Features & Images » Feature Story

Her Story

Four women of influence in the Sea to Sky corridor talk about their lives and work this International Women's Day



It is 101 years since Whistler icon Myrtle Philip trekked from her home in East Vancouver to the Whistler region with her husband Alex. The couple, galvanized by a tipsy miner's tales of the natural wonders of the area, came north in 1911 with the idea of building a guest lodge.

The result was Rainbow Lodge on the north-west side of Alta Lake, with easy access to nearby rail lines. Rainbow Lodge was a relatively diminutive log guesthouse that was very much in keeping with the great holiday lodges of the day like the Banff Springs Hotel, appealing to city folk wanting an escape, with easy access to rail transportation.

The lodge stood 63 years, from 1914 to 1977. It didn't outlive Myrtle. 

Whistler's resident historian Florence Petersen is frequently sought out for her stories and reminisces from Whistler's earliest days. She remembers that when she first arrived in 1958, the total year-round female population totalled six, including Philip.

Now 83, Petersen overflows with stories about women of the Valley including Philip, her next-door neighbour of 30 years. Philip, Petersen recalls, was a builder at heart, becoming the region's first school board trustee in the days when attending a meeting meant a three-day round-trip overland to Squamish. As more people settled here, as skiing carved out a permanent alpine presence, Philip helped in her own way, establishing numerous community groups.

"She was a great community person, a very positive person," Petersen says. "Myrtle welcomed the change (when more people came to the region)... she was progressive in her thinking."

Eventually Philip, who died in 1986, was named the first freeman of the Whistler municipality.

"She's definitely the icon here of what a woman could do and did do," says Petersen, clearly proud of her friend. "It wasn't all talk with her, she was a great raconteur but she dug in and worked if there was a chore to be done. A real pioneer, a real pioneer."

In 1911, the very year Myrtle and Alex made their move from their home near the Burrard Inlet, the first International Women's Day was being marked by tens of thousands in Europe.

Established around human rights issues of the day such as allowing women the right to vote and the right to hold public office, the March 8 celebration has developed and expanded with women's rights and feminism over the years and means different things in different parts of the world. In many countries, including Afghanistan, it is a national holiday.

In Canada, there will be many rallies, walks and social events; in Whistler and Squamish the play The Vagina Monologues will be performed. The play has actors speaking out about episodes, good and bad, peaceful and not, from the lives of women from around the world. Originally based on interviews with 200 women, it has proved hugely popular since the playwright Eve Ensler first performed it off-Broadway in 1996.