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Alta Lake's first firefighters

50 years on

by and


Circa 1914 : Ernest Archibald preempted 160 acres of land at today's Alta Vista neighbourhood. Reportedly, he was Alta Lakes' very first Fire Warden. Unfortunately for Ernest, a "controlled fire burn" he lit got out of control torching a few hundred acres along the railway tracks – he was fired soon after.

To witness Whistler today compared to the little railway siding at Alta Lake of just two or three generations ago is overwhelming.

Long-time locals can still remember epic and oft times "white-knuckled" drives up the '99 long before the 2010 Winter Olympic upgrades.

More than one hundred years ago, hearty individuals and bright-eyed trailblazers left their first tentative marks on our valley. Self-reliance and a healthy dash of ingenuity were required skills for those first European settlers. By definition early Alta Lake residents were truly rough and ready pioneers.

Even with the arrival of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in 1914, homesteaders had only themselves and a few far-flung neighbours to secure life's necessities. Prospectors, hermits, loggers, a few subsistence farmers and early fishing lodge entrepreneurs dotted the mostly empty landscape.

Though time marched on outside the valley, through the 1940s Alta Lake remained a remote backwoods, especially in the winter months; the closest doctor was "down the tracks" at Squamish with a trip to the hospital or getting medicine a two-day round trip by train.

By the '30s, Alta Lake's first schoolteacher was hired to teach all eight of the school-age children in the valley. Twenty-three-year-old Margaret Partridge signed on for the annual salary of $750.00 with an isolation bonus of $10.00 per month. Not much money but at the height of the Depression, with thousands out of work and on bread lines, a job was a job.

Two world wars would come and go pulling some of Alta Lake's young men to Europe and beyond — some never to return. Over the years businesses opened and closed. Loggers and their families came and went while ever so slowly the surrounding forest gave way to the saw and the axe. Dreamy-eyed prospectors toiled along the mountain goat and pony trails searching for the "big strike" that was never found.

From that first arrival of the P. G. E. to the early 1960s, the slow pace of life up and down the tracks on Alta Lake's western shores witnessed only creeping change.

After a pedestrian first fifty years the 1960s would prove to be the transitional decade for Alta Lake. This 10 year period would be a part of the biggest leap forward, offering a hint of the potential for the tiny community — from a sleepy, summer alpine retreat to the first inklings of an international resort.