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Whistler's past goes online



The life and times of Myrtle Philip immortalized in a digital collection

Before there was a Whistler, there was a woman by the name of Myrtle Philip – you probably know the name because there’s a school and a community centre named after her, but you may not know her history that well.

Thanks to a joint effort by the Whistler Museum and Archives, a grant from Canada’s Digital Collections, and the work of Pepper Sunlight Productions, a Vancouver-based multimedia company, you can learn all about Whistler’s first pioneer and resort operator.

Together with her husband, Alex, the two Philips built a fishing lodge in 1913 on the shore of Alta Lake, at the site of what is now called Rainbow Park. In its day, the lodge was world renowned, the most popular resort destination west of the Rockies.

Myrtle was an accomplished outdoorswoman, taking guests horseback riding, swimming, boating, hunting, skiing and skating, and as the community around the lodge grew, she helped it along where she could. She helped to found the first school, and guided Whistler’s development into a mountain resort by keeping natural values front and centre.

By the time she died in 1986, at the age of 95, she had seen Whistler transform from a lake in the woods with no permanent population to speak of to an international ski resort.

She also took lots of pictures. Which is what the Myrtle Philip Collection at Canada’s Digital Collections is all about.

"Now we have the collection in a form that people can look at instead of having it locked away in a vault," says Pat Gemmill, the curator and archivist for the Whistler Museum and Archives. "It’s a beautiful collection that really captures what it was like to live in Whistler back then."

The Myrtle Philip Collection is an educational Web site, including almost the entire photographic collection bequeathed to the Whistler Museum and Archives by Myrtle Philip herself in 1986. The total collection consists of over 2,000 vintage photographs chronicling the life and times of Whistler’s pioneers, and over a thousand of the pictures are now available on Canada’s Digital Collections Web site at

It took more than six months and $20,000 to scan and archive the pictures, which are organized under seven different subheads.

"The Life of Myrtle Philip" is a collection of Myrtle Philip pictures taken through the years, telling her story and the story of Whistler.

"Rainbow Lodge" is a collection of pictures taken at the fishing lodge through the various stages of its development, from a simple outback fishing lodge to a spa with cabins where people came to relax and take part in numerous activities.

The "Recreation" collection shows the different activities that people did, and in some cases still do, when they come to Whistler. The list includes horseback riding, mountain climbing, hiking, fishing, boating, swimming, skating, and skiing.

"Alta Lake Adventures" is about the weird and different side of Whistler, like the pet bear at Rainbow Lodge and the town’s first plane crash.

"Way of Life" gives you an idea of what hardships early settlers faced while making their living catering to tourists and adventurers, and surviving the snow and torrential rains.

"Then and Now" is a point-by-point comparison of Whistler, comparing the views then to the views now, from the development of the mountains, to the development of Alta Lake.

There is also a "Photo Album" collection that allows you to look at the other collections in a more logical order.

"This is an educational site, but we feel it’s of interest to anyone who lives or visits Whistler," says Gemmill. "Everybody wonders what it used to be like, and it’s amazing to see what’s changed and what stayed the same.

"They had some good times, the settlers, and in a lot of ways they were the same adventurers who still come to Whistler today."

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