Fishing Alta Lake


Before Whistler became known as a ski resort, Alta Lake was known as a summer and fishing destination, drawing visitors and summer residents each year to join the relatively small population of residents who stayed in the area throughout the year. Summers were busy and groups such as the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) and Alta Lake Sailing Club regularly hosted events during the season, including dances, regattas, and a Fish Derby.

Fishing was a popular activity for both residents and visitors to Alta Lake and getting to eat what they caught could turn into a social occasion. For David Fairhurst, whose parents owned Cypress Lodge and who was a child at Alta Lake in the 1960s and 1970s, fishing was also something to do at a time when there were relatively few children in the area and very few organized activities. As David remembered in an interview earlier this year, “You could go and do your own thing… Myself, I used to spend a lot of time fishing, tromping around the creeks and the lakes and stuff.”

David Fairhurst shows off Pine mushrooms, rather than fish. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

According to Carol Fairhurst, her brother grew up fishing from “the day that he could see a fish” and he and their father would be out in a boat fishing all the time. Both David and Carol remember there being lots of fish. As David recalled, “Every body of water was teeming with fish” and he would catch Rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, Bull trout, and Kokanee. Most of the fish that David remembered catching were average size trout, though he did remember a few Rainbow trout that were sixteen to eighteen inches long, which were considered “really big fish.”

Some of the fish would be eaten fresh, some frozen, and others smoked. This abundance of fish meant that the freezers at Cypress Lodge and the Fairhurst family home would sometimes fill up. Florence Petersen, who was a close friend and neighbour of the Fairhurst family, wrote in 2006 that “Knowing that Andy [Petersen] liked to BBQ fish on the hibachi, David would come over every so often to ask if it was ‘time for a fish fry?’ We knew that this was the sign that he needed another freezer to store his catch!”

Cypress Lodge, September 1962. Fairhurst Collection.

Fish fries were a good reason for a get-together, whether it was an informal gathering of friends or an official event organized by the ALCC. Carol recalled taking either a dock with a motor or a boat out on Alta Lake and motoring around while people caught fish and they barbecued them on the spot.

John Burge, whose family first stayed at Cypress Lodge in 1956 and then built their own cabin to visit each summer, remembered the ALCC Fish Derby and the big community fish fries that would happen at the end of the summer. Though John didn’t enjoy fishing, his parents did. According to him, “If they got a big fish, they would… take it to Dick [Fairhurst] at Cypress Lodge and it would be frozen. Whoever got the biggest fish would win a prize at the end of the summer.” Although he didn’t recall the specific prize, the 1959 ALCC newsletter announced that the Fish Derby prize would be $10 for the largest Rainbow trout caught in Alta Lake “by any legal method.” All of the fish that had been saved from July through September would be thawed and cooked and eaten on the grass at the Cypress Lodge point.

Other competitions also took place during events at Cypress Lodge, such as pie eating contests. Fairhurst Collection.

As skiing and winters became more popular, fishing and summers became less prominent. Today there are not as many fish in the lakes and creeks and all fishing in Whistler is now catch and release. Fishing is no longer the main draw for visitors but other activities like mountain biking have once again made summer a busy season for the area.

3 thoughts on “Fishing Alta Lake”

  1. I remember one annual end-of-summer fish fry in particular: the community club had purchased a portable Wajax pump to use for fighting fires. Someone decided it would be a good idea to test the pump by using it to wash all the dishes, which were duly spread out on the lawn. The pump was fired up and the hose nozzle directed at the dishes, which promptly began to shatter under the force of the water. Not a big deal for most of us — our dishes (like our furniture) tended to come from St. Vincent de Paul and were mostly mismatched.

  2. One other comment: the middle picture (the one with the float plane tied to the dock) shows the diving tower Dick built out of spare lumber. (Everyone’s docks in those days were built on logs salvaged at the north end of the lake, where they ended up after breaking free from the booms at the south end.). The diving tower was a big attraction for all the neighborhood kids to go and swim at Cypress instead of their own docks. There was a diving board (a 2 X 12 plank) at about the 3-meter level, and a platform at about 5 meters. We mostly jumped off the platform, but if someone actually dove off it, it would set the entire dock rocking as the tower swayed back and forth in reaction. Great fun for everyone!

  3. I also remember jumping and diving off the tower, I also remember Grandma Fairhurst yelling at us to get the hell down
    from there as we layed flat on the top trying to hide from her, I remember the log rolling at the Labor Day Regatta with Uncle Dick, he wouldn’t give up until he knocked me off. What a great place to grow up as a city kid, best memories of my childhood

Leave a Reply