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The disappearance of Whistler's Rainbow Lodge

This week's Museum Musing's column digs into the history behind those old cabins scattered along the western shore of Alta Lake.
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Rainbow Lodge on fire in 1977.

While visiting Rainbow Park, you may have noticed a few old cabins by the railway tracks; these are the last remaining structures of Rainbow Lodge. 

Opened by Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1914, Rainbow Lodge operated for decades as a successful summer destination for those looking to fish, sail, hike, and more. The Philips sold their business to the Greenwood family in 1948, who continued to run the lodge until 1970, when they retired to Arizona and sold Rainbow Lodge to Joan Saxton. As Rainbow Lodge at one time included 40 cabins, stables, and a store, as well as the main lodge, you might wonder why there are so few buildings left on the site today.

In the early 1970s, Rainbow Lodge ceased operating as a summer resort, though rooms and cabins could still be rented out. Then, on April 21, 1977, the main lodge building caught fire. According to the report in the Whistler Question at the time, there were plumbing alterations being done on the upper level of the building and somehow the fire began in the course of this work. Because the plumbing was being worked on, the water to the building had been shut off.  The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department arrived at Rainbow Lodge only 15 minutes after the call had gone out to its members and were able to contain the fire. However, they ran out of water and had to get a pump to supply water from Alta Lake, as the nearest hydrant that could fill their tanker truck was at the time located on Timber Lane in Alpine Meadows. 

The fire department was still able to prevent the fire from spreading to most of the buildings on the property, but the main lodge and part of the bathroom block were described as “burned out.”

The remaining cabins on the Rainbow Lodge property continued to be lived in by tenants, often younger people working in Whistler, but the main lodge building was not rebuilt after the fire.  Ten years later, the municipality announced that it was going to expropriate the Rainbow Lodge property in an effort to increase public access to the waterfront. The plan was to turn the property into a public park (the Rainbow Park that we have today).

At that point, quite a number Rainbow Lodge cabins were still standing, many of them along the shore of Alta Lake, and the municipality took over the rental agreements with any tenants.

In February 1989, a master plan for Rainbow Park was presented to council. This plan aimed to “integrate the historical character of the area with recreation.” The central area of the park, including the location of the main lodge building, was to be left as a seeded grassy area, which would leave open the option of rebuilding the lodge. The plan also suggested building a boardwalk to link the trail that would come through the park with the remaining buildings, which would house concessions. As well, the plan called for the reconstruction of the Bridge of Sighs and the Rainbow Lodge gateway at the park’s entrance.

As Rainbow Park was developed, the Bridge of Sighs and the gateway were rebuilt according to plan. Most of the buildings on the property were removed and three structures were moved further back from the shore. Today, the remaining cabins at Rainbow Park are used to share the history of the Rainbow Lodge property through interpretive panels installed in many of the windows.