Tag Archives: Vera Barnfield

Summer Jobs at Rainbow Lodge

The Barnfield family is best known in Whistler as the owners of a dairy farm that once operated where the Barnfield neighbourhood is located today (read more about that here).  The farm was moved south to Brackendale in 1926, though the family continued to bring the cows and chickens back to Alta Lake for the summer tourist season.  Vera Merchant, the only daughter of the Barnfield family, continued to come up for summers even after her family had stopped bringing up the farm and worked at Rainbow Lodge for three seasons.  Her recollections provide a unique view of Rainbow Lodge and Alta Lake during the mid-1930s.

Daisy Barnfield (Vera’s mother) feeds the chickens with some help from the children.

Although Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge in 1934, ’35 and ’36, her experiences seem familiar to anyone who has worked in Whistler’s busy tourism industry.

During the summer, employees at Rainbow Lodge didn’t get many days off.  Vera was paid $25 a month and was provided with room and board.  This meant that she and another girl (also coincidently named Vera) shared a small two-bedroom cabin at the lakefront.

Though we don’t know which cabin, Vera and other employees at Rainbow Lodge were lucky enough to get lakeside accommodations during the summer.

Vera’s work included cleaning cabins, setting and clearing the dining room and leading activities such as hiking and horseback riding with guests.  On Sundays, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway ran excursions where passengers could come to Alta Lake just for the day.  These excursions were dreaded by Vera and her coworkers as they would have to rush to set up the dining room for lunch for guests and then again for day trippers and then reset the tables in time for dinner.  The staff did not eat until after the guests had finished their meals and the tablecloths, dishes and food had been put away.

Though most of the guests at Rainbow Lodge kept their cabins relatively clean, Vera remembered some cabins were left “an awful mess.”  A few times cabins were covered with “lemon peels and gin bottles and… no broken glass, but liquor all over the floor.”  When Vera showed the cabins to Alex Philip, who she suspected of being in on the previous evening’s party, he assured her that she would not have to clean up the cabin and that he would have the guests take care of their own mess.

Vera Barnfield (far left), Alex Philip and two unidentified women, possibly Rainbow Lodge employees, wait for the train at the station.

Despite working hard in the cabins and dining room, Vera enjoyed the work at Rainbow Lodge.  She and the other girls she worked with would go to the dances at the schoolhouse and the next day employees and guests would ride to the Green River for a picnic breakfast on the bridge.  Mason Philip, Alex Philip’s nephew, would go ahead with the faster riders and the horses with the supplies and Vera would bring up the rear with the guests less comfortable on horseback.  By the time Vera and her group arrived the table was set, the fire was going and food was already being prepared.  A full breakfast was provided, including eggs, bacon and hotcakes.  Vera loved being surrounded by the trees and the glacier water of Green Lake (her personal record for swimming Green Lake was five minutes).

Vera only worked at Rainbow Lodge for three years before her marriage but her summers at Alta Lake, both as a child with her family’s dairy and as a young woman with the Philips, provided memories that stayed with her until her death in 2014, just seven weeks before her 99th birthday.

Lam Shu and Sam: The Culinary Gods of Rainbow Lodge

Whistler provides more than ample selection in fabulous food – far more than you would find in any other town of 10,000 permanent residents. However this area had a reputation for good food long before anyone had conceived of constructing a mountain village on top of a garbage dump.

Myrtle Phillip was known as an excellent cook – her pies and preserves were legendary.  However, she was not the full-time cook at Rainbow Lodge. When the Phillips ran the Horseshoe Grill in Vancouver, before moving to Alta Lake, Alex Phillip employed a young Chinese man by the name of Lam Shu.  Alex and Lam Shu became friends and when business started booming at Rainbow Lodge, Alex invited the young man to work full-time at the Lodge.

Rainbow Lodge staff with Skookum the dog, approximately 1919. The man in the middle of the photograph is presumed to be Lam Shu.

