Tag Archives: pge railway

Snow Way to Get Around

While we may not know how much snow Whistler will get each winter, one thing that can be relied upon is that snow makes travelling within the valley more interesting.  Historically, snow and ice greatly affected people’s mobility through the winter months.

While the snow could slow down the train (one year the railway snowplow reportedly got stuck in the snow near Pemberton for two weeks), the frozen lakes provided the early residents with another way to travel around the valley.

Myrtle Philip and Jean Tapley on their way to Tapley’s Farm over the snow. Philip Collection.

Bob and Florence Williamson moved to Alta Lake in 1930.  One year, Bob remembered, it snowed over two metres in just 48 hours at about -25°C.  According to him, “The snow was just like sugar.  When we got the roof shovelled off, the snow level was higher than the eaves and we had to shovel out the doors and windows.”  On occasion, the couple would skate to the end of Alta Lake, walk over to Green Lake, and skate over to visit with those living at the mill at Parkhurst.

By the late 1960s, when Trudy Alder arrived in the valley, the area had roads and automobiles weren’t such an uncommon sight.  In the winter, however, cars were still not an entirely reliable way to get around.  Trudy worked as a caretaker at the Tyrol Lodge on Alta Lake Road.  Because the road was not always cleared of snow, she would park the car at Alpine Village and walk home across Nita Lake.  To attend movie nights at the community hall, Trudy walked, often in the dark through deep snow (her first winter season at Alta Lake had 1.5 to 2.5 metres of snow in the valley) and accompanied by a pack of coyotes in the distance.

Ice skating across frozen Alta Lake was one way to get around the valley. Philip Collection.

For another group, the snow could be a bit of a burden.  Not too long after Whistler Mountain opened for skiing, Dorothy and Alex Bunbury purchased property almost a kilometre up the old Microwave Road (now known as Gondola Way) and built their ski cabin there.

The dirt road up to the cabin was used by BC Rail about once a week to access the microwave station.  In the winter, the Bunburys were fortunate if BC Rail’s trip had taken place on a Friday as that meant they got an easy walk up a packed-down road before their weekend of skiing.  If BC Rail hadn’t gone up recently, the skiers could be in for a long walk.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970.   While there were roads, they weren’t alway plowed and some weren’t very drivable.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

On one memorable evening, the worst night Dorothy could remember, they arrived in Whistler to find 38 centimetres of powder with “an icy, breakable crust.”  Even snowshoes were no use on the icy surface.  Dorothy wrote, “There were four of us, all heavily burdened with packs, and we took turns breaking trait.  It took us about an hour and a half to walk into the cabin that night, and in the morning all awoke with bruised and painful shins.  That was one night when I would have gladly sold the whole mess for a train ride back to Vancouver.”

As we hope for more snow this season, consider your own favourite way of travelling through the cold, whether with skis, skates, snowshoes or very warm boots.

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Dick Fairhurst’s Memories: Paul Golnick

Many people know Dick Fairhurst as the owner and operator of Cypress Lodge on Alta Lake, now occupied by the Whistler Sailing Association and the Point Artist-Run Centre.  When he first moved to Alta Lake in 1943, however, Dick spent the springs working for Alf Gebhart at the Rainbow Lumber Company Mill.  After Cypress Lodge opened in the late 1940s Dick continued to work as a logger and, through his work, got to meet many different characters that came through the valley.

In Dick’s short collection of “Whistler Stories” some are mentioned only briefly while, others, like Paul Golnick, seemed to make life at Alta Lake exciting and memorable.

Paul Golnick arrived in the valley in 1952 and was assigned to work under Dick at the Van West logging camp.  Paul, a young German immigrant, was described as a “very husky, burly, no nonsense man” who “looked like he could carry the logs out on his back.”

The Van West Logging Camp in the 1950s, set up closer to today’s Function Junction. Noyes Collection.

Paul’s time at the logging camp stuck in Dick’s memory from his first loggers’ breakfast.  Before coming to Canada Paul had lived in post-war Germany and then worked in the coal mines in France.  The breakfast tables at the camp were piled with food and, as Dick recalled, in one sitting Paul made it through a dozen eggs, a plate of bacon and hot cakes and a finisher of toast and jam.  Paul later told Dick he had never seen so much food before.

Though Paul quickly proved to be a hard and capable worker, his time at Alta Lake was not without mishap.  While getting a drink from a creek one day he accidentally dislodged a small pole which came to stop of the head of a coworker (a chaser) getting a drink slightly down the creek.  The chaser’s head was pushed down and when he came back up mud streamed from his mouth and was lodged behind his glasses.  This wouldn’t have been so terrible but, in his temper, the chaser tripped over another log and fell into more mud.  While Dick hid behind a tree laughing and Paul tried to explain the accident the chaser gathered his things and left.

