Tag Archives: Rainbow Lodge

Summer Jobs at Rainbow Lodge

The Barnfield family is best known in Whistler as the owners of a dairy farm that once operated where the Barnfield neighbourhood is located today (read more about that here).  The farm was moved south to Brackendale in 1926, though the family continued to bring the cows and chickens back to Alta Lake for the summer tourist season.  Vera Merchant, the only daughter of the Barnfield family, continued to come up for summers even after her family had stopped bringing up the farm and worked at Rainbow Lodge for three seasons.  Her recollections provide a unique view of Rainbow Lodge and Alta Lake during the mid-1930s.

Daisy Barnfield (Vera’s mother) feeds the chickens with some help from the children.

Although Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge in 1934, ’35 and ’36, her experiences seem familiar to anyone who has worked in Whistler’s busy tourism industry.

During the summer, employees at Rainbow Lodge didn’t get many days off.  Vera was paid $25 a month and was provided with room and board.  This meant that she and another girl (also coincidently named Vera) shared a small two-bedroom cabin at the lakefront.

Though we don’t know which cabin, Vera and other employees at Rainbow Lodge were lucky enough to get lakeside accommodations during the summer.

Vera’s work included cleaning cabins, setting and clearing the dining room and leading activities such as hiking and horseback riding with guests.  On Sundarys, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway ran excursions where passengers could come to Alta Lake just for the day.  These excursions were dreaded by Vera and her coworkers as they would have to rush to set up the dining room for lunch for guests and then again for day trippers and then reset the tables in time for dinner.  The staff did not eat until after the guests had finished their meals and the tablecloths, dishes and food had been put away.

Though most of the guests at Rainbow Lodge kept their cabins relatively clean, Vera remembered some cabins were left “an awful mess.”  A few times cabins were covered with “lemon peels and gin bottles and… no broken glass, but liquor all over the floor.”  When Vera showed the cabins to Alex Philip, who she suspected of being in on the previous evening’s party, he assured her that she would not have to clean up the cabin and that he would have the guests take care of their own mess.

Vera Barnfield (far left), Alex Philip and two unidentified women, possibly Rainbow Lodge employees, wait for the train at the station.

Despite working hard in the cabins and dining room, Vera enjoyed the work at Rainbow Lodge.  She and the other girls she worked with would go to the dances at the schoolhouse and the next day employees and guests would ride to the Green River for a picnic breakfast on the bridge.  Mason Philip, Alex Philip’s nephew, would go ahead with the faster riders and the horses with the supplies and Vera would bring up the rear with the guests less comfortable on horseback.  By the time Vera and her group arrived the table was set, the fire was going and food was already being prepared.  A full breakfast was provided, including eggs, bacon and hotcakes.  Vera loved being surrounded by the trees and the glacier water of Green Lake (her personal record for swimming Green Lake was five minutes).

Vera only worked at Rainbow Lodge for three years before her marriage but her summers at Alta Lake, both as a child with her family’s dairy and as a young woman with the Philip, provided memories that stayed with her until her death in 2014, just seven weeks before her 99th birthday.

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Summer Adventures of Mollie Stephenson

It’s a story everyone in Whistler has heard – young person comes to the valley to work for a season, but ends up staying a few years longer than expected.  What makes the story of Mollie Stephenson unique, however, is that she first came to the Whistler valley in the summer of 1926.

Mollie Stephenson at Rainbow Lodge, 1929.

In 1924, after having graduated from Ladysmith High on Vancouver Island, Mollie moved with her parents to Victoria where her father served as the reverend at St. Saviour’s Church in Victoria West.  Mollie spent the next two years enjoying life in Victoria as a young woman, including swimming at the Crystal Garden and attending tea dances at the Empress Hotel where she and her friends would try to outdo each other at the new dance the Charleston.  As Mollie said, she adored the Flapper Age with its “beads, feathers and best of all the short skirts.”

Mollie enrolled at Normal School (what teacher college used to be called) but was unable to attend as a bad chest cold turned into bronchitis and her doctor prescribed a drier climate.  Alex and Myrtle Philip were advertising for girls to work in the dining room and Mollie left for Alta Lake in May of 1926 intending to attend Normal School in the fall.

