Tag Archives: Pip Brock

What’s In A Name?

The names of people, places and things sometimes change.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Whistler Mountain was labelled on maps as London Mountain and, until the creation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975, this area was officially known as Alta Lake.  Even Alta Lake was once called Summit Lake.

Some name changes, such as that of Whistler Mountain, occur gradually, beginning as a nickname and then changing officially to reflect the popular name.  Others change only partially, leaving enough of the previous name to ensure it is still easily recognizable.  An example of this is The Point.

Bert Harrop first came to Alta Lake in 1920 for a short stay at Rainbow Lodge.  Like many before and after him, his first stay in the valley ended up lasting a few decades longer than expected.  Helped by Alex Philip, the Harrops settled on a point of land on the west side of the lake, just south of Rainbow Lodge, which became known as Harrop’s Point.

Bert has been trained as a cabinetmaker in England and he quickly put his skills to use at Alta Lake.  Before winter arrived, he and Sewall Tapley had framed in a small house on the beach at Rianbow Lodge.  Constructed on a raft of cedar logs and later secured to the shore of Harrop’s Point, this became Alta Lake’s first (and possible only) floating cottage.

The floating cottage on Alta Lake built by Bert Harrop and Sewall Tapley.  Fairhurst Collection.

This cottage was followed by a tearoom with a porch extending over the water.  Harrop’s Tearoom became a gathering place for locals and visitors, presided over by Bert’s wife Agnes.  The tearoom was known for more than simply a good meal; Agnes told fortunes by reading tea leaves.  According to Pip Brock, whose family began visiting Alta Lake in the 1920s, Agnes “did it very well, assisted by all the rampant local gossip!  I used to have my cup read so I could see how I stood in the neighbourhood.”

Harrop’s Point as seen from above the PGE tracks. Philip Collection.

Bert continued building, constructing a cottage on his property to rent out to visitors and others for summer residents, including the Brock family.  He also built a workshop for himself.  As the snow fell in winter Bert crafted furniture in his workshop, some pieces of which survive today in the museum.

Myrtle Philip and Agnes Harrop ice-boating on a frozen Alta Lake. Photo: Philip Collection.

Bert and Agnes sold Harrop’s Point in 1948 to Cathy and Ivan Collishaw who continued to run it under that name until they sold it in 1952.  Loyd and Sharen Mansell then renamed the enterprise Bob’s Point and ran it for only a year before selling to their neighbour Dick Fairhurst, who had been operating Cypress Lodge for a few years before purchasing this property, adding three cabins and a tearoom to his business.  Dick’s mother Elizabeth Alice moved up from Vancouver to help run Cypress Lodge on Cypress Point.  Under her, the tearoom became known for its “Hot Dog Friday Night” when a refrigerated rail car bought fresh food and meat on Fridays as well as Ma Fairhurst’s famed butter tarts.

The tearoom and Bert’s cottages were demolished in 1962 and replaced with four new cabins, complete with Alta Lake’s first coloured bathroom fixtures.  Cypress Point became a gathering place for the community, including the Alta Lake Sailing Club and its annual “Regretta.”  The Fairhursts continued to operate Cypress Lodge until 1972 when it was sold to the Canadian Youth Hostel Association.

For the next few decades, the property was known as the Youth Hostel until the hostel moved away from Alta Lake.  Today, the buildings of Cypress Lodge host the Whistler Sailing Club and The Point Artist-Run Centre and is often referred to simply as The Point.

A Century of Skiing in Whistler

Sunday February 21st was International Ski History Day. At the museum we hosted a delegation from the International Ski History Association and put on our Speaker Series “Celebrity Athletes & the Growth of Modern Skiing” featuring Stephanie Sloan, John Smart, and Rob McSkimming. There were also events up on Whistler Mountain during the day.

We have an incredibly rich skiing heritage to celebrate here in Whistler. And though Whistler Mountain’s 50th anniversary is the big story this season, it’s not the only milestone worth celebrating this year.

As we’ve profiled on this blog previously, there were plenty of skiing pioneers doing things the old-fashioned way prior to the installation of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain. Examples include Tyrol Club members like Stefan Ples who regularly skinned up Whistler Mountain in the 1950s and early 60s, and famed explorers Don & Phyllis Munday, along with summer resident Pip Brock, who undertook ski-mountaineering expeditions into the heart of the Coast Mountains in the 1930s.

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A 1939 ski-mountaineering expedition near Black Tusk led by George Bury, in search of appropriate locations to build a ski resort. They found excellent skiing and remarkable landscapes, but their plans were interrupted by the outbreak of WW2.

Skiing, mostly of the cross-country variety, was also a popular pastime at Rainbow Lodge during the quieter winter months. We’re fortunate enough to hold in our archives dozens of photographs from that era of skiers trekking around the valley, posing on Alta Lake, or schussing down a small wooded slope near Rainbow. We even have a few shots of Bob the Workhorse pulling Myrtle around the lake on her skis, otherwise known as skijoring.

