Alta Lake's first firefighters 

50 years on

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In the late 1950s Dick Fairhurst of Cypress Point Lodge set up the first ski towrope on the hill behind Rainbow Lodge. Using an old V8 Ford engine to power the haul rope, skiers wearing the latest Eaton's Catalogue fashions, including bear trap bindings and heavy lace-up leather boots, raced down the community ski hill. Until then, the only way to ski and explore the surrounding slopes meant the arduous task of skinning and hiking for hours, even days, to the top of Whistler and the towering peaks of the Fitzsimmons Range.

For years, the few "visitors" who found their way up from Vancouver by pack horse or train experienced a pristine Alta Lake. Not surprisingly, word of this alpine paradise eventually began to filter to the outside world. By the 1950s, with more than a half dozen lakefront fishing lodges operating, Alta Lake was said to be the most popular summer destination in Canada after Banff and Lake Louise — all with virtually no car access.

Young explorers bunked down at the famous, but now long-gone lakeside resorts like Rainbow, Hillcrest and Cypress Lodges. As these visiting "city folk" grew in number and as more permanent infrastructures, homes and lumber mills were built, the few permanent locals soon recognized the need for an organized firefighting force to protect the growing community.

Over time lightning fires had been frequent events up and down the valley. Evidence remains today of large forest fires up the Soo and Cheakamus Valleys and along the slopes of Blackcomb, Sproatt and Rainbow mountains.

In addition to the danger of Mother Nature's fury came the growing fire risk provided by more rail traffic, more logging and the smoke billowing lumber mills that lined the tracks to Parkhurst and up to Lost Lake.

To address this risk the far-flung residents of Alta Lake did what people in most small communities do when a problem presents — they called a meeting. The only item on the agenda was " do we protect the Alta Lake community from fire?"

From this first coffee clutch of concerned locals there came a determination that an organized, trained and supplied firefighting group was badly needed.

Everyone understood that even a small forest fire could easily grow out of control and wipe out the shoreline community — every house, mill and shack, all in one hot summer's afternoon.

In true pioneer spirit, the residents rolled up their sleeves and took charge of their fate. As often happens, however, when good intentions meet cold reality, the devil was in the details. Who would pay for it? Who would staff it? Who would train it and who would lead it? Though big questions they seemed but minor concerns to the determined citizens.


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