Tag Archives: Whistler Museum

Fire in Function Junction

A few weeks ago during our Speaker Series on journalism in Whistler, technical difficulties unfortunately prevented a question being asked about a fire that destroyed the production office of The Whistler Question in Function Junction in 1991. As we weren’t able to learn more about the fire from the knowledgeable people at the speaker event, both presenting and in the audience, we thought we’d start by taking a quick look at what the Question had to say about it.

The fire was actually only one of two large fires in Whistler on Friday, January 18, 1991. At Rainbow the building housing Rainbow Rentals, Rainbow Paint and Supply, Whistler Woodheat, Whistler Welding, Allan May Project Management and the truck division of Budget Rent-A-Car also had a fire. As there were no hydrants in the area and the building contained tanks of propane, oxygen and acetylene as well as cans of oil-based paints and industrial solvents, the decision was made that it was too dangerous for firefighters to go into the building. Instead, the highway was closed and the building was allowed to burn.

The rubble left after the Rainbow fire burned out, including a woodstove. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

In Function Junction, around 2:30 am, Kevin Swanlund was the only employee in the building that housed Yurrop Trading, Mountain Crests, the kitchen of The Gourmet, Little Mountain Bakery, and the Question production office when he noticed a fire. Swanlund attempted to put out the fire with an extinguisher but it kept coming back stronger. His actions alerted Carrie Waller and her daughter Amanda, who lived in the apartment upstairs, to the fire. The pair found the stairwell blocked but were able to use a ladder to climb down from the balcony.

Fire Chief Tony Evans described the fire as “a tough one to fight,” though the fire department responded promptly and were able to control the fire. A fire hydrant on the property was not connected to the municipal water system and had reportedly frozen, though luckily there were municipal hydrants nearby. The fire department did not confirm a cause of the fire, but were able to say that it appeared to have started near the building’s electrical panel.

The Whistler Question production office after the fire. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

By the time the Question came out the next Thursday, most of the businesses affected already had plans to reopen. Jan Holmberg, who owned the building and co-owned Yurrop Trading and Mountain Crests, told the Question that Mountain Crests had already located an embroidery machine in Seattle and rented space in another building and would soon be at half their usual production. Rick and Doris Matthews, the co-owners of The Gourmet, had begun cooking at home and in another kitchen while setting up in another Function Junction building, though they expected that for the next month they would be able to produce only about half of their “signature products.” Luckily for The Gourmet, most of their kitchen equipment was saved.

The co-owners of Little Mountain Bakery, Pierre LePage and Andy Schoni, both decided to use the fire as an opportunity for short vacations before beginning operations at 1212 Alpha Lake Road in February. Like The Gourmet, most of Little Mountain Bakery’s equipment was saved but the bakery lost all of their supplies.

Patrick Sarrazin helps baker Andy Schoni clean up trays after the fire at Little Mountain Bakery. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

The Question production office was not burned but was heavily damaged by smoke and water. The Question lost computers, a laser printer, a photocopier, darkroom equipment, and five years worth of irreplaceable photographs. The paper was able to set up a temporary office in the Blackcomb Ski Club cabin and, thanks to the help of Rick Clare, Whistler Printing and Blackcomb Lodge, were able to stick to their normal publishing schedule.

The fires of January 18, 1991, affected eleven businesses in Whistler in Rainbow and Function Junction, though most were able to reopen. Firefighters were able to save a collection of negatives from 1978 to 1985 from the fire. Thanks to Question photographer Brian Smith, these negatives were restored and are now housed in the archives where the Whistler Question Collection is an invaluable resource that is used almost daily at the Whistler Museum. The Whistler Question Collection now includes photographs of different facets of life in the Whistler area from 1978 to 1986 and from 1991 to 1996. Unfortunately, due to the photographs lost in the fire the years between 1986 and 1991 are not as well represented.

Whistler’s Answers: April 15, 1982

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: A major recession hit North America in late 1981, with interest rates reaching up to 20%. While some buildings in the Whistler Village were completed, much of the first phase was still under construction. Work on some properties stalled but other businesses, such as the Delta Mountain Inn, moved forward with their plans to open. At the time the Whistler Village Land Corporation (WVLC) was left with debts of almost $8 million, liabilities around $30 million, and land assets that nobody would buy. In 1983 the provincial government stepped in and formed Whistler Land Co. Developments, a Crown corporation, to take over the liabilities and assets of the WVLC, but in early 1982 Whistler’s economic future was still unsure.

Question: How has the current economic situation affected you?

