Tag Archives: Witsend

Dick Fairhurst of Cypress Lodge: Part Two

This week we’re continuing the story of Dick Fairhurst, who first came to Alta Lake in 1943. (You can read part one here) By 1955, he owned three adjoining lots on Alta Lake, including the property today known as The Point, and was operating a collection of cabins and a tearoom under the name Cypress Lodge.

At Cypress Lodge, guests could participate in many activities, including fishing, hiking, berry picking, and picnics, as well as community events in the summer such as movies and dances.  Luckily, Dick did not have to run the entire business by himself while continuing to work on his traplines and in forestry.

Cypress Lodge, September 1962. Fairhurst Collection.

In the summer of 1955, his mother Elizabeth Alice Fairhurst came up from Vancouver to run the tearoom for him.  She also looked after the cabins, did the laundry, and cooked for guests, running what others would describe as “a tight ship.”  Though she originally came for just one season, she stayed for fifteen years.  Dick added a bedroom to his house on the property and enlarged the kitchen, ensuring his mother would be comfortable at Alta Lake.

Dick also had some new neighbours move in that summer when a group of teachers from the Lower Mainland bought the Masson house.  June Tidball, Florence Strachan, Eunice “Kelly” Forster, Jacquie Pope, and Betty Gray became regular Alta Lake visitors and rechristened their cabin “Witsend.”  According to June, Dick brought them hot water on their first evening at the cabin to welcome them to Alta Lake and became a trusted friend of the group.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen.  Whistler Question Collection.

Dick and Kelly Forster (the same Kelly who once sewed her friends’ pyjamas shut) married in 1958 and Kelly moved to Alta Lake full-time, becoming involved in the running of Cypress Lodge.  The pair made a plan to replace the old cabins on the waterfront and build a new lodge building.  They began by clearing the point constructing new cabins, completing four by 1962.  These cabins had the distinction of housing the first coloured plumbing at Alta Lake, though sadly we do not know what colour their plumbing was.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

In February 1963, apparently not an incredibly snowy winter, the Fairhursts laid the forms for the foundations of their new lodge.  Fully booked for the 1965 Victoria Day long weekend, Cypress Lodge was finished just in time, with the furniture arriving on the Saturday and assembled by friends, neighbours, and even guests.

Along with the lodge, the Fairhurst family had grown during these years.  Dick and Kelly had two children, David and Carol, who grew up at Alta Lake, attending the Alta Lake School.

Cypress Lodge became a gathering place for the small Alta Lake community through the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  The wharf was the base for the Alta Lake Sailing Club’s Dominion Day Derby on July 1 and the annual Regretta (named for the regret at the season ending) on Labour Day, where events such as pie eating contests and a fish fry took place alongside boat races.  In the winter Dick and Kelly would also open the lodge for New Year’s Eve parties.

Dick Fairhurst, the owner of Cypress Lodge, was a ski-doo enthusiast, pictured with his children David and Carol. Fairhurst Collection.

The Fairhursts continued to operate Cypress Lodge, renting cabins out to Whistler Mountain employees and highway crews, until 1972 when they sold the property to the Canadian Youth Hostels Association.  In 1973 they moved into their new home built by Andy Petersen on Drifter Way, where they stayed until both David and Carol had graduated from high school in Pemberton.  In 1980 Dick and Kelly moved into a house Dick had built for them in Parksville, where Dick took up golfing, salt-water fishing, and gardening.  Sadly, Dick died in October 1983.

Dick Fairhurst is remembered for many things in Whistler in addition to Cypress Lodge.  He also helped found the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club, maintained the dump site with the Valleau logging family, served as the Fire Chief for the volunteer force, put the barrel out on the lake for the Alta Lake Community Club’s Ice Derby, and was named Citizen of the Year in 1972.

