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.
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.
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.
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.