Tag Archives: Paul Burrows

Highway to (Powder) Heaven

The towering mountains and lush valleys that inspire people to fall in love with the Sea to Sky also create challenges for access. When Myrtle and Alex Philip arrived at John Millar’s cabin in 1911, they had taken a steamer to Squamish, and then walked the rest of the way to Millar’s cabin at present-day Function Junction. With the introduction of the railway to Alta Lake in 1914, the region was opened to more tourism and industry.

Prior to 1965, the road to Whistler was notoriously unreliable. Regular creek crossings were required and the single lane gravel road suffered extreme washouts, as seen in this photo of Cheakamus Canyon in the 50s. Janet Love Morrison collection.

It was not until 1956, however, that a road connected Vancouver to Squamish, and there was not a reliable road to Whistler until the 1960s. To ensure the highway was completed in time for the opening of the lifts in 1965, rumour has it that the Garibaldi Lifts Company gave a single ski to the then-Minister of Highways Phil Gaglardi. He kept this ski in his office as an incentive to complete the road, and was presented with the matching ski upon the completion of the highway.

Crossing creek on the road to Alta Lake (now known as Whistler), south of Pinecrest. Before the highway, numerous creek crossings meant access via car was not possible at many times during the year. Janet Love Morrison collection.

Even once the highway went in, it was still a hair-raising journey. While driving the Sea to Sky in certain conditions today requires confident and experienced winter drivers, imagine if the roads were only plowed once a week. This is what visitors and residents had to contend with for the inaugural season of Whistler Mountain. Only ski fanatics would brave the journey, and you had to be a special type of enthusiast to make the trip on Friday evening before the roads were plowed on Saturday morning.

When you met another car along the single-lane plowed gravel road, there was no room to pass. Both cars were required to stop and snow was dug out of the snow banks to let the smaller car squeeze by. Revellers would spend Friday night at the Cheakamus Inn, watching to see whose cars had survived the rough trip. As Paul Burrows remembers, “Eventually most people ended up at the Inn because after driving that road you needed a drink.”

Even the good sections of road were rough and hard on vehicles. This photo was taken prior to the highway near Pinecrest. Janet Love Morrison collection.

In 1966, one year after construction, Highway 99 was paved from Squamish to Mons and kept clear of snow as much as possible. As we know, that did not eliminate all transport problems. The Squamish Citizen reported in 1987, “Poor visibility, the near eradication of lines along the edge of the highway and the dinginess of the centre line coupled with the spottiness of the cat’s eyes (road reflectors) in many places makes it almost impossible to distinguish the centre line or edge of the road.” Does that sound familiar? The article goes on to recommend imbedding the cat’s eyes in the centre of the road, and suggesting that someone invent fluorescent paint for the road lines.

These solutions (including the invention of fluorescent paint), along with the widening of the road for the 2010 Olympics, have no doubt helped with access and we have seen incredible growth in visitors and residents alike, resulting in far more people using the Sea to Sky Highway. However, where you have mountainous geography and weather that brings amazing snowfalls, road and access continue to be topics of great debate. At least it does not take five hours to get to Costco every visit, unless you make the mistake of leaving on Sunday afternoon!

Narrow road through Cheakamus Canyon. Janet Love Morrison collection.

Whistler’s Red Chairs

Many people, when asked about their experiences on Whistler Mountain, tell us stories that include the Red Chair. This is not all that surprising; until 1980, the Red Chair was part of the only lift route up from the valley and almost everyone who skied on Whistler Mountain had to ride the lift (apart from a few hardy individuals like Stefan Ples and Seppo Makinen, who preferred to climb up on their own).

The Red Chair on Whistler Mountain. George Benjamin Collection

On his first trip to Whistler during the summer of 1965, Paul Burrows and a group of friends hiked up the mountain with their skis to test out the area and, though they may have gotten stuck on a cliff for a while on their way down, the memories of seeing the Red Chair under construction stuck with him. Renate Bareham recalled a summer when she helped her father paint the top of the Red Chair.

