Tag Archives: Toad Hall

Chilly Days at Toad Hall

Looking back at the early days of skiing in Whistler might make you long for a time when life seemed simpler and cheaper.  Living in the valley in the 1960s, however, was challenging for residents, including those living in buildings like the original Toad Hall.

The first Toad Hall was originally the home of Alf and Bessie Gebhart.  They moved their family to Alta Lake in 1936 when Alf purchased a sawmill and lumber camp.  After operating the mil for some years, Alf built a house by Nita Lake in the 1950s.

Alf Gebhart poses with Ben Dyke and an unknown woman in front of his house at Parkhurst, before he built the house at Nita Lake. Photo: Debeck Collection

Unlike many structures built around Alta Lake at the time, the Gebharts’ was more of a house than a cabin or cottage.  It had four bedrooms (two downstairs and two upstairs), a living room, a kitchen and an adjoining breakfast room, as well as a basement with thick walls of stone.

Alf and Bessie remained in the house until their sawmill closed and they moved out of the valley.  Their son Howard and his wife Betty then took up residence while Howard worked for the railway before they, too, left the valley.  The house was then sold to Charles Hillman who rented it out through the 1960s.

Without the mill, it’s not that surprising the Gebarts chose to leave the house by Nita Lake, especially over the winter.  According to John Hetherington, an early resident of the house when it was known as Toad Hall in the late 1960s, the house could best be described as “cooold.”  Fittingly for the owner of a sawmill, the house was built of wood and used sawdust for the insulation.  Unfortunately, as Hetherington pointed out, “what happens with sawdust is at all settles down in the bottom, in between the studs, and provides no insulation whatsoever.”  The old, single-pane windows didn’t help retain heat either.

Though the living room may look cozy, winters could be harsh. Benjamin Collection.

Hetherington and three other Whistler Mountain employees, Jim Burgess, Drew Tait and Mike Wisnicki, moved into the house the winter of 1967/68.  Luckily for the four, they got their firewood split and stacked the day before the snow came that year as the wood became their main source of heat.

The house came with a woodstove, a furnace in the basement and a fireplace, all of which shared the same chimney.  For their first winter in the house, the four covered the windows with plastic and slept in sleeping bags on cots in the large upstairs bedroom, which the chimney ran through providing some radiant heat.

Master Climax, the woodstove that tried to keep Toad Hall warm. Benjamin Collection.

Though at first the woodstove was used mainly for heat, the four also began learning to cook on it.  Food was kept in the walk-in fridge and freezer at the lift company in Creekside or else sat through the temperature fluctuations of the kitchen.

In an effort to keep warm, they would throw occasional parties when, with most of the people in the valley inside the house and the fireplace and woodstove going, it would “get warm for a few hours,” said Hetherington.

These parties also highlighted another challenge of life at Toad Hall – there was no electricity.  Tait had a stereo system (a turntable and two speakers), but in order to use it a generator had to be borrowed and a mechanic friend had to be invited over to keep it running.  Light was provided by kerosene-burning Coleman lamps.

The front porch of Toad Hall, lit by a kerosene-burning lamp.  Benjamin Collection.

After a season or two, all four of these residents moved on from the house, leaving it to other residents until its owner decided to take possession.  Despite needing “a sawmill to keep the place heated,” Toad Hall was considered by its residents a “sort of legitimate place to live” at a time when there were not many places to live in the valley.

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The Holiday Season in Whistler

The holiday season has always been a hectic time in Whistler, as so much energy is spent welcoming and entertaining guests.  The Village Stroll looks magical at this time of year, with the lights glowing on the trees and the snow falling through the air.

Scanning through our archives, photos from many collections show that Christmas has been a major production in the area dating back to Rainbow Lodge in the 1920s.  Alex and Myrtle Philip, the owners and proprietors of Rainbow Lodge, were renowned hosts and pulled out all the stops at Christmas to entertain visitors and residents around Alta Lake.

Here’s the Rainbow Lodge dinner table, Christmas 1923.  Philip Collection.

While we have only a few photos of the interior of Rainbow Lodge during this era, the Philip Collection includes images of the main lodge with a decorated tree and streamers and the dining room set for Christmas dinner.