Life at Alta Lake soon cleared Mollie’s cough and in July she transferred from the dining room to work as a wrangler and guide for the rest of the summer.  Each day she would spend 12 to 14 hours out in the forest with the 15 horses Rainbow Lodge had use of.  Trail rides were popular with Rainbow Lodge guests and Mollie would often take groups for breakfast at Lost Lake, Green Lake or near a stream.  Lam and Sam, the cooks, would pack ingredients and every rider was given a job, whether building a fire, making the coffee or preparing the pancake batter.  By the time the food was ready everyone in the group would have a hearty appetite.

A picnic during a ride included a tablecloth and china as well as jobs for every guest.

When September arrived Mollie was already looking forward to her next season at Rainbow Lodge and instead of returning to Normal School in Victoria accepted a temporary job at the Uppingham School kindergarten in Oak Bay.

Mollie Stephenson pretending to ride a foal at Rainbow Lodge.

By June Mollie was once again en route for Alta Lake where she found a few changes: George Thompson was now manager of Rainbow Lodge and Pearl Thompson had taken over the post office.  (Over 60 years later Mollie and George married – she was 83 and he was 90.)  Luckily George had bought the horses Mollie had previously worked with for continued use by Rainbow Lodge.  Again Mollie worked as a wrangler and guide.

Early in the season a man arrived at Rainbow Lodge asking about an abandoned copper mine.  Mollie had found the mine the previous year while exploring the trails on the mountains and offered to guide him there.  He brought in a crew and made a deal with George to use packhorses to bring in mail and supplies.  Three from Mollie’s group were picked: Danger, Ginger and Dark Devil.

While taking the horses up to the mine one day Ginger, who happened to by carrying the explosives, got caught between two trees.  Mollie had been warned by one of the PGE rail crew to be careful of any sudden blows or jolts to the packs containing the dynamite and she was terrified while working Ginger out from the trees.

Mollie arrived at the mine and recounted her harrowing adventure over lunch, proud of having gotten herself out of a dangerous situation.  What she didn’t expect, however, was for her tale to be greeted with laughter from the men at the camp.  She soon discovered that the warning of the PGE rail crewman had been a joke at her expense; the sticks of dynamite and the caps were kept in separate packs and Ginger had never been in danger of exploding.

Bill MacDermott, Mollie Stephenson and Lena Hanson at the cabin on Singing Pass en route to Red Mountain. As well as working as a wrangler, Mollie hiked, swam and attended Rainbow Lodge events.

Though Mollie spent the majority of her time at Rainbow Lodge working as a wrangler, she also participated in other aspects of life at the resort including dances, masquerades, tennis, hiking and swimming.  She once even out-swam visiting naval officers, a tale that is perhaps best told through her own words:

I loved swimming, although racing never appealed to me.  Swimming for miles was like an interesting hike but on the water.  I had been swimming across the lake all summer, although never the length of the lake.  One day a couple of naval officers staying at the Mons Hotel asked Alex Philip if any of his guests would join them in a friendly race from McDonald’s cabin, at the south end, to the River of Golden Dreams, at the north end.  Alex approached me.  I explained that I wasn’t into fast swimming or racing, but as there were no other contenders I would swim along with them, on condition that they didn’t expect me to win.  Soon they were ahead, but when we were more than half way across we hit an unexpected glacial current that took one’s breath away.  At this point the fellows had had enough and headed to the beach.  The “tortoise” kept on going until I walked onto the beach at the River of Golden Dreams.  There was a huge bonfire burning and Myrtle had a warm blanket to wrap me in.  My prize came after dinner when the two officers asked me to dance with them!

Mollie spent several summers at Rainbow Lodge and, like many who have come after her, unexpectedly fell in love with the area and its outdoors lifestyle.  Though she went on to marry and live elsewhere, Mollie will always be remembered as one of the first seasonal workers who just couldn’t keep away from the Whistler valley.

Christmas at Rainbow Lodge: The Musical

If you take a walk along the Village Stroll in December you’re sure to notice signs of the holiday season anywhere you look; there is snow on the ground, tree are lit up, wreaths have been hung, and beneath the voices of crowds of people strains of holiday music can be heard.  As in many communities, music plays an important part in Whistler’s holiday traditions, many of which began in the 1980s when the Whistler of today was still developing.  Events such as the Bizarre Bazaar (now the Arts Whistler Holiday Market) would not be complete without festive music in the background and for thirty-three years the Christmas Eve Carol Service has brought local residents and visitors together to sing carols as one community.  Though rarely performed, Whistler even has its own Christmas musical.