Logging donkeys, caterpillar tractors with arches and mobile loaders were used by Van West. It was hard work but an improvement over the hand logging of the 1920s. Green Collection.

There were few opportunities for driving in the valley but by the 1950s a rough tote road had been made by the logging camp on the old Pemberton Trail.  Dick bought three Ford Model As and, though his was a “real lemon” and good only for parts, Paul’s was good enough to get them to work.  Unfortunately, according to Dick, Paul wasn’t the best driver and he wouldn’t let anyone else behind the wheel.  On steep hills the motor would stall and Dick would have to jump out to put a rock behind the wheel – apparently Paul couldn’t yet handle the brake and gas at the same time.  On one occasion the rock failed and Paul, thinking he’d hit the brake, went back down the hill in reverse at full speed.  Dick described it as “the fanciest bit of steering I ever saw in my life.”  Despite two flat tires, the car was back on the road in just a couple of days.

After a year at the camp Paul took over Dick’s job hooking for the catskinners and brought his bride Marianne to join him from Germany.  A wedding party for them was held at Dick’s house and went well until, just moments after Paul had commented that he “had never seen so many happy people,” a fight broke out leaving Dick with a smashed window and a bloody wall.  Dick never asked what he thought about the “happy people” after that.

When Marianne was seven months pregnant a group from the Van West logging camp went to visit at Parkhurst.  This journey involved driving over the “road” to the log dump at the south end of Green Lake where they got a ride on the Queen Mary across the lake.  Visits to Parkhurst were great socializing opportunities and by the time the group left it was getting dark.  The Queen Mary brought them back to the log dump where there was so much bark and debris floating that, in the dusk, the debris could be mistaken for solid ground.  Unfortunately the first one out of the boat was Marianne who went straight through the debris and into fifteen feet of cold water.  Paul and the others still onboard quickly grabbed her and hauled Marianne back into the boat.  Luckily there were no ill effects from her dunking.

The settlement at Parkhurst in the 1950s, across the lake from where Marianne fell in. Clausen Collection.

Two months later Paul and Marianne created more excitement when, at 3 am, Marianne went into labour.  With no scheduled train, the section foreman had to be called to bring his speeder with a trailer to take Marianne to Squamish.  At Brackendale Marianne was loaded into an ambulance and a daughter was born before they made it to the hospital.

We’re not sure what happened to Paul and his family after they left Alta Lake and Dick doesn’t include any details on their later years.  This is not uncommon – so many people pass through the valley that it’s hard to keep track of everyone.  Paul’s time here, however, was certainly memorable to those who knew him.

Riding at Rainbow

Looking back on past summers (even ones that haven’t quite ended yet) it’s easy to remember the good parts: days at the lake, hiking around the valley and camping under clear skies.  At the museum we’re lucky to have the written records of various people’s memories of summers at Alta Lake, including one Douglas W. Barlow.

Douglas worked with the horses at Rainbow Lodge for the summer of 1930.  Though the lodge started as a fishing resort, horseback rides were a popular pastime for guests.  Douglas was in charge of the lodge’s 17 horses and the various trail rides throughout the week.  As he remembered, his charges kept him busy.

Heading out on the trail from Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

Some morning guests could go on breakfast rides to the Green River.  Douglas would take a packhorse over the day before with all of the food and dishes for the early breakfast and guests would book their ride in the main lodge.  Douglas did not exaggerate when describing the trip as an early morning ride: the call time was 4 am.  By that time all the horses had to be saddled and ready to go and Douglas had the job of knocking on cabin doors to wake up the guests.  Not surprisingly, some guests would opt out.  When that happened Douglas would unsaddle the horses and send them back to roll around in the dirt of the stables, only to have a guest change their mind and run up at the last minute.

On the other end of the spectrum from breakfast rides, Douglas led midnight rides as well.  he described these rides as “where you took a group out on the trail, built a campfire, toasted marshmallows, played the guitar and sang.”

While Douglas Barlow led each ride that summer, sometimes Myrtle, or even Alex, would join in the fun. Philip Collection.

Not all of the rides went smoothly.  By the end of the summer, when many of the guests were getting more comfortable on horseback, a group headed down to a long sandbar on the river where they could race.  One horse got spooked, jumped to the side and threw its rider into the path of the other horses.  Luckily, the girl’s glasses were broken but she was left uninjured though pretty shaken.

As Douglas recalled, these were “good days at Rainbow.”  When not riding, he had time to hike up the surrounding mountains and “play in the snow” and some nights he and a group of others would take a boat out with a gramophone, cushions and pie and milk from the kitchen.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

The busiest days were Sundays, when the railway ran an excursion train up to Rainbow.  Trainloads of visitors from Vancouver would descend on Rainbow Lodge for about two and a half hours where staff would serve afternoon tea, cake, sandwiches and ice cream.  Those who were inclined could be taken on short rowboat rides on the lake.  With all this going on it’s no surprise the horses were not taken out on Sundays.