Other holiday photos from Alta Lake include the Woods family in the snow with party hats and a New Year’s Eve dance at the community hall (also the Alta Lake School) in 1937.

New Year’s Eve celebrations at the community hall for 1937.  Philip Collection.

Dances at the community hall were remembered fondly by Bob Williamson, a lineman working for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in the 1930s.  As he recalled, “This was the Hungry Thirties.  Not very many locals were earning much money but many pleasant evenings were spent in this hall in the wintertime… The only cost for the evening was to buy the coffee and that was raised by donations of 10 to 25 cents from those who could afford it.  Alex Philip made the coffee in Granitewood Gallon Coffee pots.  It was excellent coffee.”

Season’s Greetings from Whistler Mountain staff, early 1970s.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

As skiing developed in the valley, winter and the holiday season got busier.  The Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection includes photos of a skiing Santa, ski instructors dressed up as reindeer and Seasons Greetings from Whistler Mountain.

The so-called “ski bums” got into the holiday spirit as well.  Over the past few months Angelus Chouinard has been working on digitizing the complete George Benjamin Collection and we have found some gems showing Christmas dinner being prepared at the first infamous Toad Hall in 1969.

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969!  Benjamin Collection.

John Hetherington, Toad Hall staple, Whistler Mountain ski patroller and current Whistler Museum Board President, reflected fondly on those days:

Christmas at Toad Hall was great… Of course, there was no electricity, so it was just Coleman lanterns and the old ‘Master Climax’ wood stove.  One year we used candles to decorate the Christmas tree.  We only had birthday candles so they burned quick and we had to keep replacing them.  While they were burning it looked amazing, but we were terrified of burning the whole place down.

Many such treasures have been found while digitizing the George Benjamin Collection.  George Benjamin first came to Whistler to ski in 1968 and moved to the area in 1970.  He and John Hetherington co-owned Tokum Corners, a roughly made cabin with no electricity or running water, and lived there with Rod MacLeod into the early 1980s.  George was a semi-professional photographer and, as his family in Ontario owned a photo-finishing business, was able to develop his photographs for free.  There are over 8000 images included in the George Benjamin Collection, spanning from his first visit in 1968 to 1991.

To view more of the photos mentioned here, check out our Smugmug page here and keep an eye out for more photos from the George Benjamin Collection to be added in the New Year!

We hope everyone enjoys their holiday season and wish all of you a Happy New Year!

Everything is Connected

You never know when you’ll find a connection in Whistler’s history between two seemingly unrelated subjects.  A recent donation to the museum showed an unexpected connection between the Chateau Whistler Resort and the topic of last week’s post, Toad Hall.

While clearing out some offices, staff at the Chateau came across a large book full of press clippings dating from 1987 to 1993.  This book was donated to the museum and provides a pretty comprehensive picture of the proposal, development and opening of the Chateau Whistler Resort, as well as Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler Village and the resort in general (it even includes an article on the historical bus tours that used to run in Whistler).

From the contents, the book appears to have been compiled by Debbie Williamson, then the director of sales at the Chateau.

In 1987, when the clippings begin, Intrawest Properties Ltd. was actively developing the 254-acre (103-hectare) site at the base of Blackcomb, now known as the Benchlands.  As part of this larger development, Canadian Pacific Hotels had plans to build what would become Whistler’s biggest hotel.

The Chateau Whistler Resort in 1996, after the addition of 221 rooms and the well-known Macdonald Ballroom. Whistler Question Collection.

With a budget of $50 million, the Chateau Whistler Resort was to include a ballroom, banquet room, meeting rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, six tennis courts (including two covered courts), a dining room, restaurant and a 200-seat discotheque, all scheduled to be open for the 1989-90 ski season.  An 18-hole golf course was also to be built, though it was not expected to open until the summer of 1990.

The Chateau Whistler Resort was officially given council’s conceptual approval in August 1987.  Despite some problems with the asphalt tiles of the roof (John MacKenzie, in the Whistler Question, thought that “The roof looks like it was designed by Jimi Hendrix, with the mottled green and white”), the Chateau was ready to open on schedule in November 1989, with almost everything from the original plans (unfortunately there was no discotheque).

