Tag Archives: Rainbow Lodge

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!

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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. 

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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.

Ice harvest on Alta Lake

Usually, we don’t think about ice very often, unless there’s none in the freezer. The cold, slippery truth is that our local ice deserves more consideration than that. Wrap up warm, and we’ll take you back to the times when the ice harvest was a hard, but fun, event in our valley.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground together with Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Since amenities were few before the 1960s, ice was one of the only ways to keep things cool and food from spoiling. Ice blocks were cut out of the frozen Alta Lake during February, when the ice was thickest. In the 1920s, it would take Myrtle and Alex Philip, the owners of Rainbow Lodge (Whistler’s first resort lodge), about two weeks to get enough ice to last the summer. The ice cutting was very hard work – as one can imagine due to fact that our early settlers had no modern tools. “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw” noted Myrtle on the back of her photos. Blocks were cut out of the chilled Alta Lake, loaded onto a sled, and pulled to an ice house where the blocks were kept to provide refrigeration through the summer months.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A couple of small ice houses dotted the valley’s landscape at this time. Ice houses were double-walled, tightly insulated structures packed with sawdust, capable of keeping large amounts of ice through the warm months. At first, Myrtle and Alex built their ice house near Rainbow Lodge. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled.

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

Of course, the hard work had to be duly celebrated. In her book Whistler Reflections, Florence Petersen, founder of the Whistler Museum, remembers that after the ice-cutting work Alta Lake locals like Alex Philip would gather at the cabin of Bill MacDermott, an American who settled on the south end of Alta Lake in 1919: “His jugs of homebrew would be brought out from under the floorboards to help celebrate.”

The Post Office Post

This morning I woke up to beautiful, massive snowflakes falling over Whistler, and a substantial layer of powder already formed on the ground. It’s days like these that entice me to look through our archive for some old photographs of deep snow. Our collections are full of such pictures, and today I found a few especially endearing ones of Whistler’s first post office (covered in snow, of course).

Post office and store at Rainbow Lodge, 1914 or 1915. Verso reads "First winter, 1914-1915." Philip Collection.

Post office and store at Rainbow Lodge, 1914 or 1915. Verso reads “First winter, 1914-1915.” Philip Collection.

Before the PGE Railway ran to Whistler (then Alta Lake) in 1914, mail was sent and delivered by people passing through the valley to and from Vancouver – a less than reliable system. The completion of the railway made way for many conveniences such as mail delivery. In anticipation for the PGE Railway, Myrtle and Alex Philip (proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, Whistler’s very first resort lodge) included a post office in a small alcove in the lodge, and the office was later moved to their newly built general store. Myrtle became Alta Lake’s first postmaster in 1915, and she would often wake up before dawn to collect the mail packet from the train.

Myrtle Philip and her dog standing outside the post office, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Myrtle Philip and her dog standing outside the post office, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Although the progress of the PGE allowed for a more reliable mail delivery service, there was still one major issue; the first post office address was Summit Lake, B.C., which was often confused with another Summit Lake in the province. Thus, mail was frequently sent to the wrong destination. This conflict immediately prompted a name change to “Alta Lake, B.C.,” which made delivering and receiving mail a little more consistent.

Post office with Christmas tree, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Post office with Christmas tree, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

In the beginning, mail came in on all trains, four times per week. On Monday and Thursday the mail came direct from Vancouver. On Wednesday and Saturday it came from Vancouver via Ashcroft and Lillooet and was usually a lighter load. The PGE had a mail car with a mail attendant on the train. Everyone in town gathered at Rainbow on mail days to collect their mail, pick up their newspapers, and of course, socialize.

Myrtle Philip remained postmaster for almost 40 years. In 1948, after Alec and Audrey Greenwood purchased Rainbow Lodge, the position fell to Audrey.