Tag Archives: Pemberton Trail

The Early Days of Alex & Myrtle

Working at the Whistler Museum we sometimes forget that not everyone has heard of the story of Rainbow Lodge and its owners Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Every so often we’ll be reminded, sometimes by a student on a field trip fascinated to learn that their school was named after a real person or a visitor to Rainbow Park who wants to know why there are old buildings in the bushes.

The story of Alex and Myrtle Philip began far away from Alta Lake, on the other site of the continent in Maine.

The Philip family emigrated to Maine from Scotland when Alex was just a baby.  Some members of the family later traveled and worked in British Columbia and as a young man Alex joined his father to work on the west coast.

The Philip family c. 1891. Alex Philip sits in the centre. Around him are John, William, John (sr.), Elise, Elisabeth (sr.) and Elisabeth. Philip Collection.

In 1906 Myrtle was fifteen, attending school in Maine prior to becoming a teacher, and boarding at the Philip family house.  The two met when Alex returned home to visit his mother.  As Myrtle described it, “I came home from school that day for lunch, dashed into the front door and threw my sweater on the stair rail and dashed through to the kitchen where we were to have our lunch and I ran plumb into his arms in the little hallway… And that was it.”  For four years the pair wrote to each other (Myrtle called it “courtship by correspondence”) and were married in Oregon in 1910 before moving to Vancouver.

Alex and Myrtle Philip, far more dressed up than they tended to be at Alta Lake. Philip Collection.

In Vancouver Alex met John Millar, who was then living near Alta Lake in a cabin on the Pemberton Trail.  Though described as a “funny looking little fellow,” Millar made such an impression on the Philips that the next summer they made the journey up to visit him. (You may have seen John Millar as part of the museum’s parade float for Canada Day yesterday!)

In the archives we have a recording of Myrtle’s account of their first trip to Alta Lake.  After arriving at Squamish by boat they took the stagecoach to Brackendale where they stayed the night at the Bracken Arms, “a quaint hotel.”  They had arranged for the use of a packhorse to carry their supplies and, after getting some help to attach the pack to the horse, they started on their way up the Pemberton Trail.

Myrtle & Alex Philip coming up the Pemberton Trail on their first visit to Alta Lake,August 1911.

By the time they reached Millar’s cabin two days later Myrtle had become proficient in attaching the pack but both were happy to reach the relative comfort of Millar’s hospitality.  His accommodations may have been described as “three or four old shacks” but his cooking more than made up for the structures.  Myrtle, who prided herself on her pies, claimed he made “pastry that would just melt in your mouth and bread that was just out of this world.”  (Millar has also been mentioned by others for his muskrat stew and steller’s jay pie.)

This trip also featured Myrtle’s first time fly fishing.  Using old rafts they found at the lake (also described as “three or four poles tied together with any old thing”) Myrtle and Alex ventured out on Alta Lake.  Thinking that using two flies might mean catching two fish, Myrtle put two flies on her line and, unexpectedly, caught two fish.  Fortunately the fish were small, as Myrtle claimed that “I got so excited that I nearly fell off the raft.”

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

The Philips returned for another visit and in 1913 they purchased property along Alta Lake from Charlie Chandler.  With help from Myrtle’s father Sewall Tapley and her brothers and sister they built the main lodge and were open for business by 1915.  The construction and operation of Rainbow Lodge could (and has) fill multiple articles but the roles of Alex and Myrtle over the decades may have been most succinctly described in “A Short History of the Garibaldi Area” by Ian Barnet: “Alex is the drinker and greeter of guests; Myrtle the business operator.”

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Whistler Before the Sea-to-Sky

Whistler’s steep, mountainous terrain is what makes it so attractive as a tourist destination. It’s perfect for skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking. However, those same rocky hills have been one of it’s greatest challenges, providing a frustrating barrier for tourists and residents alike.  For the first non-indigenous settlers, the area was only accessible by a narrow path known as the Pemberton Trail, constructed in 1877. This trail, which ran from Burrard Inlet, around the far side of Alta Lake, and up to Lillooet, was intended to provide access to the Gold Rush.

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The Pemberton Trail would have ran around Alta Lake’s far shores. Photo: Philip Collection

Unfortunately, by the time the trail was constructed the rush was basically over. An attempt was made to take cattle down it, but most of them died, due to the lack of grazing and the difficult terrain. With no other use for it, the Pemberton Trail functioned as an occasional route for travelers. The trail took three days, by steamship and by foot, assisted by a packhorse. In those days, horses were an important asset. Travelers carried supplies on packhorses, as did Myrtle and Alex Philip, founders of the area’s first resort. They also used a series of workhorses to construct Rainbow Lodge- to simplify things, all the horses were called “Bob”.

