The official blog of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society
Collecting, preserving, documenting and interpreting Whistler's natural and human history.
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Tag Archives: rainbow trout
The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is native to streams, rivers, and lakes along the west coast of North America from Alaska to northern Mexico. This fish can live its entire life in freshwater when confined to land-locked bodies of water, but it also has a migratory form, known as steelhead trout, which feeds at sea before returning to its birthplace to spawn. The rainbow trout is notable because it has been widely introduced throughout the world – non-native populations can now be found on every continent except Antarctica.
This beastie has made its mark on Whistler by way of a common misconception. Locals know that the name “Rainbow” can be found all over Whistler – Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Lodge (now Rainbow Park), the Rainbow Building, and the new Rainbow subdivision. Many people (including the staff here at the museum!) believed until very recently that these places and landmarks were named after the rainbow trout, due to its natural abundance in our lakes and rivers. But early accounts of the area indicate that cutthroat trout (O. clarki) were the primary species being caught by early patrons of Rainbow Lodge, and that rainbow trout weren’t introduced to Alta Lake until the 1920s, nearly 10 years after the lodge was named!
Whistler has a long history with fishing, as the fishing industry was one of the first attractions to bring in tourists. Rainbow Lodge was the first and only holiday destination built in the valley before 1914, when the Pacific Great Eastern Railway was built. At this time, other entrepreneurs began building accommodations most notably for fishing holidays. Now, we know that fishing was a main attraction in early Whistler days and that Myrtle and her guests were catching trout; however, our archival photos are not clear enough to determine the species definitively.
One of Whistler’s earliest fishing enthusiasts, a Mr. Billy Bailiff, refers to “Kamloops trout” in his 1956 article, “History of Alta Lake.” This is a moniker given to rainbow trout found in the interior of British Columbia (particularly around Kamloops, believe it or not). Most introduced rainbow trout in B.C. are descended from the Pennask Lake strain, which is known for its ability to conserve fat, making these fish well suited for long winters and the low temperatures of high-elevation lakes – sound familiar? This strain is also notoriously “spirited,” meaning that they put up a good fight when hooked, much to the delight of the sport fisher.
So, then, how do we explain the ubiquity of the “Rainbow” label around town? It seems to have originated with the mountain, rather than the fish. How the mountain got its name is still uncertain. Perhaps the early settlers in the area were often treated to a rainbow arching over the mountain after a storm – sounds like a memorable sight!
– Written by guest blogger Jeanette Bruce
When Vancouver-based mountaineers first began exploring around and beyond Mount Garibaldi in the early 1900s, they encountered vast mountainscapes that soon became the focal point of their clubs’ activities. Beyond the allure of the regions countless mountaineering challenges, these early visitors were equally enthralled with the overwhelming beauty of what they took to be a pristine wilderness.
In some regards the Garibaldi landscape was too pure. For example, despite providing some quality habitat, Garibaldi Lake was completely devoid of fish. Garibaldi Lake was formed relatively recently (geologically speaking) when a massive lava flow from Mount Garibaldi slammed into a glacier and was frozen in its tracks, leaving behind what is now known simply as The Barrier.
This vertical wall blocked off an ancient valley that subsequently filled with water to form Garibaldi Lake. Since the lake’s outlet flows underground through The Barrier to become Rubble Creek (named after the frequent landslides falling from the Barrier’s unstable volcanic rock), no fish population was ever able to colonize Garibaldi’s glacial-fed waters.
And so, despite the celebrated “purity” of Garibaldi’s pristine alpine expanses, its earliest proponents foresaw the district’s potential as a tourism destination and hoped to develop the landscape in that manner. From the beginning they set about building trails and identifying the best sites to hold summer camps (Paul Ridge, Black Tusk Meadows, Singing Pass, etc). A few years later when these mountaineers began advocating for the creation for a provincial park to preserve the Garibaldi wilderness (mainly from logging and other industrial activities), plans for the development of alpine hotels and a road through the park were key elements of their campaigning.
While the Great Depression and Provincial-Federal government squabbling prevented these more ambitious developments from coming to pass (thankfully, most would argue today), other more modest environmental modifications were pursued.
In 1928, for example, 2 years after Garibaldi Provincial Park was established, 5,000 Kamloops Trout eggs from the federal hatchery at Pemberton were planted in a promising tributary stream of Garibaldi Lake (Mimulus Creek), and an additional 12,500 were placed there again the next year.
“Kamloops Trout” were a popular game-stocking fish because of its size and strong fight that was believed at the time to be a distinct species. It is now considered a sub-species of Rainbow whose excessive size was probably caused at least as much by environmental factors as it was genetics. The widespread stocking of the Kamloops Trout throughout BC has, according to some fish researchers, led to a substantial decrease in the genetic diversity of the province’s rainbow trout population.
According to the BC Ministry of Environment’s fish stocking database, there has been no further stocking at Garibaldi Lake since 1929. And none further was needed.
When some recreational anglers reported the successful catch of 3 mature trout in 1933, 4 years after the last stocking, the Vancouver Province was ready to deem Garibaldi Lake the second successful stocking of a barren lake in British Columbia. (Does anyone know the first? We don’t.)
Even by 1930, the fish seem to have flourished. In that year the Vancouver Province (a zealous booster of Garibaldi Park throughout this period), joked that the fish should be renamed “Pontoon Trout” since they resembled the pontoons of a float-plane which had ushered one of their journalists to the lake to write a feature article.
Scientifically, the Garibaldi experiment was a resounding success. The trout population continues to thrive in Garibaldi without further support through stocking.
Garibaldi continues to offer decent, if not outstanding fishing, but angling has never become one of the park’s major attractions. However, a friend of mine did catch what he claims was the “skinniest trout ever”: 17 inches long but “thin as a broom-handle.” A product of the marginal alpine environment, isolated genetic population, or simply an aberration? (Any icthyologists in the house?) In any case, freak fish or not, for enduring and thriving amongst Garibaldi’s once-barren waters, these trout deserve recognition as some of our region’s hardiest and most successful pioneers.
Earlier this summer Pique Newsmagazine published an interesting feature on the history of fish and fishing in the Whistler region entitled “The Ultimate Whistler Fish Story”. Check it here .