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Just out for a rip!

The solid wooden skis are generally massive, even putting your 30-year-old 210cm racing planks to shame, and the fashion is as nostalgic as it gets. One specific image, a little fuzzier than the rest but otherwise inconspicuous, is especially relevant to today’s story.

The image portrays Myrtle Philip with two other women posing while skiing on a frozen Alta Lake. They are adorned in wool tops and baggy bloomers, and are all using a single, solid wooden pole in the traditional Scandinavian style.

And written on the back of the image is the simple phrase “the first skiing guests at Rainbow about 1916. Janet Drysdale and friend and Myrtle Philip.”

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The dawn of skiing in Whistler.

Needless to say, the 3 ladies were unaware of the historical significance of this simple ski outing.

Of course it is completely possible that skis were used in the Whistler Valley prior to this visit, but we have come across no such stories or evidence. At that time trappers and prospectors generally used snowshoes and considered skis more toy than tool.

Local prospector Harry Horstman, when he encountered Pip Brock climbing Sproatt Mountain on a set of skis, apparently proclaimed “what the hell you got them flanks for? I can get around twice as fast as on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin’ boards!”

Needless to say, we don’t share Harry’s disdain. Three cheers to 100 years! 

The Mysterious Harry Horstman

One of the most mysterious Whistler characters is Henry ‘Harry” Horstman.  The details are pretty slim.  We know that he moved to Alta Lake sometime around 1913 from Kansas.  He pre-empted two pieces of land – one between Nita and Alpha Lakes and another at the end of Alpha Lake.

He came to the area with dreams of striking it rich through mining.  He mined on Sproatt Mountain for copper, but always had a hope of finding gold.  Horstman had a small farm near Nita Lake on which he raised chickens and grew vegetables. He would haul his goods on the train tracks using a cart he built himself.  Harry would supply fresh produce and eggs to Rainbow Lodge and was of course willing to sell to anyone willing to pay.

Harry Hortsman on Sproatt Mountain, probably not far from his mining claim. Harry first came to Alta Lake with dreams of finding a rich copper vein. Unfortunately, this dream never came true.

Jack Jardine recalled visiting Harry and having bacon and eggs with him – Horstman kept his greasy frying pan in the woodpile, of all places.  In an interview conducted in 1991 Jack recalled:

[…] we’d go to old Harry Horstman’s place there and he’d be having bacon and eggs for breakfast or something like that and he would just take his frying pan and he’d walk over and he turned it upside down on the woodpile, that’s what he did to his bacon grease.  He just turned it upside down on his kindling pile.  And then when he used his frying pan he just picked it up and put it in the stove. […] I mean the bacon used to hang on the wall on a piece of string!  You went to hang it from the wall, the same as a ham would hang from the ceiling, three or four hams hanging from the ceiling!

 Other residents didn’t really get to know Hortsman very well – often referring to him as an odd man, or only every seeing him and his beard from a distance.

Harry Hortsman at his cabin.

Horstman often led a solitary life, which is probably why we know so little about him.  Pip Brock, who often visited Alta Lake, remembers passing Horstman’s cabin on a hike one day and Harry remarked “ Gosh all Dammit. This hiking is getting to be quite a fad.  You’re the second party this year!”

In the summer of 1923 the Alta Lake Community Club held their fist official gathering at Rainbow Lodge.    It was an informal picnic and Horstman was designated as the official coffee provider.  He took this position of responsibility so seriously has actually wore a suit, tie and fedora to the picnic!

First official meeting of the Alta Lake Community Club in 1923. Harry is pictured here on the right carrying the coffee pot, as part of his duties as ‘Official Coffee Provider.” Check out the full suit and fedora!

Although Harry dug many tunnels on Sproatt Mountain, looking for copper, there of course came a time when he just couldn’t take the physical labour any longer.  He retired to his cabin on Alpha Lake.  Eventually he moved to Kamloops to live the remainder of his life in a nursing home.

While we don’t really know much about Harry Horstman, his memory lives on in the name of the Horstman Glacier.  In fact, the remnants of his cabin at the 5300-foot level on Sproatt Mountain can still be found.  Harry would no doubt be very impressed indeed by the number of hikers passing by these days.

Image of the Hortsman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain.

Pip Brock part 2.

This is the second half of a feature on Pip Brock, an early Alta Lake summer resident and pioneer of ski-mountaineering in the Coast Range. For the first half of this article click here.

On 30 July 1935, while Pip and the Mundays were bushwacking north-east of Knight Inlet towards the still-unclimbed Mount Silverthrone, Pip’s father Reginald boarded a chartered a flight from Vancouver to Gunn Lake with Pioneer Airways. That afternoon their C204 aircraft, which also carried David Sloan, managing director of Bralorne’s Pioneer Mines, landed at Alta Lake to pick up Mrs. Brock before continuing northward.

