Alta Lake's first firefighters 

50 years on

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The tiny fire shelter first built by Don Noyes in 1963 was needed more desperately on the eastern shore. In 1967 the shelter and all its acquired contents were rafted across the lake. Chief Fairhurst, Doug Mansell and Stefan Ples floated the "Fire Hall" over to Barb and Doug Mansell's property on Archibald Way.

The move proved less than advantageous for Chief Fairhurst. Volunteer Al Niven, now retired in Osoyoos, tells the story of looking across a frozen Alta Lake to see the Chief's house aflame. Together with Doug Mansell, they put some firefighting gear on a sled and raced across the Lake. Despite their hard efforts – a total loss.

Some glimpse into what motivated these early volunteers is offered by past member Rick Valleau. Valleau signed on as a volunteer in 1968 and continues to live in Whistler today. Recently he talked about the motivation for early locals who stepped up to volunteer.

"My uncle Ron was already with the ALVFD during a time when I was in and out of Alta Lake for work and family. When I moved here permanently, it just seemed a natural thing to do – to join the guys in the fire department. Meetings were held at the Cheakamus Inn's Bar and it was easy to turn out and lend a hand," Valleau reminisces.

"It was a very small community back then. We'd play baseball together down at the ball field in Tapley's Farm, fish together and over time our families grew up together. The volunteer fire department was just an extension of the community support that was already in place" Valleau recalled.

Apparently, fire did not respect office or community standing back in the day. Like Fire Chief Fairhurst, Valleau also had his own story of personal loss to fire. His house at Chaplinville (now Alta Lake Station) was destroyed when a fire that began on his neighbour's property (next door to the old school house) jumped to his property, destroying his new Alta Lake home.

According to early department Annual Reports discovered in the Whistler Museum Archives, each firefighter was responsible to "first respond" to the neighbourhood where they lived. In the report for 1970, there were "5 designated zones" across the valley. The Valleau boys together with Ian Douglas and Jim Burgess are recorded as having met the "required" 75 per cent attendance record for their "Alpine Meadows" and "Emerald Estates" response area.


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