Tag Archives: Renate Bareham

For the Love of Pants

Trousers, slacks, britches, pantaloons or jodhpurs. There was a time, relatively recently, when local women were challenging societal expectations when choosing to wear pants.

Many will be familiar with the picture of Whistler’s ‘first lady’, Myrtle Philip, in her chequered pants with a big smile and hands on her hips. The image has been immortalised on the side of the Whistler Museum along with many posters and pamphlets. What may surprise some is how shocking it was at this time for visitors from Vancouver to see a women wearing pants.

When Myrtle first came to Alta Lake, now known as Whistler, in 1911 there was no highway or train line and the journey from Vancouver was a difficult three days. The first day involved catching a steamship from Vancouver to Squamish. In Squamish Myrtle and Alex Philip picked up packhorses and then spent the next two days on foot travelling over rough terrain, climbing around boulders and fallen logs, and weaving in and out of deep gullies. The trail was barely 2 feet wide and seldom used, but women were still expected to traverse it in long, heavy skirts as per the fashion and societal expectations at the time.

Myrtle (right) with guests at Rainbow Lodge. Skirts and dresses were the accepted clothing for women at this time. Myrtle had to make her own pants because you could not buy pants for women in stores. Philip Collection.

As most would understand, hiking, horseback riding and working outside in long skirts is not very practical; however, you could not buy pants for women. Myrtle tried various men’s pants, including overalls, but did not like them. In an oral history from 1971, Myrtle explained the solution – she would make all of her own pants. “I had a pattern and then that’s what I wore all of the time.” For many of the visitors from the city, a woman wearing pants was not a regular sight and was seen as rather scandalous by some.

Famed mountaineer, Phyllis Munday, who lived in North Vancouver during this time, also had to explore her limited clothing options. Summiting over 100 mountains during her career, including many around Whistler, she came up with a solution that ensured she did not face prejudice for wearing pants in the city. In an interview with Olga Ruskin she said, “You were never seen on the street with britches in those days, so we would wear a skirt over our britches. Then when you got to the foot of the mountain or the foot of the trail or wherever you happen to be, you took your skirt off and cast it underneath a log and there it would stay until you came down.”

Phyllis Munday on Franklin Glacier. MONOVA: Archives of North Vancouver, INV 9782.

Thankfully societal expectations have changed in Whistler today, and women are not expected to ski, ride and hike in skirts and bloomers. However, this change was more recent than many people would expect. When the lifts were turning on Whistler Mountain in 1966, 55 years after Myrtle had first visited the valley, Renate Bareham lived near Myrtle on West Side Road. Between 1931 and 1976 the local school opened and closed regularly based on the fluctuating number of residents. For Renate, and many other kids in the valley, it was a long and snowy trek to get to the bus, followed by the bus ride to Squamish or Pemberton for school.

After the one hour hike to the bus, Renate remembers, “At that time, you weren’t allowed to wear pants to school when you were a girl. So we would have to wear our pants over to the bus, then as soon as we got to school we had to change into our dresses or skirts.”

My appreciation goes out to those who challenged and continue to challenge the status quo. Thankfully things have changed, and women are not expected to ride the bike park in long dresses.

Vancouver Girl Guides at the top of Grouse Mountain. Phyllis James (later Munday) is on the far right, still hiking in a long skirt in 1912. MONOVA: Archives of North Vancouver, INV 5655.

The annual Alta Lake ‘Regretta’

For many people, the Labour Day long weekend marks the end of the summer; school holidays are over and the days are getting noticeably colder and shorter. Knowing the warm days are coming to an end may bring a sense of sadness to some. This feeling was even more palpable in the community of Alta Lake, where the population increased in the summer months and life revolved around the lake – fishing, swimming and sailing. The biggest community celebration ran over the September long weekend and was named the ‘Regretta’ because the community regretted that summer was coming to an end.

The Alta Lake Sailing Club ran out of Cypress Lodge and regattas were held each long weekend throughout the summer. Opening the sailing season was the Jelly Fish Race held on the May long weekend, then the Dominion Day Derby was held on July 1, and the biggest event of them all was the annual Regretta held on Labour Day weekend starting in 1965.

Many different sailing craft participated in the annual Alta Lake Regretta. Petersen Collection.

The Regretta was a day-long celebration that incorporated sailing races, as well as fun contests and activities for children and adults alike. Alta Lake became a colourful display of sailing craft with Sabots, Davidson D12s, Flying Juniors, Enterprises, Hobie Cats and Catamarans all popular. Sabots were the first boat of choice as the 8 foot sailing dinghies were light enough to carry up the bank for storage at the end of the summer.

Along with the regular regatta races, fun races and obstacle courses kept both participants and spectators entertained. ‘Repel all boarders’ was an obstacle race with up to five people on board vying to get through the course the fastest without any ‘pirates’ boarding the boats or losing any crew members. There were also ‘free-for-all races’ that allowed splashing and tipping – any tactics to delay the other racers were encouraged.

There were many amusing activities for the “landlubbers” too, often organised by Florence Petersen. In a recent oral history with Carol Fairhurst, whose parents owned Cypress Lodge, she remembered fondly, “We would have the three legged race where two people tie their inside leg together and you have to run. The sack race where you’d get in a potato sack and you had to hop. Then there would be egg-throwing contests, pie-eating contests, tug-of-wars where they had two wharves and two teams and the losing team got pulled into the water. The pie eating contest was always huckleberry pies so it was hilarious because people would end up with blue faces. It was a good time. The sail boat races were a big deal.”

A pie-eating contest in front of Cypress Lodge, an important part of the summer regattas. Fairhurst Collection.

Another activity from the Regretta that should definitely be brought back in the interests of entertainment is the Alta Lake pole vaulting contest. The aim of this competition was to launch yourself high into the air over the lake and land in an inner tube.

Prizes and trophies were presented for both the serious and not so serious competitions. Renate Bareham, née Ples, grew up in Alta Lake and remembers winning a hand mirror in the log rolling competition.

Karen Gow (left) and Renate Ples (right) during the log rolling competition in 1967. Bareham Collection.

This celebration of summer brought as many as 100 residents and weekenders together for a day in the sun, which was quite the turnout for a small community. Throughout the ten or so years that the Regretta ran it certainly left an impression on all those lucky enough to take part.

Whistler’s Red Chairs

Many people, when asked about their experiences on Whistler Mountain, tell us stories that include the Red Chair. This is not all that surprising; until 1980, the Red Chair was part of the only lift route up from the valley and almost everyone who skied on Whistler Mountain had to ride the lift (apart from a few hardy individuals like Stefan Ples and Seppo Makinen, who preferred to climb up on their own).

The Red Chair on Whistler Mountain. George Benjamin Collection

On his first trip to Whistler during the summer of 1965, Paul Burrows and a group of friends hiked up the mountain with their skis to test out the area and, though they may have gotten stuck on a cliff for a while on their way down, the memories of seeing the Red Chair under construction stuck with him. Renate Bareham recalled a summer when she helped her father paint the top of the Red Chair.

At an event in 2019, Hugh Smythe described one of his experiences skiing on Whistler Mountain. The weekend after Whistler Mountain first opened in January 1966, Smythe drove up from Vancouver through heavy snow to work as part of the first ski patrol team. After a long journey (the drive through the Cheakamus Canyon took and hour and a half), the trailers at the base of the mountain set up as staff accommodation were full. Smythe and his group spent the night on the floor of the lift company cafeteria. Before going to sleep, however, they were told they would need to be back up at 5 am to shovel the top of the Red Chair so skiers could reach the top of the mountain.

Digging out the top of the Red Chair. Coates Collection

It was still dark when the ski patrol made their way up the gondola to the bottom of the Red Chair. There, they were told to take their shovels and ride up on the back of the chair, holding tight to the lift. As Smythe remembered it, “I was holding on so hard with my one arm and hand, and we actually got to Tower 15 and that was about, oh, fifteen, twenty minute ride at that point to get there, then all of a sudden we hit the snow and the chair tilted back like this, and we’re dragging in the dark.” They unloaded at the top and then spent two hours digging out the chair’s path as it continued to snow in order for the skiing to open to the public. In contrast, when describing the challenging winter of 1976/77, John Hetherington remembers how very limited snow meant skiers had to download on the Red Chair, a slow ride down.

A seat from the original Red Chair sits in Florence Petersen Park.

