Tag Archives: the Barrier

Shaping the landscape with fire and ice

In the weekly Museum Musings column in Pique Newsmagazine, we mostly explore and share stories of the past. Rarely, however, do we go back thousands or millions of years as is required when talking about the geological history of our region. In celebration of the Sea to Sky Fire and Ice Aspiring GeoRegion, the Museum is showcasing the landscape in the new exhibition Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice.

Throughout time, fire and ice have played an important part in shaping the land. Whistler sits in the subduction zone of converging tectonic plates, where the Juan De Fuca plate is being pushed under the North American plate, creating the Coast Mountains. All of the volcanoes considered active in Canada are found in BC and the Yukon along tectonic plate boundaries, and all are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Garibaldi Provincial Park is named after Mount Garibaldi, the largest mountain in the park and a potentially active stratovolcano. While the last eruption was around 13,000 years ago, this is still relatively recent in geological time (Black Tusk, on the other hand, likely erupted approximately 170,000 years ago). Volcanoes can erupt again after being dormant for thousands of years. Thankfully, if Mount Garibaldi was to rumble back life to we would start seeing warnings such as hot springs, hot spots and seismic activity in the region from rising magma.

Fire and ice shaped this region, creating the unique mountains that are popular for recreation. Greg Griffith Collection.

While Mount Baker is instantly recognisable as a volcano, Mount Garibaldi is harder to distinguish because it is not a typical cone shaped volcano. When Mount Garibaldi erupted during the last ice age, one half of the volcanic cone formed on a rock foundation, while the west side settled on top of a glacier. As the glacier melted and receded the mountain collapsed, changing shape. Giant landslides spread the volcanic debris across the Squamish Valley.

We can thank this active volcanic region for the formation of Garibaldi Lake. Also around the end of the last glaciation, Clinker Peak on the shoulder of Mount Price erupted. The Cheakamus Valley had been full of ice over 1.3 km above sea level that was rapidly melting. Lava from the Clinker Peak eruption flowed towards the valley below where it hit the Cheakamus Valley glacier. There it cooled rapidly against the wall of ice, solidifying to create a dam across the mountain valley. As snow and ice melted from the mountains above it became trapped behind this wall, known as The Barrier, creating Garibaldi Lake.

Garibaldi Lake. Cliff Fenner Collection.

The only water that leaves Garibaldi Lake year round gushes from springs coming through the scree slope below The Barrier. This consistent flow of water lubricates the bottom of the naturally unstable dam and poses a significant geological hazard, with some scientists worried it could one day collapse. It is not uncommon to see rocks fall from The Barrier, hence the name of Rubble Creek below, and according to indigenous oral histories a major landslide occurred 1855 when a slab of rock fell from The Barrier. With approximately 1.28 trillion litres of water trapped by an unstable dam wall at 1400 metres of elevation, a collapse could be catastrophic. It is for this reason that an evacuation order of Garibaldi Townsite was issued in 1980, with the last residents leaving the town in 1986. Today the Garibaldi Townsite no longer exists. 

Hikers looking at The Barrier around the 1960s or 1970s. Cliff Fenner Collection.

Shaping the Landscape with Fire & Ice is on now at the Whistler Museum, open from 11am every day except Wednesday. Entry is by donation, and you can further support the Whistler Museum by becoming a Museum Member.

The village that ceased to exist, part two

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

After a May 1980 Order in Council (OIC) called for the evacuation of their village, the residents of the Garibaldi Townsite faced a stressful and uncertain future. At first, many of the residents refused to accept the fate of their community, and fought the OIC with everything they had. With every day that passed, their situation seemed to become more complicated and controversial.

After the OIC was issued, the evacuation process progressed quickly. Property assessments for the area were to be completed by the coming September. Following that, residents would have until December 31st to accept their purchase offer. The residents were given the option to buy back their buildings at auction (so long as they could meet the highest bid), but at the time there were no plans for a relocation site, so the residents had nowhere to move their houses.

A Garibaldi Townsite home being relocated. Whistler Question Collection.

The situation seemed bleak in the summer of 1980, but by the fall there was a little more hope. The deadline to accept offers was extended to June 1981, which gave residents a little more time to get their affairs in order. An interdepartmental committee between the Ministry of the Environment (who were handling the evacuation) and the Ministry of Housing (who were handling the relocation) was established, and residents who chose to buy back their homes were given permission to leave them on the land until a relocation site was completed.

Despite these concessions, the evacuation order remained in place, and residents remained unwilling to give up on their town. The matter was brought to Ombudsman Karl Freidman in October 1980. While reviewing the case, he found several causes for concern. Among them was a lack of open communication between the government and the residents, the terms of sale being stacked in the government’s favour, and the lack of official commitment to a relocation plan. A few months later, likely in response to Freidman’s report, the provincial government sent letters to the residents that included the complete OIC and plans for a relocation site 7km north of the Townsite.

