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.”
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!”
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.
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.