Dick Fairhurst, Stefan Ples and Doug Mansell rafting the Alta Lake fire shelter and its contents across the lake to Alta Vista, 1967. Petersen Collection

Pranks at Witsend

When describing summers spent at Alta Lake, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) once explained how she, June Collins, Kelly Fairhurst, Betty Atkinson, and Jacquie Pope (her fellow Witsend residents) would plan their days: “You’d take a walk, and say ‘What’ll I do today?’  Something would happen that would lead to something else.”  Sometimes these walks would lead to days that, though not necessarily the most productive, were still remembered by the Witsend group for their fun nearly fifty years later.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen continue to share a laugh well after their Witsend days. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Florence remembered one walk in particular that ended with an elaborate prank being played on one of the seasonal forestry workers staying at Alta Lake.

She and Julie, a visiting friend, were out walking when Julia accidentally killed a grouse while tossing rocks down the path.  As a biology teacher, Julie had with her all the necessary equipment to skin the bird, after which the pair decided to stuff the skin.  They took it and poultry meant for their dinner with them to the forestry cabin.  They suspended one bird above a door, to fall into the face of the next person to enter, and arranged the other on the table so that it appeared to be sitting cross legged while staring at the door.  This might have been startling enough, but the pair went further and filled the bottom of the sleeping bag with the cabin’s cutlery.

Trail rides had always been a part of summer at Rainbow Lodge, and sometimes the Witsend group would ride along on the extra horses. Philip Collection.

The Witsend group was well acquainted with “the forestry guys,” and knew that the joke would be taken well.  Unfortunately for the occupant of the cabin, his boss from the city happened to be visiting that day and his departure was delayed.  The boss had to stay the night, and the forester kindly offered to take the couch while his boss used the sleeping bag.  After being greeted by flying poultry and finding a fork with his foot while going to bed, this was a stay that the boss would remember.  As Florence recalled, “Of course, all of the forestry kids knew who it had been, but they wouldn’t say.”

Perhaps the best story of a Witsend prank came from June Collins.  The group used to ride horses at Alta Lake, often getting to take the spare horses on Rainbow Lodge trail rides.  One day, there were only four horses and five hopeful riders.  Kelly very kindly volunteered to stay behind and the other four happily went off to spend the day on the trail.  According to June, when they returned to Witsend they found Kelly looking “like she was going to burst.”  When asked what she had gotten up to that day, a sparkling eyed Kelly told them “Nothing.”  When they tried to go to bed, however, the other four discovered just what Kelly had spent her day doing.

The beds had been apple-pied and filled with pop bottle caps, and Kelly had meticulously sewn their pyjamas shut an inch in, making them impossible to put on.

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

They never got mad at each other but took such practical jokes as the fun they were meant to be.  Despite their antics, those who lived at Witsend could also be serious and practical.  As June described it: “All of us had been the same kind of people.  We worked hard, we had always worked hard.  We all had jobs in the summer and we taught in the winter and we went through school.  We did everything right and we never had time for fun.  When we got up there, wow, what a difference.  Why not have it?  So we had a good time.”

Traveling to Witsend with June Collins

On March 26, 2013, one of the staff at the Whistler Museum sat down to record an oral history with June Collins.  June Tidball, as she was known during her time at Alta Lake, was one of the original owners of Witsend, a cabin on Alta Lake.

June was born in Banff, AB to Tom and Anne Tidball.  Though she grew up in Alberta, June’s family had strong ties to Vancouver and the west coast.  Her father was a well-known lifeguard at English Bay, where he met her mother who worked as a ticket taker.  The pair married, moved to Alberta, and then returned to British Columbia in 1941.

June attended the University of British Columbia and after graduating went on to teacher training.  Her first teaching job was at Burnaby North High School in 1953, the same school at which Florence Petersen (then Strachan) taught.  The two did not meet during that first year, as Florence was on exchange in England.  June said that the next year, however, “We made an instant friendship.”

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

June, Florence, and three friends began to get together, going on weekend trips and outings.  June’s friend Betty Atkinson taught in Armstrong, BC, and Florence knew Jacquie Pope and Kelly Forster from teaching in Burnaby.  Betty had worked summers at Rainbow Lodge while attending university and Jacquie and Kelly had both stayed there.  When Betty heard of a cabin for sale on Alta Lake in 1955 the group decided to go in on it together.

