Whistler Traveller Magazine - - TRAVELLER I CONTENT - STORY BY DAVID BURKE

In 2017, as Canada cel­e­brates 150 years since Con­fed­er­a­tion, it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that in large mea­sure, the post-Euro­pean-set­tle­ment his­tory of what is now one of the world’s most pop­u­lar moun­tain re­sort towns par­al­lels the larger story of the West, said Brad Ni­chols, the Whistler Mu­seum and Ar­chives’ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and cu­ra­tor. Bri­tish Columbia joined Con­fed­er­a­tion in 1871, but the driv­ing of the “Last Spike” on the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way at Craigel­lachie, B.C., in 1885, is what re­ally spurred the de­vel­op­ment of in­dus­try and the com­ing of civ­i­liza­tion.

Lo­cally, it was al­most 20 years later that mech­a­niza­tion ar­rived, but it had the same ef­fect, Ni­chols said. “The area changed a lot once the rail­way came through, with nat­u­ral resource ex­trac­tion be­com­ing much more prom­i­nent,” he said. “Prior to the rail­way com­ing through, most of the econ­omy that was hap­pen­ing was trap­ping, which is a prom­i­nent part of Cana­dian her­itage. That’s how this part of the coun­try be­came more mapped out and de­vel­oped.”

John Mil­lar, de­scribed in lo­cal his­tor­i­cal lore as “a Texan with a check­ered past,” has a prom­i­nent role in the postEuro­pean-set­tle­ment his­tory of Whistler. But viewed in the con­text of the broad sweep of the set­tle­ment of the Cana­dian West, the time Mil­lar spent in what’s now called the Whistler Val­ley — es­pe­cially how he earned his liv­ing — isn’t par­tic­u­larly unique.

Known to some as “Ma­hogany John,” Mil­lar was a trap­per. Hav­ing ar­rived in the area in 1906, he set up traps to catch marten, wolver­ines, rab­bits, mink, muskrat and beavers. It was dur­ing one of his Van­cou­ver trips to sell his furs that he met Myr­tle and Alex Philip and in­vited them to visit his stop­ping house along the Pemberton Trail at what’s now known as Mil­lar Creek, near Func­tion Junc­tion. They learned that his tales of abun­dant rain­bow trout and other species in the nearby lakes were true and, in 1914, the cou­ple opened a fish­ing get­away called Rain­bow Lodge. In that same year, Mil­lar “felt the push of civ­i­liza­tion” with the ar­rival of the Pa­cific Great East­ern (PGE) Rail­way and moved fur­ther north, ac­cord­ing to his of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy at the mu­seum. It should come as no sur­prise that lo­cal First Na­tions hold an­ces­tral ti­tle to the area. For thou­sands of years the peo­ples of the Squamish and Lil’wat na­tions had an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with the land of the Whistler Val­ley — part of their shared tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory. They used the area for hunt­ing, berry pick­ing and cer­e­mo­nial pur­poses. The na­tions now share their unique cul­tures and tra­di­tional be­liefs at the award-win­ning Squamish Lil’wat Cul­tural Cen­tre. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit

Events else­where in B.C. in­flu­enced events here. The first non-abo­rig­i­nal vis­i­tors to the area, first known as Sum­mit Lake and later Alta Lake, were Wil­liam Downie, a Scot who took part in the Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s, and Joseph Mackay, a fur trader for the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany. Ac­com­pa­nied by four as­sis­tants and three Lil’wat guides, Downie and Mackay vis­ited in 1858 on a com­mis­sion from the colo­nial gov­ern­ment to ex­plore the area for a route link­ing the head of Howe Sound to the B.C. in­te­rior and its bur­geon­ing gold mines. Mostly fol­low­ing a se­ries of pre-ex­ist­ing trails, the Pemberton Trail, which was im­proved af­ter Downie’s and Mackay’s visit, was one route used to trans­port men and sup­plies to the Cari­boo Gold Rush of 1861-’67.

Forestry and min­ing came to the area af­ter com­ple­tion of the rail­way. In the 1920s, Ali­son and Ross Barr es­tab­lished a sawmill at Parkhurst, on the north­east shore of Green Lake. The em­ploy­ees, num­ber­ing be­tween 60 and 70, lived in bunkhouses and a few fam­ily homes on site. The mill op­er­ated off and on un­til the 1950s. Foun­da­tions and at least one in­tact build­ing from its past ex­is­tence re­main. This past spring, the Re­sort Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Whistler pur­chased 81 hectares (200.5 acres) of land on which the mill op­er­a­tion stood as part of its pro­gram of pre­serv­ing prom­i­nent green spa­ces.

Early min­ing op­er­a­tions in­cluded the Green Lake Min­ing and Milling Co., which started op­er­at­ing around 1910. Work­ers mined 10 small claims on Whistler Moun­tain, find­ing small quan­ti­ties of gold, sil­ver and cop­per, “but never in com­mer­cially vi­able quan­ti­ties,” mu­seum records state. Later, Harry Horstman — for whom the Horstman Glacier on Black­comb Moun­tain is named — lived in a cabin on the slopes of Mount Sproatt, dig­ging sev­eral tun­nels from which he mined “enough cop­per to eke out a mod­est liv­ing.” The steps in Whistler’s de­vel­op­ment, from trap­ping to recre­ational use to in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, oc­curred much later than they did else­where in the west. None­the­less, the steps were the same, Ni­chols said.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Whistler’s his­tory, visit the Whistler Mu­seum and Ar­chives, 4333 Main St., or whistler­mu­




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