Just as the plight of the residents was starting to improve, disaster struck the Townsite on December 26th 1980. After days of heave rain, B.C. Hydro was forced to open the gates of the Daisy Lake Dam to prevent it from overflowing. The resulting flood wrought havoc on the village. One home was swept away into the Cheakamus River, many were undermined, and the Garibaldi Townsite infrastructure was severely damaged. The destruction shook many of the resident’s resolve to continue fighting for their community, and some decided to leave entirely.

In September 1981, the remaining residents launched a final attempt to save their town, or at the very least to spread awareness about the mismanagement and perceived unfairness of their situation.

A Garibaldi resident stands beside some of the signs for the September 1981 protest. Whistler Question Collection.

Fifteen signs were placed along Highway 99, and drivers were asked to pull over to be handed copies of “The Great Barrier Grief”, a circular that detailed their situation, the OIC, and their theories and questions about the matter. “The Great Barrier Grief” was put together by Ian Barnet, who owned the Garibaldi Lodge. It included everything from editorials on the issue, stories of longtime residents, political cartoons, and summaries of some of the theories about the cause of the evacuation.

The circular suggested four theories behind the evacuation. The first (“Pure Government Bungling”), suggested that it was miscommunication within the government that caused the situation to escalate as it had. The second (“Over-Reaction to Tenuous Report”), suggested the government’s seemingly sudden action had been caused by the eruption of Mount St. Helens (it erupted on May 18, 1980, shortly before the OIC was issued). Perhaps, it suggested, since the government had been aware of the potential risk of the Barrier, they could be held accountable for any damage it did. The third (“The Conspiracy Theory”) suggested that due to all of the development happening in the valley, the government had a vested interest in owning the land, and were therefore forcing the residents out by any means necessary. Similarly, the fourth (“The Land Grab Theory”) suggested that because land values in Whistler had recently sky-rocketed, the Crown stood to profit should they take back the village’s land, hold onto it for a few years, and to then redistribute it at Whistler prices.

Below are some examples of illustrations from the publication.

Illustration from “The Great Barrier Grief” that shows the path a landslide would have to take to damage the Townsite but none of its surroundings.
Illustration from “The Great Barrier Grief”

In the end, their resistance was not enough to save their village, but it did result in a guaranteed relocation site and provincial commitment to better and more transparent communication. In 1982, residents were offered lots in a new development called Black Tusk. Residents were welcomed to the new community in September 1984, though some fought to stay until as late as 1986. In the end, only twenty-six Townsite families chose to relocate to Black Tusk, and the remaining lots were sold to the general public.

Today, all that is left of the Garibaldi Townsite is a small collection of ageing cabins tucked away off Highway 99 across from Daisy Lake.

The village that ceased to exist (part 1)

Since the day of the mandatory evacuation order in 1980, the removal of the Garibaldi Townsite has been shrouded in controversy. A small but growing community was urgently ordered to leave their town, and the fight that ensued made headlines for years. During the evacuation, tensions ran high, motives were questioned, and a variety of theories (some more feasible than others) were put forward.

At the center of the controversy is the Barrier, a 500 meter rockface that dams the Garibaldi lakes. As early as the 1850’s there were concerns about its stability. Indigenous oral histories document a destructive landslide in 1855 that resulted from a slab of rock falling from the Barrier. Later that decade William Downie, a surveyor sent to the region by the Hudson’s Bay Company, noted in his diary that the land beneath the Barrier had been ruined, and voiced concern over its stability. It took over a century for something to come of these accounts, and in the meantime the area continued to be developed.

In the 1970s, the Department of Highways commissioned a study to determine the stability of the Barrier. The subsequent report by the Garibaldi Advisory Panel (also known as the Barrier Report) was completed in May 1978. It claimed the risk of another slide was relatively low, but, if one were to happen the results could be catastrophic. It recommended that “concentrated development” be limited in certain regions, but said nothing about evacuating existing communities.

Even after the risk had been established, the report lay dormant in Victoria for two years. During those years, the residents of Garibaldi built a new firehall, repaired the schoolhouse, and cleared space for a playground. What happened next came as a complete shock to the growing community.

In May 1980, an Order in Council was issued that declared Garibaldi a civil-defense zone and prohibited “development, construction, excavation, or alteration” of any land in the implicated area. This meant that residents became tenants on their property, and that they had to choose between selling to the government and living on land that they could no longer alter.

Sign posted outside Garibaldi Townsite. Whistler Question Collection.

There are many theories about why the evacuation happened when it did, and in order to begin to understand those theories, it is helpful to know what was there before the evacuation. Garibaldi Townsite began as the Garibaldi Station, and was one of the many communities that owed its origins to the expansion of the railroad.