June had many stories to share about their time at Alta Lake.  She described the long, often rainy, journeys which began with the Union Steamship from Vancouver to Squamish, followed by a train journey.  According to June, the couple of hours spent waiting for the train in Squamish was when everyone would run to the hotel to buy a case of beer.  She described how, when the train was ready to go, “He’d give two toots on the train and eveybody’d come running with their beer.”  With no store at Alta Lake apart from a general store at Rainbow Lodge, Squamish was the last stop for most supplies.

The Rainbow Lodge Post Office & Store was the only shop in the area and didn’t have too much variety.  Philip Collection.

Though it seemed everybody else was traveling up with beer, June described how the Witsend group decided that they would be “very elegant” and have a gin and tonic on their porch at 4 o’clock every afternoon.  They bought maraschino cherries and the proper glasses, but ran into a problem getting the gin.  The Squamish liquor store did not stock gin and they had to place a special order to have it brought in.  When they ran out at Alta Lake, they would tell a man they knew who worked on the train, and he would pick it up and bring it to them.  According to June, their gin was delivered in a shoebox, and the man would very discreetly tell them “Here’s the shoes you ordered.”

The group would spend most of their summer at Alta Lake, though June would travel to Vancouver from time to time to visit George Collins, then a dentistry student at McGill back for the break.

Three of the original Witsend owners share a laugh in the 1980s. (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen. Whistler Question Collection.

Though it is not currently business as usual at the Whistler Museum (especially as we are not at the museum, but working from home) we will continue to bring you more stories from Whistler’s past, including a few more stories from June Collins, each week.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@whistlermuseum), where we’ll be sharing photos, trivia and more each day.  We hope to see everyone back at the museum soon!

Jacquie Pope’s “Vatican”

Earlier this month, we were invited to attend the Alta Lake Road Block Party.  While sharing information about the neighbourhood’s history with residents, a couple came by to share some history of their friend Jacquie Pope with us.

Jacquie Pope first visited Alta Lake in 1953, when she and Kelly Forster (later Kelly Fairhurst) took a two week vacation at Rainbow Lodge.  After that holiday, Pope remembered that they returned every chance they got, including “the following summer and every long weekend in between.”  At the time travel to Alta Lake was an all-day affair and weekend trips took dedication.

Rainbow Lodge under the Greenwoods in the 1950s.

In 1955 Jacquie and Kelly were part of a group of teachers who bought a cabin together on Alta Lake Road.  The five women were Jacquie, Kelly, Florence Strachan (later Petersen), Betty Gray, and June Tidball.  At Alta Lake they learned to split wood, cook on a wood-burning stove, and lime an outhouse.  Their cabin, soon named “Witsend” after a particularly trying and rainy journey to Alta Lake, was a much-loved summer and weekend getaway for the group.

Jacquie sold her shares in Witsend in 1964 and bought her own lot further along the road.  She paid $1,500 to a PGE employee for Lot 30 and her house, built by Alta Lake Road neighbour Colin Ramsay, was completed in 1965.  In a play on her last name, the house was named “The Vatican”.  At that time it wasn’t uncommon to see names attached to properties, including Valhalla, the Gowery, Whispering Leaves, Woodbine Cottage, Worlebury Lodge, Primrose, the Vicarage, and Kelso Lodge.

(Left to right) Florence Petersen, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

Jacquie continued teaching in Burnaby and spent her summers at Alta Lake.  After retiring in 1983, she moved to Whistler full-time.

Florence remembered Jacquie as “the life of many a gathering,” especially when she led the sing-a-longs with her ukulele.  Jacquie had a passion for sports and had even played field hockey for Canada in the Netherlands in 1959.  During her retirement in Whistler she hiked, fished and even sailed her own Sabot, a sailing dinghy that is sailed single handedly, as part of the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Jacquie stayed at “The Vatican” on Alta Lake Road until 2001, when she sold the property and moved to Squamish to enjoy easier winters and a longer golf season.  James Collingwood, who bought Lot 30, demolished the house built by Colin Ramsay.

