Tag Archives: Squamish

The Beginnings of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway

If you’ve ever been out hiking near the train tracks on the western side of Whistler, you know how difficult the terrain can be.  The cliffs, creeks, and rivers running through the valley make for beautiful scenery and photographs, but they can make travel very difficult.  As a result, building a railway from coastal British Columbia to the Interior was an expensive, difficult venture, and it took a long time to build the rail line that exists today.

The first company that was meant to build a railway from coastal BC to the BC Interior was incorporated in 1891, but not much came of it.  Once the Howe Sound and Northern Railway Company (HSN) was incorporated in 1907, however, things really started moving in the right direction.  Surveys from Squamish through the Cheakamus Canyon were conducted in secret by the Cleveland and Cameron engineering firm, and the demand for a railway into the BC Interior was very high.  When a feasibility report was published by the HSN Railway Company in 1909, it was the talk of the town, making headlines in the Daily Province newspaper.  The feasibility report announced that the construction of a railway through the Cheakamus Canyon was possible, and the first rails were laid that very same year.

Grace Woollard and Grace Archibald in the Cheakamus Canyon on their way to Alta Lake, 1912. Clarke Collection.

The HSN Railway was taken over by the Foley, Welch, and Stewart Firm in 1912.  They renamed the company the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE), and within a year of the new company’s incorporation, track was being laid on two separate sections of the route.  The PGE Squamish Line finally reached Pemberton in October of 1914.  The new railway brought many opportunities for people in the Whistler valley, especially Alex and Myrtle Philip.  Their Rainbow Lodge opened the same year the railway reached Pemberton, and they received a lot of encouragement from the PGE workers to host fishing tours.  The first tours were held in May of 1915, and fishermen, with rods and tackle in hand, arrived by train to stay at Rainbow Lodge.

The Rainbow Lodge station could be a bustling place when a train came in, especially the Sunday excursion train. Philip Collection.

Expansion of the rail line continued, but not without difficulty.  The PGE line from Squamish reached as far as Lillooet, but going further was a financial problem.  The BC Provincial Government stepped in, and the PGE received a loan of $10 million ($200 million adjusted for inflation today) in order to continue extending the rail line in 1916.  The money didn’t help much, through, and in 1918 the PGE was forced to default on the loan.  The Provincial Government took over the PGE Railway Company, but, again, building a railway was very expensive.  The Provincial Government even listed the PGE for public sale in 1924, but there were not takers.

A southbound PGE train pulling in to Rainbow Lodge. J Jardine Collection

Despite everything, the railway pushed on.  The Provincial Government undertook a $10 million redevelopment program for the PGE in 1949 (over $110 million today).  It took a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of time, but the PGE did eventually reach its destination.  Finally, after over 50 years of planning and development, the PGE Railway reached Prince George on September 11, 1952.

If you would like to learn more about the influence the PGE had on Whistler, stay tuned for future articles!

A Wet End to August, 1991

Recently, we were tasked with finding more information about a flood that washed out and damaged several bridges over Fitzsimmons Creek in the 1990s.  As it turned out, the flooding had happened exactly 28 years before we looked into it, with the bulk of information found in the September 5, 1991 edition of The Whistler Question.

The first mention of an unusually wet end to August appeared in the previous week’s editorial section, where editor Bob Barnett opened a piece on government money granted in the area with the thought, “The old age it never rains, it pours, has applied to the weather this week, but also to government handouts.”  Between August 16 and 31, 155 mm of rain were reported to have fallen in Whistler, with the bulk of the rain falling between August 29 and 30.  The average rainfall for the entire month of August was historically under 50 mm; this unusually large quantity of water caused destruction throughout the Sea to Sky corridor.

An excavator removes rock and gravel carried down Fitzsimmons Creek during Labour Day weekend’s floods. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

During the five days of intense rain, water levels at the Pemberton Airport and the Golf and Country Club were recorded at over two metres and BC Rail recorded at least twelve places between Britannia Beach and Lillooet where the crushed rock that supported the rails was washed away, leaving sections suspended over the ground.

In Britannia Beach severe flooding caused Britannia Creek to change course through the lower townsite and the highway around Squamish was blocked for 36 hours.  According to the Ministry of Forests, three quarters of the forest service roads in the Squamish Forest District were closed from washouts, flooding or slides, with multiple bridges destroyed.  North of Pemberton, some residents around Skookumchuck were evacuated to Pemberton by helicopter.

Within the Pemberton Valley, a Friday afternoon community effort to shore p a dike behind the Van Loon property attempted to mitigate the damage caused by the flood.  Approximately 100 people were reported to have come out to fill sandbags.  Their success was limited as the dike was breached a few kilometres north of their work, flooding fields and homes and ruining potato crops.

