Tag Archives: River of Golden Dreams

Whistler’s Most Unpredictable Race

The Great Snow Earth Water Race was one of the many events that took place over the Victoria Day long weekend in Whistler during the 1970s and 1980s. The event contributed to the influx of tourists that arrived every May to participate in the festivities. The race was created by Bryan Walhovd in 1975 as a community event aimed at attracting all skill levels.

The event took different shapes depending on the year, and was far from predictable. In some years, the race had a cross country skiing portion that required more team members, and in other years the race switched between Whistler and Blackcomb. The state of the course varied from year to year as well. In his interview with the museum, Bryan said that in the years he or other volunteers were unable to clear out the River of Golden Dreams prior to the race, it was like an obstacle course for the competitors. Similarly, he said that some years competitors complained about the unruly state of the trails for the running segment.

When the first race took place in 1975, there were over twenty teams competing. Every team had to include both men and women. While the race was never known for its regulations, in its first year there were remarkably few. The first year, the only requirement was that competitors reach the bottom of the ski hill with all of their ski equipment, but once the snow ended, how they got down the mountain was entirely up to them. The lack of regulations led to all kinds of opportunistic tactics. A few enterprising teams even used things like trucks and motorbikes to get the skiers to the exchange point. Needless to say, after the first year a rule was added that competitors had to get down the mountain on their own two feet.

Skiing segment of the Great Earth Snow Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

In only a few years the number of teams competing had nearly tripled; by 1978 over sixty teams competed in the race (only fifty-eight completed it), and from there the race continued to grow and attract larger and further reaching audiences. The races were full of mishaps and complications. Due to lack of government involvement, navigating traffic during the cycling portion could be quite complicated, and one year the Whistler Question referred to this endeavour as “an interesting experience.”

Competitors in the cycling segment of the Great Snow Earth Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

As the race became more notorious, by necessity it also became more organized. By the 1990s, matters of logistics and insurance made the race increasingly difficult to execute, and it came to an end.

The Great Snow Earth Water Race took place at the same time as Mayday Madness, a series of events organized by the Chamber of Commerce for community members and tourists. Local sentiment toward the festivities of the long weekend was similar to what we see today: some looked forward to the fun-filled weekend, while others braced for what they saw as inevitable chaos. The events were geared toward different age groups, and some were more family friendly than others. They included everything from wind-surfing to belly flop contests to mini-marathons and family sports.

Belly flop competition at the Christiana Inn. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

If you are interested in learning more about the race, the Whistler Museum recently hosted a virtual speaker series with some of the original competitors and organizers, and a recording of the event can be found here.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program.  She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

Our Pioneers in Colour

Although hand-coloured photographs were originally intended to make monochrome (most frequently referred to as black and white) images look more realistic, today, they are often interpreted as quite the opposite. These photographs are viewed as surreal and unlike contemporary colour photography that we typically associate with more accurate colour.

Hand-painted view of Alta Lake. Philip Collection.

Hand-painted view of Alta Lake, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Whistler Museum holds some fascinating examples of hand-coloured photography. For most of these objects, the craftsmanship is far from superior; however, the fact that these photographs exist from such an early Whistler is marvelous in itself.

Hand-coloured photographs were most popular from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century – before Kodak introduced Kodachrome colour film. The earliest account of hand-colouring photographs is attributed to Swiss painter and printmaker Johann Baptist Isenring, who began colouring daguerreotypes (one of the first photographic processes) soon after their invention in 1839. Isenring used gum Arabic and pigments to colour his photographs. Typically, watercolours, oils, crayons or other dyes are applied to monochrome image surfaces using brushes, fingers, cotton swabs or airbrushes.

Example of monochrome photograph with and without hand-colouring. Myrtle and Binkie, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Example of monochrome photograph with and without hand-colouring. Myrtle and Binkie, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Some particularly interesting and high-quality hand-coloured photographs in our collection are those by photographer Leonard Frank. Frank moved from Germany to North America in 1892 – first to San Francisco and then to our native British Columbia in 1894. At this time he settled in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, while snapping photographs of locations all over British Columbia. He spent about fifty years here and managed to capture over 50,000 images of our province – and considering the cumbersome photographic equipment of the time, that number is far from slight! Frank would travel through arduous terrain – often on foot – carrying a heavy pack, an 8 x 10 inch Kodak view camera, glass plates and a tripod.

Capilano River, ca. 1925. Philip Collection.

Capilano River, ca. 1925. Philip Collection.

Aside from the sheer amount of photographs by Frank, his subject matter was also rather widespread. He photographed everything from the peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the coastal whaling industry, from the construction of bridges to remote harbours, from political figures in Vancouver to Whistler’s very own pioneers.

Alex Philip takes some Rainbow Lodge guests for a paddle down the River of Golden Dreams, 1941.

Alex Philip takes some Rainbow Lodge guests for a paddle down the River of Golden Dreams, 1941. Philip Collection.

What is often withheld in biographies on Leonard Frank is his heavy ties with Whistler. Frank spent quite a bit of time at Alta Lake and he was a frequent guest of Rainbow Lodge. Furthermore, he was a personal friend to Whistler pioneers Myrtle and Alex Philip.

Myrtle and guest with horses, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Myrtle and guest with horses, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Although tough to know for certain, many of our other hand-coloured photographs in the collection are presumably the craftsmanship of our very own Myrtle Philip, as she frequently dabbled in amateur photography.

Myrtle cooking beside a river, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Myrtle cooking beside a river, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

While all of these images present the idyllic landscapes and pioneer life of Whistler’s past, they also showcase the skill of one of British Columbia’s earliest professional photographers, the variety and uniqueness of hand-colourists, as well as this fascinating time in photographic history.

Whistler Mountain reflected in Alta Lake, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Whistler Mountain reflected in Alta Lake, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Down the River of Golden Dreams

Floating the River of Golden Dreams is an ideal way to pass a hot Whistler summer’s day. Its lazy pace and winding course makes it an idyllic journey, which Alex Philip, proprietor of Whistler’s first lodge, recognized early on. Alex would paddle honeymooners down the River of Golden Dreams in a large canoe, often by moonlight, where they could snuggle up and soak in the valley’s natural beauty.

Alex Philip paddling guests down the River of Golden Dreams (and Romance).

According to Myrtle Philip, Alex (who was a hopeless romantic) named the river and dubbed it ‘The River of Golden Dreams (and Romance)’ in honour of these moonlit journeys.  However, that version of the naming of the river is somewhat contentious. According to Glen Smith, his mother Peggy Archibald named the river in honour of the famous song ‘Down the River of Golden Dreams’. The song Glen Smith was likely referring to was popularized by The Boswell sisters around 1930. Its peaceful tune and wistful lyrics certainly match atmosphere that Alex Philip was trying to promote: “Down the River of Golden Dreams, drifting along, humming a song of love…”. The popular folk song was later recorded by both Slim Whitman and The Platters. Click the link below to listen to the song on YouTube:

The Platters singing ‘Down the River of Golden Dreams’

Regardless of who actually gave the river the moniker ‘The River of Golden Dreams’, the name is apt for the river. Its true name, however, is Alta Creek, as its source is at the Northern end of Alta Lake. It meanders from Alta Lake to Green Lake.

Floating down the river is still a popular activity for honeymooners, locals, and summertime visitors to Whistler. Whether by inner tube, stand-up paddle board, canoe, kayak, or any other water craft, the trip continues to be a great way to pass a hot summer’s afternoon.

A bearded paddler cools off on a summer’s day.