Three of the original Witsend owners! (Left to right) Jacquie Pope, Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The sign that hung outside “The Vatican” moved to Squamish with Jacquie and was reportedly displayed in her garden.  After her death in 2011, friends and neighbours of her inherited the sign and kept it in their own garden.

These friends of Jacquie’s attended the Alta Lake Road Block Party and brought with them the sign from her Alta Lake property, surprising us by donating it to the museum collections.  Despite spending decades outside, it is in remarkably good condition and the carved lettering is still easy to read.  The sign represents a period in the area when Alta Lake was a popular summer cottage destination, before visitors traded their sailboats for skis.  Though Jacquie’s house is no longer standing, artefacts like her sign provide insight into Whistler history.

It’s Women’s History Month!

October may be more widely known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but in 1992 the Government of Canada also designated October as Women’s History Month to “celebrate the achievements and contributions of women and girls across the country and throughout our history.”

Though any month could have been selected, October includes two important dates: the International Day of the Girl on October 11 and Persons Day on October 18.

Persons Day commemorates the decision Edwards vs Canada (AG) – also known as the Persons Case.  On October 18, 1929, Canada’s highest court of appeal (which at the time was in England) ruled that women are considered “persons” under the British North America Act of 1867 and should be eligible for appointment to the Canadian Senate.

Countless women have contributed to Whistler’s community over the years.  Some, such as Myrtle Philip and Nancy Greene (whose own appointment to the Senate was made possible by the Persons Case), are well known while others are less acknowledged though no less important. To celebrate Women’s History Month we’ll be sharing the stories of a few of these women, beginning with a group of young women who first came to the valley in the 1950s.

(Left to right) Florence Strachan, Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Betty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.  Petersen Collection.

Eunice “Kelly” Forster, Better Gray, June Tidball, Jacquie Pope and Florence Strachan were all teachers in the Lower Mainland when they first visited Alta Lake.  Together, the five managed to purchase a lot along the railway from the Massons.  While the asking price was $2,500, the group was able to get a reduced price of $1,500 due to their obvious love of the area and offer to pay in cash.  This price included a furnished summer cottage, dock, rowboat and toolshed.

The cottage, named Witsend after a particularly long and rain-soaked voyage up from Vancouver, became the women’s summer home for the next 10 years.  In 1956, some of them even bought the lot next door.  Sadly, Witsend burned down in November 1965.

June Tidball sold her shares after the fire, but by this time most of the women had ties to Alta Lake and the others remained in the valley, at least part-time.  Kelly Forster had married Dick Fairhurst in 1958 (the same Dick Fairhurst who would later recall Paul Golnick) and moved to Cypress Lodge.  She and Dick were active members of the growing community and Cypress Lodge acted as the base for the Alta Lake Sailing Club.

Cypress Lodge as seen from the lake. Fairhurst Collection.

In 1965, Jacquie bought another lot on Alta Lake and, with help from friends, had a house built in 1965.  She kept this house, nicknamed the Vatican, until 2001 when she moved to Squamish.

This left Witsend and the other shared lot to Betty and Florence.  Betty kept the site of Witsend until 2000.  Next door, Florence had the lot cleared and a house built under the supervision of Andy Petersen.  She and Andy married in 1967.

Even before retiring and moving to the house on the lake permanently in 1983, Florence was active in many of the community groups in first Alta Lake and then later Whistler.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.  Petersen Collection.

In 1986 she founded the Whistler Museum & Archives Society and, with a group of volunteers, gathered the beginnings of our current collection.  While serving as a marriage commissioner Florence performed over 1,000 services.