On take-off, windy conditions prevented the pilot from gaining sufficient altitude. The plane banked sharply to avoid the fast-approaching trees and the pilot attempted to re-land on Alta Lake, but without success. They plummeted back to the ground about 400 metres south of Mons, killing the pilot, Bill McCluskey and Mr. Brock instantly. Mrs. Brock and Mr. Sloan were severely injured, and transported via rail to Squamish, where a speedboat and doctor were arranged to take them to Vancouver General Hospital.

The Vancouver Sun’s feature story on the fatal crash. Click the image to view a full-size scan of the article.

The news quickly reached the central coast via the steamships that regularly plied those waters. When a local homesteader heard of the crash, he rushed up the Klinaklini River in his canoe to give Pip the tragic news. He reached the climbing party just before they ascended onto the Klinaklini glacier, at which point they would have been out of contact for several weeks. Pip rushed back to the city to discover the added tragedy of his mother’s passing; she succumbed to her injuries before their boat reached Vancouver.

The Brocks’ deaths was major news. They were an extremely respected and prominent family. Mr. Brock was the dean of applied sciences at UBC, a former Director of the federal geological survey, and a decorated military commander in World War One. He received a military funeral, and to this day Brock Hall at UBC commemorates the esteemed geologist.

Despite the family tragedy, the Brock boys continued to visit their cabin at Alta Lake. In 1937, Pip re-joined the Mundays for two major ski-mountaineering trips into the surrounding mountains. First, in January of that year, while Pip was on winter break from university, the party headed up Wedge Creek where they set up a base camp below tree line near the crest of Wedge Pass. From here they made the first ski ascent of Wedge Mountain, noting that they stood higher than anyone had before in Garibaldi Park, as the winter snowpack lifted them a few meters higher than summer climbers.

A few days later they proceeded to to the Spearhead side of the valley, making the first ski descents of what is today the Blackcomb backcountry. Don Munday’s description of their ski descent of one of the range’s massive icefields—probably the Shudder or Tremor Glacier—remains one of my all-time favourite skiing quotes:

Life has few thrills to equal ski-ing on a glacier. The quite moderate gradient surprised us with its immoderate speed for an uninterrupted half mile—if champagne has feelings when uncorked, they would match ours during those moments.

Don and Pip heading back to Primrose along the PGE railway tracks. Hungry, no doubt. Photo: Phyllis Munday, courtesy British Columbia Archives.

Buoyed by their success, Pip and the Mundays set out on an even more ambitious exploratory ski-mountaineering trip that spring, to Mount Sir Richard. Even today Mount Sir Richard is a fairly committing multi-day ski tour from Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains, accessed from the back of the renowned Spearhead Traverse. Back then skiers didn’t have the luxury of gondolas to ferry them up to the alpine, so they were forced to follow a far rougher route than modern ski-tourers enjoy.

Awaiting for the end of Pip’s school semester in late April, the party headed out from mile 34 of the PGE Railway to a supply cache that Don had previously placed near Cheakamus Lake. Here the party used a raft to pull their supplies to the head of the lake, a gruelling process which took two days itself. From here they continued to pack gear up the Cheakamus Valley to the base of Sir Richard.

Don (on shore) and Pip (on raft) hauling two weeks worth of gear and provisions up a still-frozen Cheakamus Lake. Photo: Phyllis Munday, courtesy British Columbia Archives.

Fighting thick brush, every sort of snow conditions imaginable, and the logistical headaches inherent in such a route, they managed another fine first ascent and an exhilarating ski through the McBride Glacier icefall. The trip took fourteen days. In an article in BC Mountaineer, Pip summed up their journey in typical understatement: “The trip was certainly an arduous one, but the most worthwhile trips usually do require the most effort, and this trip was worthwhile.”

We know little of Pip’s later years, though he continued to hike and climb well into his silver age. Later climbers who met him on the trail recount his genuinely warm and easy-going spirit. Few would suspect the epic mountain adventurers previously undertaken by this gentle old man.

The Brock boys picnicking near Singing Pass, 1930s.

The widely publicized expeditions that Pip and the Mundays undertook together helped convince the sceptical mountain community of the merit’s of ski-mountaineering. It is a testament to their vision that the Coast Mountains are today recognized as one of the world’s premier ski-mountaineering fields.Their wilful hardship, endured solely due to their love of the mountains, should serve as inspiration for those among us who wish to break beyond the confines of mechanized mountain access to discover all that the Coast Mountains’ alpine landscapes have to offer.

Pip Brock part 1

Beyond its success as a tourist destination, Rainbow Lodge’s success also attracted a growing number of year-round and seasonal residents, planting the seeds of the community that eventually became Whistler.

