Tag Archives: Whistler Answer

Reimagining Hillcrest Lodge

When Hillcrest Lodge first opened for business in 1946 it was not meant to be a year-round operation.  Summers were so busy with regular visitors and guests that Jack and Cis Mansell, who built the lodge with their sons Doug and Loyd, would “say goodbye to each other in May and hello in October.”  In October, Hillcrest Lodge closed for the season and Jack and Cis would often leave Alta Lake to spend winters in warmer climes.  This seasonal closure would, however, change in the 1960s.

Hillcrest Lodge, originally built and run by the Mansell family, was renamed the Mount Whistler Lodge under new management soon after Whistler Mountain opened.  Mansell Family Collection.

Jack and Cis retired in 1958 and Doug and his wife Barb took over the management of the lodge.  In the early 1960s Doug and Loyd kept the lodge open on weekends through the winter and even built a small rope tow on the property that they ran for skiers.  In 1965, as the first lifts were completed on Whistler Mountain, Doug and Barb sold Hillcrest Lodge to a group from Vancouver led by Glen Mason.  The lodge’s name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge and, instead of attracting summer guests, was marketed towards skiers.

Mount Whistler Lodge at the bottom of Whistler Mountain in 1972. Mason Collection.

By the winter 1967/68, winter guests could pay $9.50/day to stay and receive three meals at Mount Whistler Lodge (for those who brought their own sleeping bags, the rate was only $8.50), conveniently located only one mile (1.6km) from the gondola.  The lodge also offered entertainment in the form of pizza and music, including a jug band on Thursday nights.

An advertisement from the winter of 1971/72 announced that the lodge was under new management and introduced “The Purple Ski Cabaret,” though it featured few details about what the cabaret included.  Through the early 1970s the Mount Whistler Lodge also marketed itself as “open all year round.”  Its close proximity to the lifts appealed to skiers while the lodge also drew summer visitors with promises of swimming, fishing, boating and waterskiing on four nearby lakes, horseback rides through the valley, and more.

The Whistler Lodge in the Whistler Answer, October/November 1979.  Photo by George Benjamin.

Mount Whistler Lodge also became popular among Whistler area residents.  According to an article from the October/November 1979 issue of the Whistler Answer, Mount Whistler Lodge (which had by then ceased operations) was “quite simply, the best damn boogie, rockin, boppin, rip-roarin, down home, funky, shit kickin place to ever serve a beer.”  The lodge itself was described as “a log cabin right on the lake, with cracked Tiffany lamps and mildew stains on the ceiling.”  The Answer attributed the “looseness” of the lodge between 1973 and 1974 to managers Rob and Jen Houseman, who figured the best way to ensure rules were not broken was to have no rules.  Before it closed permanently in the mid 1970s, Mount Whistler Lodge was even the venue for the first two Freakers’ Balls.

The Answer ended its article by declaring that, “The Whistler Lodge, although closed today, remains one of the few structures today in Whistler that could be labelled heritage buildings.”  Two years earlier, in 1977, Rainbow Lodge had been mostly destroyed by a fire on the other side of Alta Lake and other buildings, such as the Soo Valley Logging Camp and the Alta Lake Community Hall, had already been burnt down.  In 1986 the main building of the Mount Whistler Lodge joined them and was burnt down as practice for the Whistler Fire Department.  The cabins remained for some years, but today few physical traces can be found of Hillcrest or Mount Whistler Lodge.

These steps are one of the few remaining physical reminders of the Hillcrest Lodge and Mount Whistler Lodge.

Our Next Virtual Speaker Series – Looking Back at Journalism in Whistler!

Our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series is back at 7pm on Thursday, March 25 with a look at how journalism in Whistler has changed with Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie.  Whistler has been served by multiple publications with varying aims since the 1970s despite a relatively small population, but how did it all get started?

You can attend our 2021 Speaker Series events on Zoom for free by registering here or contacting us at the Whistler Museum.  Events feature interviews with our speakers followed by a live (virtual) Q&A with the speakers and audience.

Our Virtual Speaker Series is being held using Zoom.  To attend the event, you do not need to have a Zoom account or a camera on your device.  If you register through the Eventbrite link, you will be able to attend the event through the online event page on Eventbrite.  If you register by contacting us directly at the museum, we will send you a link to the event via email.  You can then attend simply by clicking on the link after 6:55 pm on the day of the event.  If you have any questions about attending any of our Virtual Speaker Series, please contact us!

