Tag Archives: Whistler Question

Rafting Through Whistler

Rafting has long been a favourite summer leisure activity throughout the Whistler Valley. In 1913, Alex and Myrtle Philip bought their 10-acre property on Alta Lake for $700 (where Rainbow Park is today). Rainbow Lodge and the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Railway were both completed the next year in 1914, and together they started offering Fisherman’s Excursions. The $6 package deal included train passage and a fully catered weekend of fishing at Rainbow Lodge. When the first group of 24 anglers disembarked the train for the Fishermen’s Excursion, Rainbow Lodge had multiple wooden rafts and one boat that visitors would fish from. The first excursion was a huge success with everyone catching fish. News of the fishing on Alta Lake spread rapidly throughout Vancouver, bringing a continual stream of visitors to Rainbow Lodge in the summer.

Rafting at Rainbow Lodge. Philip Collection.

When Hillcrest Lodge opened in 1946, rafting also played a role in entertaining guests. When new guests arrived at the train station, they would be greeted by current guests in costume and then transported across the lake in a convoy of rafts. During the stay, Hillcrest Lodge offered many organised activities for guests. One of their favourite activities were the musical raft rides around Alta Lake, not unlike those that float around on warm summer days today. Raft rides would also be used to transport locals and guests to and from the Saturday night community hall dances. The community would look forward to these dances and come out in force, with Rainbow Lodge and Hillcrest Lodge sharing the catering for these popular events.

Guests were escorted to Hillcrest Lodge via raft. Mansell Collection.

70 years after Myrtle and Alex bought their land on Alta Lake, the first commercial white water rafting venture in Whistler started. Whistler was still developing as a summer destination when Whistler River Adventures opened in 1983. Asked about how things changed in the rafting business over his 27 years as owner/manager, Brian Leighton was quick to say, “Competition.”

In the early to mid 1980s, anyone could start a rafting company and many more white water rafting companies popped up after Whistler River Adventures. Following some bad rafting accidents in 1987, including 5 people who drowned after their raft overturned on a log jam in the Elaho, the BC provincial government introduced stricter regulations. The regulations introduced mandates for each river, including rules on raft size and guide experience. Although many companies already chose to follow recommended safety guidelines, strict regulations had only been in place for five BC rivers prior to 1987. River-specific tenure for raft companies was also later introduced.

An identified rafting adventure near Whistler, July 1 1984. Helmets and wetsuits are worn today during commercial rafting tours, however the expressions of exhilaration remain unchanged! Whistler Question Collection.

Remembering a trip that would not happen today, Brian recounted a staff tour along the Cheakamus River below Daisy Lake Dam. This area is now closed to commercial groups due to concerns about The Barrier breaking, which could result in massive downstream flooding and landslides from Garibaldi Lake. During the staff trip the raft became stuck on a rock in the middle of the river. A staff member living in the now-gone Garibaldi Township saw a sandal float past on the river downstream of the stranded raft and went to see if everything was okay. Everyone was rescued, although the raft remained stuck. Whistler River Adventures knew the engineer working on Daisy Lake Dam and the following day BC Hydro shut off the dam so that the raft could be retrieved from the rock. It was the eighties after all!

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Whistler’s Answers: July 14, 1983

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 1983.  Please note, all names/answers/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: Construction began on the Whistler Village Resort/Recreation Centre in March 1980. It was still under construction when, in 1981, a recession hit North America and the Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) found themselves with debts of almost $8 million, liabilities coming to $30 million, and assets in the form of land that nobody wanted to buy. In January 1983, the provincial government formed Whistler Land Co. Developments (WLC; a Crown corporation) and took over the liabilities and assets of the WVLC, including the unfinished Resort Centre. WLC began reconstructing the site as a conference centre without the extra recreational facilities originally planned for the Resort Centre and the facility became known as the Sports & Convention Centre, today the Whistler Conference Centre. Find out more here.

Question: Are you satisfied with the progress being made on the Sports & Convention Centre?

Sue Rosser – Book Store Manager – Alpine Meadows

I think they should be moving much faster than they are on summer facilities because that’s what Whistler really needs. Rather than village clean-up and other projects I think they should have made finishing the convention centre a priority. I am glad they’re considering changes to the original plans and taking time to improve them.

Doug Fox – Chartered Accountant – Emerald Estates

Sure I am, considering the problems they are faced with in that structure. I don’t think people appreciate how complex that building is. The WLC board is only realizing now how complex and critical it is to put together the right components. I’m not surprised at all at the time taken and I’m glad they’re moving ahead on it.

Chris Moore – Real Estate Agent – Alpine Meadows

If the rec centre had been in the hands of the private sector it would be on line by now. I have an inkling of how the public sector works though, and can understand the delay. I’m sure they’ll eventually come up with an appropriate marketing strategy for the building.

