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pioneer passages

Pioneer Passages Franz Wilhelmsen and Rose Tatlow were two local pioneers who left us in 1998 By Jack Christie As 1998 raced along, it gathered up two local pioneers, Whistler's Franz Wilhelmsen, 79, and Squamish's Rose Tatlow, 83. Over the course of their generously-long lives both left a hefty imprint on the history of the Lower Mainland, particularly in the Sea To Sky region. From 1960 until his retirement in 1983, Wilhelmsen, known as "the father of Whistler," was one of the visionaries behind the development of Whistler Mountain. Although I never met him, the piste christened in his honour that runs down much of the west face of the mountain is one of my all-time favourites. It's not a run to be hurried. I savour every twist and turn of it as I imagine what it must have been like for Wilhelmsen, a transplanted Norwegian, as he first plotted its outline. For me, the trail's wide, sweeping turns and generous drops that hug the contour of the mountain's west face speak of an intuition for design for which winter enthusiasts will always be grateful. One of the most knowledgeable tributes to Wilhelmsen's acuity came from Hugh Smythe, who in 1978 began to design Whistler Mountain's rival on the slopes of Blackcomb Peak. "I didn't truly appreciate how much of a visionary Franz was until I started to develop Blackcomb," Smythe said in a news release, upon learning of Wilhelmsen's death last April 29th. "He was incredibly perceptive, had a great sense of humour, and was charming and gentlemanly in every situation." Before moving to Blackcomb, Smythe worked for Wilhelmsen, who was then president of the Garibaldi Lift Company, the firm which later became the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation. Two years ago the operators of Whistler and Blackcomb merged their businesses under the Intrawest umbrella. Since then Smythe, now president of Intrawest's Resort Operations group, has had an opportunity to turn his attention back to Whistler Mountain. "As we continue to develop Whistler Mountain we have replaced many of the original lifts using exactly the same alignments that Franz chose so many years ago. Franz did a fabulous job in designing Whistler Mountain. It's tough to improve on his remarkable vision." One of the best places to pause for a moment and tip your toque in Wilhelmsen's memory is at the top of the T-bars, beside the Whistler Glacier. A small plaque is affixed here which pays tribute to his foresightedness. As you gaze around at an inspiring skyline of peaks and snowfields, it's easy to imagine how they provided the wellspring for his remarkable achievements. Rose Tatlow was a journalist cut from much the same cloth as another well-known British Columbia pioneer reporter and publisher, "Ma" Murray of Lillooet. From 1950 until her death last August, Tatlow worked at various publications, including as a reporter for The Province, the Squamish Advance, and editor of the Squamish Times. In 1970, Jack Webster presented her with the first B.C. School Trustees Association Newsman of the Year award. Throughout her life, Rose was an avid collector of Native legends, many of which she learned first-hand from individuals such as Chiefs August Jack and Jimmy Jimmy who would stop in for tea at her home on Loggers Lane. I first met her in the mid-1980s. It was curiosity that brought us together. On a trip through the small settlement of Skookumchuck, just north of Harrison Lake, I had stopped to visit an old, three-steepled church. As there was no sign to indicate its name or denomination and no one in sight to ask, I put out an appeal for more information while profiling the destination on CBC-Radio's Early Edition program, for which I was free-lancing. Fortunately, Tatlow happened to be listening and immediately got in touch with me. Soon afterwards a package of her "Looking Back" columns, which she published in the Squamish Chief, arrived in the mail. One of these identified the ageing Skookumchuck edifice as the Church of the Holy Cross, constructed in 1905. Thus began a friendship that deepened as I began work on the first edition of my Whistler Outdoors Guide, published in 1991. As Rose and I would drive around Squamish, she would point out obscure landmarks such as a chimney in a Brackendale field, built with bricks from William Shannon's kiln on Fairy Creek, which today is the site of Shannon Falls Provincial Park. The bramble-shrouded chimney is all that remains of the original roadhouse where Myrtle and Alex Philip stayed on their way to develop land around Alta Lake at the time of Tatlow's birth. Rose seemingly knew everyone who had made a mark on the region, some of whom she approved of more than others. One of the last conversations which we shared followed the creation of a 600-hectare bald eagle sanctuary in Brackendale by the provincial government in 1996. Rose worried that too much publicity surrounding the annual eagle count was actually driving the regal birds away from their feeding grounds on the Squamish River. She was equally dismayed that commercial development along Highway 99 near her home had spoiled the character of her beloved town and turned it into "hamburger row." Still, no matter how serious her countenance would become at times during our talks, she would stop frequently and flash me the sweetest smile as one corner of her mouth turned impishly upward. Although she didn't get out as much in recent years, from her home beside the Mamquam Blind Channel she would watch expectantly for trumpeter swans to return. Fortunately, she lived long enough to witness the opening of Rose Park on protected land set aside between Highway 99 and the Mamquam Blind Channel. Last June she cut the ribbon on one of the new bird houses erected in the park. If it can be said that Franz schussed his way heavenward, then we can just as readily imagine that Rose winged her way there, carried on a thermal breeze above the Coast Mountains that they both cherished.