Have you ever found yourself in an unlikely relationship? Perhaps a friendship with someone you thought you’d despise, a romance working against all odds or an interspecies partnership with your pet that you never expected to grow so strong. Most of us at some point in our lives have been pleasantly surprised by an unexpected yet beautiful relationship. Conceivably, the most unlikely duo in Whistler’s history is Molly the bear and McGee the pig.
So how did a pig and a bear come to be such great friends? Well, McGee the piglet was bought by a young girl named Betsy (DeBeck) Henderson at a farmer’s market in New Westminster, while Molly the bear cub was adopted by Betsy’s father. Molly was originally from Bella Coola – where Mr. DeBeck worked – and went by the name, Crisco (because she loved to break into cookhouses and eat shortening).
Betsy spent two summers at Green Lake in 1936 and 1937. During this time, Betsy’s brothers worked in the logging industry, also at Green Lake. Determined to keep the family close, Betsy’s mother insisted the family rent a cabin on Green Lake. They did just that, and with them came the whole family – including a cow, McGee the pig, Molly the bear and a Springer Spaniel named Freckles.
So began the unwavering bond between pig and bear. Neither of them took to the other animals the same way they did to each other. The two would play, eat and nap together. It’s safe to say that they rarely left each other’s sites. Even when the family would play a game of baseball, McGee would watch Molly as she’d try to grab the players and stop them from running from base to base.
After spending two summers at Green Lake, the DeBeck family continued their journey and moved to Victoria. What we know of Molly and McGee ends here. However, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, perhaps this strange and dynamic duo will inspire all of us to be especially appreciative of those inexplicable relationships in our lives, approaching them with nothing but warmth and love.
Although the Toad Hall poster’s infamy has persisted through the years, it became harder and harder to get your hands on one. Until 2013, when Toulouse himself came into the museum with a box of the original, 1973 print, posters that are still in mint condition. You can now get yourself one of these absolute classic pieces of Whistler history for yourself, available exclusively from the Whistler Museum!
(Warning: Nudity Alert)
This is the story of Whistler’s most famous photo, created on a whim one care-free spring afternoon four decades ago. 1973 in Whistler was another era. Less than a decade earlier, the construction of ski lifts on Whistler Mountain had put the previously quiet fishing resort on the map, attracting an influx of youthful, free-spirited ski bums.
Meanwhile, Whistler Village, Blackcomb Mountain, the Olympics and other major development remained little more than a pipe dream. Heck, many locals still lived without electricity or running water. Throughout the valley the ski bums lived in a wide variety of hand-built cabins, and conveniently vacated structures, perhaps none more revered than Toad Hall.
With a mere $75/month lease (for the property, not per person), this collection of wooden shacks near the north end of Green Lake, formerly known as the Soo Valley Logging Camp, came to be a focal point of the revelrous ski bum community. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that by the spring of 1973 tales of debauchery left local powers wholly unenthused with this shag-carpeted Shangri-la.
Toad Hall was slated for demolition later that summer. One sunny spring day, whoever was milling about was asked to convene out front with their ski gear, but wearing nothing else. The photographer, Chris Speedie, orchestrated the photo simply to provide residents with a memento before Toad Hall met its demise. The completely uninhibited and playful posing perfectly captured the spirit of the times.
Later, sensing the image’s iconic potential, a few “Toadies” scrounged together some cash and printed off 10,000 posters. At 2 or 3 bucks a pop, guerilla poster sales funded abundant “apres” sessions for years to come. The poster’s mastermind, Terry ”Toulouse” Spence, also worked for the Canadian National Ski Team.
During the height of the Crazy Canuck era, Toulouse brought boxes of posters along for the ride on the World Cup ski circuit. To this day it can still be found decorating the walls of some of the world’s most cherished ski bars. Despite the annotation in Kitzbuhel’s famed Londoner Bar, this is not “Canada’s National Ski Team”. The poster simply provides an unencumbered gaze back in time at early Whistler’s care-free lifestyle. And yes, some of the “models” still call Whistler home, but good luck getting any of them to admit it!
