Whistler is one of North America’s most popular resorts. Welcoming around 3 million visitors each year, it’s famed for it’s mountain adventures and, of course, legendary snow. Whistler has always had a captivated audience. We thought we’d team up with Whistler Museum and delve into the archives to reveal Whistler’s first ever resort.
The Trapper’s Tale
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the Whistler Valley – then known as Alta Lake – was home to a handful of trappers, prospectors and loggers. Life was rough and the only connection to the outside world was the Pemberton Trail, a rugged path leading from Squamish (then called Newport) to Lillooet and the interior goldfields.
In the spring of 1911, a local trapper named John Millar (for whom Millar Creek in Function Junction is named) was in Vancouver selling some of his furs and picking up provisions. One day a hungry Millar stopped by Gastown’s Horseshoe Bar & Grill where he struck up a conversation with the restaurant manager Alex Philip.
Millar’s description of his secluded mountain valley struck a chord with Alex, who had recently moved to British Columbia from Maine with his wife Myrtle. It was the Philips’ dream to one day open a fishing retreat in the Canadian wilderness, so they were enthralled by this tale of a string of glacier-fed lakes teeming with trout. They took Millar up on his offer and made the three-day trek to Alta Lake that August.
Welcome to Alta Lake
It was perfect. They fell in love with Alta Lake, instantly recognizing that this was the place to pursue their fishing retreat dreams.
In 1913 Alex and Myrtle returned and purchased 10 acres of land on the west side of Alta Lake from another local trapper, Charlie Chandler. To raise money Alex returned to managing the Horseshoe in Vancouver, while Myrtle’s family, the Tapleys (for whom Tapley’s Farm and Tapley’s Pub are named), moved out from Maine to help build their lodge.
By 1914 Rainbow Lodge fishing resort was completed. It had four bedrooms, a large living/dining area and a kitchen. This same year the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) reached Alta Lake and opened the valley to the outside world as it was now accessible in a single day from a rapidly growing Vancouver.
A Tourism Boom
The Philips jumped at the PGE’s offer of running “fisherman’s excursion” packages in partnership with Rainbow Lodge. $6 bought transport to and from Alta Lake, two nights stay at Rainbow Lodge and all the fish they could catch. The first such trip brought 22 men up from Vancouver, who returned to the city raving of the great fishing and grand mountain views. From that moment on the Philips had little trouble attracting business.
Rainbow Lodge quickly became the centre of a growing Alta Lake community as other lodges and summer cottages were built around Alta Lake, Alpha Lake and Nita Lake. By the 1930s the Philips had added 45 outbuildings to support their growing operation, including a general store, a horse-stable, tennis courts, and a dedicated railway station. Rainbow Lodge advertisements boasted that it was the most popular tourist resort west of Jasper.
What Happened To Rainbow Lodge?
Unfortunately, Rainbow Lodge burned down in 1977 but today the area has been renewed as Rainbow Park. Some of the original guest cabins and a replica of “the Bridge of Sighs” are still standing at the park, right next to Whistler’s largest public beach.
For more information about Whistler’s history, including how the resort got its new name, check out our friends at the Whistler Museum or visit their website: http://www.whistlermuseum.org/
Enjoying the history lesson? Check out these awesome photos from Nita Lake Lodge’s past – also kindly provided by the Whistler Museum.