Pat Kelly – Real Estate Agent – Whistler Cay

It would be safe to say that given the current real estate market, my income has been quite affected.

The real estate market, which my income is tied to is inactive right now. My guess is that the volume is at least half of what it was last year.

But I’m going to hang in there. I can see certain potential here that others may not be able to.

Diane Robb – Waitress – Gondola Area

Actually, it hasn’t really affected me. But then it’s hard to tell as I haven’t worked all winter because I’ve been travelling.

At the restaurant, people are still tipping at least 15 per-cent. And with the turn out there is for skiing, you know people must have money.

Things can’t be too rough – Whistler had a record day Friday.

Denver Snider – Mons Towing – Emerald Estates

Well, it hasn’t affected me yet. I feel the economic conditions in this valley will depend not on the ability to work, but on the willingness to go out and work.

It’s true. I just bought another dump truck.

Don Willoughby – Businessman – Alpine Meadows

Well, the price of golf balls has gone up.

“Fast” Eddy – Union Construction Worker – Alta Vista

It hasn’t affected me at all because I wasn’t one of the morons who balked at the business agent from the union hall who came up here to give us jobs.

Now I’m still working, but I know of a lot of other contractors who are sucking wind.

Susan Nielsen – Bookkeeper – Whistler Cay

I haven’t felt any negative effects of the economic situation because there is a good demand for my type of work in Whistler.

However, if I had to move to Vancouver and find a job there things would probably be much different.

The Woods at Alta Lake

The Woods family moved to Alta Lake around 1926 and worked in the area, both for the railway and in the logging industry, until the 1940s. Fred Woods was born in the Isle of Man and immigrated to Canada after a time in the army. He worked on the railroad in Broadview, Saskatchewan where he met and married Elizabeth. Their first child, Helen, was born in Broadview in 1921 and a couple of years later the family moved to Port Coquiltam, where Fred continued to work on the railroad. While there Fred and Elizabeth had two sons, Jack and Pat. Fred then took a job as a section foreman for the PGE Railway and the entire family moved to Alta Lake.

Fred and Elizabeth Woods on the train tracks at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

After a few years, Fred lost his job with the PGE and the family moved out of the company house. After living for a time in a much smaller house, the family was able to rent a property from Jack Findlay, who charged them only the cost of the property taxes. The property included a house, barn, hayfield, and garden and was located across the creek from the Tapley’s farm. Fred began working for the logging operation of B.C. Keeley of Parkhurst during the summers and clearing trails and bridges as relief work in the winters.

The family kept a cow, horse, chickens, and, at times, a pig and grew their own vegetables. In the summer the children would pick berries that Elizabeth would use to make jam. She also canned meat from their animals. When the logging camp closed at the end of the summer Fred would order groceries such as flour and sugar wholesale through the cookhouse to last through the winter. Vegetables were stored in the roothouse and the children would keep the path from the house clear of snow.

Pat Woods, Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland and Jack Woods skating at Alta Lake. Jardine/Betts/Smith Collection

Helen, Pat, Jack and later their younger brother Kenneth went to the Alta Lake School, though Pat remembered some days when snow prevented them from attending. As they got older they also began working outside of their home. When Jack was fifteen and Pat fourteen they spent a summer working in the sawmill at Lost Lost (after a fire at Parkhurst in 1938, logging operations were temporarily moved to Lost Lake before returning to Green Lake). Their employment ended abruptly when Jack lost all the fingers on his right hand in a workplace accident. According to Pat, it took years for Jack to receive compensation, as he was supposed to be sixteen before working in the mill.

The Woods family band played at community events, such as dances and fundraisers, held in the school.

Though the family worked hard during their years at Alta Lake, both Pat and Helen had fond memories of living in the area. Elizabeth loved music and taught her children to play violin and guitar. She played accordion and the family would perform at community dances. They also remembered the kindness of various “bachelors” who lived at Alta Lake, such as Bill Bailiff and Ed Droll, who would visit with their father and sometimes give the children carrots from their gardens on their way to school.

In the early 1940s Fred Woods joined the Canadian army and the family, apart from Helen who had left home and lived in Squamish, moved to North Vancouver. In later years, members of the Woods family returned as visitors to Alta Lake and then Whistler, though they never forgot the years they spent living and working in the area.