The train tracks also provided a ready-made sidewalk for Alta Lake and Parkhurst residents. Photo: Philip Collection

Many of the area’s inhabitants hoped the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway would make access easier. The PGE had multiple false starts- a company was incorporated to build it in 1891, and by 1909 twelve miles of track were completed, when they ran short of funds and had to stop.

By the time construction began in earnest in 1912 the railway had acquired a number of despairing nicknames, among them  “Province’s Great Expense”, “Past God’s Endurance”, and “Prince George Eventually”.  Finally, in 1914, the railway was up and running from Squamish to Quesnel, and soon resorts, logging, and other industries began to spring up in the area. Transit was still anything but easy. The journey involved four to six hours on steamship from Vancouver to Squamish, and a further three to four hours to Alta Lake, as the train only went from 25 to 40 km/h and often had to stop to refuel. The train ride was upgraded through the years, including the addition of open-topped observation cars and a dinner service. Though the journey was long, it wasn’t unpleasant- travelers often enjoyed ice cream, or beer if they were older, as they waited in Squamish. There were also stops for afternoon tea at Rainbow Lodge, costing 35 cents.

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The creation of the PGE made it easy to travel in style. Photo; Philip Collection

Despite these improvements, the journey was still a long one. In the sixties, the Garibaldi Lift Company, hoping to set up skiing in the area, realized that something more convenient would be necessary in order to draw in tourists. A “road” was built from Whistler to Squamish in 1962, although it was. Initially the track was mostly fist-sized rocks and dirt, and driving across streams was sometimes required. 

The trail was plowed infrequently, making winter journeys treacherous. Tire punctures were common, and the first trips from Vancouver took five hours. Thankfully, the road was paved in 1966, and improvement has continued up to the present. The most recent upgrades were for the 2010 Olympics, cutting the travel time down to the two hours we enjoy today.  Although travel time has ranged from multiple days to a matter of hours, people have always felt Whistler was worth the trip.

Highway 99, shortly after it’s creation- still not paved! Photo: Gord Leidal

 

A Hobby of a Different Breed

It has long been known that Rainbow Lodge (Whistler’s first resort lodge) was a tourist destination based around fishing. What many people don’t know is that fishing wasn’t proprietor of Rainbow Lodge Myrtle Philip’s only hobby. She also enjoyed spending much of her leisure time with some tall, dark, and four-legged creatures.

Riding

Myrtle and two other women on horseback at Rainbow Lodge, ca. 1925. In the background, Alta Lake Post Office and Store can be seen.

Alex and Myrtle Philip first opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914. This was the same year the Great Pacific Railway (PGE) reached Alta Lake (now Whistler), making the valley much more accessible to the outside world. Tourism in the area took off and by the 1930s, Rainbow Lodge had expanded to include 45 outbuildings in addition to the lodge.

Prior to the development of the PGE, horses played an integral part in the two-day hike from Squamish to Alta Lake. From 1858 onward, explorers sent by British Columbia Governor, James Douglas, used sturdy pack horses to carry supplies along the Pemberton Trail for trappers and prospectors looking for their fortunes in the Coastal Mountains. Settlers in the Alta Lake area also made use of horsepower for the purpose of clearing land, hauling firewood and hay, and towing newly cut timber down the mountain trails, often for two or three miles at a time.

Myrtle-on-Horseback

Myrtle enjoyed taking her horses along various trails, particularly those that ran along Alta Creek (pictured here) and Green Lake.

Myrtle Philip was a devoted horseback rider, and she took great pride in her horses and stables. Horses provided recreational enjoyment for the newly discovered summer tourist trade in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, and Myrtle assisted in the development of horseback riding as a tourist option, implementing regular early morning breakfast treks on horseback to Green River for the guests of Rainbow Lodge. Midnight rides, makeshift racetracks, and gentle walks through the valley trails were all enjoyed by visitors to Alta Lake. The Rainbow Lodge workhorse, Bob, would even tow skiers and skaters behind him across the frozen lake in the wintertime.

“I think, really, that riding was one of the most popular things at Rainbow Lodge and it is regrettable that at this point, there is so little of it done”, Myrtle affirms in an interview done in 1971. For those that remember Rainbow Lodge, snapshots of horses grazing and morning trail rides make up a large part of these memories.

Bob

Frank Tapley with two children on the back of Bob,
the Rainbow Lodge workhorse, 1924.

While horseback riding is still available to summer visitors to the vicinity today, particularly in the Pemberton area, mountain biking has become the main outdoor activity of choice in the summer months and many buildings that previously served as stables are now replaced by bike rental and repair shops. Several companies offer scenic trail rides through areas such as the Lilloeet River and Callaghan Creek, as well as day trips to Birkenhead and Tenquille Lake. Though horseback riding will likely never be as popular as skiing and mountain biking in Whistler, it remains a hobby, passion, and sometimes even career for those who love it.

Skijoring

Skijoring (being towed on skis behind a horse or dogs) was a popular winter activity for the guests of Rainbow Lodge in the late 1920s and 1930s.