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of "Christmas at Rainbow Lodge".

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of “Christmas at Rainbow Lodge”.

“Christmas at Rainbow Lodge” was written by Bob Daly and Molly Boyd and first performed by the students of Myrtle Philip School in December 1984.  Daly was the principal of the school from 1981 to 1985 and returned to head the school twice more before retiring in 2002.  During her twelve years living in Whistler, Boyd was heavily involved in Whistler’s music scene and its holiday activities – she founded the Whistler Children’s Chorus, was involved in starting the Christmas Eve Carol Service and directed the Whistler Singers.  During December she could often by spotted leading the Singers caroling through the Village with here battery-operated keyboard balanced on a shopping art.  The two were inspired to create a musical by Myrtle Philip’s stories of her life as a pioneer in Alta Lake as told to them over tea and Myrtle’s famous rum cake.

The musical tells the shortened and somewhat fictionalized story of how Myrtle and Alex Philip came to build Rainbow Lodge, beginning with Alex’s chance meeting of John Millar in Vancouver in 1911.  The story includes their first three-day journey to Alta Lake and meeting with loggers, trappers, railroad workers, miners and hunters who already lived or were working in the area.  Each group of people the pair meets helps them in some way as they begin settling and building.  To thank all these people for their kindness they all are invited to share in the Philips’ first Christmas at Rainbow Lodge.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

Unlike many holiday concerts, most of the music in “Christmas at Rainbow” is not about Christmas.  Instead, the majority are folk songs from the Pacific Northwest such as “Acres of Clams” and “The PGE Song”, many of which were collected by Philip J Thomas, a composer, singer, teacher and folklorist who founded the Vancouver Folk Song Circle and instrumental in collecting and preserving the folk music of British Columbia.

Since its inaugural performance in 1984, “Christmas at Rainbow” has been performed only twice more: once by the students of the current Myrtle Philip Community School in the 1990s and once by the intermediate students of Spring Creek Community School in 2012.

Happy Holidays from the Whistler Museum!

The Pacific Great Eastern Railroad

The construction of Rainbow Lodge in 1914 is recognized as a seminal moment in our valley’s history, and deservedly so. But something else happened that same year that is equally important to the creation of a tourism industry and Whistler’s early history.

When Alex & Myrtle Philip first visited Alta Lake in 1911, it famously took them three days to get here from Vancouver, by boat and on foot. That all changed with the completion of the first leg of the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Railway in 1914.

philips on pemb trail

The route to Alta Lake, pre-PGE. Myrtle & Alex Philip coming up the Pemberton Trail on their first visit in August 1911.

Now, somebody leaving Vancouver early in the morning could ride a steamship to Squamish, transfer to the passenger car on the train right by the waterfront, and be at Rainbow Lodge in time for dinner. Not quite the speed of today’s Sea-to-Sky Highway, but a drastic improvement nonetheless.

This was not just a nice creature comfort; this was essential for the nascent tourist trade.

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The rugged Cheakamus Canyon, roughly halfway between Squamish and Alta Lake, was the main engineering challenge confronted by the new railway.

The railway was not built with tourism in mind. Linking Lillooet to Squamish (but not Vancouver), the PGE railway was built to service the heavier industries in the interior, particularly mining and forestry. Providing access to the coast was crucial for the development of a resource-based economy, as it allowed these heavy goods to be shipped overseas to market. Here in the valley, the railway led to an immediate increase in logging activity (think Parkhurst), and some mining operations (particularly iron and copper) got substantial enough to make use of the train as well.

Despite its seminal role in our valley, the PGE was mis-managed from the start. In 1915 the owner’s of the privately-held railway began missing bond payments, and the province of BC took over ownership a few years later.

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Riders were treated to a spectacular view of Brandywine Falls.

The original plan was for the railway to extend all the way to Prince George, the commercial centre of northern BC, where it could connect to the broader, nation-wide rail system. Even with provincial control however, this wan’t achieved until 1950, earning it tongue-in-cheek nicknames like “Province’s Great Expense” and “Prince George, Eventually.”

