Join us on Monday, November 6th for the exciting launch of A BC Odyssey: Canoeing through British Columbia in 1970 by John Hetherington. This gripping memoir takes readers on a 1200 km canoe trip through rugged landscapes of BC, offering vivid descriptions and captivating encounters. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be contributed to the Whistler Museum’s Building Fund.
The event begins at 6 pm at the Whistler Public Library. To sign up for this event and guarantee your spot, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the spring of 1973, a group of residents who had been renting a property together took a photo as a memento before they moved out. Fifty years later, that photo is best known as the Toad Hall Poster and is widely recognized for its nudity and carefree spirit. While many people who come into the Whistler Museum know of the poster, we’ve heard a lot of different origin stories for the image and a range of names for those featured.
If you had arrived in the Whistler area in the late 1960s and asked where to find Toad Hall, you might have been directed to an entirely different building than the one featured in the Toad Hall Poster. The first Toad Hall in Whistler was a house built beside Nita Lake by Alf Gebhart in the 1950s. Alf and his wife Bessie moved their family to Alta Lake in 1936, when Alf purchased a sawmill and lumber camp. After operating the mill for some years, Alf built a house where he and Bessie lived until the closure of the their sawmill. The house was then occupied by their son Howard and his wife Betty while Howard was working for the railway. When they left the valley as well, the house was sold to Charles Hillman, a teacher living in Vancouver.
Hillman began renting out his house soon after lifts opened on Whistler Mountain in 1966 and it was some of his tenants who gave it the name of Toad Hall. Tenants came and went over the next few seasons and by the time Hillman decided that he wanted to start using his house as a ski cabin in would appear that none of the original tenants he had rented to were left. Those who were living there were reportedly amicably evicted and the Toad Hall name moved to a different property.
Before it became known as Toad Hall, that property operated as the Soo Valley Logging Camp. The camp, which included a collection of small cabins, was located at the north end of Green Lake, across the lake from the Parkhurst mill site. The logging camp can be seen in the background of some of the photographs taken by the Clausen family, who lived at Parkhurst in the 1950s. By the 1970s, however, the mill at Parkhurst was long closed and the Soo Valley Logging Camp no longer housed loggers.
In the early 1970s, the Soo Valley property housed skiers looking for affordable housing near Whistler Mountain. The entirety of the property was reportedly rented for $75/month (adjusted for inflation, that would be just over $500/month today), which could be quite reasonable when divided amongst enough residents. By 1973, this second Toad Hall was a popular place to find a party or a bed. Unfortunately, however, for those who found a home there, the buildings were scheduled to be demolished that summer and their days at Toad Hall were numbered. The end of Toad Hall was marked by the creation of the Toad Hall Poster.
While we know some of the stories behind Whistler’s Toad Halls, there are a a lot of things we don’t know. How did two different properties on two different lakes come to be named after the home of Mr. Toad from Wind in the Willows? In a time long before there were dedicated Facebook groups for housing in Whistler, how did people hear about and find Toad Hall from across the country?
We’re looking forward to finding out more about Toad Hall from a few former residents on Wednesday, April 26 (tomorrow evening!), when we’ll be joined by John Hetherington, Terry “Toulouse” Spence, and Paul Mathews at the Whistler Museum for our next Speaker Series. Tickets for the event are, however, sold out. Find out more here.
This spring will mark 50 years since the creation of the Toad Hall Poster, which means it will also be 50 years since the last residents moved out of Toad Hall. We are very excited to be joined by former Toad Hall residents John Hetherington, Terry Spence and Paul Mathews to learn more about both Toad Halls (yes, there were two separate locations!), what it was like to live there, and how the Toad Hall Poster came to be.
Event begins right at 7 pm; doors will open by 6:30 pm. Tickets are $10 ($5 for Museum members) and are available at the Whistler Museum or over the phone at 604-932-2019.
For the first decade of operations on Whistler Mountain, an abundance of snow was normal for the ski season. The season of 1973/74 was a record-setting winter, with Whistler Mountain recording a base of just over 5 m in the early spring. After so many seasons, most people had grown to expect Whistler always to have lots of snow. According to John Hetherington, who was working on ski patrol at the time, “We just thought it would go on forever.” Then, just a few years later, it didn’t.
The season of 1976/77 is often described as one of the worst ski seasons Whistler Mountain has ever had. The Whistler Question reported that over the American Thanksgiving weekend, “a few hardy souls went up the mountain to hike up & down either at the top of the red or the ridge behind the top of the blue chair.” By Christmas it had snowed a little bit more and Whistler Mountain was able to open, but skiers had to download by the Red Chair and the gondola. Then, in January 1977, it rained to the top of the ski area and washed away what little snow there was. The lift company closed for the rest of the month and well into February.
This complete lack of snow inspired the first attempt at making snow on Whistler Mountain. While today snowmaking is carefully planned, has a large infrastructure, and follows procedures, that was not the situation described by Hetherington and fellow patroller Roger McCarthy. According to Hetherington, “Back then, Whistler was pretty wild and out there and things were pretty loose… Nobody gave a damn what you did on the mountain.” In this case, what ski patrol did was use an entire case of Submagel (the explosive often used in avalanche control) to blow a huge crater in the creek at the bottom of the Green Chair.
They built a dam at one end of the crater, got some pumps, borrowed a snow gun from Grouse Mountain (Grouse had installed the first snowmaking system in British Columbia in 1973), and began making snow to get skiers to the bottom of the Green Chair without having to carry their skis for the last 100 m or so. Once the crater slowly filled, it could support about two to three hours of snowmaking. However, McCarthy recalled that the system was far from perfect: “The challenge was that any time we tried to make snow, it got cold enough to make snow, the water would stop running and stop filling the little creek and we’d end up sucking mud into the pumps. So it wasn’t that successful, but it was the beginning.” Packer drivers were able to spread what snow they did make to form a narrow run to the bottom of the Green Chair, providing some temporarily skiable terrain.
This first attempt at making snow signalled a shift in thinking as the lift company was forced to realize that they would not always get the snow there were used to. In 1981, Sandy Boyd was hired as Gondola Area Coordinator for the lift company and, already having experience with snowmaking, Boyd brought more snowmaking to Whistler through the 1980s. Today, as the questions of snowfall and the impacts of climate change on Whistler are never far from mind, snowmaking is an important part of mountain operations and it is not uncommon on a clear night to see the snowguns at work on both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.