Tag Archives: Sea to Sky Highway

Whistler Before the Sea-to-Sky

Whistler’s steep, mountainous terrain is what makes it so attractive as a tourist destination. It’s perfect for skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking. However, those same rocky hills have been one of it’s greatest challenges, providing a frustrating barrier for tourists and residents alike.  For the first non-indigenous settlers, the area was only accessible by a narrow path known as the Pemberton Trail, constructed in 1877. This trail, which ran from Burrard Inlet, around the far side of Alta Lake, and up to Lillooet, was intended to provide access to the Gold Rush.

FOR ARTICLE WMA_P86_1326 Philip copy.jpg

The Pemberton Trail would have ran around Alta Lake’s far shores. Photo: Philip Collection

Unfortunately, by the time the trail was constructed the rush was basically over. An attempt was made to take cattle down it, but most of them died, due to the lack of grazing and the difficult terrain. With no other use for it, the Pemberton Trail functioned as an occasional route for travelers. The trail took three days, by steamship and by foot, assisted by a packhorse. In those days, horses were an important asset. Travelers carried supplies on packhorses, as did Myrtle and Alex Philip, founders of the area’s first resort. They also used a series of workhorses to construct Rainbow Lodge- to simplify things, all the horses were called “Bob”.

The train tracks also provided a ready-made sidewalk for Alta Lake and Parkhurst residents. Photo: Philip Collection

Many of the area’s inhabitants hoped the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway would make access easier. The PGE had multiple false starts- a company was incorporated to build it in 1891, and by 1909 twelve miles of track were completed, when they ran short of funds and had to stop.

By the time construction began in earnest in 1912 the railway had acquired a number of despairing nicknames, among them  “Province’s Great Expense”, “Past God’s Endurance”, and “Prince George Eventually”.  Finally, in 1914, the railway was up and running from Squamish to Quesnel, and soon resorts, logging, and other industries began to spring up in the area. Transit was still anything but easy. The journey involved four to six hours on steamship from Vancouver to Squamish, and a further three to four hours to Alta Lake, as the train only went from 25 to 40 km/h and often had to stop to refuel. The train ride was upgraded through the years, including the addition of open-topped observation cars and a dinner service. Though the journey was long, it wasn’t unpleasant- travelers often enjoyed ice cream, or beer if they were older, as they waited in Squamish. There were also stops for afternoon tea at Rainbow Lodge, costing 35 cents.

FOR ARTICLE- ACCESS WMA_P86_0451_Philip (1)

The creation of the PGE made it easy to travel in style. Photo; Philip Collection

Despite these improvements, the journey was still a long one. In the sixties, the Garibaldi Lift Company, hoping to set up skiing in the area, realized that something more convenient would be necessary in order to draw in tourists. A “road” was built from Whistler to Squamish in 1962, although it was. Initially the track was mostly fist-sized rocks and dirt, and driving across streams was sometimes required. 

The trail was plowed infrequently, making winter journeys treacherous. Tire punctures were common, and the first trips from Vancouver took five hours. Thankfully, the road was paved in 1966, and improvement has continued up to the present. The most recent upgrades were for the 2010 Olympics, cutting the travel time down to the two hours we enjoy today.  Although travel time has ranged from multiple days to a matter of hours, people have always felt Whistler was worth the trip.

Highway 99, shortly after it’s creation- still not paved! Photo: Gord Leidal

 

Advertisements

This Week in Photos: January 11

We’re starting something new on our blog for this year!  Every week we’ll be sharing our own version of #tbt (Throwback Thursday) using photos from the Whistler Question from 1978 to 1985 and, wherever possible, the original captions.  When the collection was donated the negatives were very helpfully organized by week, which means we actually know when the photos were taken or published!  Some years do have some missing weeks, but what we’ve got we’ll share with you.  So, if you’ve ever wondered what this week in Whistler used to look like, read on.

1979

An airplane takes off on the snow from the Mons’ airstrip.

Bartender Rosarie Gauthier and manager Per Christiansen behind the bar in the Christiana’s remodelled Bavarian Lounge.

The White Gold Inn.

1980

The Status Board at the top of the lifts on Whistler Mountain.

The view from the lineup at the Blue Chair, today the location of the Harmony Chair.

Photos of Havana, Cuba were provided by Paul & Jane Burrows after their recent trip to warmer climes.

1981

Ted Pryce-Jones, manager, poses near the pop in the new grocery store soon to open in the Village.

The Mad Trapper was put up for sale recently.  Volkswagen not included.

Clock Tower sports a new Omega clock face installed during the past week.

Blackcomb’s new triple chair in operation. Though you can’t see it in this photo, below the treeline there was barely any snow yet.

Meg Watt and Chris Leighton take time out to smile for the camera while working behind the cafeteria counter at the top of Blackcomb.

1982

And they’re off… into a tangle of skis and poles at the start of the ALSC half marathon Sunday, January 10.

Laurel Gibbard and Louise Edwards provide some smiling service for the first customers in the Hofbrau Haus on Saturday, January 9. The 85-seat bar, located in the old Boot premises, was open 4 pm – 1 am six days a week and Sundays from 4 pm to 11 pm.

Don Ross and Hugh Smythe of Blackcomb stand with Willie Whistler and Pierre and Justin Trudeau in the Whistler Village Square.

Hot stuff – the Pemberton Red Devils came up with this beautiful downhiller to walk away with $300 and a shared first place victory. Shot glasses of fuel rested on the skier’s back.

1983

Skiers braved high winds, blinding snow and dampening rains to spend some time on the slopes Sunday. Despite bad weather Whistler Mountain had 6,200 skiers from Friday to Sunday, while Blackcomb drew 4,100 over the weekend.

Whistler Council in its first formal portrait. (l to r) Alderman Bill Peterson, Alderman David O’Keefe, Administrator Geoff Pearce, Mayor Mark Angus, Municipal Clerk Kris Shoup Robinson, Alderman Bernie Hauschka and Alderman Terry Rodgers.

A 15 foot high boulder crashed down onto the northbound lane of Highway 99 in Cheakamus Canyon Friday night. Crews blasted the rock away Monday morning as the Pacific storm which caused the slide continued with torrential rainfall in the Whistler area.

1985

Rod Grange and crew from Skiing Video Productions are filming a winter movie for Whistler Mountain during the next seven weeks.

Blowing wind creates sand-like ripples on Green Lake.

Florence Petersen Home Video: Driving up to Whistler… in 1958

The Sea-to-Sky Highway is widely regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the province, if not the world. Driving along Howe Sound one enjoys a nearly constant vista over the shining blue sea, while the climb to Whistler features such marvellous sights as the Stawamus Chief, the Tantalus Range, Cheakamus Canyon, and more.

Though problem still remain, the major upgrades leading up to the 2010 Olympics made the highway smoother, more relaxing, and made it easier to enjoy the sights en route. It’s common to hear drivers reminisce about the white-knuckle driving on the older, narrower, windier road.

But let’s take things back a little further. This week we feature a home video made by Florence Strachan (better known as Florence Petersen, after she wed Andy Petersen in 1967) during a drive up to Alta Lake, as the Whistler Valley was known at the time, in 1958. Back then the road was completely unpaved, far more winding and treacherous than almost any living person can recall. And so Florence and friends made a full day of it (not entirely by choice), and recorded this wonderful video of their drive.

Keep an eye out for familiar landmarks, and some big changes that have occurred in the decades since. Enjoy:

 

Florence must have had her backpacking gear in the trunk, because later that summer she went on this memorable hike to Burnt Stew Basin: