Tag Archives: Squatters

Burning Down the House

To many, the photograph of a group posed around and on a rustic house is a familiar image of a different era in Whistler, when the nearest grocery store was often found in Squamish and only one mountain had any lifts operating.  In 2011, Sarah Drewery, then the Collections Manager at the Whistler Museum, conducted an oral history with Andy and Bonnie Munster, and asked about the history of the house in the picture, which Andy called home for about five years in the 1970s.

The house before its demolition and eventual burning. Greg Griffith Collection.

Andy first came to Whistler in 1971 to ski.  He had been expecting something bigger and drove straight through to Green Lake before realizing he had passed it.  According to him, in his first four years in the area he ran into problems finding a place to rent and so in 1975 he and two friends, Randy and Dave, decided to squat and build their own cabin.  Randy, who came from California, chose the site near Fitzsimmons Creek and decided that they didn’t want anything plastic in the house, preferring wood and natural materials.  With little money to spare amongst them, the cabin was built almost entirely out of recycled materials.

Construction began in the spring or summer of 1975, often relying on what they could find in the dump.  They found lumber that had been thrown away after another construction project finished their foundations, old fashioned windows that somebody no longer needed, and couches in pristine condition.  Other items were donated by people they knew or sold to them cheaply, such as a cast iron cook stove and wood heater that Seppo Makinen sold to them for $20.  Andy estimated that by the time they finished the house it cost a total of $50 and included an upstairs, a sunroom, a large woodshed, and an outhouse.

The house just before it was set alight. Whistler Question Collection.

The house was comfortable but keeping it running was a lot of work.  All of the heating came from wood and each fall they would have to cut at least eight cords of firewood.  Water had to be hauled from Fitzsimmons Creek in buckets, though in summer they could use a water wheel, and heated on the stove for showers and washing.  Andy recalled that there were a few times when they decided not to have the wood stove on and then woke up with frost in their mustaches and beards.  Luckily, the house was quick to warm up and stayed warm for quite a while.

In late 1978, most of the squatters on Crown land in Whistler were served with eviction notices.  According to Andy they were shocked and seeing the notice “your heart kind of sinks down,” but they were able to meet with the provincial and municipal governments and negotiate a year’s extension.  When it came time to leave the house, they have away furniture, took out the windows and any reusable materials, and talked to the fire department about what to do with the shell.

In a speaker event last fall, Jim Moodie mentioned that, as part of the team managing the village construction, he was partly responsible for burning down Andy Munster’s home.  The eviction notices were served around the time that the first ground was broken on the village site and, as Andy put it, “We were actually just moving out when the pile drivers and everything were starting in the village.”  The shell of their house was used by the fire department for fire practice and, after trying a few different things, they let it burn to the ground.

The fire department controls the burning of the house while its inhabitants and friends look on. Whistler Question Collection.

The fire was documented in another series of photographs, depicting what many felt to be the end of an era.  The next few years saw the construction of Whistler Village and the opening of Blackcomb Mountain not far from the site of that house, where Andy said if you were to walk past today “you’d never know it was there.”

Paul Burrows’ Early Years in Whistler

This past September we were lucky enough to welcome Paul Burrows, founder of the Whistler Question in 1976, to the museum to talk about the early days of the paper.

The stories he told of The Question then are amazing, but while looking through our collection of oral histories we came across an interview Paul did with Whistler Cable nearly 20 years ago in which he described his early days in Whistler, back when it was still known as Alta Lake.

Paul first arrived in Canada in 1960 on a flight that hopped from London to Scotland to Iceland to Greenland to Newfoundland to Toronto.  He came west because “that was the place to be” and he and his friends started skiing.  It was thanks to some bumps and twists on the mountains that he first met and became friends with members of ski patrol in Vancouver.  They soon heard about a new ski area in Alta Lake and in 1965 Paul came up by train to take a look.

When Paul Burrows first came to the area Whistler Mountain was still under construction. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The second time he came up he was with a group in a Volkswagen and they brought their skis.  It was August.  As Paul recalled, “we put our skis on our back and walked up through the trees and we walked right up the west ridge of Whistler and we peered over the edge of Whistler Bowl and then we got to see them building the chairlifts on the Red Chair and cutting the ski runs.  So then we skied down and we got mixed up and ended up on a cliff and we got stuck there for a while.”  The group did eventually make it down the mountain.

Bill Southcott and Paul Burrows sport snow beards after a few run on Whistler in the 1970s. Whistler Question Collection.

In 1966 Paul returned as a member of the brown-jacketed ski patrol for the season before leaving to work for the ski patrol in Aspen for a year.  When he returned he got a job working on the pro patrol alongside Murray Coates and Hugh Smythe.  In his words, “It was pretty hairy.  We got buried a lot.  The safety procedures we used to knock avalanches down and everything else would not be tolerated today.  We didn’t even talk about the WCB.”

During this time Paul, like quite a few other “residents” at the time, was squatting.  He rented a 15-foot trailer from a place in Richmond for the season for $550 and parked in a lot at the bottom of the mountain.  The trailer was put up on bricks, insulation was installed beneath it and plywood was put around it and the trailer became home to six or seven people.

Parking lot and gondola at Creekside base, ca. 1980, a decade after the trailer took up residence.. Whistler Mountain Collection.

With no electricity or water the wash facilities in the day lodge came in very useful, as did a trusty oil lamp.  According to Paul, “I would shut all the doors and windows and you’re in there but the trouble is you keep running out of air.  So when you had a party in there in the winter and there were guys in there you kept running out of air.  So if you had this little oil lamp cranked up, it was a bit like the miner’s lamp, when the light started to flicker and go out you knew you had to open the door and let some more air in.”  Condensation was also an issue in the trailer.  Condensation build up could freeze the doors and windows shut and the lamp would then be used to melt one’s way out of the trailer in the morning.

After that season Paul again left Whistler, this time for Grouse and then work in the printing business.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created.

In 1971 Paul married Jane and when she was offered a job teaching in Pemberton the pair moved back to Whistler, staying in their Alpine A-frame until 2000.

Hippie style of smokin’ salmon

You may think that a fridge is only used for conventional things such as keeping cucumbers, Coca-Cola, and beer cool. However, there are many other uses for old refrigerators. In the museum, we have a fridge that serves as a chronological monument documenting Whistler life from the beginnings of our ski town to the famous destination resort it is today. Gordy Harder’s fridge truly is a tribute to the spirit of the early ski bum – and, of course, “stickermania” at its best.

Bruce Prentice and Bob Sanderson (r.) smoking and hanging fish. Whistler Museum, Benjamin collection, early 1970s

One more purpose of a fridge is – believe it or not – salmon smoking. In the early 1970s, this old fridge actually garnished the backyard of the Worlebury Lodge on Alta Lake Road, a property which is now owned by Roger McCarthy. Back then, using an old fridge was a common way of smoking a fish or meat, remembers long-term local and president of the Whistler Museum, John Hetherington.

Someone would get an old fridge from the dump, cut a hole in the side for the stovepipe leading from an airtight stove, and light a fire. An airtight was a cheap heater stove made of a sheet of metal, he recalls. Ask Bruce Prentice or Bob Sanderson. Maybe they will share their fridge construction plan for the white dragon with you. Enjoy!