Regardless, it was a lifeblood of the early community of Alta Lake, not only bringing tourists, but provisions and supplies, transported locals to the city, and connected them to essential services that weren’t available here, like hospitals and (sometimes) schools.

And Rainbow Lodge was right in the centre of it all. There were several designated stops in the valley, but “Alta Lake,” adjacent to Rainbow Lodge’s front gate, was certainly the liveliest. You get a strong sense of the growth of the Philip’s retreat by simply comparing images of the train station over the years:

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Waiting for the train with a full load of passengers, circa 1915.

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Myrtle (waving, in black dress near centre) and Alex (plaid shirt, to her right) greeting visitors at the train station, circa late-1920s. 

byetrain
Coming or going? We’re not sure here, but either way, the Alta Lake train station was a welcoming place. Alex Philip at far left, in his trademark safari suit.

 

Even with the completion of the highway from Vancouver in 1965, passenger service continued on the PGE until 2002, by which point it had long been renamed as BC Rail.

Nowadays, there are frequent calls to restore and upgrade passenger rail service to Whistler and beyond, but there are a whole host of technical, logistical, and financial barriers making it an unlikely prospect.

 

Rainbow Lodge’s Tough Transition

The story of Rainbow Lodge, founded by Myrtle and Alex Philip in 1914 and expertly managed for the next 34 years, is among our valley’s most celebrated stories. Less known however, is what became of Rainbow Lodge once the Philip’s decided to give up the tourist trade.

When Vancouver’s Alec and Audrey Greenwood first visited Alta Lake in 1947 the place clearly made an impression on them. Somehow in the process of expressing his enthusiasm for the lodge, the Philips hinted to Alec that they were thinking of selling into retirement. Similarly, Alec had already begun to think of leaving his stressful insurance salesman job in Vancouver. It seemed like a perfect fit.

Within a year the Greenwoods purchased Rainbow Lodge for $100,000 and along with their son Dennis became permanent residents of Alta Lake and the new operators of the iconic Rainbow Lodge.

The entrance to Rainbow Lodge during the Greenwood's tenure.

The entrance to Rainbow Lodge during the Greenwood’s tenure.

Unfortunately, the new tenants arrived during one of the worst spring floods ever. Water got to six inches deep on the kitchen floor and the entire dining room was flooded. Boardwalks outside were floating but would sink with a person’s weight. While they managed to outlast the flooding without any major damage, this certainly put a damper on their arrival.

The cold, wet spring carried into the summer. Guests cancelled by the dozens, and those that did come cut their vacations short. The fireplace had to be stoked twenty-four hours a day; it was the only heat in an un-insulated log building.

"Sit down to a familiar face." Corn Flakes and much more at the General Store under the Greenwood's watch.

“Sit down to a familiar face.” Corn Flakes and much more at the General Store under the Greenwood’s watch.

One day, smoke began to pour from under the floor. Thankfully quick thinking, and some aggressive axe work opened up the floor and fire hoses were used to extinguish the blaze before it spread. The fireplace was built on a one-foot concrete slab sitting on railway ties, which had caught fire. For the rest of the summer there was a twenty-four hour attendant monitoring the fireplace.

Despite these major difficulties the Greenwoods survived their first season relatively unscathed. That fall, with the help of local trapper Bill Bailiff, they had the lodge significantly remodeled. Bill had been a stonemason in England before he immigrated to Canada, and his fireplace was a masterpiece. It was built from river rock from Twenty-one Mile Creek just below Rainbow Falls and the mantelpiece was eight inches thick, cut from a single log from Alf Gebhart’s mill at the south end of Alta Lake. It really tied the room together.

The newly remodelled interior, complete with river-rock fireplace.

The newly remodelled interior, complete with river-rock fireplace.

The Greenwoods successfully ran Rainbow until 1970 when they sold the lodge and retired to Arizona. On September 15th, 1970, the Greenwoods held a closing bash for a select few long-time locals who he affectionately referred to as the “Rainbow Lodge Chapter of the Royal Ancient and Antediluvian Order of Froth Blowers.” Whether or not that was a reference to the biblical flood of 1948, it sounds like a good time.

Sadly, Rainbow Lodge was accidentally burned down in 1977. All that remains of the once-bustling resort are three original guest cabins near the entrance to Rainbow Park.