The Inn on the Lake

At the Whistler Museum we often hear stories about the lodges that used to be plentiful around Alta Lake (as well as Nita Lake) from people who worked, stayed, partied or even lived at one sometime between the 1930s and 1980s. Some of the lodges, like the Mount Whistler Lodge, began as summer resorts before skiing was really thought of in the area, while others, such as the Christiana Inn, were part of the increase in development that started with the building of lifts on Whistler Mountain.

Sandy and Puddy Martin, who developed much of the Alta Vista neighbourhood, opened the Christiana Inn on the eastern shore of Alta Lake in 1967. They reportedly named their new venture after a similarly named lodge in Sun Valley, ID. The Christiana facilities included a heated outdoor swimming pool, a beauty salon, gift shop, lounge area, and dining room. Located only five minutes from the lifts on Whistler Mountain and offering many activities around the lake, the Christiana catered to both winter and summer guests.

Though it says the Christiana Inn is closed to the public, this is one of the few images in our collections that shows the building from the front. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

In the late 1960s, the Martins added on to the Christiana with a tennis court, a poolside dining and dancing area, and even a second dining room. The Christiana hosted fashion shows, dances, public meetings, apres ski entertainment, and films, and even offered a free bus service for guests in the ski season. Over time, the pool was covered with a fiberglass roof in the winter and was opened to guests not staying at the Christiana for a nominal fee (in 1973, this fee was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children).

Sandy and Puddy sold the Christiana Inn in the mid 1970s. In 1979 the management of the lodge was taken over by brothers Ole and Per Christiansen, who hoped to “gradually alter the Inn to a Bavarian atmosphere” and began offering traditional German fare in the restaurant (prepared by Swiss chef Pascal Tiphine) and advertising the Christiana alongside the “newly decorated” Side Door Disco.

Bartender Rosarie Gauthier and manager Per Christiansen behind the bar in the Christiana’s remodelled Bavarian Lounge. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

It would seem that it was during the mid-to-late 1970s that the Christiana Inn pool began to be known for belly flop and wet t-shirt contests. In May 1978 Brad Cooper wrote in The Whistler Question that “May 22 at the Christiana Inn will be well-remembered as the day over 20 people attempted to splash the most water out of a pool and live to tell about it.” He described hundreds of spectators crowding the pool area and watching from the roof and gave credit to the Christiana and organizers for a “wild but harmless event.”

The belly flop contest of 1978. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

Others did not find these contests quite as entertaining. In a letter to the editor of the Question in June 1979, T. Wood described the awards ceremony of the Great Snow Earth Water Race as “a fiasco at sleazy Christiana with wet T-shirts and belly flops, which require no talent.” They claimed one contestant from the race was even “pushed into the filthy Christiana pool.”

The pool at the Christiana also hosted other events, such as log rolling. Photo courtesy of David Lalik.

In March 1980 rumours claimed that the Christiana Inn had unexpectedly ceased operations, causing the Whistler Rotary Club to lunch at the Filling Station instead. The then-owners of the Christiana, Travelscope Hotels Ltd., reported that the lodge was still operating but that the management company that had been in charge was no longer operating the hotel (it appears that the management had left town while still owing money to their employees). The hotel and bar were still open, though the kitchen was temporarily closed due to a fire in the deep fryer.

The Christiana Inn also hosted the Freakers’ Ball after the first couple of years at the Mount Whistler Lodge. Bramfield Collection.

In May 1980 the Christiana reopened for the summer as the Alta Lake Inn, well-remembered for their restaurant which offered Chinese food and take-out. Later in the 1980s, the Alta Lake Inn closed as a resort and the property was converted into private condos, known today as Whistler on the Lake. Stories of the Christiana Inn, however, continue to be told throughout Whistler. If you have stories you would like to add to our records, let us know at the Whistler Museum.

The staff of the restaurant at the Alta Lake Inn, including Edmond Wong, Law, Tse, Kwang, Gilbert, Peni, Edmon, and Jeannie. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Whistler’s Answers: April 1, 1982

We’re starting something new on the Whistorical blog!  In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Question: What type of activities would you like to see in Whistler this summer? Why?

Mike Culwell – Logger – Alpine Meadows

I’d really like to see them get a baseball field together.  We’ve got a team now, but there’s no place to play.

Outdoor concerts on the mountaintop would be a great idea. It might be a bit of a hassle to figure out how to do it, but it definitely would be worth it.

I’d also like to see organized outdoor barbeques.

Heather MacLeod – Deli Clerk – Alta Vista

I would like to see a sailing regatta, 10-speed cycling races, and a few organized ‘fun runs’. Something that would be really popular would be local outdoor dances.

We need the type of activities that gets the whole community involved together and gives everyone something to do besides handing around in bars.