Built in 1922, Alpine Lodge was the second lodge built at the Townsite. Whistler Question Collection.

At first, it followed a similar trajectory to Alta Lake. Development began in the early twentieth century and picked up in the late 1940s when families who were unable to find accommodation in Vancouver were drawn to the valley (back then Vancouverites often lined up outside newspaper offices to get an early look at rental listings). For some time, Garibaldi had a larger year-round population than Alta Lake, and one Garibaldi resident, after having spent the winter of 1946 working in Alta Lake, described it as a “terrible place” that was “ten times as desolate as Garibaldi.” By 1960, there were just over 60 full time residents (with up to twice as many on weekends), and the town had its own campground, post office, firehall, and store. By 1980, when the order was issued, Garibaldi was well on its way to being an established community and tourist destination.

Members of the “Alive Club” pose outside the Alpine Lodge for a photo in 1979. Forbes Collection.

Next week’s article will cover the many conflicting theories about why the evacuation happened when it did, and will detail what happened to the residents after they were forced to leave.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program. She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

Lodges of Garibaldi

Hearing the name Alpine Lodge, many people may assume it refers to a lodge located in the alpine or in the neighbourhood of Alpine Meadows.  Alpine Lodge, however, is actually one of the three lodges we have information about that were located around the Garibaldi Townsite.

The Garibaldi Townsite and several other small communities formed in the Cheakamus Valley near Daisy Lake around the Garibaldi Station of the PGE Railway that opened in 1914.  Much of the information the museum has on the area has been provided by Betty Forbes who, along with Ian Barnet, gathered interviews and other documents to put together what Betty called “a record of the history for generations to come.”

Betty (seated on suitcase) and Doug Forbes (third from right) wait for the train at Garibaldi Station with three other couples. The pair visited Alpine Lodge on their honeymoon in 1945. Forbes Collection.

The first lodge, Garibaldi Lodge, was built by Tom Nye in 1014 on the east side of the Cheakamus River.  Like Rainbow Lodge, it included a post office and a store.  The lodge was operated by Tom Nye and his family until the late 1930s.  Garibaldi Lodge was largely inactive during the Second World War until it was reopened by Bill Howard and his father in 1946.  According to Bill, one of the more popular trips they offered was up to Black Tusk by horseback.  As he recalled, “Very few ever hiked it – very few of our guests anyway.  It was a 12-mile (9km) trail that used to go way out by old Daisy Lake.  It took about four hours on horseback to get to the top.”  Often these excursions would be camping trips, with pack horses carrying supplies to stay overnight.

The Howards operated Garibaldi Lodge for only two years before selling to the Walshes in 1946, who later sold the lodge to Pat Crean and Ian Barnbet in 1970.  They winterized the lodge to serve the growing number of skiers heading to Whistler Mountain.

Members of the “Alive Club” outside Alpine Lodge in 1979. Forbes Collection.

Alpine Lodge, further along the Cheakamus River, was built by the Cranes in 1922.  A store was later added in 1926 and a post office.  Alpine Lodge was operated by members of the Crane family through the 1940s.  In 1970 it was bought by Doug and Diane McDonald and, like Garibaldi Lodge, was winterized.  Both lodges appear in hotel directories in publications such as Garibaldi’s Whistler News from the 1970s.

A third lodge, Lake Lucille Lodge, did not make it the 1970s.  Built by Shorty Knight in 1929 and close to the lake, it was very popular for fishing.  The lodge went through various owners before it was bought by BC Electric in 1957 and used as a construction camp during the building of the Daisy Lake Dam.  The lodge was burnt down in 1959 after construction of the dam was completed.

Tongue in cheek signs at Garibaldi – Alpine Lodge signs Northbound (l) and Southbound (r).  Whistler Question Collection.

Both Garibaldi and Alpine Lodges were still operating in 1980 when the provincial government issued an Order-in-Council declaring Garibaldi Townsite unsafe due to the instability of the Barrier, a naturally formed lava dam retaining the Garibaldi Lake system.

Despite opposition from the residents, the townsite, which had grown considerably by this time, was to be emptied.  One of the last community gatherings was held at Alpine Lodge.  As Betty Forbes recalled, “The McDonalds at Alpine Lodge opened their whole lobby, kitchen, and dining to the residents of Garibaldi for a pot-luck supper…  It was rather lake a wake, but it was a happy wake.”

Garibaldi Lodge was sold to the government in 1982 and most of the structures were destroyed (one cabin was moved to Pinecrest).  Alpine Lodge followed the same fate in 1986.

While the museum has transcripts of oral-history interviews and various photos, it is difficult to create a cohesive history of Garibaldi.  Recently, however, Victoria Crompton took over the project from Betty Forbes and Ian Barnet and has now published a book, Garibaldi Townsite: Life & Times, for those interested in learning more about the area.