By 1916 Lam Shu was living and working at the Lodge. It took a few years, but he eventually became a terrific cook and created such desserts at “Divinity Pie” which was made with peaches and a custard meringue.  Visitors flocked to the dining room of Rainbow Lodge for the excellent food to be had.

Lam Shu shown outside Rainbow Lodge in 1926.

During the 1930s Lam Shu went back to China for a visit.   It seems, although it is a little unclear, that when he came back he also brought his younger brother Sam with him.  Unfortunately, Lam Shu also brought back a chronic case of Influenza with him.

Portrait of Sam. Circa 1940.

It appears that by 1934 Lam Shu had permanently returned to China.  However his brother Sam remained at the lodge and was the head cook there until 1948, when the Phillips sold the property.   Other than these few basic details, we know very little about Lam Shu and Sam.

In an interview with Vera (Barnfield) Merchant, the picture of Sam becomes a little clearer. Vera worked at Rainbow Lodge as a young woman from 1934-1936.  During that time she got to know Sam a little.  She remembered that her father, who owned, a dairy farm, would make sure to stop everyday and have tea or coffee with Sam.

In the interview Vera commented on Sam and his cooking “ He was just so loveable…and could he ever cook!  And those cakes he used to bake!” Vera would often sit with Sam for a cup of tea and he would tell her stories of his childhood in China.

Sam always made sure that the staff of Rainbow Lodge could sit down to a plentiful meal after serving the crowded Rainbow Lodge dining room. He would also make lots of special cookies and put them in big metal tins and order the girls to help themselves, which of course they absolutely did.

The milkman’s vehicle of choice? A dugout canoe!

Ever wonder where you got things like fresh milk, eggs and whipping cream living at Alta Lake in the early 1900s? Keep reading…

Originally from London, England, Alfred Barnfield caught his first glimpse of the Alta Lake area on his way to the Klondike gold fields from his home in Squamish in 1895. In 1903, he formed a prospecting group with other Englishmen called ‘The London Group’ that prospected in the Garibaldi/Black Tusk area. They are credited with the original name of Whistler Mountain – London Mountain.

Alfred prospecting high up in the Coast Mountains with his trusty rock pick.

Alfred’s high-end prospecting digs, location unknown.

Daisy Barnfield

In 1905, Alfred returned to Alta Lake to settle 160 acres near the northeast end of Alta Lake. The same year, Daisy Hotchkiss arrived, riding on top of a wagonload of potatoes bound for a logging camp. Despite their vast age difference (she was 19 and he was 42), they married in 1910. By all accounts, it was a happy marriage, and they had four children – Fred, William, Vera and Charles.

The Barnfields worked hard to establish a dairy farm on their Alta Lake property. Within the next few years, the railway from North Vancouver extended up to Alta Lake, opening up a thriving tourist trade. In the right place at the right time, Alfred and his son became a familiar sight as they paddled a dugout canoe, delivering milk, cream and eggs to lakefront lodges. They also passed along the local news/gossip – the valley grapevine had begun.

This dugout canoe is similar to the one Alfred and Fred would have used. It may in fact be the one they used, but we have no records to confirm or deny that.

By 1920, they had 14 cows supplying the local population with fresh milk. Rainbow Lodge was their biggest customer – our records indicate that their daily order consisted of 80 quarts of milk, four quarts of whipping cream, and two quarts of table cream!

In 1926, the Barnfields moved the farm south to Brackendale, but every summer they loaded cows and chickens onto the train and made the trek back to Alta Lake for the tourist season.

Daisy (on right) is seen feeding the chickens with a little help

When London Mountain became Whistler Mountain everything changed. The focus shifted from Alta Lake’s fishing lodges to the mountain serviced by Creekside and eventually farther north to Whistler Village. Today, Barnfields is one of Whistler’s residential communities.

Things change, it’s not a bad thing, but who wouldn’t want fresh-from-local-cows milk delivered by canoe?

We couldn’t resist including this one last photograph taken on the Barnfield property at Alta Lake:

This puppy looks a bit unsure about his perch on the back of a cow.