The Real Story of The Longhorn Saloon

While you may have heard wild stories about the Texas Longhorns driving their cattle through Whistler to the Caribou, these are cover stories to the real series of events that led to the naming of The Longhorn Saloon.

The Longhorn Pub in December 1981. The hand-painted sign is a far cry from the slick branding you will see there today. Whistler Question Collection.

It all started when the phone rang in the Vancouver office of lawyer and business-person Dick Gibbons. On the other end of the phone line selling shares for a “terrific” stock, was a man with a terrible stutter. Dick said of this phone call, “I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdogs. Growing up on the railway tracks in Burnaby I know what it is like when you are considered an underdog. So after hearing this I said, ‘Okay, I’ll buy some’.” Making a fairly large purchase Dick received a certificate for his shares in the Canadian Longhorn Petroleum Company. Not long after the company started trading on the stock exchange it went out of business and the shares became worthless. As a reminder of this lesson Dick continued to keep the share certificate on his desk.

In Whistler in the early 1980s interest rates reached up to 22%. Many developments were halted as owners, developers and contractors faced economic hardship. Dick Gibbons did not set out to run a pub; he ended up running The Longhorn Pub because he could not sell it. Nobody was buying at this time.

The Longhorn Pub opened on December 23 1981, almost 11 months before the residential units of the Carleton Lodge were completed. After a successful opening and holiday season, the Whistler Question remarked on the “small miracle and lot of hard work” that allowed The Longhorn to open before the holidays. According to the newspaper, on December 21 The Longhorn was an empty shell with workers painting and dismantling scaffolding while floor tiles dried. Then, in just 48 hours, it was open for business and selling cold drinks and hot food.

The Longhorn was instantly popular in the winter. Here it is packed at the beginning of January 1982, not long after the grand opening. Whistler Question Collection.

Prior to opening, the liquor licensing branch said during a call that they would approve a liquor licence, they just needed a name to put on the certificate. Still sitting on the corner of his desk Dick Gibbons saw the worthless share certificate for Canadian Longhorn Petroleum Company, and thought, ‘Aha, I’m going to get some value out of this yet,’ and The Longhorn Pub was born! Later when the naming rules were relaxed it was officially changed from pub to The Longhorn Saloon.

Before the deck was completed, there was an orange plastic fence to indicate the boundaries of The Longhorn. During the ski season, despite patrons standing in the mud outside with no chairs to sit on, there would still be a line up to get inside the fence for a drink.

Summer was a different story. When Dick Gibbons called manager Gavin Yee to check on business he said, “Well it’s been kind of slow.” How slow exactly? Despite being late in the afternoon, the total sales for the day were one pack of cigarettes. To encourage summer recreation they tried everything to get the momentum going. They built a backstop at the old Myrtle Philip School and hosted slow pitch tournaments. Volleyball courts and a horseshoe pit were built in front of The Longhorn patio and games would run throughout summer.

Assistant manager Gavin Yee (left) poses with manager Peter Grant (right) in January 1982. Whistler Question Collection.

Eldon Beck’s vision of a bustling Whistler Village in summer encouraged Dick Gibbons to invest in Whistler during the original proposal meeting in 1979. Although it was a slow start, that vision has now been realised with summer visitation outpacing winter. Likewise, with the long lines, pumping music and gyrating dance floor, The Longhorn Saloon is a Whistler institution. The luck of The Longhorn did indeed turn around.

Whistler’s Answers: July 7, 1983

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 1983.  Please note, all names/answers/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: The Whistler Health Planning Society was formed in 1982 and that September opened the Whistler Medical Centre in a double-wide trailer on Whistler Way. The two doctors in Whistler, Dr. Christine Rodgers and Dr. Rob Burgess, as well as the public health nurse Marilyn McIvor and physiotherapist Susie Mortensen-Young, began practicing out of the facility. That winter, Whistler Emergency Services also began operating out of the Whistler Medical Centre. As of 1983, the Whistler Medical Centre did not have tools such as an x-ray machine and was a small space for the number of patients treated. Find out more about the Whistler Medical Centre’s early years here.

Question: How extensive do you think health care facilities at Whistler should be?

Sue Howard – Director of Sales, Tantalus Lodge – Whistler Cay

I don’t think we need a hospital yet, we’re not big enough. The health care facilities definitely need improving though. We should have an x-ray machine and perhaps a specialist in athletic injuries.

Gerd Bechtel – Air Traffic Controller – Munich, Germany

It sounds like you need a hospital here. What if someone is ill or has a skiing accident? It is a long way to Vancouver for proper care. It seems to me you have enough people here to have that facility.

Bart Imler – Unemployed – Emerald Estates

I believe Whistler needs certain facilities like an x-ray machine for sure. We don’t need a hospital because there’s not enough people to warrant one and if they tried to build it now it’d be so rinky-dink it wouldn’t be worth having.