The History of Whistler

squamishThe Coast Salish First Nations people inhabited the land around Whistler for many thousands of years, hunting and gathering and living a nomadic lifestyle long before European settlers arrived. The Whistler Valley was an isolated wilderness frequented by the Lil’wat Nation from the Mount Currie area and the Squamish Nation who lived in an area stretching from present day North Vancouver to the Squamish River watershed and the northern area of Howe Sound (Gibson’s Landing).

Whistler was often a way point for First Nation trading routes between the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations as it was rich with wildlife and resources. At one time tens of thousands of Coast Salish First Nations people lived, traded and thrived in the areas between Vancouver, Howe Sound and the Lillooett areas.

In fact, some of the hiking routes between Howe Sound and Deep Cove (east of Vancouver) are the same routes traveled on by the Coast Salish First Nations peoples.

The Whistler valley was a traditional trading route of the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations long before the arrival of Europeans. The first British survey by the Royal Navy took place in the 1860s. These surveyors named the mountain London Mountain because of the heavy fog and cloud typically gathering around the mountain, but the area informally acquired the name “whistler” due to the call of the indigenous hoary marmot. In the late 19th century, a trail was cut through the valley linking Lillooet via Pemberton with Burrard Inlet via a pass from Squamish to the Seymour River. The trail was completed in 1877, but because of the difficult and unforgiving terrain, it was only used once for its intended purpose, which was to drive cattle. The area began to attract trappers and prospectors (such as John Millar and Henry Horstman) who established small camps in the area in the early 20th century. The area began to gain recognition with the arrival of Myrtle and Alex Philip, who in 1914 purchased 10 acres (4 ha) of land on Alta Lake and established the Rainbow Lodge. The Philips had relocated from Maine to Vancouver in 1910, and had heard rumors of the natural beauty of the area from Pemberton pioneer [[John Millar[[. After an exploratory journey, the couple was convinced. Rainbow Lodge and other railway-dependent tourist resorts were collectively known as Alta Lake, until their absorption into the newly-minted Resort Municipality in the 1970s.

The completion of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in the same year greatly reduced the travel time from three days, providing ease of access from Vancouver, and the Rainbow Lodge gained a reputation as the most popular vacation destination west of the Rockies. The lodge was primarily a summer destination, with boating, fishing and hiking among the most popular activities, and soon other lodges began to open not just on Alta Lake, but on other valley lakes as well.

Appreciation of the outdoors was not the only activity in the valley, however; logging was also a boom industry, and during the first half of the 20th century, most of the lower slopes of the surrounding mountains were cleared of old growth. At its peak, four mills were in operation, most located around Green Lake. Prospecting and trapping were pursued as well, though no claims of great value were ever staked.

Until the 1960s, this quiet area was without basic infrastructure; there were no sewage facilities, water, or electricity, and no road from Squamish or Vancouver. In 1962, four Vancouver businessmen began to explore the area with the intent of building a ski resort and bidding for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Garibaldi Lift Company was formed, shares were sold, and in 1966, Whistler Mountain opened to the public.