If you hike into the former site of Parkhurst on Green Lake today, you will find a few falling-down log cabins, and some rusted pieces of machinery that barely hint at its past as a booming logging community. There are also some more recent relics, including a once-white corvette with red leather seats, left behind by those that squatted at the site in the 1970s.
In November, Sarah Drewery, the Museum Collection Manager, interviewed Norm Barr, whose parents owned Parkhurst Mill from 1926-1930 and then stayed on to manage it until 1938. Although he was born in 1932, and was just six years old when they moved on to Brackendale, he was able to provide some interesting pieces of information to help fill out the story of the mill and settlement at Parkhurst.
Alison and Ross Barr were married in 1923, and lived in Mission, where Ross and his brothers William and Malcolm were running the Barr Brothers’ Logging Company. When they ran out of available timber, they began looking for suitable property elsewhere. Initially, they went to Vancouver Island, but ultimately found there was more potential in the area around Green Lake.
As luck would have it, there was a prime piece of land available right on Green Lake – the property had a point jutting out into the water, making it a perfect location for a steam-operated mill. This land belonged to the Parkhursts, who pre-empted the property in 1902. When Mr. Parkhurst passed away, Mrs. Parkhurst put it up for sale, along with the small log house they had built on the point. In 1926, it was purchased by the Barrs, who got to work building a mill and a camp for workers (including both bunkhouses and a few family homes).
When the mill opened, they named it after the former landowners. It had three crews, with the total number of workers fluctuating between 60 and 70. Due to the snow, the mill had to close from two to five months of the year, resulting in seasonal work for the crews. Workers came from Vancouver and elsewhere, but most stayed only temporarily.
The Barr’s Parkhurst Mill was a very successful business, shipping lumber as far away as Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. However, when the Great Depression hit, the price of lumber plummeted, making it impossible to cover the cost of transport. In 1930, the business went into receivership. According to Norm, the receiver hired Ross and Alison to remain on as watchmen while he worked to get the property sold. They were able to stay living in the house, but all they got for their work was $50 a month and a barrel of coal oil to burn for their lamps.
They were the only ones that stayed. All of the crew members left immediately, hoping to secure other work at a time when jobs were extremely scarce. As for the Barr brothers, Malcolm had met an unfortunate end in 1928 when he fell off of the boat they used to pull logs around into Green Lake and drowned. William moved to Vancouver when the business went under, worked some odd jobs, and got married.
In 1932, the operation was sold to Byron Smith and B.C. Keeley, and it was renamed Northern Mills. The Barrs remained on as managers of the thriving company until a spectacular fire burnt the mill to the ground in June of 1938. Although the mill was rebuilt and eventually reopened, the Barrs had moved south to Squamish by November of that year.
Immediately following the fire, what remained of the mill itself was moved to a site at the north end of Lost Lake. This was a somewhat shortsighted maneuver, and after 1939 it was moved back to Parkhurst, since the location next to the railway was significantly more convenient. The new mill was as big as the original one, and the settlement grew with more family homes added, a small store, and eventually a school. The mill operated until the 1950s.
If you want to get a glimpse of the past, we recommend paddling a canoe across Green Lake and spending some time exploring – while you’re there, imagine what it was like when the mill was operational. For more details on the later years of the mill, see the article “Family Life at Parkhurst Mill” here.
There’s a photograph in the Museum collection of an unlikely pair of friends: a bear cub and a piglet, leaning into each other as they happily lay on their backs. Until very recently, we assumed that the bear cub in the picture was none other than Alta Lake’s most famous bear cub: Teddy.
For those of you who have never heard the story of Teddy, it goes like this: In 1926, Whistler pioneer Myrtle Philip was out picking berries to make a pie with some Rainbow Lodge guests in the woods when they heard a whimpering sound. They soon discovered it was coming from a lone bear cub, whose mother was nowhere to be found.
