Dressing Whistler Style

Purchasing clothing or fabric must have been a struggle for the early pioneers due to the length of time it took to travel back to the stores of Squamish or the city of Vancouver. The three day journey over difficult terrain was a great inconvenience but the luxury of living next to crystal clean waters and fertile valleys certainly outweighed this. Nevertheless, acquiring supplies could be laborious if not frustrating. For example, on one such trip pioneer John Millar’s packhorse lost its footing and fell over on to the side that was holding his newly purchased liquor supply. Everything was destroyed except for one bottle of vinegar!

I was so cussin’gol’danged mad that I pulled the cork out of the vinegar and took a good swig of it [i]

Well dressed? Suitably dressed.

Not only was it difficult to buy clothing despite the opening of the railway line in 1914, it was also difficult for the female settlers to wear the typical feminine attire of the period. Working hard and journeying around the variable conditions of Whistler in a long, heavy skirt would have certainly been constraining. It is believed to have been a surprise for some of the city folk who holidayed during the early years at Myrtle Philip’s lodge at Alta Lake to encounter a woman wearing pants, something unheard of for a woman. Certain photographs display female visitors who journeyed to Alta Lake in the early 1920’s wearing rather glamorous attire for the location; dresses, pearls and heeled court shoes on a white stocking foot were not a typical sight at Alta Lake. Myrtle Philip recalls an amusing explanation:

I tried to wear clothes. I mean, I tried to wear dresses, but they were not practical because I used to have to go out and do outside work and maybe go out and harness the horses or you know, saddle a horse. You just can’t do things in skirts and you couldn’t buy slacks as we know them today, the only thing of its type was men’s overalls, but I didn’t like them. So I made my own pants. I had a pattern and then that’s what I wore all of the time. But then western riding got to be much more popular, so then I got cowboy boots and jeans.

Interviewer: You didn’t wear an apron

Myrtle: No, never, to hell with it! [ii]

In an interview conducted in 1989, early Alta Lake resident, Jenny Jardine Betts reminisced about how difficult it could be just to keep clothes clean:

My mother washed clothes by hand… she made clothes out of old clothes… Mother bought that old washing machine. When it broke down and needed repairs there never really was any money. The spring broke she’d have to wait weeks to get a new spring. [iii]

To many of the guests at Alta Lake clothing was an important part of the activities they took part in. Even the tomboy, Myrtle, liked to show off her embroidered riding gloves and English jodhpurs when taking a group of visitors horse riding. Community events were often a good excuse to dress up once a week whether it was fancy dress or wearing one’s best attire. The humorous spirit of Whistler doesn’t seem to have altered as you can see from the fancy dress photographs you’ll see in the Photo Exhibit.

[i] Peterson (1995) 5

[ii] Transcript from CBC radio interview about Myrtle Philip

[iii] Jenny Jardine Betts, interviewed in 1989