An aerial view of the flood at the airport. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

Compared to other areas of the Sea to Sky, the flooding would appear to have caused relatively little destruction in Whistler, mainly due to the community effort to keep Fitzsimmons Creek in its channel.

Through the evening of Thursday and Friday, local contractors, excavators and heavy equipment crews worked to shore up the banks of Fitzsimmons Creek and keep the waters out of the village and White Gold.  According to Tony Evans, public safety director, “If we hadn’t had that we could have made Britannia Beach look like a walk in the park.”

The footbridge over Fitzsimmons Creek, 1991. Photo courtesy of Jan Jansen

As it was, the high waters and debris in the creek took out two supports of the Nancy Greene Drive bridge, partially washed out two footbridges linking the village and benchlands, and destroyed Fitzsimmons Creek Park.  The flooding also damaged sewer pipes and interrupted water supplies to White Gold.

At this time 28 years ago, Whistler and the surrounding communities were still in the midst of their clean up efforts as the water receded.  It would take weeks to clear debris, assess damages, rebuild bridges, and construct measures to prevent future flooding, such as deepening Fitzsimmons Creek.  Some of these measures can still be seen while walking across Fitzsimmons Creek today.

Forever and Ale-ways: A History of Brewing in the Sea to Sky

Patio days are upon us, and what better way to spend a sunny summer evening than having a post-work brew at one of our local breweries?  With craft breweries now popping up all over BC like suds in a glass of beer, the Sea to Sky seems to have gotten in on the brewing action quite early.

In the 1970s, the ‘official’ Canadian beer scene was composed of three consolidated large beer producers that basically split the market: Carling O’Keefe, Labatt, and Molson.  With little or no competition among them, frequent strikes, and nearly identical lagers, Canada was ripe for some flavour innovations from new sources.

Apart from these three conglomerates, homebrewing was alive and well in Whistler.  At Tokum Corners in 1971, Rod MacLeod was homebrewing based on knowledge gleaned from Bill Chaplain.  A homebrew contest was begun in Whistler in 1974 (running every year into the 1990s), where the competitors had to fill a case of 7-Up bottles with their own brew to be judged.  The winner received a mug trophy with their name engraved, their beer being drunk first, and the honour of hosting the contest the following year.

Tokum Corners was the site of some homebrew production by Rod MacLeod. Benjamin Collection, 1971.

Homebrewing is credited as inspiring the origins of craft brewing in the Sea to Sky.  In 1978, an article about homebrewing in Harrowsmith magazine piqued the curiosity of John Mitchell, a British expat who was the co-owner and manager of Horseshoe Bay’s Troller Pub.  He contacted the writer, Frank Appleton, and in 1982, the two enthusiasts joined forces in pioneering one of North America’s first modern craft breweries in Horseshoe Bay, using cobbled-together dairy equipment.  Fresh, flavourful, and interesting beer choices were clearly in demand: on opening night, the Troller Pub was packed, and all kegs of their sole craft beer, ‘Bay Ale’, sold out.

By the late 1980s, other entrepreneurs were taking notice of the opportunity to bring new beers to the table.  The Whistler Brewing Co. was first established in 1989 by Jenny Hieter and Rob Mingay.  Their permanent brewery was set up in Function Junction by 1991, boasting multiple tanks and a bottling system.  Though Whistler Brewing originally offered only Whistler Premium Lager, they soon added the more flavourful (and still-familiar) Black Tusk Ale to their repertoire.

Whistler Brewing Co.’s tap and production area in Function, 1991. George Benjamin Collection.

Down the highway, John Mitchell helped design the new Howe Sound Brewery in Squamish and was their first brewmaster in 1996.  Unique flavours and recipes were continually developing in the Sea to Sky corridor.  In 1997, High Mountain Brewing Co. (Brewhouse) opened, and was the only option for craft beer in Whistler Village.

Nowadays, the craft beer scene is really taking off.  Coast Mountain Brewing opened its doors in Function Junction in the summer of 2016, Pemberton has welcomed Pemberton Brewing Co. and The Beer Farmers, and Squamish hosts newcomers A-Frame Brewing and Backcountry Brewing.

A woman holding up an empty beer keg peers into the camera outside a lodge on Whistler or Blackcomb.  Whistler Question Collection.

New flavours keep emerging, sometimes on a weekly basis.  Locals have been adamant in their support for our local craft breweries, and local breweries have paid tribute to our local culture with beer names like ‘Death Before Download Pale Ale’, ‘Hazy Trail Pale Ale’, ‘Gaper Juice Hazy Session Ale’, and ‘Lifty Lager’.  The community has a strong advocate in our breweries, and our early innovation in the craft brew scene has provided some absolutely delicious après sessions along the way.  But don’t take our word for it – check our these local breweries for yourself!