Douglas only worked at Rainbow Lodge for the one summer.  He then worked in the forestry service in the province but every time he was on a train that stopped at Rainbow he would get off for a minute to look for the Philips on the platform.

When Trains Connected People to Alta Lake

When Bob Williamson first arrived at Alta Lake (now Whistler) in February of 1930, he found himself in a valley bearing little resemblance to the bustling resort town of today.  Even getting there was a completely different experience.

Bob came to work as a lineman for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, at the time the most common and reliable transportation to and from the valley, or, as Bob put it, “the only means of transportation with the outside world.”

Bob Williamson at work on the transmission lines, well before Alta Lake was able to access the electricity they carried.  Smith Collection.

For most people, travel was confined to four days of the week: north on Mondays and Thursdays, south on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Passengers travelling from Vancouver would leave on a Union Steamship at 9 am and, after switching to a train in Squamish, would arrive at Alta Lake about 4:30 pm.

The view of Brandywine Falls clearly shows the railway bridge which provided a unique view to passengers. Philip Collection.

When Bob’s wife Florence (Flo) joined him at Alta Lake in September, the pair travelled south, leaving their car in Lillooet and taking the train the rest of the way.

During the summer months a couple of special trains were added to the usual schedule.  An excursion train on Sunday ran from Squamish to Alta Lake and back and a Fisherman’s Special headed north to Lillooet on Saturday and back south on Monday.  Later, a third through train was added going north on Wednesdays and south on Fridays.

Today, the only trains that come through Whistler are either freight or the Rocky Mountaineer.  Those that passed through the valley in the 1930s were mixed trains, carrying a combination of freight and passengers.

They stopped at various restaurants along the way, including Rainbow Lodge when heading south, to provide meals for passengers until dining cars were added later in the 1930s.

 

A southbound PGE train pulling in to Rainbow Lodge.  Jardine Collection.

Alta Lake had two railway stations, the Alta Lake Station at Mile 37 and the Rainbow Lodge Station at Mile 38.  Mileages were measured from the Squamish dock, where the railway began (when the railway was extended to North Vancouver in 1956 the mileages were changed to read from there, creating some confusion when looking at older documents).

Bob and Flo rented a cabin from Bill “Mac” MacDermott on the south end of Alta Lake.  As Mac usually rented his cabins out to summer visitors, he had to do a bit of winterizing when the Williamsons moved in year round.

By 1934, with the addition of a generator, a pump for indoor plumbing, a gas-powered washing machine and a propane fridge (possibly Alta Lake’s first refrigerator) Bob and Flo were comfortably settled.

Life at Alta Lake had quiet periods, but Bob remembered some exciting moments as well, one of which arrived on the train from Pemberton.  A woman was on her way to Vancouver to have her baby, but made it only as far as Rainbow Lodge.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

There she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl.  As Bob recalled, the boy was named Philip for Alex Philip and the girl Grace after Grace Woollard, a retired nurse living at Alta Lake who helped with the delivery.

In 1942, Bob and Flo left Alta Lake for Lillooet and a promotion within the railway.  By that time, float planes had started arriving in the valley, but the railway remained residents’ main connection between Alta Lake and the outside world.

DeBeck Letters: Life After Parkhurst

When going through accounts of life at Parkhurst one name that keeps coming up is Denis DeBeck.

Denis DeBeck poses with some ties and the dog Micky. Photo: DeBeck Collection

Denis DeBeck was the eldest of six siblings.  Two of his younger brothers, Ward and Keary, also worked a few summers at Parkhurst.  It was during those years that their mother brought the younger three children, Betsy, Nedra and Fred, to stay on Green Lake as well.

The DeBecks came from the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver where the children all attended school.  Denis graduated from Magee High School in 1928 and got his first job at Coast Quarries.  Over the next few years he worked various jobs, including a stint as his father’s office boy.  In 1932 he began working for B.C. Keeley (who bought Parkhurst in 1933) at his mill in Marpole.  A year later Denis was on the train bound for Parkhurst (in a snowstorm, according to his letters) where he would work on and off for the next five years.

Dorothy DeBeck outside Parkhurst. Photo: DeBeck Collection

During these years he married Dorothy, a friend of his cousin Barbara.  After the original mill burnt down in 1938 the DeBecks left Parkhurst and in 1940 Denis and his partner John Brunzen opened their own small portable mill at 43.5 Mile on the PGE Railway.  This was also the year Denis and Dorothy had their first daughter, Wilma.  Their second, Barbara May, came after they moved the mill to 48.8 Mile.

