What makes Whistler’s history so exciting is that instead of reading dusty history books about the former summer fishing resort’s pioneers of the 1950s and ’60s, those stories are shared by the legends themselves.
Watching Don MacLaurin sit in one of Whistler’s original chairlifts crowned with a toque advertising the name of the first mountain operator, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., outsiders not privy to the $6.50 lift ticket price of the ’60s could only imagine themselves riding the lifts mid-week, when the mountain was virtually deserted.
MacLaurin was one of 15 Whistler icons to spin a few yarns from Whistler’s history as part of the Whistler Arts Council’s 25 th Anniversary celebrations at the Four Seasons Resort last weekend.
The tales dated as far back as 1955, when Florence Petersen moved to the valley as a summer resident to live with a group of girlfriends in a shack with no running water or electricity. The hardened women scrubbed clothes clean on washboards, chopped wood to boil water and ordered food by mail from the Woodward’s department store.
Saturday night dances at the Rainbow Lodge were the highlight of the young girls’ week. The dance began when they arrived and ended when they left.
When ski cabins began to spring up on the eastern slopes of the valley they brought “civilization”, and with civilization came crime. Petersen recounted how chainsaws were used to saw through floors and rob the liquor store trailer, and how robbers hitched the bank trailer to a car and hauled it away.
Whistler’s growth was all about trial and error.
Peter Alder, general manager of Red Mountain in Rossland in the 1960s, and later general manager of Whistler Mountain, explained why Red Mountain got its gondola up and running before Whistler did. Whistler Mountain was supposed to open in 1965, but when a trial run of the new gondola was conducted, with each cabin loaded down with 100 pounds of sand, the gondola stopped dead after 50 feet. Upon further investigation it was discovered the lift was missing a tower.
Much has changed, but some things remain, even after 40 years.
John Hetherington, former owner of Whistler Heli-Skiing, talked about the housing problems back in the old days. Not much has changed, only the solution back then was building cabins on $10,000 lots, the most famous being Toad Hall, which required a “small sawmill” to keep the wood-burning fireplace going. With no electricity, Toad Hall residents didn’t notice when the summer diesel in one of the town’s two generators froze, blowing the main transformer for the entire valley on Boxing Day. It took five days before electricity was restored in the –30 temperatures. The only place in town with the luxury of propane heat was the newly built Boot Pub.