At an event in 2019, Hugh Smythe described one of his experiences skiing on Whistler Mountain. The weekend after Whistler Mountain first opened in January 1966, Smythe drove up from Vancouver through heavy snow to work as part of the first ski patrol team. After a long journey (the drive through the Cheakamus Canyon took and hour and a half), the trailers at the base of the mountain set up as staff accommodation were full. Smythe and his group spent the night on the floor of the lift company cafeteria. Before going to sleep, however, they were told they would need to be back up at 5 am to shovel the top of the Red Chair so skiers could reach the top of the mountain.

Digging out the top of the Red Chair. Coates Collection

It was still dark when the ski patrol made their way up the gondola to the bottom of the Red Chair. There, they were told to take their shovels and ride up on the back of the chair, holding tight to the lift. As Smythe remembered it, “I was holding on so hard with my one arm and hand, and we actually got to Tower 15 and that was about, oh, fifteen, twenty minute ride at that point to get there, then all of a sudden we hit the snow and the chair tilted back like this, and we’re dragging in the dark.” They unloaded at the top and then spent two hours digging out the chair’s path as it continued to snow in order for the skiing to open to the public. In contrast, when describing the challenging winter of 1976/77, John Hetherington remembers how very limited snow meant skiers had to download on the Red Chair, a slow ride down.

A seat from the original Red Chair sits in Florence Petersen Park.

The Red Chair was the first double chairlift installed on Whistler Mountain by Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. in 1965, along with a gondola and two t-bars. It was later joined by the Little Red Chair, which ran mostly parallel to the Red Chair, another double chairlift that helped ease line ups. Both chairs were removed in 1992, replaced by the Redline Express Quad, which was then also replaced in 1997 by the current Big Red Express. In September 2021, plans were announced to replace the current chair with a new high-speed six-person chair for the 2022/23 season. For anyone wishing to relive their memories of the first Red Chair, however, a red chair can be found in Florence Petersen Park that, if it snows enough, might even require some digging.

News for the community, by the community

Just how many communities can boast that their first reporters were a group of schoolchildren? Like most of Whistler’s history, the history of print news in Whistler is far from conventional, and relied heavily on community input, support, and organization.

The Whistler Question was published for the first time in 1976 from the basement of the Burrow’s home in Alpine Meadows, and, although it was the first newspaper about the valley, it was not the first source of community news.

The Burrows’s home in Alpine Meadows. Whistler Question Collection.

Early reporting in Whistler (circa 1930-1960) often centered around events that many would no longer consider newsworthy. Reports of gatherings for tea and details of newcomers in the valley featured prominently in Whistler’s (then Alta Lake) early newsheets. Whistler is by no means a roaring metropolis now, but the small community of Alta Lake was a fraction of the size, and the reports showcase the quiet life many residents led.

The first news-sheet in the valley was the Alta Lake School Gazette, a single page publication put together by a group of students at the Alta Lake School. It had a total of six issues, and ran from February to June, 1939.

Students at the Alta Lake School, some of which contributed to the publication. Jardine Collection.

The second news-sheet was published by the Alta Lake Community Club from 1958 until 1961. The single page publication changed names a few times before the Club settled on the Alta Lake Echo. As of its second issue, it featured a subtitle that read “published for fun”, which highlights the nature of the sheet. It was never intended to be a serious newspaper, and it never became one. Rather, it was a way for members of a small community to be kept up to date with the goings on of the past week, and informed of upcoming events.

By the time the Question was introduced, the community had changed significantly. Its first edition was published mere months after the Alta Lake community had been incorporated as the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Despite the significantly larger readership warranting a different approach than earlier publications in Whistler (just imagine if an article was written for every new arrival or departure from the valley), the Question nevertheless still encouraged, and relied on, community involvement.