We are fortunate at the museum to have copies of letters written by Denis to his brother Keary between 1943 and 1944, when Keary was serving in the RCAF overseas.

The letters provide a glimpse into life in British Columbia during the Second World War and into the DeBeck family.  Denis provided his brother with family news and commented on the updates Keary sent about their brother Fred who was recovering from a plane crash.  When Fred returned to Canada their roles switched and Denis provided the updates.  While living at 48.8 Mile the DeBeck family appears to have communicated often through letters and visits, described once by Denis as “a three week raid on Victoria” where their parents had moved.

Wilma DeBeck and another girl on the PGE tracks. Photo: DeBeck Collection

Denis also sent his brother news of the mills in the area in his first few letters.  By November 1943 he was already looking for the next location for his portable mill, expecting to finish the timber at 48.8 Mile by the next April.  Locations mentioned were Nita Lake, D’Arcy and Squamish.

Alf Gebhart’s house in the 1930s.  The Gebharts had a mill in the valley, but weren’t necessarily having the best year. Photo: Debeck Collection

From his news, mills did not appear to be having the best year.  As Denis put it, “Poor old Parkhurst.  Same old story, out of logs.  They are only running a 7 hour day and still run out of logs.”  There was also trouble with logs at Lost Lake and for the Gebhart’s mill.

In a letter from March 1944 Denis describes the new tool being used to fell the last of the timber at 48.8 Mile.  “We bought one of those power chainsaws and it works pretty good but not as well as we thought it would.  Very good for falling but no good for bucking in the woods.”  Despite taking awhile to start up, he claimed the sawing was “4 or 5 times as fast as hand sawing.”

Despite his predictions of moving soon, the DeBeck family was still at 48.8 Mile in October of 1944.  Though the letters we have stop there, the family moved to Squamish in 1945 and Denis continued to operate his own sawmills.  He lived there until his death in 2007 at the age of 96.

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

 

Driving the Sea to Sky (when it was mostly dirt)

If you’ve ever taken a look at the Whistler Museum’s YouTube channel you might have seen a short film from the Petersen Film Collection that features the drive to Whistler in 1958.  The footage makes it clear that the drive was an interesting one, full of steep hills, narrow roads and bumpy track.  At one point the car obviously overheated, a problem solved with the help of a nearby river.

The footage from the Petersens is only one account of coming to Whistler by car when the area was still known as Alta Lake.  Another well-known figure in Whistler, Don MacLaurin, also made the journey up the “highway” in 1958.

At the time Don was working in the forest service and was part of a cruising crew staying in Pemberton (cruising crews measure volume and quality of timber before it is harvested).  In a 2007 with John Hammons and Karen Overgaard, Don shared photos of his trip that are now part of the Whistler Museum archives.  As Don recalled, it took “two crews, two land rovers, winches, prayers and eight hours to go from Squamish to Pemberton.”

The road through the Cheakamus Canyon. MacLaurin Collection.

One shows a portion of the original road through the Cheakamus Canyon.  When asked to describe the drive, Don chose the word “precarious.”  The one-way road had a cliff on one side and, according to Don, “logs cabled through the road into the cliff… trying to hold the road in.”  Another photo shows a cable running back to a land rover.  It was a good thing the crews had two, as one would frequently be used to pull the other out when stuck.

A land rover is pulled up the road by another land rover – it’s handy to have two. MacLaurin Collection.

The road through what is now the Tapley’s Farm neighbourhood (and at the time would have been around the actual Tapley’s Farm) was “very, very wet and very soft and you were lucky to get through that as well.”  Once past Alta Lake the crews still had to get past what they called “suicide hill” which was located “under the power lines on the railroad side of Green Lake when you made the descent back down to the Green River.”  With a “so-called road” and “baseball-sized boulders” it’s no wonder Don described that section as “very, very tricky.”  Despite these challenges, the crews did eventually make it to Pemberton.

The “roads” in Whistler. MacLaurin Collection.

This was not the first time Don had come through the Whistler valley.  In 1951 he travelled through on the PGE on his way from Quesnel to Vancouver.  By 1961, when he returned with Isobel and a couple of neighbours, there was still no dependable road, and certainly not one that could sensibly be used in the winter, so again they came by rail.

Going through the Cheakamus Canyon on the PGE. It still has quite the drop. MacLaurin Collection.

By 1964 visitors to Whistler could come along a gravel road called Highway 99.  Two years later Highway 99 was paved from Squamish to Mons Station and to Pemberton in 1969.  With changes made over the decades and work done prior to the 2010 Olympics, the road Don, the Petersens and others travelled in 1958 is almost unrecognizable in the road we travel today.