Tag Archives: school

Teaching at Alta Lake

With the beginning of a new (though uncertain) school year, we thought we’d take a look back at the first school built in the Whistler valley and one of its teachers.  The Alta Lake School was built in 1931 and operated until 1946, when it closed due to an insufficient number of students.  It reopened in a new building in 1956 but continued to struggle with enrolment.

Mel Carrico was born in Alberta and after the war he and his wife Dagmar decided to raise their family in British Columbia.  Though trained as a teacher, Carrico worked for Alcan in Kitimat and the Department of Labour in Smithers through the late 1940s and 1950s.  In 1958 he returned to the classroom, teaching first in the one room schoolhouse in Garibaldi and then becoming the teacher at the one room schoolhouse at Alta Lake.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.  Most years the school required ten students to open, so Jack Jardine was also counted as a student although he did not attend.  R Jardine Collection.

According to an oral history interview with Rob Carrico, Mel’s son, his father was asked during his interview with Don Ross, then the head of the school board, how many school aged children he had, as four were needed to reopen the Alta Lake School.  There were technically three potential Carrico students, but Rob’s younger sister was put into Grade One at the age of five to make up the numbers and Mel Carrico was hired.

The family spent two years living near the school at Alta Lake.  Looking back, Rob said his only regret about his time there was that there were no other boys around his age and he had wanted to be a Cub Scout.  Most of the students came from families employed by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.  No matter their age, all students learned in the same classroom.  Rob remembered that, “It was always interesting because you could listen in on all the lessons.”  If the Grade Three lesson was not too exciting, the Grade Five lesson might have been more intriguing.

According to Rob, Alta Lake was “a good place to go to school,” partly because of the nearby creek where one could go at recess to catch Kokanee.  Each year his father ensured that the school put on a big Christmas concert, usually including a puppet show.  The students would help to make marionettes and a stage would be constructed at the school.  The concert was a big event for the small Alta Lake community.

The original Alta Lake School building, which was replaced by a similar building in the 1940s and 50s.  Philip Collection.

Rob remembered the community as close-knit, where neighbours would look after each other, visiting often and coming together for bingo and other events, such as the Ice-Break Raffle and the summer fish derby (which he thought might have just been an excuse to gather a lot of fish and have a big community fish fry).

The Carricos left Alta Lake in 1961 when Rob’s elder sister reached high school.  The Alta Lake School did not teach higher grades and so she would have had to leave her family and attend school in Squamish while being boarded.  Instead, the entire family moved to Squamish and Mel Carrico continued to teach in the school district.  He eventually retired as the principal of Mamquam Elementary School.

School Days in Whistler

The community of Whistler has undergone many changes in the last hundred or so years, and nowhere is this more evident than in our elementary schools.

When the first non-indigenous settlers began to make their homes around Alta Lake in the early twentieth century, there was no school- no infrastructure at all, in fact. The first school was built in 1931 as a community effort. Over $300 was raised from the small collection of residents- impressive at a time when a litre of milk cost ten cents! The Alta Lake School was fairly bare-bones.  It was warmed by an iron stove and had a nearby creek as a water source and gas lamps for light.

ARTICLE ALTA LAKE SCHOOL ACCESS WMA_P88_001 R JARDINE

Whistler’s first class photo, at Alta Lake School in 1933. Photo: Jardine Collection.

Ten students had to attend in order for the school to be funded by the government.  Only nine were then available at the time, so one boy, Jack Jardine, was persuaded to come for a half-day every week. Teachers today dream of small class sizes but this lack of students became the Alta Lake School’s curse. The school would close in 1946, reopen in 1951, close in 1962, reopen in 1964 and close for good in 1970 as families moved in and out and the number of children fluctuated. One teacher, Mel Carrico, was even hired on the condition that his four children attend the school.

As the permanent population grew following the opening of Whistler Mountain, the school was able to stop it’s constant reopening and closing. In 1976 a new school named Myrtle Philip School was built at today’s location of the Delta Village Suites. Though it opened with only 57 students, the students soon began to outgrow the school and an addition and then eight portables were added.  In 1992 the students were moved to the new Myrtle Philip Community School at its current location on Lorimer Road.

The first Myrtle Philip School at the beginning of the school year, 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler was now faced with a constantly growing student population. In 1999, Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half the school’s population. Anyone who’s had class in a portable can tell you that while fine on paper, they’re not ideal – they’re small, are often too hot or too cold, and have no water supply (especially noticeable when walking out to the washroom in a blizzard). Grade 7s  had been moved to Whistler Secondary when it opened in 1996 and soon the high school was in need of portables too. It was decided that a second elementary school was needed, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw boundaries for catchments of the two schools.

This resulted in some conflict – the new school needed half the youth of Whistler to attend, but not everyone lived with easy access to Spring Creek and there were worries about longer commutes and more cars on the road. Boundaries were eventually decided on and building could commence.

This wasn’t as simple as it sounded. The school was initially slated to open September 2001, but this was pushed back multiple times- first to September 2002,  then January 2003, then again to November 2003, then finally January 2004, as funding was secured and construction completed.

