Tag Archives: Parkhurst

An Oasis in the Bushes

A couple of weeks ago (Wednesday, November 17), the Whistler Museum opened Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town, a temporary exhibition about the Parkhurst Mill site. Though the Parkhurst Mill (or Northern Mills, as it was later called) closed in 1956, the site continued to be inhabited and cared for by various people squatting on the privately owned land into the 1990s.

While preparing for this exhibit, we were able to speak with one of the last (as far as we know) full-time residents of Parkhurst. Eric (also known to some as the Sheriff of Parkhurst) lived at Parkhurst from 1995 to July 1996. He first came to Whistler in 1989 and lived in various small cabins before hearing that Parkhurst had become available. He and a friend went over to talk to the previous occupant, who is believed to have lived there for twelve years, and look around the area. At that time, a two-bedroom house and a smaller cabin down the road were still habitable and the pair decided to move in. A few things needed a little bit of fixing up and the structures had no power, but there was an outhouse, gravity-fed running water, a woodshed, and a large garden. Eric and his friend invested a lot of time into the garden by keeping it up, adding a moss garden, collecting wrought iron and decorative ornaments, and making it “a little bit showy for people that were mountain biking in there.” The garden was meant to be shared with those who came by the area.

Part of the buildings and garden that were still present in 1999. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

This garden is also part of a bit of a mystery at the museum. In 2007, guestbooks from the Parkhurst garden ranging from 1995 to 1999 were mailed to the Whistler Public Library and then given to the museum to add to our archives in 2016. We don’t have any information about who sent the books to the library, who removed them from Parkhurst, or where they were kept at the garden. (If you have more information about the books, please let us know.)

Along with messages, visitors would leave drawings in the guestbooks, such as this one left in 1998.

Though some of the earlier entries are addressed to Eric, most of the entries in the books are addressed to a mysterious caretaker named “John.” Friends left messages to let John or Eric know they had been by to water the garden or take out some garbage, and two former Parkhurst residents from the 1970s wrote that they had stopped by. Anyone was welcome to write in the books and many people who hiked, biked, or paddled over to Parkhurst recorded their impressions. In July 1995, a group of Swedish physicists came across the garden and left a note to say hello and, in 1997, a hiker asked how John put up with all the mosquitoes. Occasionally, John would respond, such as when Rachel left gifts including a candle and picture for his walls.

The overarching message through the entries is gratitude for what one person described as a “nice oasis in the bushes.” The garden meant something different to each visitor but was appreciated as a peaceful, beautiful space open to all. In 1996, Christine wrote of the garden, “It has been a haven for me ever since I discovered it,” a sentiment that was expressed by many others as well.

As far as we know, this was the only wedding held in the Parkhurst garden area. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

In September 1999, a wedding was held in the garden and gazebo when Jen and Rob paddled 75 guests over for their ceremony. By that time, it appears no one was maintaining the garden full-time and the pair did some work to the area before their wedding took place. Today, there are few traces of the garden left and the surrounding buildings have become more dilapidated.

Parkhurst: Logging Camp to Ghost Town will run through January 17, 2022 at the Whistler Museum. If you have a story about the Parkhurst area you would like to share, please let us know!

Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town

Parkhurst may be known as a ghost town and hiking destination today, but for decades it was the site of an active mill and bustling community. We’re taking a look at life at Parkhurst in a new temporary exhibit opening Wednesday, November 17. Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town will run through January 17 and is included in entry to the museum.

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.

Dick Fairhurst’s Memories: Josef Janousek

Many of the people we learn about at the museum are introduced to us through the stories of others.  Sometimes these stories are told as oral histories and others come from documents in our research files at the museum.  One of these documents is a collection of stories, aptly called “Whistler Stories,” from Dick Fairhurst, in which he describes the area during his early years at Alta Lake and provides tales of some of the characters he got to know, or heard about from others.

Dick Fairhurst first moved to Alta Lake in 1943 and began working fro Alf Gebhart at the Rainbow Lumber Company Mill by the Alta Lake Station.  He later opened Cypress Lodge and continued to work in logging.  Because he worked in both the resource and tourism industries, Dick got to know a lot of the people who called the area around Alta Lake home in the 1940s and ’50s.

Dick Fairhurst, the owner of Cypress Lodge, was also a ski-doo enthusiast. Fairhurst Collection.

While some of these people, such as Alex Philip and Alex Greenwood, are well known to us, others we don’t know much about.  One example is a man named Josef “Joe” Janousek.  Dick recorded two stories about Joe, both involving a cold winter, one shifty individual, and examples of Joe’s accurate judge of character.

Though originally from Czechoslovakia where he worked as a game warden, Joe worked at Parkhurst, the logging and sawmill operation on Green Lake, in the 1950s.  In the winters, when most of the seasonal workers had departed for the cold, snowy months, Joe would look after the sawmill.

The settlement at Parkhurst in the 1950s, around the time Josef Janousek would have come to Green Lake. Clausen Collection.

One winter, a member of the crew from the logging camp was staying in one of the cottages by the sawmill, but Joe didn’t think he was entirely trustworthy.  This man was supposed to be looking after the house of Olie and Eleanor Kitteringham (you can learn more about the Kitteringhams and their family’s days at Parkhurst here and here) while they were in Vancouver for a couple of weeks.  In order to keep the pipes from freezing, the Kitteringhams had left their heat on and their taps running just a bit.  Unfortunately, the man entrusted with looking after their house didn’t check on it once, and Joe never got the chance to look in.  By the time the Kitteringhams returned to Green Lake, the oil for the heater had long run out and the water had kept running, welcoming the family home with snow to dig through outside and a thick icy covering inside.

Most activity at the mill ceased over the winter and many of the mill workers and their families went home. Clausen Collection.

Joe’s impression of the man was confirmed again when the man decided to leave the mill.  Tools had been going missing around the camp and the mill and Joe and a couple others decided to check this man’s trunk before he left.  Sure enough, when they opened the trunk they found all sorts of expensive gear that did not belong to him.  Instead of confronting the man who would soon be gone, they decided to refill his trunk, using heavy rocks.  As Dick put it, “He must have felt good when he found out he paid freight for all that!”

Apart from these stories, we know very little else about Josef Janousek.  According to Dick, he earned the nickname “Rocket Fuel Joe” by keeping the residents supplied with alcohol (presumably homebrewed) when their own supplies ran out, he was an experienced fisherman, and he was an excellent shot, even shooting a couple of wolverines around Green Lake.  Sadly, Joe died from drowning in Green Lake at the age of 48.