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Travel: Innocent in a virgin land

A former chambermaid recalls the summer of 1960 at Alta Lake

To the world, Whistler will be the main venue for the 2010 Olympics. But for me, it will have more personal memories attached.

It was the summer of 1960 when a school friend and I got a job at Hillcrest Lodge on Alta Lake.

We took the Pacific Great Eastern train (later known as the B.C. Rail) because the road was only passable by four-wheel-drive vehicle. The boss, Jack met us with his boat and took us across to Hillcrest Lodge, where we were employed as chambermaids and waitresses for the summer. We were required to wear peasant blouses and full skirts. The lodge had a lovely stone fireplace and there were several log cabins with porches overlooking the lake. The only other populated spot in the area was Rainbow Lodge.

The main attraction was the trout fishing and horse back riding, although a few people hiked up the mountain. One guest challenged me to swim across the lake. The water was so clear that I could see into the depths, something I found rather unnerving, but I accepted the challenge.

In the evening people would gather to play cards, chat round the fireplace or sometimes square dance. If there were more men than women guests (a rare thing) my friend and I were encouraged to join these evening events.

Each morning, my job was to get breakfast onto the long wooden tables, wash the dishes and clean the cabins. It was the same routine for lunch and dinner. One of my tasks was to clean the fish that the guests caught.

However, in the afternoon we were free to row down to Rainbow Lodge to pick up mail. There was a beautiful little river near the lodge called The River of Golden Dreams. Sometimes my friend and I would row to a private spot so we could wash our hair in the lake, shave our legs and sunbath amongst the profusion of wildflowers. The Indian Paintbrush was the most outstanding.

That summer there was a huge forest fire to the north of the lake. There was talk that we might be recruited to fight the fire, which seemed exciting but didn't happen.

Eventually my mother and grandmother came to visit me at Whistler, as nobody in our family had worked in a service job and they were concerned.

But for me, it was a summer away from home in glorious nature with the exciting possibility of a romance. One night I was dancing with an American army fellow when my boss told me to disappear. "Bubbles," a petite blond woman, had arrived and she started to dance with my partner.

The next morning, when cleaning Bubbles's room, I noticed Mr. Army's watch on her bedside table. As I had gone to a very strict Scottish girl's school, this discovery that romance could blossom so quickly was a shock to me.

This was the summer that Bob Fortune (who was the weather man at the time) and a group of businessmen came to look at the area and there was talk of building a huge ski resort. In this environment of complete wilderness that was hard to imagine.

Next winter the Olympics will be at Alta Lake, now known as Whistler. When I go to see some of the events, I know I will be impressed with the people who had the vision to make this incredible village, ski hill and international event happen. But also I will look back exactly 50 years and remember being an 18-year-old innocent in a virgin landĀ