Tag Archives: Vera Merchant

A Dairy at Alta Lake

When Alfred Barnfield first came to the Sea to Sky area he likely wasn’t planning to one day be delivering milk and cream by canoe.  After arriving in Canada, Alfred spent a few years working various jobs before settling in Squamish in 1891.  Around that time, the provincial government paid him $1,000 to inspect the condition of the Pemberton Trail, which had not been widely used since its construction in the 1870s.  The result of his inspection allowed the Pemberton Trail to reopen to packhorse traffic and would have provided Alfred with his first views of Alta Lake.

Alfred Barnfield atop Wedge Mountain, with what appears to be a rock pick, while working as a prospector.  Barnfield Collection.

In 1903 Alfred formed a group with a few other Englishmen, imaginatively named The London Group, and prospected around the Garibaldi and Black Tusk area but never made any substantial finds.  Two years later he returned to the Alta Lake area to preempt and clear land on the northeast end of the lake.

That same year, Daisy Hotchkiss came to Brackendale with her sister and brother-in-law at the age of fifteen.  Alfred and Daisy were married five years later and the pair continued clearing the land at Alta Lake.

Daisy Hotchkiss was 23 years younger than Alfred Barnfield, but by all accounts the pair had a very successful marriage.  Barnfield Collection.

As Alta Lake gained a reputation as a fishing destination and summer resort, Alfred and Daisy and their four children (Fred, William, Vera and Charles) established a dairy farm on their land to supply the lodges and cottage around the lake with fresh milk, cream, eggs, and butter.  While grocery orders could be delivered from Vancouver by train, fresh dairy products would have been hard to come by on a daily basis.  At one point the Barnfields kept fourteen cows, as well as chickens and a few pigs.

Daisy Barnfield feeds the chickens with some help from the children, seemingly at the Brackendale property.  Barnfield Collection.

In an interview with the museum in 1993, Vera Merchant remembered her father loading his canoe with boxes of milk and delivering it around the lake.  According to Vera, he made his deliveries every morning, even when the weather was questionable.  She recalled, “He never missed a morning and sometimes it would be so stormy he just couldn’t hardly make that canoe go.”  Luckily for Alfred, he was able to end his deliveries with a visit in the kitchen at Rainbow Lodge, where he would be brought up to date on all the local news and gossip.

The Barnfields moved their dairy farm to Brackendale in 1926 but the family continued to spend their summers at Alta Lake, delivering milk and cream by canoe.  Vera remembered that every summer they would rent a cattle car and load up the cows, crates of chickens, and pigs for the rail journey to Alta Lake.

For the Barnfield children, summers weren’t all about work.  Their father taught them to swim and apparently they took to the water like fish.  The Barnfields kept a horse for working on the land and as a small child Vera would take him for rides, going so far as Green Lake where she would visit her friend at the Lineham Mink Ranch.  She recalled that she never worried about the bears and cougars known to be in the area, feeling safe atop the large horse.

Vera Barnfield returned to Alta Lake in the 1930s and worked a couple of summers at Rainbow Lodge.  Philip Collection.

Even after the Barnfields topped bringing their dairy up to Alta Lake for the season they kept ownership of the land at the northeast end of the lake until after Alfred’s death in 1960.  In the 1970s Daisy sold most of the property to Robert Bishop and Bernard Brown and it was developed as Adventures West and the Whistler Cay neighbourhood.  She gave each of her three surviving children (Charles had been killed in the Second World War) about an acre of lakefront property.

Though there are no traces of a dairy left, in 1988 the last of Alfred’s property was sold and the family can be seen in the addresses of those who live there: Barnfield Place and Daisy Lane.

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.