The Chateau’s opening on November 17 was well covered by The Province, and it is here that the connection between the grand hotel and Toad Hall appears.  The first guest to be presented a key by general manager Dave Roberts was a Mrs. Winnifred Mather Hillman, who was given the stay at the hotel as a surprise birthday gift by her husband Charles.  Charles Hillman (as mentioned in last week’s article) was the owner of the first Toad Hall, a house originally built by Alf Gebhart.

The first Toad Hall, 1969. Benjamin Collection.

The clipping continue on until 1993, including a piece from August 1990 about the issue of the roof.  There had been concerns about the use of asphalt tiles instead of slate or another material from the beginning, and council was not too happy with the resulting “mottled green colour”.  The Chateau had been ordered to re-shingle, but the process was deferred and the hotel was later given the option of paying a “fine” of $140,000 to be used for community projects instead.

The museum would like to thank the Chateau for their donation.  If you find a piece of Whistler’s history while clearing out an old office, garage or attic come visit us at the museum.

Toad Hall: The Poster Returns

With the holiday season fast approaching we’ve started taking particular notice of holiday-themed photos in our collections.  These photos can vary from Whistler Mountain ski instructors dressed up as reindeer to Santa finding hidden powder to Season’s Greetings from the Philip family.  One of the more interesting holiday photos shows a roasted turkey in a wood burning stove called “Master Climax” (so named for the make of the stove).

Master Climax Turkey Glory – Christmas Dinner at Toad Hall in 1969! Benjamin Collection.

This stove was part of the kitchen set up at the first Toad Hall, one of Whistler’s most famous (or infamous) lodgings.  This Toad Hall was built by Alta Lake resident Alf Gebhart, who first came to live in the area in 1936.  In the mid-1960s, Alf sold his property to Charles Hillman, a high-school teacher working in Vancouver.  Charles, in turn, rented his property to a “respectable-looking” father with two daughters.  The rent was paid consistently and on time, though after a while the names on the cheques started to change.

By the time Charles Hillman decided to start using his cabin to ski, unbeknownst to him, the property had been renamed Toad Hall and was gaining a reputation across the country.  Charles arrived to find a young resident from Montreal cooking breakfast, evidence of a campfire in one of the bedrooms, and sleeping quarters set up wherever possible, including the chicken house.

The first Toad Hall, 1969. Benjamin Collection.

With help from the RCMP in Squamish and a court order, the residents of Toad Hall were amicably evicted, with enough time given for a farewell party.

By the 1970s, the Soo Valley Logging Camp, near the northern end of Green Lake, was no longer in use by the forestry industry.  This became the second incarnation of Toad Hall.  Perhaps the best known image of Toad Hall, the Toad Hall Poster, was taken here.

The second Toad Hall was scheduled for demolition in the summer of 1973.  (Though no buildings remain today, some photos of Parkhurst donated by the Clausen family show the in-use camp across the lake.)

The Toad Hall Poster.

That spring, knowing their time there was limited, residents gathered with their ski gear and little else for a memorable photo shoot set up by photographer Chris Speedie – 10,000 copies of this poster were printed and sold for two to three dollars each.  Copies were distributed along the World Cup ski circuit by Terry “Toulouse” Spence.

Over the decades, copies of these posters became harder to obtain.  Then, in 2013, Terry brought a box to the museum.  The museum officially sold out of the original run of Toad Hall posters this past January, almost 45 years after it was first printed.

The first official reprint of the Toad Hall Poster is now available to purchase at the Whistler Museum.

The Story of the Toad Hall Poster

Although the Toad Hall poster’s infamy has persisted through the years, it became harder and harder to get your hands on one. Until 2013, when  Toulouse himself came into the museum with a box of the original, 1973 print, posters that are still in mint condition. You can now get yourself one of these absolute classic pieces of Whistler history for yourself, available exclusively from the Whistler Museum!