We are also excited to announce that the traveling exhibit Land of Thundering Snow from the Revelstoke Museum & Archives has been extended through Saturday, April 17th!  If you haven’t been able to see it yet, you now have over two extra weeks to fit in a visit to the museum!

Signs of Spring

For some places in Canada the beginning of spring in March or April brings the return of migratory birds and the first flowers in gardens.  Vancouver famously heralds spring with the arrival of cherry blossoms and (sometimes) the end of steady rains.  In Whistler, as the last snow in the valley continues to melt, however, signs of spring’s late arrival take a rather different form: skunk cabbage and spring skiers, both of which have a relatively long documented history.

The Skunk Cabbage, Whistler’s unofficial official flower. Photo: Bob Brett.

It’s not uncommon to spot a few early daffodils and crocuses around the valley if you’re looking for them (especially outside of Meadow Park Sports Centre, which may have something to do with nearby heat tracing), but it is hard to miss the bright yellow blooms and swampy smell of skunk cabbage that mean spring has truly arrived in Whistler.  In May of 1977 the Whistler Answer declared skunk cabbage, or Lysichiton americanus, to be the official flower of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, claiming that it “best exemplifies the spirit of this young community” and that “its bright yellow flower is as cheery a sign of spring as any Robin Redbreast, cherry blossom or halter top.”  Also known as swamp lantern, skunk cabbage can be found throughout Whistler; one needs only to walk down the Valley Trail or drive along the highway.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.

Just as easy to spot are the spring skiers and snowboarders heading up Blackcomb for the last few weeks of the season with light or no jackets or, on warmer days, in short and t-shirts.  Spring skiing has been popular on Whistler Mountain since its opening in the 1960s.  At breakfast with my own grandmother, she recalled a day of skiing back when the Roundhouse was still round when one female skier arrived inside the cafeteria in her bathing suit with her skis still strapped on her feet.  Though images of a similarly attired woman were used to advertise spring skiing on the cover of Garibaldi’s Whistler News in 1970, such outfits were not actively encouraged by the same publication’s spring skiing tips.  Instead they warned that “it only takes one fall on hard packed snow to cause painful cuts, scratches and bruises on legs and arms” and advised “lightweight stretch pants and wind shells or light sweaters.”  Garibaldi’s Whistler News also emphasized the importance of two other spring skiing tips that can still be applied today: sunscreen and sunglasses.

A skier demonstrates why shorts and t-shirts may not be the best option, no matter how warm it may be. Photo: George Benjamin collection.

Whether getting a few more days on the mountain or riding the trails in the valley, enjoy spring in Whistler while its lasts.  Summer will be here before we know it.

The Whistler Answer Has Turned 40!

“For those tired of questions… the Whistler Answer.”

If you heard bursts of laughter and rad tunes echoing over Alta Lake on Saturday night, it wasn’t some high school house party – it was the sound of those early Whistler hippies and ski-bums partying the night away at The Point for the 40th anniversary party of the Whistler Answer.

Partygoers at The Point last Saturday, April 1 for the Answer anniversary party.

Marketing itself as the satirical flipside of the Whistler Question, the Answer was a local alternative newspaper dreamed up by Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith as a comedic response to the more serious Question.  The winter of 1977 was cold but desperately lacking in snow, causing many residents to head for warmer climates.  The Answer acted as a kind of letter from to travelling Whistlerites and catered to the town’s hippie ski-bum culture with a tongue-in-cheek style attributed by many to editor Robert “Bosco” Poitras (then Colebrook).  The early issues were created completely by hand at a local squat – hand-written, hand-drawn and hand-pasted with Scotch tape and white glue.

Publication began in 1977 and ended in 1982, although it was revived from 1992 – 1993.  Flipping through the Answer provides a window to the “Old Whistler”, an idyllic era that pre-dates our valley’s current hyper-development and insane visitor numbers.

In the same way, Saturday night’s Whistler Answer 40th Anniversary party at The Point was a wormhole to a Whistler in the days of the Answer, with all its lively local characters and a reunion performance by Foot in the Door, the band of Answer publisher Charlie Doyle, Mark Schnaidt and Rocco Bonito.

Charlie Doyle and band members perform at the Whistler Answer Benefit at the Mountain House Cabaret in 1981, during the Answer’s first run.

The night started out with a dinner of Bushwoman’s Chinese Cuisine followed by some hilarious tales from Doyle and others about the publication.  Several readers stepped up to share their favourite Answer passages – including an insightful book review of the local BC-Tel phonebook.  In the midst of these retellings, the party was crashed by three nude-suited hippies covered in bush and branch – supposedly the three individuals pictured canoeing in the Answer’s first issue front-page article: “Missing on Alta Lake”.  An auction was also held for original copies of the Whistler Answer and Whistler’s superhero comic “Localman” with proceeds going to the organizers of the event.