 

The Mysterious Naismiths

File this under “people we wish we knew more about.”

We can’t even find Dr. Baldwin’s birth or death years, and he is referred to as both “A.G. Naismith” and “Baldwin Naismith.” Records indicate that his wife Grace Hilda passed away in Victoria at the age of 83 on August 9 1977, but we don’t know her maiden name or place of birth. Yet we have over a dozen photos of them, they owned a cabin in the valley, and they appear to have been close friends to Myrtle and Alex Philip for close to 50 years.

Grace and Dr. Baldwin Naismith, circa 1920.

Grace and Dr. Baldwin Naismith, circa 1920.


These tantalizingly incomplete stories can be amongst the most fascinating, and frustrating, subjects for historical researchers. Let’s review what we know…

Our earliest record comes indirectly through another Alta Lake pioneer Tom Neiland, who claimed to purchase land from Dr. Naismith on Alta Lake in 1921 in order to set up his own logging business. Then in 1927 Myrtle Philip sent a postcard to her sister Jean Tapley in Seattle, which included the line “Dr. & Mrs. Naismith are here – look fine – send love to you” so by this point they were well-known to the Philip/Tapley clan, but it is not known whether they had a cabin in the valley or were just regular visitors to Rainbow Lodge.

Grace Naismith at Rainbow Lodge holding a wood carrier inscribed

Grace Naismith at Rainbow Lodge holding a wood carrier inscribed “To Myrtle / Many Happy Returns / from Grace” with a rendering of Rainbow Lodge (presumably, a birthday present). A smiling Myrtle looks on from the Rainbow Lodge porch, circa 1940s.

From several sources we do know that Dr. Naismith worked as a pathologist near Kamloops, some recollecting that he was a lung specialist at the now-defunct Tranquille tuberculosis sanatorium on the north side of Kamloops Lake. Jenny Jardine, Tom Neiland’s step-daughter, stated that the doctor “was an Ontario returned soldier and she was a war bride. They had a Chinese foster son.” When local pioneer Harry Horstman, who lived near to the Naismith’s cabin on Alpha Lake, became too infirm to carry on his bachelor lifestyle they arranged a new home for him at a care facility in Kamloops, where he passed away in 1946.

This photograph shows a house on a point at Alpha Lake during wintertime. The house is almost certainly that of Dr. & Grace Naismith. Annotations in pen on the reverse of the image read:

The Naismith’s cabin on Alpha Lake, on what is known today as Pine Point, circa 1930.

By 1930, if not earlier, the Naismith’s owned a cabin on the shores of Alpha Lake, where Pine Point Park is now located. Also beginning in the 1930s we have several photographs of Myrtle and Grace together at Rainbow Lodge, in sophisticated dress on the streets of Vancouver, or looking quite casual around Mahood Lake, east of Quesnel, where the Naismith’s had another cabin.

Myrtle Philip and Grace Naismith in street clothes in a sidewalk in Vancouver. Photographer's stamp on verso :

Myrtle Philip and Grace Naismith in street clothes in Vancouver. A Photographer’s stamp on the back of the print reads : “MOVIE SNAPS / 541 Granville Blvd / ‘Souvenir of Vancouver, B.C.'” According to web research, Movie Snaps was a Vancouver photography business specializing in street photography – where photographers solicited pedestrians offering to take their photos for a fee (like an urban version of what Coast Mountain Photography does on Whistler-Blackcomb).

As early as 1929, the Mahood Lake cabin became a regular fall retreat for the Philip’s, where they could unwind after the busy summer at Rainbow Lodge. In an upcoming blog post we’ll go into a bit more detail about the Philips’ frequent fall visits to the Cariboo.

Another glamorous

Another glamorous “street photography” capture of Grace and Myrtle, this one appearing to be taken during the 1960s.

For now, that is the extent of our knowledge. We will have to be content placing the Naismith’s in a long line of visitors to our valley who became dually charmed by the landscape and by the Philip’s gracious hospitality. Of course, if any readers out there can share more of this story, we’d love to hear it.

Just in case these glamorous city shots were giving you the wrong impression of Grace, we’ll leave you with this interesting little snippet from the August 3rd 1962 edition of the Prince George Citizen that suggests that Grace was equally comfortable in the bush as she was in the city.

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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.