(Warning: Nudity Alert)

This is the story of Whistler’s most famous photo, created on a whim one care-free spring afternoon four decades ago. 1973 in Whistler was another era. Less than a decade earlier, the construction of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain had put the previously quiet fishing resort on the map,  attracting an influx of youthful, free-spirited ski bums.

Meanwhile,  Whistler Village, Blackcomb Mountain, the Olympics and other major development remained little more than a pipe dream. Heck, many locals still lived without electricity or running water. Throughout the valley the ski bums lived in a wide variety of hand-built cabins, and conveniently vacated structures, perhaps none more revered than Toad Hall.

Toad Hall volleyball

Enjoying an idyllic volleyball match along the shores of Green Lake.

With a mere $75/month lease (for the property, not per person), this collection of wooden shacks near the north end of Green Lake, formerly known as the Soo Valley Logging Camp, came to be a focal point of the revelrous ski bum community. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that by the spring of 1973 tales of debauchery left local powers wholly unenthused with this shag-carpeted Shangri-la.

Toad Hall was slated for demolition later that summer. One sunny spring day, whoever was milling about was asked to convene out front with their ski gear, but wearing nothing else.  The photographer, Chris Speedie, orchestrated the photo simply to provide residents with a memento before Toad Hall met its demise. The completely uninhibited and playful posing perfectly captured the spirit of the times.

Later, sensing the image’s iconic potential, a few “Toadies” scrounged together some cash and printed off 10,000 posters. At 2 or 3 bucks a pop, guerilla poster sales funded abundant “apres” sessions for years to come. The poster’s mastermind, Terry ”Toulouse” Spence, also worked for the Canadian National Ski Team.

During the height of  the Crazy Canuck era, Toulouse brought boxes of posters along for the ride on the World Cup ski circuit. To this day it  can still be found decorating the walls of some of the world’s most cherished ski bars. Despite the annotation in Kitzbuhel’s famed Londoner Bar, this is not “Canada’s National Ski Team”. The poster simply provides an unencumbered gaze back in time at early Whistler’s care-free lifestyle. And yes, some of the “models” still call Whistler home, but good luck getting any of them to admit it!

Chris Speedie's original photograph.

Chris Speedie’s original photograph.

 

Toad Hall:Bradley

The museum’s gift shop, with the Toad Hall display poster on the left.

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A Ski Bum’s Christmas

Digging through the archives we’ve uncovered a few gems from Whistler’s Christmas past. First, here’s a few photos from our George Benjamin collection of a 1969 Christmas celebration at Whistler’s most infamous ski bum hangout, Toad Hall. The photos have a wonderfully nostalgic, yet timeless feel.

A Toad Hall Christmas, 1969.

A Toad Hall Christmas, 1969.

All necessary precautions were made. "Slippry when Slippry" (sic) was painted on the front steps.

All necessary precautions were made. “Slippry when Slippry” (sic) was painted on the front steps.

The hairstyles, fashion, and fisheye lens clearly date the images, and the fact that they’re cooking their turkey in a wood stove reminds us of the pioneer lifestyles endured by Whistler’s early ski bums. The living room shot, however, with its cozy ski cabin ambiance, feasting circle of friends huddled in from the winter cold, and the surfboard hanging from the roof, feels as if it could have been taken last weekend in an Alpine Meadows A-frame.

ARCHIVE-BENJAMIN-1_35

John Hetherington, Toad Hall staple, former Whistler Mountain ski patroller, and current Whistler Museum President reflects fondly on those days:

“Christmas at Toad Hall was great… Of course, there was no electricity, so it was just Coleman lanterns and the old “Master Climax” wood stove. One year we used candles to decorate the Christmas tree. We only had birthday candles so they burned quick and we had to keep replacing them. While they were burning it looked amazing, but we were terrified of burning the whole place down.”

Toad Hall did, in fact, meet a fiery end, but it wasn’t Christmas, or carelessness for that matter, that did it in.

Master Climax Turkey Glory!