The wait was worth it. The new school boasted new science and art rooms, a computer lab, a well-stocked library, and, after a few years, a French Immersion program.

Spring Creek Elementary, Whistler’s newest school.  Photo: Olivia Brocklehurst.

Finding ten children to attend school in Whistler is no longer a problem. Whistler’s students now attend four elementary schools – Myrtle Philip, Spring Creek, École la passerelle and the Whistler Waldorf School. Even now discussions are beginning again about the possibility of a new school as Spring Creek. From the days of one-room schoolhouses to multiple school buildings, education in Whistler has certainly changed, though it remans an important part of community life.

20 Years of Whistler Secondary School

Whistler Secondary School has a central role in the Whistler community.  This school, along with the many extracurricular activities offered in Whistler, is the basis to encouraging the athletic, creative and academic minds that flourish in this town.  It’s hard to imagine that just over twenty years ago there was no secondary school in Whistler.  Instead, the 135 students from Grade 8 to 12 had to make a 70km round trip to Pemberton Secondary School every day.

Whistler Secondary School at the time of its opening in 1996 – if you look today you might find it a bit larger.

Due to this unnecessary and inconvenient commute, funding of $12,095,987.00 was confirmed in 1994 for the building of Whistler’s own secondary school.  This budget accounted for 200 students, leaving a bit of wiggle room from the 135 who currently made the commute.  However, in the summer of 1996, just before the school was to open, enrollment had reached 315.  There had been plans to physically expand the school in the coming years, but no had expected the space to be needed quite so soon.  This left each student about $20 short in funding, particularly affecting the Grade 11 and 12 students.

The money fell short when it came to upper year science courses and the necessary equipment for laboratory experiments.   The district asked the ministry to make up the difference but with late notice it was questionable whether the ministry could help in time for the coming year.  The Howe Sound District refused to let Whistler’s students be at a disadvantage.  In the meantime, they planned to either permission to loan money from the bank or, if need be, send the Grade 11 and 12 students back to Pemberton for the year.

This unexpected abundance of students left Principal Rick Smith in a bit of a bind.  Instead of solely preparing the school for its opening, he was left with the task of hiring extra teachers.  This principal was cut out for his job and made do with what they had.  When Whistler Secondary School opened on September 3, 1996, you wouldn’t have guessed that they stretched their budget over the length of the school.

The grand opening of the school included mounties and fruit hats courtesy of Colours on Key.

Resourcefulness was key with this new school, which was set to take full use of every space they had.  A good example of this was the room that branched from the school entrance which they named the Multi-Purpose Room.  This space was to be used as both a classroom and a lunchroom.  Anything that needed a big open space, such as assemblies, was held in the gymnasium.  Making use of every space they had still left the school with less space than students.  To make up that last deficit in space, they parked four portables behind the school to hold various classes (these remained in use for almost ten years).

Despite the budget hiccup, the school and its students were not at any disadvantage.  There was a library stacked with books, an adjoining glass-enclosed computer lab featuring 20 internet-linked terminals, and 10 tv monitors spread throughout the classrooms.  Many of these features were only possible because of the many generous donations to the school from various companies in the community.  The home-ec room was equipped with fridges and stoves and the art room with five potting wheels and a kiln to make sure that no student’s interests were ignored.  The issue with science equipment was bypassed and one lab had the usual gas, water and dissection capabilities for chemistry and biology.  As well as these physical accessories, the school was well equipped with programs.  There was an up and coming work-experience program for the Grade 11 and 12 students.  Instead of working for pay, this program have students real employee experience for school credit.  Since Whistler is home to many sports and activities, this high school also planned to work with athletes’ schedules.  They developed programs for skiers and other athletes to make sure they remained caught up in their schooling.

What is a school without students?

Whistler Secondary has come a long way since it opened just over 20 years ago.  The most notable changes are the physical developments of the school.  After a few years the school expanded the multi-purpose room, getting rid of the portable classrooms.  They also replaced the computers, stocked the library with more books and built an entire new wing with new classrooms.  As well as the physical changes to the school, there have been athletic and academic advancements at Whistler Secondary every year since it opened.  The school has grown to offer programs and experiences that could not be offered anywhere except our beautiful valley.

Article by Sierra Wells.  Sierra graduated from Whistler Secondary School in 2016 and is currently a student at Queen’s University.

The Many Schools of Bev Mansell

With most schools in Whistler just a couple of weeks away from closing for the summer, students in the valley are looking forward to a couple months without homework or classes.

Five schools now operate within Whistler and it’s easy to forget that for many years children living around Alta Lake had to learn from correspondence courses at home or leave their families to attend school in a bigger town.

Alta Lake School opened in the 1930s and was the first opportunity many of the local children had to attend school.  When the Howe Sound School District was formed in 1946 the school closed and local students attended schools in Squamish or Pemberton.  Alta Lake School opened again in 1952 but closed again in 1962.  For one student this last closure was especially traumatic.

Bev Mansell attended Grade One at the Alta Lake School for only one month before it closed.