The Vancouver family of Reginald and Mildred Brock was just one family among the growing number of city-dwellers who began building vacation homes in this beautiful valley. The Brock’s first discovered the valley when Mrs. Brock came to visit a friend’s cottage in 1927 and instantly fell in love with the lakeside community, as so many others have since. Two years later the Brock’s purchased two lots on the southwest corner of Alta Lake and hired Bert Harrop to build their cottage, which they named Primrose.

The Brock’s Primrose Cabin near the south end of Alta Lake.

Every summer thereafter, the Brock’s visited Primrose along with their five sons– Patrick Willet, Byron Briton, David Hamilton, Thomas Leith and Philip (Pip) Gilbert. For Mr. and Mrs. Brock, Alta Lake was a peaceful summer retreat from their busy city lives. For their youngest child Pip, it became the jumping off point into a vast mountain wilderness just waiting to be explored.

Pip  had an especially strong draw to Whistler and would often come up on his own. Of course there was no Greyhound for a teenaged boy to ride—there wasn’t even a road—but that was no obstacle for Pip. After riding a steamship, most people hopped on the PGE railway to complete the day-long voyage from Vancouver to Alta Lake.

The boat would get there at about 2 o’clock and if we felt like spending 50¢ we could take a taxi as far as Cheakeye, but sometimes we didn’t even want to do that. Believe it or not, 50¢ seemed like a lot of money! So we walked the whole 38 miles quite often.

Even if folks were tougher back then, Pip Brock still stands out as exceptionally hardy—a trait that would serve him well in the mountains. As Brock plainly stated of the frequent 10-hour treks, “nobody else wanted to do the walking” so he usually went alone.

Despite the lengthy hike, upon arrival, Pip didn’t rest up one bit.  Instead he usually kept hiking right up into the surrounding mountains. He climbed some of the closer peaks as a teenager and began to gain notoriety among the locals for his mountain jaunts.

Pip was able to parlay his love for the mountains into paid work up high. In the 1920s and 30s the City of Vancouver had substantial interest in developing the hydro-electric potential of Garibaldi Park’s many glacial lakes and streams to power the rapidly growing metropolis. For several summers Pip worked for the Vancouver Water Board hydro surveys, measuring water storage and hydro-electric potential in the mountains he loved so much.

Pip atop Whistler Mountain, early 1930s

At the age of nineteen Pip made his first newsworthy ascent. It was Easter 1933, and with a new set of skis which he had purchased from Woodward’s department store (he later described them as “terrible”), he climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain and then proceeded to ski back down. Locals and visitors to Rainbow Lodge’ had been hiking to nearby summits like Whistler for some time, but this was the first ski ascent and descent of Whistler Mountain—thirty-two years before the arrival of lift-accessed skiing to the mountain. Locals didn’t believe the brash teenager’s claim until Pip pointed out his ski tracks through a set of binoculars.

At the time serious mountain folk remained sceptical of skis’ utility as a means of travel. Once, when he dropped in on Harry Horstman’s Sproatt Mountain cabin on a set of skis, the indignant prospector retorted ‘What the hell you got them planks fur? I can get around twice as fast on my snowshoes as you can on them slitherin boards!” Even most recreational mountaineers, accustomed to the North Shore’s steep wooded slopes, thought skis’ potential as a mountaineering tool were dubious at best. One Vancouver climber went as far as to publicize a mock award for the first person to ski-climb the Camel, a vertical climbing crag that never holds any snow.

Brock was among a small group of mountain-lovers who saw the great potential that skis held among the Coast Mountains’ vast glacial expanses. As Brock recalled in a 1992 interview with the Whistler Museum, “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.” Brock soon befriended these other early converts, most notably the renowned climbers Don and Phyllis Munday. In 1930 the Mundays had begun their own (successful) experiments with ski-mountaineering in their widely publicized expeditions to Mount Waddington, the incredibly rugged and isolated highest peak in the Coast Mountains.

Thanks to his own ski-mountaineering experience, the Mundays invited Pip along as a packer on their 1934 expedition, which also featured high profile American climbers Henry Hall and Hans Fuhrer (who eventually scored the prestigious first ascent of Waddington in 1936). Their party made an epic attempt on the highly technical, dangerous, and still-unclimbed peak—after eight years this was to be the Mundays’ last attempt on Waddington—and they also made several ascents during their four-week-long expedition.

The following summer Pip would return with the Mundays to a new, largely unexplored set of mountains just to the north of Waddington. Their goal was to pursue more pioneer ascents in this superlative landscape, but this climbing trip would be cut short by an unexpected tragedy.

To learn about the tramautic loss of Pip’s parents, and his further ski-mountaineering adventures in the mountains surrounding Whistler, read part two here