Tag Archives: VOC Club Cabin

Constructing a Cabin

Thanks to the recent donation of some UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) Journals to our research collection, we’ve been enjoying learning more about how the VOC Cabin came to be.  Last week we took a look at the long search for a site, which culminated in 1965 with a piece of land in today’s Nordic Estates that was to be reserved for club cabins (find it here).

Once the process of finding a site was complete (and even before provincial government surveyors arrived to do their own survey of the area) construction began on the VOC Cabin at Whistler.  Most of the planning and construction work was done by VOC members, including many hours contributed by grads such as Byron Olson.  An architect, Olson postponed his planned trip to Europe to design the structure.  His plans called for a main structure with a lounge to accommodate parties and events of 150 people, a large kitchen, washrooms, a boot-drying room, storage, and separate dormitory structures designed to sleep 90.

The VOC Cabin under construction by VOC members. Karl Ricker Collection.

The plan was to construct the VOC Cabin in stages, beginning with the main structure.  The first stage included putting up walls and getting the roof on by Christmas 1965.  Construction began in August with “enthusiastic work parties of VOC’ers.”  While members volunteered to work on the cabin, the VOC did hire a CAT driver to help clear and level the site.  In the first couple of months, a road to the site was cleared, trails were cut and a waterline was installed.  Building was not, however, always straightforward.

VOC members carry supplies to the building site. Karl Ricker Collection.

Karl Ricker, who was heavily involved in the project, recalls that there was an old logging road that went to the site, which was used by the CAT driver and to get gravel for concrete delivered.  However, the logging road became unusable after the first rain.  Instead, equipment and supplies would be brought up the back road that came within half a kilometre of the site and then carried for the rest of the journey.  Most of the supplies came from Vancouver and, as the highway to Whistler had not yet been completed, had already been on quite a trip.

In the VOC Journal of 1965, Judy MacKay wrote that “autumn brought wind, rain, and a deluge of prospective new members to the site.”  Ricker recalls that each weekend between fifteen and 100 volunteers would arrive to work “like beavers” on the VOC Cabin.  The VOC members were not the only ones making their way to the site – according to Ricker a few Alta Lake residents would also appear each weekend to observe the students’ work.

The VOC Cabin begins to take on a familiar shape. Karl Ricker Collection.

By mid-October the VOC was getting close to finishing the first stage of construction.  By the end of the month, construction was at a point that the VOC Halloween party could be held at Whistler and MacKay reported that, “The cabin sagged and swayed in rhythm to every polka beat.”

Later in the season, however, mid-terms unsurprisingly meant that student labour was harder to come by and members of the Alpine Club helped with the roof and putting on shakes.  Ricker remembered carrying the windows for the cabin from the highway with snow on the ground about two weeks before the beginning of UBC’s December break.

VOC members get inventive carrying materials through the snow. Karl Ricker Collection.

Though there was still a lot of work to be done, the VOC did finish the first stage of construction by Christmas and the cabin was ready for some students who chose to spend their break at Whistler.  The lifts on Whistler Mountain, however, were not quite to ready and did not open in December as planned, leaving the VOC members to spend their holidays ski touring through the area.

Finding a Space

Last week we mentioned a recent donation of journals published by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) in the 1960s, covering the period during which the VOC Cabin in Whistler was built.  Combined with an oral history conducted with Karl Ricker (who donated the journals) last year, the journals provide a lot of information about how the VOC Cabin came to be, even before lifts began running on Whistler Mountain.

According to Ricker, Jack Shakespeare, a member of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA), began attending VOC meetings in 1963 to promote the proposed development on Whistler Mountain.  At the time, the VOC already had a cabin on Mount Seymour but it was reportedly not being used as a ski cabin and so the VOC began to look seriously at building a cabin in Whistler in 1964.  The idea had to be approved by the VOC membership and it wasn’t immediately accepted by all, as Ricker recalls some people fighting to stay on Seymour.  The Whistler idea, however, did win out and the VOC began searching for a site to build a cabin.

VOC members touring around Whistler during an exploratory trip to the area in 1964. Karl Ricker Collection.

Charlie Daughney, then a Ph.D. candidate, led what was described in one VOC Journal as “the long and frustrating search for land.”  According to Ricker, the VOC first staked out land in what today is Kadenwood, but were then told that there would be no overnight parking at the Whistler Mountain lifts.  There was land available to buy at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita lake but the VOC did not have the money.  They were encouraged to look into applying for a piece of land on Alpha Lake but a search through records showed it was not Crown land but belonged to a man named John Quirk or his descendants.  The VOC even looked at building on the island in Alpha Lake but backed off due to the cost of building a bridge.