The first issue of the Answer featured a photo of three canoeing individuals “lost” on Alta Lake.  Find the full issue online at the link below.

Foot in the Door then took to the stage to bring back some choice tunes from the days of the Answer, to the joy of the dancing crowd.  The show also included improv acts by Get to the Point Improv and more great music by Some Assembly Required and the Skunk Cabbage Revue.

Foot in the Door reunited to perform at The Point for the Answer’s 40th Anniversary.

The packed heritage lodge was full of hugs, laughter and old friends meeting again in what can only be called the closest we’ll ever get to reigniting the spirit of the infamous Toad Hall parties we at the Museum hear so much about.

To browse all issues of the Whistler Answer in full, check out the Whistler Museum’s digitized versions of the colourful local paper: http://www.whistlermuseum.org/whistleranswer

Grassroots Galleries – Mountain Paint

A few Whistler locals have taken it upon themselves over the years to display their own mini collections of items that show off Whistler’s history. One of these collections covers the walls in “Mountain Paint” located in Function Junction. There are pieces all over the store when you walk in but it is hard to miss the multitude of posters and other paraphernalia that cover the walls at the back of the store.

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Just some of the collection amassed inside Mountain Paint

Dave and Laura Kinney took over Mountain Paint 20 years ago and almost immediately their collection found its home on the walls of their store. When asked, Dave recalled that his daughter, who is an interior designer, did not want her parents’ home looking like a ski bums home, so she had Dave and his wife move the collection into the basement which is where Dave took them from to decorate the shop.

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Since then many more pieces have joined the others on the walls including many things donated by Rob Boyd and Gord Harder. The Whistler Museum and Archives has a few of Gord’s items on display including his old fridge and mountain bike.

Dave and Laura both worked for Whistler Mountain for 10 years between 1979 and 1989, and even lived at the top of the mountain for some time. This was how they became friends with the Boyd family who lived at the base of the mountain. When they started working for the Mountain though, it was still run by the Garibaldi Lift Co. and so the couple saw it through its transition into Whistler. Dave tells of when he used to work in maintenance for the company and when it came time to change the signage on the outside of the buildings, Dave took home one of the old Garibaldi signs rather than throw it away. Coincidentally, he and his wife now live on Garibaldi Way, so Dave has turned it into their address sign. The pair also has a red chair from the old chairlifts hanging from their front deck.

Most of the couples collection is built upon old newspaper clippings from the Whistler Question and Answer as well as posters collected throughout the years as Whistler Mountain grew into what it is today. Yet, Dave’s favourite piece they have on display is two pages of an old Maclean’s magazine article from 1961 entitled “Skier’s Dream.” The article is all about the plans for the Whistler area and how great it was going to be long before the Mountain was actually opened in 1966.

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“Skier’s Dream” out of January 1961’s Maclean’s Magazine

Dave fondly refers to his collection of items as a “community collection” because not only have prominent members of the community donated to it, but it is largely viewed and appreciated by the community as well. It allows people who see it to look back on the growth of Whistler and see how far it has come.

A hard winter’s baby boom

Usually, if there is a hard winter, you can expect a baby boom by next spring. That is also true for the Whistler winter of 1976/77 which was arguably the worst season since Whistler Mountain began ski operations. November 1976 was dry with a cold north wind blowing in late November and into December.

Those conditions brought a whole new “baby” to the Whistler valley. In December 1976, lift operations managed to borrow a snow gun from Grouse Mountain, and transport it to the bottom of the Green Chair (today’s Emerald Chair), remembers Whistlerite John Hetherington. The ski patrol created a small reservoir in a creek near the bottom that could impound enough water to permit the snowmaking for two hours each day.

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Group of people playing ice stock sliding (Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling) on Alta Lake, 1970s. Whistler Museum, Philip collection

Long-term local Stephen Vogler, who was a teenager at the time, spoke of two other Whistler “babies” that were born that unusual winter. One is Whistler’s love for all kinds of ice skating sports. In his book Only in Whistler: Tales of a Mountain Town, Stephen remembers that Alta Lake “froze thick enough to drive a ’69 pickup truck across it.” When the Mountain closed in January, the lake became the new centre of life. According to Stephen, ice hockey games were held, and boot hockey was played by those without skates. Figure skating, ice sailing and even Eisstockschiessen, the European version of curling, were among the many ice sports played that winter as well.