The Red Chair was the first double chairlift installed on Whistler Mountain by Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. in 1965, along with a gondola and two t-bars. It was later joined by the Little Red Chair, which ran mostly parallel to the Red Chair, another double chairlift that helped ease line ups. Both chairs were removed in 1992, replaced by the Redline Express Quad, which was then also replaced in 1997 by the current Big Red Express. In September 2021, plans were announced to replace the current chair with a new high-speed six-person chair for the 2022/23 season. For anyone wishing to relive their memories of the first Red Chair, however, a red chair can be found in Florence Petersen Park that, if it snows enough, might even require some digging.

Happiest in the Mountains: Stefan Ples (Part Two)

There is an often told story of the first meeting of Stefan Ples and Franz Wilhelmsen of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. on Whistler Mountain.  Apparently Franz arrived at the top of the mountain by helicopter to find Stefan there on skis.  Franz asked, “What are you doing on my mountain?”, to which Stefan replied, “What are you doing on mine?”  Though we do not know exactly how their first meeting occurred, the story certainly demonstrates Stefan’s love of the mountain and his preferred way to navigate it.  (For more information on Stefan’s life before coming to Alta Lake, check out last week’s article here.)

Stefan and Gerda Ples sit on their hearth at Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Bareham family.

Although Stefan didn’t understand why people would prefer going up on lifts and skiing only a short distance down, he became greatly involved in the development of Whistler Mountain.  By the mid 1960s he had been exploring the mountain on his skis for years and knew the are perhaps better than anyone at the time.  Stefan began working for the lift company in 1963, going up to Alta Lake every weekend for over a year to climb up to a meadow at the bottom of the T-bar, where he would record the temperature and snowfall and other information (his handwritten reports were donated to the Whistler Museum & Archives by his daughter Renate Bareham in 2013).

When construction of the runs and lifts began Stefan moved up to Alta Lake full time to work.  Part of his responsibilities was to bring the horses up the mountain with supplies to a work camp that was set up in what may have been the same meadows he gathered his reports from.  Renate accompanied him on one of his trips up with the horses and told the museum, “It was just magical, because we went up through the forest and everything and we ended up in this meadow.  Oh, it was so beautiful up there.”

During one particularly bad snow year, Stefan also introduced the sport of Ice Stock Sliding to the valley.  “The old master, Stefan Ples, who introduced ice stock sliding to the Whistler area, sending one of the “rocks” down the recently blacktopped course next to the school at Whistler.” (Garibaldi Whistler News Fall 1977)

Though Gerda had continued to run their rooming house in Vancouver when Stefan first started working for the lift company, the rest of the family moved to Alta Lake in 1966.  According to Renate, not many people lived in the area at the time, and those who did either worked for the lift company or worked construction around the gondola base.  Renate attended high school in Squamish and worked for the lift company on the weekends and breaks.  At fourteen she began by stapling lift tickets and then handing out boarding passes, moving on to teach skiing for Jim McConkey when she turned sixteen.  She also babysat, caring for the Bright and Mathews children whose parents worked for the mountain.

Stefan continued working for the lift company and led ski tours to areas the lifts didn’t access.  One summer Renate even remembered helping him paint the top of the Red Chair.  Despite working for the lift company and receiving a lifetime pass in 1980, Stefan continued to prefer walking up, occasionally taking a lift as far as midstation before beginning his climb.

According to Renate, the only person who could go up the mountain on skis faster than her father was Seppo Makinen: “It took my dad three hours, probably, to get to the peak.  Seppo made it in an hour and a half.  I think he actually ran, you know, on his cross country skis, and my dad walked on his cross country skis, but Seppo ran.  He was also considerably younger than my father.”

Stefan Ples, long-time resident of Whistler, receives a lifetime pass from Garibaldi Lifts President Franz Wilhelmsen in recognition of his long involvement with Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Parts of Stefan’s legacy can be seen throughout the area though many may not know of his role in creating it, from the Tyrol Lodge to the two runs off Whistler Peak that bear his name (Stefan’s Chute and Stefan’s Salute).  He was a founding member of the Alta Lake Volunteer Fire Department in the 1960s and helped start Whistler’s first Search and Rescue Team in 1973.  His name can also be found on the Stefan Ples trophy, the prize for the overall winners of the Peak to Valley Race, as he like to climb to the peak and then ski all the way down.

Though some people may come to Whistler to build a career or make it rich, Renate said of her father that, “All he wanted to do was be in the mountains,” a goal it would appear he certainly accomplished.