At the time the VOC was looking for a site the highway to the Whistler area was still under construction. Trips were taken by train or using the makeshift roads. Karl Ricker Collection.

Finally, in February 1965, the architect planners for the area and GODA told the VOC that there were plans to create a club cabin area in what is now part of Nordic Estates (Ricker mentioned that a club cabin area was also a way to guarantee customers for the lift company).  The next step was to find the tract of land set aside for club cabins, which at the time was simply marked by lines on a map.  In the early summer of 1965, members of the VOC ran a survey from the last known property lines in the area and put in their own stakes.

Surveying underway at the VOC Cabin site. Karl Ricker Collection.

As the first club to plan to build in the area, the VOC acquired “the choice lot” with views of Whistler Mountain and reasonable access to the parking lot that was to be constructed just off the highway.  Though it took longer than expected, official permission was granted by the provincial government to use the land for club cabins before the end of the summer.  In the process, Ricker received a call from a land inspector who had been told to inspect the parcel of land “right away” but didn’t know where it was.  Ricker met him at the train station and showed him to the parcel and, despite a few concerns, the land was approved for the VOC.  Government surveyors later arrived to do their own survey of the area but, according to Ricker, by that time construction of the VOC Cabin was already underway.

News from the Whistler Museum

Back in September 2020 we posted photos on our social media of exploratory trips taken by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) in 1964 and the construction of the VOC Cabin from 1965.  The photos were donated by Karl Ricker, a VOC member who had substantial involvement in the VOC Cabin.  Recently, Ricker brought in copies of the VOC Journal from 1964 to 1968 to add to our research collection and, though we’ve only taken a quick look so far (and are looking forward to examining the journals more closely), they appear to be a very valuable addition.

One of the photos posted on our social media, showing the construction of the Cabin by VOC members. Karl Ricker Collection.

The journals cover a period during which the VOC was exploring the possibility of a cabin in Whistler, constructing the cabin in Whistler, and beginning to put the cabin in Whistler to use.  According to the VOC Journal of 1964, the VOC Cabin on Mount Seymour was rarely being used as a ski cabin, as members could drive right up to the lifts, and skiing on Seymour was becoming increasingly crowded.  They also found that Seymour was “inadequate as an area for ski touring, for hiking, or for mountaineering,” the “most important activities of an outdoor club.”  Building a cabin in the Whistler area was thought to be an improvement as the long drive from Vancouver ensured most skiers would stay overnight, there was a proposal to develop lifts on Whistler Mountain, and the surrounding mountains would “present spectacular opportunities for touring and hiking.”  Members of the VOC made their first reconnaissance trips to the area throughout 1964 and began construction of the cabin in 1965.

Skimming the journals, mention of progress on the VOC Cabin are frequent and, as far as we’ve seen, optimistic.  In 1967 then VOC President Paul Sims wrote in his report of the upcoming completion of the cabin, saying: “When the last shake is nailed to the wall, and the last stone mortared into the fireplace, the construction at Whistler will be of a different nature.  The shaking will continue but from dances, pots and pans, sing-songs, laughter and conversation.  The building will bulge with eager and exhausted outdoor groups instead of construction crews.”

Karl Ricker in the midst of a socially distanced recording session (anyone not in front of the camera is also masked at all times).

The journals were brought in by Ricker when he came to the museum to record an interview for an upcoming exhibition by the Museum of North Vancouver.  We were excited to help facilitate the recording as it gave us a chance to try out equipment we’ve now been using in our virtual events.  This past weekend marked our first BC Family Day Kids Après: At Home Edition.  Rather than invite families to the museum, we created Kids Après Packs that brought parts of the museum to you.  Packs were picked up for free at the museum and included materials for two crafts and a Kids Après Activity Book, which combines stories from our exhibits with colouring pages, mazes, trivia and more.  We released craft videos online so that participants could craft along from home, creating their own skiing snowpeople and a (non-edible) mug of hot chocolate, a staple of Kids Après.

The same equipment was also used to create the craft videos as part of BC Family Day Kids Après: Home Edition.

Tomorrow evening we’ll be hosting our first Virtual Speaker Series of 2021, kicking off the series with Whistler Pride: A Look Back with Dean Nelson.  Though the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival was not able to go ahead this year, you could still see the spirit of the festival in the flags along Village Gate Boulevard – we’ll be learning more about how the festival started and how it has grown and become more visible with one of its long-time organizers.  You can register for the free event here.  Find out more about the rest of our Speaker Series line up for 2021 at our website here.