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler's famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler's book "Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town"

Brothers Peter and Stephen Vogler playing at Whistler’s famous Boot Pub in the late 90s. Photo: Chris Woodall, published in Stephen Vogler’s book “Only in Whistler. Tales of a Mountain Town”

“If you can’t spend your time skiing, you have to invent other activities” Stephen says. It was the winter of 1976 when he taught himself to play the guitar, and yet another “baby” was born: the musician Stephen Vogler who later started a band with his brother that eventually became known as Route 99, and that rocked the crowds on many Sunday jam nights at Whistler’s legendary Boot Pub.

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie's truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

Charlie Doyle, Robin Blechman and Tim Smith present the very first issue of the Whistler Answer along with a new sign on Charlie’s truck, spring 1977. Photo courtesy: Whistler Answer

When you ask long-term local Tim Smith about his memories of the winter of 1976/77 he recalls great snorkelling adventures. Because of the lengthy cold and dry snap, he and another dozen squatters had decided to leave for warmer climates. “For 109 dollars, the cost of a season pass that year, you could get a round trip to Hawaii,” he smiles. The sun-bathing and hula-dancing ski bums in Hawaii were the crucial factor to the birth of another great “baby” of Whistler’s class of 1976/77: the Whistler Answer, Whistler’s alternative newspaper. Charlie Doyle, the founder of the Answer, remembers: “The postcards from our friends that traveled in Hawaii were piling up, and we figured it would be easier and more fun to send the latest Whistler gossip in a newspaper format than answer the postcards separately.” The first issue was presented on April Fools’ Day. It had 1,000 copies, and they were sold for 25 cents each. The rest is history…

Although no two winters are ever the same, this year’s winter is another unusual one – bringing up the question: What “babies” can we welcome this spring?

Remembering Hillcrest Lodge

While flipping through the 1979 October/November issue of the Whistler Answer, I came across a fascinating story titled “The Whistler Lodge (1973-74) or the Heyday of a Cabaret.”  I love the Whistler Answer for its bare all writing styles that would most definitely be deemed inappropriate in today’s local news. This story has all that quirkiness one expects from the paper, as the author, an old doorman at Whistler Lodge (also known as Hillcrest Lodge), gives his first-hand history of the place in as many outlandish adjectives as one can muster.

The article highlights the delight of the lodge, going as far as to describe it as “phantasmagorical”–a bold claim, the author admits. He attributes the liberal nature of the lodge to the managers, Rob and Jen Houseman, whose bureaucratic strategy was “don’t make any rules and none will get broken.” Have a read for yourself:

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This fun recollection of Whistler Lodge inspired me to dig for some more facts about the place, leading me to the story of the Mansell family. Jack Mansell first came to Whistler (then Alta Lake) on a fishing trip in 1944. While staying at Rainbow Lodge, he got word of property for sale across the lake. Luck would have it that the owner of the land was a regular at Jack’s shoe repair shop in Vancouver. The two negotiated and that same year, Jack bought the property on Alta Lake.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

Cis and Jack Mansell on the porch of Hillcrest, ca. 1950.

By May 1945 Jack had sold his three shoe repair stores and moved to Whistler with his family–wife, Cecile ‘Cis’ and sons Loyd and Doug. The family lived in a little cottage on the property before deciding to build a few cabins and develop the site as a fishing lodge. Interestingly enough, the place became a very successful tearoom; Myrtle Philip of Rainbow Lodge brought horseback riding groups round the lake to stop for refreshments at the Mansell property.

In January 1946 the family began building the main lodge, and it was complete by July of that same year. By 1947 Hillcrest Lodge was open for business with a total of sixteen units for rent. The lodge opened for guests on the May long weekend and closed after Thanksgiving in October. Guests would arrive at Alta Lake on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and were often greeted by current guests… in costume!

Hillcrest Lodge guests dressed to meet the train, ca. 1950s.

This free spirited welcome set the tone for a typical stay at Hillcrest Lodge. Common activities and events included musical raft rides around the lake, masquerade parties, square dancing, kangaroo courts and mock weddings.

Jack and Cis eventually retired,  leaving management of the lodge to their children Doug and Barb. Doug and Barb managed the lodge from 1958 to 1965 before selling it to a group of Vancouver based businessmen led by Glen Mason. At this time, the name was changed to Mount Whistler Lodge. After operating for about ten years it closed due to lack of business. Thankfully, the stories live on.