Master Climax Turkey Glory!

horrorscopeContinuing in the spirit of Whistler’s seventies era, we push forward to 1977 and  the Whistler Answer‘s special holiday-themed horoscope. While this bit of soothsaying may not exactly jive with traditional Christmas spirit (there was nothing “traditional” about the Answer, after all), it manages to find some humour in the sometimes stressful and challenging nature of the season.

santa squattingAnd in a slightly less cynical turn, we leave you with some long-forgotten, but nonetheless important investigative journalism, also courtesy the Answer. It turns out Santa Claus may not be as “on the level” as is commonly assumed.

We’re especially excited to be sharing this great Whistler Answer content with you this holiday season because we’ve just finished (a couple of hours ago, actually) the digitization of the irreverent and iconic newspaper’s full run (both of them). We’re now working on the software and formatting, and hope to have every single issue of the Whistler Answer available online for your reading pleasure early in the new year. Stay tuned to this space for updates.

The Whistler Museum wishes you a safe, snowy, happy, tasty, playful, stress-free. May all your wishes and none of your horrorscopes come true!

Nudity? Heavy Metal? Canada Day Done Right!

We’ve been extremely busy at the museum of late, preparing for a number of events and new projects. We were especially excited for this year’s Canada Day Parade, a Whistler mid-summer staple. After some enthusiastic brainstorming, ever-changing plans, and frantic, last-minute costume gathering, we were able to put together what we thought was a pretty strong entry.

The theme for the parade, “Celebrating Whistler’s Vibrancy, Lifestyle and Achievements,” was perfectly suited for the museum. In our interpretation of the theme, we dressed up as a disparate cast of characters representing as many of the Whistler Valley’s different eras as we could. The approach was summed up by the banner “100 Years of Dreams,” which is also the title of a major festival occurring this August to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Myrtle and Alex Philip’s fateful first visit to Alta Lake.

The team.

Our motley crew consisted of Alex and Myrtle Philip from the 1910s (Don and Isobel Maclaurin), a (rather fashionable) trapper from the 1920s (Alix), a mountaineer from the 1930s (Jeff), a car from the 1950s (the MacLaurin’s beautiful 1953 MG convertible), a ski-area developer/business dude from the 1960s (Brad), a pseudo-nude Toad Hall frolicker from the 1970s (Sarah), a retro ski bunny from the 1980s/90s (Anna), and an Olympic torch runner from 2010 (Bridget).

Don, Isobel, and Anna ham it up for the crowd. Jeanette Bruce photo.

The parade featured loads of great entries from local businesses and clubs, so we were excited and honoured to find out that the Museum was awarded “Best Interpretation of the Parade’s Theme”!

Whistler's care-free spirit is alive and well.

Sarah’s costume certainly got the most reaction from the crowd. From the front of our group I could hear a steady progression of people’s laughter–and sometimes shocked reactions–as we made our way along the route. We especially enjoyed a comment from a local fireman that was a little too PG-13 (though good-natured) to print here.

An unexpected highlight that not many parade viewers were privy to occurred at the very start of our route. The marching band was right in front of us, and had been playing some catchy renditions of pop classics like Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny.”

Brad reppin' GODA... Like a Boss! Jeanette Bruce photo.

But just as the parade crossed Blackcomb Way and headed into the Library’s underground parking, they broke into a full-on cover of “Paint it Black.” The heavy reverb, especially from the drums and brass section, was out of this world. This marching band was metal! Our resident noise-nerd Brad described it as some of the coolest sound he had ever heard. Needless to say, we were pretty pumped by the time we returned above-ground to be welcomed by the crowds on Main Street.

I found no cairn on the summit, so I'm claiming the first ascent of the Lot 3 retaining wall. Jeanette Bruce photo.


Some added flare in my climbing outfit was my personal highlight. As a mountaineering history buff, I’ve dressed up like this before for costume parties and other events. This time, however, I had the added bonus of some authentic props. Little did I know that Don, a retired forester, was an active mountaineer as far back as the 1950s. He leant me his original ice axe and climbing pack, both now more than fifty years old! Thanks Don!

All in all we had a great time, and can’t wait to defend our title next year. Thanks to everyone who came out to cheer us on, and a special thanks goes to Don and Isobel MacLaurin for contributing their beautiful car, some great props, and, most of all, themselves! Happy Canada Day!