By Andrew Mitchell
On Dec. 23, one of Whistler’s pioneering spirits passed away after battling illness for five years.
Eunice “Kelly” Forster was born in Burnaby in 1929, grew up in that community, and later taught at an elementary school near her home. She became good friends with four other teachers, and together they pooled their resources to buy a cabin over the railway tracks on Alta Lake, which they named “Witsend”. During that period she somehow acquired the nickname Kelly, which her friends feel she kept because she wasn’t overly fond of her first name.
It was in Whistler that Kelly met Richard (Dick) Fairhurst, a true pioneer who had moved to Alta Lake in 1944 to work at Gebharts sawmill near Alta Lake. Dick, with the support of his family, also rented some cabins out to vacationers on his Alta Lake property.
They married in 1958, and built Cypress Lodge — the future hostel — which catered to fishing tourists, highway construction workers, and skiers in the winter months. Fairhurst managed the busy kitchen, baked pies, and raised two children. David was born in 1960 and Carol in 1962.
Carol has so many memories of growing up in Whistler, and attending school at the one room Alta Lake School where her mother sometimes filled in as a supply teacher. Among her memories are her dad securing water rights to Scotia Creek to provide electricity for residents, taking deliveries by train, trips to Squamish on the logging road and to Vancouver by train, skating on the lake, ice fishing, and skiing in the early days of Whistler Mountain during the winter, and summers spent swimming, fishing, berry picking, hiking, and taking part in the popular sailboat regattas on Alta Lake.
Other fond memories include tug-of-wars on the wharves, the ice breakup derby on Alta Lake, the early rope tow behind Alta Lake road, a bear in the attic, and a coyote stealing the Christmas turkey.
Kelly and Dick sold Cypress Lodge to Canadian Youth Hostel in 1972 and moved to Alpine Meadows. In 1980, with both children graduated from high school, the Fairhursts decided to retire to Parksville on Vancouver Island, where they would have to shovel less snow and have more time for gardening.
Dick passed away in 1983, and Kelly remarried Lew Eilers in 1990. They moved around the Interior for several years before settling in Penticton. They later moved backed to Vancouver Island after Kelly was diagnosed with a rare wasting disease, called multiple system atrophy, to be closer to family and friends. Most recently they lived in Nanaimo from 2001 until the time of her death.
Although she moved frequently, Fairhurst remained in touch with her Whistler friends, and made some significant contributions to the Whistler Museum and Archives from her store of photos and other heirlooms.
Florence Petersen, one of the five teachers to buy Witsend, met Kelly in teacher’s college and continued her friendship until the time of her death. She will say a few words at Kelly’s service this weekend in remembrance of her friend of nearly 60 years.
“Kelly was really noted for her expert cooking and for making pies,” recalled Petersen. “Back in those days we didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing in Whistler, and everything was done by hand. She really did wonders with her old wood stove, and we all learned a lot from her.
“She was sweet, good natured, and very kind. We always did some camping together, and she was one of the three of us who gave Burnt Stew Basin its name. We were hiking the pass, and had a kettle with stew over the fire which we all forgot to stir. That was in August of 1958, and we christened it Burnt Stew Basin.”
Petersen remembers the Cypress Lodge as a community centre for the Alta Lake residents in the years, before the highway was pushed up from Squamish.
“(The Fairhursts) gave their property, their time, their kind-heartedness and let everyone come out to the point for just about everything. We had a sailing regatta, the “regretta”, which we held on Labour Day because it meant the summer was coming to an end, and they let the community club have the lodge for New Year’s Eve. It really was the centre of the town,” said Petersen.
“She was very conscious of being in a special spot and sharing it with everybody. Although she was a quiet type of person she really had a terrific sense of humour and she was very artistic. She spun her own wool, she made sweaters, she did needlepoint, and just did some fantastic quilting. A lot of people in town who knew her still have some of her quilts as wall hangings or mats. She would donate her work to every raffle and cause that came by.”
After selling the lodge in 1972 Kelly and Dick planned to move to Vancouver Island, but decided to delay the move another eight years until their children graduated high school. They also had a hard time leaving the community they helped to build.
Over the last 24 years Petersen hosted the Fairhursts on a regular basis when they visited Whistler, and went to visit them as well. She saw Kelly frequently at the beginning of her illness, but less in the last few years as the illness progressed and health problems kept her closer to home. Still, Petersen kept in touch through Kelly’s children, who would keep her updated by phone, letters and e-mail.
Petersen was saddened to hear of Kelly’s death, though it wasn’t unexpected. “She was a sweetheart, and I really lost her a couple of years ago you could say because of her illness. It’s a really unfortunate, unfair thing to happen to a wonderful person.”
Kelly is survived by both children and her husband. The funeral service is on Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Sands Funeral Chapel in Nanaimo, One Newcastle Avenue, at 2 p.m. All friends of Kelly’s are welcome to attend.