Beverly (Bev) Mansell, the daughter of Doug (whose parents built and operated Hillcrest Lodge) and Barb (a former Hillcrest guest) Mansell, was born in 1956.  Growing up on the east side of Alta Lake, Bev was isolated from the small number of children living on the west side of the lake and those living at Parkhurst so it’s not surprising that she was pretty excited to start school.

Bev started Grade 1 at the one-room schoolhouse on Alta Lake in September 1962.  At the time the school had ten students.  Disaster struck for Bev at the end of September when one family with four children moved away and the school no longer had enough students to stay open.

With the closure of her first school, Bev was sent to live with her aunt in Vancouver so that she could attend school there.  By this time Jack and Cis Mansell had retired; Bev’s parents were running Hillcrest Lodge and Doug and Barb could rarely get to Vancouver.

Doug and Barb Mansell managed Hillcrest Lodge from 1958 to 1965.

After two years at school in Vancouver Bev returned to the reopened Alta Lake School which once again had the requisite ten students.  She spent Grade 3 through Grade 6 at the small schoolhouse.

In the fall and spring Bev’s trip to and from school consisted of a boat ride across the lake.  When ice started to form on Alta Lake she would be walked around the south end of the lake, always accompanied in case of a run in with a wolverine or coyote.  In the winter, when the ice was thick enough, Bev would arrive at school by snowmobile – much more fun than a bus ride.

Before Bev started Grade 7 the school board decided that she should attend school in Squamish where there were more students her own age.  This lasted for one month before the school board decided to move her to the school in Pemberton.

Bev Mansell rode the school bus to Pemberton until she graduated, as did many students after her.

Luckily for Bev, this was the last move she would have to make during her school years as she continued to attend school in Pemberton until her graduation in 1975.  Students from Whistler continued to attend high school in Pemberton until 1996 when Whistler Secondary School opened, making it possible to graduate in Whistler.

Back to School!

With calendars flipping over to September one thing immediately comes to mind… Back to School! (some might disagree with my choice of punctuation there). Those who dread the end of summer freedom and the return of classrooms, homework, and detention might be surprised to read how, by most accounts, local children were excited by the arrival of the first Alta Lake school (if only because it meant a break from their endless chores).

In the decades following the construction of the PGE railway through the valley, a full-fledged community emerged at Alta Lake. By 1930 there were a dozen school-aged children who lived at Alta Lake year-round. Myrtle Philip began lobbying the provincial government for funds for a new school, but Alta Lake was deemed too small and remote so local residents were forced to take it upon themselves.

A local school committee was formed. Minutes from a November 12 1932 meeting record how Myrtle Phlip, Bill Bailiff, and Bob “Mac” MacDermott were elected as the Alta Lake School Board of Trustees, and that their efforts had been officially recognized by the Provincial Department of Education. Almost immediately the community set about renovating a room at the near-abandoned Alta Lake Hotel near the south end of the lake where the first classroom sessions were held.

At that point there was already a fledgling Alta Lake community club which had a few hundred dollars saved up. It was decided that these funds would be put towards the construction of a dedicated schoolhouse/community centre. The $1500 structure (1930s figures) was completely funded and built by local residents.

Raising a flagpole outside the school, 1935.

Margaret Partridge, a 21-year old from Vancouver, was hired to be the first teacher, lured away from the big city with the promise of an extra $10 per month from regular teacher’s wages. By all accounts she did an excellent job juggling the varying ages, grades, etc. It should be noted that in its inaugural year this was the first day of school for all the children, regardless of age. Still, as Myrtle proudly reported, every single student from those early days went on to study at least at the high school level after graduating from Alta Lake.

Group portrait of the entire Alta Lake Schol student body, 1933. Back Row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart. Front Row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.

The new schoolhouse was completed in 1934. For the next twelve years children trekked from all over the valley to learn the 3 R’s, but also about healthy living: report cards from that era stressed the importance of sleep, a healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, and, most importantly, lots of outdoor play in the fresh air (as if this needed stressing back then!)

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse, ca late 1930s.

The school closed temporarily in 1946 when the regional Howe Sound School District was formed. Then local kids went to Squamish or Pemberton, until 1952 when local children had their own school at Alta Lake again. For the Kitteringham boys of Parkhurst mill (more on them next week), school was an eleven-hour day, beginning with a tugboat ride down Green Lake at 6am – sometimes a 12-year-old Jim drove and docked the boat himself — followed by a 2 mile-trek to school. A ride on the northbound PGE was hitched at 5 pm, getting them home just in time for dinner (and doubtless a bunch of chores).

The schoolhouse doubled as a community centre where regular dinners and dances were held.

Despite never having children of her own, for nearly four decades Myrtle Philip was a dedicated school board trustee. In recognition of her efforts, when a larger school was built in 1977 (near today’s Cascade Lodge at the Village Gate), it was christened Myrtle Philip Community School. Myrtle recounted that she was uncharacteristically speechless, and that it was the greatest honour of her life.

Myrtle Philip (left) at the 1977 opening ceremony of the first Myrtle Philip Community School.

By the 1990s it was evident that the Whistler Village location was less than ideal for an elementary school, and so it was moved to its present location in Whistler Cay. True to our inaugural school, today’s Myrtle Philip school also doubles as a community centre.