How the VOC Built Its Club Cabin

In the mid-1960s the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) was looking for a place to build a new Club Cabin as the Parks Board was opposed to privately owned cabins operating on Mount Seymour.  The Club set its sights on the newly developing outdoor recreation area, Whistler.  They saw the opportunity as a chance to further the club’s mandate by providing members with new mountaineering, hiking and skiing opportunities.

The VOC Cabin, located in Nordic. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand.  Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions.  It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The VOC used their own funds and labour, including the services of architect Byron Olson, to build the new Cabin.  The construction of the Cabin took two years from 1965 to 1967.  The Cabin was an instant hit for VOC members and other budget conscious skiers.

The construction of the VOC Cabin involved many of the club members. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

By the early 1970s the VOC was struggling to keep up with the increasing operating and upkeep costs and an internal debate began with the Club on letting go of the Cabin.  Some members wanted to build smaller cabins like the Sphinx (later renamed Burton, after Roland Burton who was instrumental in its construction) Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Others wanted to create a sub-section of the Club that focused on downhill skiing that would takeover operating the Cabin but still keeping it as a Club asset.

To further complicate matters, the UBC Alma Mater Society claimed ownership of the Cabin because the Club had used the AMS, in name only, to acquire the land for the Cabin.  The VOC attempted to obtain $30,000 for the construction costs and efforts made to to build new huts and relinquish ownership to the AMS and ultimately the UBC Ski Club.  The Club battled for five years until a student referendum passed in their favour in 1980.

The VOC Cabin even made it into Ski Trails, a Vancouver based publication all about skiing in the 1960s and 70s.

With the money received from the AMS, the VOC built two Gothic arch huts.  The first hut was built on Mount Brew, located 40km south of Whistler, and the second hut, the Julian Harrison Memorial Hut, was built near Overseer Mountain, north of Pemberton.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for stories related to the construction and use of these two Gothic arch huts.

Origins – UBC VOC Lodge

On this blog we have highlighted the pioneer explorations and contributions to the community made by such clubs as the British Columbia Mountaineering Club and the Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club. One such club who hasn’t received their due is UBC’s hallowed Varsity Outdoor Club. Formed all the way back in 1917 (and thus, with a fast-approaching centennial) the VOC has helped introduce thousands of youth to Coast Mountain adventure over the years, and was involved in Whistler’s development from the very start.

The VOC were a big part of the growth of ski-mountaineering post-World War Two, and soon began hosting spring skiing camps around Garibaldi Lake. In 1964, one especially adventurous group of students, including one Karl Ricker, embarked on a visionary ski traverse linking Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains, which they dubbed the Fitzsimmons Horseshoe Traverse and now better known as the Spearhead Traverse.

This nine-day epic of the now-popular route has gotten a lot of attention of late, largely due to the Spearhead Huts Project. Perhaps the most eloquent treatment comes from Robin O’Neill’s  short film Breaking Trail.

All this to say that the VOC was ahead of the curve in recognizing the ski potential around Whistler. When development of Whistler Mountain began ramping up in 1965, free land was made available for select ski clubs, with some “badgering” Ricker recalls, to build cabins on ( a shrewd move by Garibaldi Lifts, harnessing the social nature of skiing), and the VOC took full advantage.

From Ski Trails, January 1966

From Ski Trails, January 1966

The Lodge was built entirely using VOC funds and volunteer labour. According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand. Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions. It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades, and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The lodge was ready for Christmas 1965, even if Garibaldi Lifts wasn’t (a story in itself). Undeterred, the many students passing the holidays at the lodge slapped their skins on and toured Whistler Mountain. With runs cut but no lifts turning they had the mountain virtually to themselves!

After Whistler Mountain officially opened in February 1966 VOC’s cabin was an instant hit, both among VOC members and other budget-minded skiers. The next winter, when Ski Trails ran a story about how UBC students had started a petition asking for special student pricing on lift tickets, a VOC rep estimated (unverifiably) that half the skier traffic on Whistler Mountain came from the VOC.

Unfortunately, despite this early success, the lodge underwent some trouble in the 1970s as the VOC couldn’t keep up with rapidly increasing operating and upkeep expenses. Things turned from bad to worse when, despite their massive investments in time and money, the UBC Alma Mater Society took control of the lodge against the VOC’s wishes.

Finally, these issues were resolved in 1980, and the VOC used the settlement money to fund construct backcountry cabins near Mount Brew and Mount Overseer, which complemented their existing Burton Hut on Garibaldi Lake. This was more in line with the backcountry-oriented club anyways.