Tag Archives: school

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.