Min Carter – Waitress – Alta Vista

Horseback riding, definitely, because there’s nothing nicer than riding horses through the mountains. I’d like to see organized overnight rides up into the hills complete with tents and packs.

The biggest thing we lack here is getting things organized. We’ve got almost everything else.

Frank Switzer – Bartender – Gondola Area

We need more support from the whole town for existing athletes in the form of providing both enthusiasm and facilities. People know that sports exist here – why don’t they push a little harder to develop them?

I think the Town Centre should support the fastball league a little better. Who knows? Someday this town could compete on a national or international level in a variety of sports.

Harry Carman – Unemployed – Adventures West

It’s an outdoor area, so I want to see fishing and baseball. One thing we definitely need is horseback riding, which I hear they’re going to be starting soon.

They also need to build more hiking trails because it’s such a beautiful area, people should be able to explore and enjoy it more.

Also, we need more access to the lakes around here.

Paul Roche – Unemployed – Alpine Meadows

We need some community organization. I’d like to see organized hikes and outings into the back country, and tournaments for baseball or soccer – any activities which generate a community feeling and allow people to get to know each other in ways other than working together.

We need more in the way of public facilities like tennis and racquet ball courts.

One good project would be the restoration of the rec centre.

Reporting on Alta Lake

Last Thursday (March 25, 2021) the Whistler Museum’s second virtual Speaker Series took a look at journalism in Whistler since the 1970s.  Our guests Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie, have worked on and founded some of the best known publications in the valley: The Whistler QuestionThe Whistler Answer, and Pique Newsmagazine.  Before we explored recent journalism, we took a look back at earlier sources of news in the area.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933.  Some these students were the ones to start the Alta Lake School Gazette. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.

The first source of news published in Alta Lake came from the Alta Lake School in 1939.  Older students at the school created the Alta Lake School Club, which sponsored The Alta Lake School Gazette.  The Gazette published six issues from February 11 to June 5, 1939, and was staffed by names that may sound familiar: Bob Jardine, Tom Neiland, and Helen, George and Jack Woods.  The stated purpose of the Gazette was “to give a current account of happening each month as seen by its editor and his staff.”  Its column “Local News of Interest” included a mix of opinions, observations, and gossip about the residents of the Alta Lake area and their comings and goings.  The Gazette also included a few pieces about news outside of Alta Lake, such as a boxing match and an editorial on the Canadian Navy, which were most likely put together with information from the radio or The Vancouver Sun, which was available at the store at Rainbow Lodge.

First Alta Lake Community Club picnic on the point at Rainbow.  Philip Collection.

In 1958, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began publishing a newsletter to which members and friends could subscribe.  The newsletter went by various names between 1958 and 1961: The Alta Lake Reminder, Community Weekly Sunset, the Alta Lake Echo, and the Alta Lake Owl.  As a community newsletter, it wasn’t necessarily known for its serious reporting but did keep people up-to-date on the travels of residents and frequent visitors to the area, community events such as dances and clean-ups, and the weather.  The newsletter also included a series about the local environment by then-club president Bill Bailiff and an abridged version of Hamlet (sadly, the museum does not have a complete retelling of Hamlet from the ALCC, which appears to be far more humorous than Shakespeare’s version).  In 1961, the newsletter was taken over by the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and then ceased publication.

Garibaldi’s Whistler News advertises spring skiing in their Spring 1969 issue.  The entire publication was meant to promote Whistler Mountain.

A lot changed in the area between 1961 and 1967, when Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began publishing Garibaldi’s Whistler News (GWN) in November.  Early editions of GWN were put together by Jack Bright and Lynn Mathews, who described the publication as a “good news” newspaper meant to promote Whistler Mountain.  GWN reported on developments in the valley, such as new lodges and businesses, and some years included a column by Ray Gallagher of Brandywine Falls Resort similar to the community news reported in earlier newsletters.  However, as the purpose of GWN was, as Lynn stated, “to get people up that road,” few stories said anything negative about the area and the development happening around Whistler Mountain.

Outside of the Alta Lake area, local news could be found in the newspapers of Squamish.  The Squamish Times, owned by Cloudesley Hoodspith from 1957 to 1992, and the Squamish Citizen (also published by Hoodspith) included Alta Lake/Whistler news, but their primary focus was not on this area.  It was not until the 1970s that the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler would be represented by an official local newspaper.

To learn more about journalism in Whistler from the 1970s to the present, you can find the video from last week’s event here.

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.