their younger brother Kenneth went to the Alta Lake School, though Pat remembered some days when snow prevented them from attending. As they got older they also began working outside of their home. When Jack was fifteen and Pat fourteen they spent a summer working in the sawmill at Lost Lost (after a fire at Parkhurst in 1938, logging operations were temporarily moved to Lost Lake before returning to Green Lake). Their employment ended abruptly when Jack lost all the fingers on his right hand in a workplace accident. According to Pat, it took years for Jack to receive compensation, as he was supposed to be sixteen before working in the mill.

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers, held in the school.

Though the family worked hard during their years at Alta Lake, both Pat and Helen had fond memories of living in the area. Elizabeth loved music and taught her children to play violin and guitar. She played accordion and the family would perform at community dances. They also remembered the kindness of various “bachelors” who lived at Alta Lake, such as Bill Bailiff and Ed Droll, who would visit with their father and sometimes give the children carrots from their gardens on their way to school.

In the early 1940s Fred Woods joined the Canadian army and the family, apart from Helen who had left home and lived in Squamish, moved to North Vancouver. In later years, members of the Woods family returned as visitors to Alta Lake and then Whistler, though they never forgot the years they spent living and working in the area.

Taking a Walk with Pip Brock

Mildred and Reginald Brock first visited Alta Lake in 1927 as guests of friends.  Mildred fell in love with the area and the Brock family bought three small lots on the southwest corner of Alta Lake, hiring Bert Harrop to build a cottage that they named “Primrose”.  The Brocks and their five sons visited Alta Lake each summer; it’s likely that their youngest son, Philip ‘Pip’ Gilbert Brock, spent the most time exploring the area.

A young Dave Brock (formerly identified as Pip) atop Whistler Mountain.  Brock Collection.

At the time, there were only two trains from Squamish to Alta Lake each week, though the steamship from Vancouver to Squamish was daily.  Rather than limiting himself to the train schedule, Pip Brock would often choose to walk over 60km to reach Alta Lake.  According to Pip, this walk would take “a long time, about ten hours.”  The boat would reach Squamish around 2 o’clock.  From there, Pip would sometimes splurge for the 50 cent taxi fare to get as far as Cheakeye, but more often than not he and any companions would walk straight to Primrose.  Pip recalled that not many others wanted “to do the walking,” and so he mostly walked alone.

Parts of his route led him down some of the remaining sections of the Pemberton Trail.  In 1992 Pip recalled that “the parts that were there were excellent, but then it would just disappear under rock falls and stuff.”  For other sections of the journey, he would walk along the railway tracks and, if he was lucky, a freight train might come by and give him a ride.

The Brock Family at Primrose, ca. 1930.  Brock Collection.

Once he reached Alta Lake, Pip would spend his time hiking and exploring the area.  One of his favourite hikes was to Russet Lake, still a favourite destination for many people today.  At the time there was quite a good trail on the northside of Fitzsimmons Creek, which Pip thought was most likely built and maintained by whomever was trapping in the area.

Pip’s trips around the area did not end with the end of the summer; he would continue even after the snow fell using skis.  Around Easter in 1933, Pip climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain and skied down, marking the first reported ascent and descent of Whistler on skis, though he later described the department store skis he used as “terrible things.”  Ski touring had not yet become popular among the majority of mountaineers at that time.  Pip said that, “most mountaineers thought that skiing was impure and indecent.  But a few of us, being frivolous, realized the fun and value of skis for winter touring.”

The Brock boys picnicking near Singing Pass, 1930s.  Brock Collection.

Pip and brothers continued visiting the valley even after the tragic death of their parents in a plane crash at Alta Lake in 1935.  In the 1930s Pip began joining Don and Phyllis Munday, legendary mountaineers from North Vancouver, on trips, including an attempt to reach the top of Mount Waddington.  In 1937 Pip and the Mundays skied up Wedge Creek and then skied and climbed up to the top of Wedge Mountain, marking the first ascent of Wedge by skis.  They also made the first ski descent in the Blackcomb backcountry and “skied right up to the source of Cheakamus to Mount Sir Richard.”

Since Pip began exploring the mountains surrounding Alta Lake by ski, ski touring has become increasingly popular.  Today, however, few of those who head out into the backcountry around Whistler choose to begin their trip with a ten hour walk from Squamish.