Eventually, they decided to take the bear back to Rainbow Lodge, where he was given the name Teddy and spent the summer happily playing with lodge guests. By the fall, Teddy was getting too big to remain at the lodge, and was taken to the Stanley Park Zoo, where he lived out his days. Myrtle continued to visit him at the zoo over the years, where he would run up to the bars to greet her.
Teddy is the subject of many photos in the Museum collection, so it was easy to surmise that the bear in the photograph with a piglet must be Teddy as well. Recently, Archivist Sarah Drewery interviewed Norm Barr, the son of former Parkhurst owners Ross and Alison Barr, and discovered that there was another bear cub in the Alta Lake area, a decade after Teddy. This bear was named Molly, and Molly’s best friend was McGee – a piglet that had been purchased in New Westminster by a teenage Betsy Henderson (née DeBeck).
Betsy was interviewed this past month about the two summers she spent at Green Lake with her family, in 1936 and 1937. Her brothers worked in the logging industry, and her mother was eager to get the whole family together, so they rented a cabin at what used to be the Lineham’s mink ranch, prior to the Depression. According to Betsy, the remnants of the mink ranch remained, in the form of cages all over the property.
Making their way to Green Lake, the family of six didn’t travel lightly. At a time when travelling meant you had to take the train, the DeBecks managed to bring what might as well have been their own zoo with them: a cow, McGee, Molly, and a spaniel named Freckles. Not to be limited to four animals, they also rented two horses, and had a third horse which her brother Denis apparently found. Not one of them had prior experience riding a horse as they led their rentals away from the barn, but that’s another story altogether.
So if McGee came from a farmer’s market in New Westminster, where did Molly come from? Apparently Molly formerly went by the name “Crisco,” after her penchant for breaking into the cookhouse in Bella Coola, where she lived, and eating Crisco to her heart’s content. Betsy’s father Edward was working in Bella Coola, and decided to bring the bear cub to his family, staying at the mink ranch. As you can imagine, her owners were not remotely reluctant to give her away. Although Betsy’s mother initially said she would leave the instant the bear cub arrived, she was easily swayed when Molly got off the train and promptly wrapped her arms around her legs.
The travel from Bella Coola included taking a ship to Vancouver, and then the train from Vancouver to Alta Lake. While onboard the ship, Molly spent her time in Edward’s sleeper cabin. When Edward ran into a friend who had a rough night on the boat and needed some sleep, he promptly turned over the keys to his cabin, neglecting to mention that Molly was fast asleep on the couch. It seems that the friend initially thought he was hallucinating, but was a bit of a jokester too, so he quickly saw the humor in the situation.
After the second summer at Green Lake in 1937, the DeBeck family was moving on to Victoria. While they had a large lot in New Westminster and were able to keep animals, they were moving to a small city lot in Victoria, and had to say goodbye to their motley crew of pets, save for Freckles the spaniel. The DeBecks approached the Alaric family, who had a logging operation on Green Lake, and sold them the cow, Molly and McGee.
The story of Molly the Bear highlights how easy it is for something to take hold and then continue to be perpetuated until it becomes an inextricable part of the history, taken to be true. One such tale is that Teddy and the piglet (now know to be Molly and McGee) were the best of friends until one day Teddy got a bit hungry and decided to eat the piglet. There is no truth to this, but it was repeated so many times it became easy to believe. Even when we learned that the piglet wasn’t consumed, we no longer questioned whether the bear in the photograph was Teddy. It’s amazing to realize the power of a single image.
By collecting oral histories, we are working to build a stronger understanding of Whistler’s history – Molly is just a small (and cute!) example of how effective these interviews are proving to be. Perhaps there are other photographs in the collection like this one, waiting for the story behind them to be unlocked as we speak with early residents of the valley.