In recognition of her volunteer contributions, Florence was made Citizen of the Year in 1986 and awarded the Freedom of the Municipality of Whistler in 2012, the second woman to receive this honour (the first was Myrtle Philip).  Florence passed away in 2012 and is remembered today in Florence Petersen Park.

The End of an Era – Florence Petersen, 1928-2012

For anyone taking notes out there, here are three of the best ways to become a cherished member of your community:

  1. Found a museum that provides a safe haven for that community’s stories, ensuring that a sense of the past will survive into the future.
  2. Become a marriage commissioner and play a central role in the single-most important and happiest moment of many people’s lives.
  3. Simply have the warmest, most positive, charming demeanour you can at all times.
Florence Petersen, it goes without saying, did things right.

Photo: Bonny Makarewicz/Whistler Question Archives

As many know by now, Florence Petersen, who founded the Whistler Museum & Archives Society more than 25 years ago, passed away two evenings ago at her home on Alta Lake. While we have lost a pillar of our community and an irreplaceable store of knowledge about our community, a brief look at her life reveals much to celebrate.

At the time of her passing, Florence was the longest-tenured living resident of the Whistler Valley. In the summer of 1955, more than a decade before ski lifts began operating on Whistler Mountain, a youthful Florence Strachan and four school-teacher friends purchased a modest cabin called “Witsend” on the west side of Alta Lake.

The cabin quickly became a cherished summer and weekend retreat, and the five young women were welcomed into the tight-knit Alta Lake community. It was here that Florence met and soon married the charming Danish carpenter, Andy Petersen.

Florence (top left) and friends at Witsend, 1950s.

All the while, Florence’s professional life remained focused on her work as a teacher in Burnaby, not to mention athletic pursuits which even landed her a spot on Canada’s national women’s field hockey team and took her to Melbourne, Australia as an ambassador.

Upon retirement from teaching in 1983, Florence moved to Alta Lake full time. Retirement is a misleading term, however, because she immediately set upon fulfilling a promise she had made years previously to Alta Lake pioneers Myrtle Philip and Dick Fairhurst. Florence would ensure that the memory of their quiet lakeside community would not be overwhelmed and forgotten during the valley’s reinvention as a global destination resort.

She began collecting photographs and artifacts, speaking to the “old-timers,” gathering their stories, and on February 12, 1987 the Whistler Museum & Archives society was formed. For her efforts Florence was named Whistler’s Citizen of the Year.

Florence and her baby.

Florence became the ultimate source on the history of Alta Lake, authoring The History of Alta Lake Road, Whistler Reflections, and a third book, First Tracks: Whistler’s Early History which is set to be published shortly. Of course, her breadth of knowledge extended far beyond whatever made it to the written page, and her knack for story-telling made for an enriching experience.

Meanwhile, Florence also became the district marriage commissioner. In the days since Florence’s passing, we have heard from many people with fond memories of having Florence oversee their weddings. For anyone who knew Florence it is clear  she was just the woman for the job, possessing the poise to ensure the ceremony was seamless and dignified, but with an unwavering optimism that perfectly complemented the joyous nature of the occasion.

For all these major, measurable contributions that Florence made to Whistler, however, from preserving our past to helping so many couples as they embark on their future (aside from new births, is there a more optimistic, forward-looking event than a wedding?) it was the warmth of her presence that was perhaps her greatest gift.

Florence sharing a laugh with long-time neighbour and close friend Myrtle Philip.

While technically she has not been an employee or board member of the Museum for several years, Florence remained our leader emerita, her and Andy stopping in regularly with much-welcomed words of advice, encouragement, and fresh-baked cookies. Countless others in the community have similar stories of such ever-pleasant encounters.

While the Museum currently feels a little rudderless without the prospect of any more of Florence’s cookies, and the kind words that always accompanied them, we are left with the substantial  legacy of her tireless efforts and the inspirational model by which she lived.

Thank you Florence.

The Museum has a book of condolences on-site. Feel free to stop by and share a thought for Florence and her loving husband, Andy. We are open 7 days a week 11am-5pm.