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Early settlers offer unique perspective on Whistler life

We are incredibly lucky at the Whistler Museum to have stories from myriad different people who lived, worked or visited the valley over the past 100 years.
HUMAN POWERED Verner Lundstrom fells a tree around Alta Lake. In the early days all the logging was done with hand saws. Photo from the Lundstrom Collection

We are incredibly lucky at the Whistler Museum to have stories from myriad different people who lived, worked or visited the valley over the past 100 years. Most of the narratives from the era of Alta Lake tend to belong in one of two categories: summer resort life or logging and railroad work. The same names are often mentioned in both, as would be expected in such a small community, but very few people really lived in both categories.

One exception is Verner Lundstrom. In the late 1920s, at the age of 18, Verner left Sweden to join his brother Charlie at Alta Lake. Charlie had arrived in 1927 and made his living as a logger and pole cutter, finding the tall, straight cedars that could be used as telephone poles. The brothers lived in a cabin close to the railway and near Fitzsimmons Creek, about 1.5 kilometres away from Lost Lake. Together, they logged cedar poles around the northeast area of Alta Lake.

As Verner recalled in an oral history done in 1992, all of their work was done by hand. Without power saws, trees were usually felled using a two-person saw. The brothers used horses to help move the poles to the eastern shore of the lake using what Verner described as "skid roads." From there, the poles were floated across Alta Lake to the railway station at the south end and loaded onto flatcars.

Verner and Charlie worked together for eight to 10 years before Charlie moved on. During that time there were various logging operations within the area and Verner knew many of the people we've written about before, including the Jardine-Neiland family, the Barrs, Denis DeBeck, B.C. Keely, the Gebharts and the Woods family.

In his first few years at Alta Lake, Verner also worked at Rainbow Lodge as a seasonal handyman and experienced life centred on summer tourism as well. Verner recalled that, at the time, Rainbow Lodge would have up to 120 guests and he and some others spent a lot of time swimming during the day and dancing at night. For Verner, who enjoyed swimming and hiking, his job at Rainbow Lodge was ideal.

When Verner wasn't working at Rainbow Lodge or cutting poles with Charlie, he and his brother would often head up the surrounding mountains. Verner thinks they must have gone up Whistler Mountain "hundreds of times," either to hunt or "just to walk up to the lake." The lake in question, Cheakamus Lake, had an old cabin that had been used by trappers and on many weekends Verner would hike up, with or without Charlie. Though Verner didn't recall hiking up Blackcomb or Wedge, he did remember time spent hiking up Sproatt and Red Mountain, known today as Fissile.

He stayed in the area even after Charlie had moved on. In 1942, when he married Lauretta Arnold, Verner was living further up the rail line at Mile 43 between Alta Lake and Pemberton. The couple then moved up to Mile 48 where Vern did the logging for the sawmill of John Brunzen and Denis DeBeck.

After their first child, Verner and Lauretta moved to Birken, then later to Pemberton where the growing family of kids could attend school. In 1950, the family left the Sea to Sky and moved to Chilliwack where Verner continued to work in logging camps. Even after he retired, Verner continued to fell trees for his friends until the age of 85.

Like Verner's story, each oral history, letter or memoir in our collection provides a unique perspective on life in the valley. Having so many different memories allows us to form a more complete picture of Whistler's past.

Come visit us at the museum if you're interested in adding your own perspective to the mix.