The Question featured many different columns, some more conventional than others. A perennial favourite, called “Bricks and Roses,” was published from 1981 until 1998, and was in some ways reminiscent of an earlier and quieter time in Whistler when community happenings made up all of the news. The idea for the article was suggested to Glenda Bartosh (editor of the Question) by Gary Raymond, who at the time was the treasurer at the RMOW and had seen a similar column in a Quebec newspaper. A few months before it was introduced, the editor’s column had encouraged readers to send in their input in order to “make this community paper a dialogue – rather than a monologue.” The Bricks and Roses column set out to do just that. It created a forum for readers to express their gratitude for the good deeds of individuals and organizations by bestowing roses, or to call out and (rather publicly) condemn what they considered bad behaviour. More importantly, it gave people a direct path to the publication that did not require a comprehensive letter to the editor.

As you can imagine, people seized the opportunity to submit either a Brick or a Rose, and a wide variety of colourful submissions began to pour in. Some submissions were phoned in, while others were given verbally to one of the Questionables (name given to the staff at the Question) while they were out and about.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program.  She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

Reporting on Alta Lake

Last Thursday (March 25, 2021) the Whistler Museum’s second virtual Speaker Series took a look at journalism in Whistler since the 1970s.  Our guests Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie, have worked on and founded some of the best known publications in the valley: The Whistler QuestionThe Whistler Answer, and Pique Newsmagazine.  Before we explored recent journalism, we took a look back at earlier sources of news in the area.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933.  Some these students were the ones to start the Alta Lake School Gazette. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.

The first source of news published in Alta Lake came from the Alta Lake School in 1939.  Older students at the school created the Alta Lake School Club, which sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette published six issues from February 11 to June 5, 1939, and was staffed by names that may sound familiar: Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland, and Helen, George and Jack Woods.  The stated purpose of the Gazette was “to give a current account of happening each month as seen by its editor and his staff.”  Its column “Local News of Interest” included a mix of opinions, observations, and gossip about the residents of the Alta Lake area and their comings and goings.  The Gazette also included a few pieces about news outside of Alta Lake, such as a boxing match and an editorial on the Canadian Navy, which were most likely put together with information from the radio or The Vancouver Sun, which was available at the store at Rainbow Lodge.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow.  Philip Collection.

In 1958, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began publishing a newsletter to which members and friends could subscribe.  The newsletter went by various names between 1958 and 1961: The Alta Lake Reminder, Community Weekly Sunset, the Alta Lake Echo, and the Alta Lake Owl.  As a community newsletter, it wasn’t necessarily known for its serious reporting but did keep people up-to-date on the travels of residents and frequent visitors to the area, community events such as dances and clean-ups, and the weather.  The newsletter also included a series about the local environment by then-club president Bill Bailiff and an abridged version of Hamlet (sadly, the museum does not have a complete retelling of Hamlet from the ALCC, which appears to be far more humorous than Shakespeare’s version).  In 1961, the newsletter was taken over by the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and then ceased publication.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.  The entire publication was meant to promote Whistler Mountain.

A lot changed in the area between 1961 and 1967, when Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began publishing Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) in November.  Early editions of GWN were put together by Jack Bright and Lynn Mathews, who described the publication as a “good news” newspaper meant to promote Whistler Mountain.  GWN reported on developments in the valley, such as new lodges and businesses, and some years included a column by Ray Gallagher of Brandywine Falls Resort similar to the community news reported in earlier newsletters.  However, as the purpose of GWN was, as Lynn stated, “to get people up that road,” few stories said anything negative about the area and the development happening around Whistler Mountain.

Outside of the Alta Lake area, local news could be found in the newspapers of Squamish.  The Squamish Times, owned by Cloudesley Hoodspith from 1957 to 1992, and the Squamish Citizen (also published by Hoodspith) included Alta Lake/Whistler news, but their primary focus was not on this area.  It was not until the 1970s that the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler would be represented by an official local newspaper.

To learn more about journalism in Whistler from the 1970s to the present, you can find the video from last week’s event here.