From Shacks to Chateaus

The first home-builders in the Whistler valley were not short of supplies. Many inhabitants came to the area to work in the logging industry. Constructing a cabin out of the surplus amount of good timber was simply common sense. Perhaps the greatest challenge was choosing where to build, as the number of available locations was seemingly endless. Once the area chosen was cleared, construction proceeded with the rudimentary techniques that were available. Trees were felled higher up on the mountain and dragged by horse down to a clearing.

Cedar, often referred to as the ‘tree of life’ is prized by the Lil’wat (Interior Salish peoples) and the Squamish (Coastal Salish peoples) for its innumerable uses.  Respected from both a spiritual and practical perspective, only minimal amounts are harvested to ensure the tree’s continued survival. The early settlers of Whistler also recognized the tree’s value and used it in numerous building projects.  The Lil’wat and Squamish peoples respected the trees and only used small amounts at a time in order not to kill the tree. Cedar used for housing would be formed into planks.  In this state it could be more easily transported and used multiple times for dwelling structures throughout the territories.  The types of structures would vary depending on the location and season.  In comparison, the early pioneers felled trees with cross cut saws and the bark was peeled off by hand, later notched together by broad axe.

Trappers cabins were typically constructed in a semi-subterranean way, as they were more concerned with practicalities than aesthetics.  Hastily and roughly constructed due to the number of different trap lines, the cabins were characterized by the lack of windows and only a single small doorway for an entrance. The floor of the cabin was built two feet down in the ground to keep the cabin warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. A sturdily made roof of close-fitting poles was covered with a layer of soil.

Rainbow Lodge was built by Myrtle Philip and her family the Tapley’s who had journeyed to Alta Lake to help with construction. Myrtle’s husband, Alex Philip, remained in Vancouver, working to raise the funds for the project. The A-frame construction not only looked picturesque on the banks of the lake, it was also suitable for the Whistler area due to the steep, sloping roofs shedding the snow during the winter months. This style of housing has featured prominently in the Whistler area from the beginning of the community’s creation. Owners have certainly embraced the idea of not needing to worry about the heavy snow load. The A-frame has become an icon of Whistler’s architecture and to a certain extent a heritage symbol to the relatively young town. In many areas of the village such as Alta Vista, there are several examples of this style of house. Many have been adapted over the decades to accommodate year round accommodation with skylights, basements and additional wings being added. They are relatively easy to construct which enabled several lumber companies to create ‘do it yourself’ kits of materials ready to assemble.

Many people during the 1960s and 70s battled with the authorities after setting up illegal homes in the woods. These free spirited hippies were more frequently known as the Whistler ‘squatters.’ The squats were no tent city, but fully fledged log cabins. People travelled from all over Canada to come to a place where the beauty of the land would enchant them away from their mainstream lives. Cheakamus River near Function Junction and behind the old garbage dump at Fitzsimmons Creek were the more popular areas for the squatters’ cabins. Certain people created homes within old trappers cabins, recycled from one squatter to the other.

The most notorious squat, ‘Munsterville,’ was built by Andy Munster in 1975, made known from a captivating photograph of his home and care-free looking friends. It demonstrates how luxurious a make-shift cabin could be. Munster’s home was the first house in the modern village and was built when the population in Whistler consisted of only a few hundred people. The squat was a mixture of found objects, a porch was made with abandoned lumber at the Soo Valley logging camp, they even found old-fashioned French windows and constructed a wood heated sauna beside Fitzsimmons Creek! Andy was extremely resourceful and found all the materials to build with from the surrounding area. The garbage dump also proved to be beneficial. Once the house was completed it supposedly cost less than fifty dollars with the roof being the sole purchase. In an interview in 2009 Munster talked about creating his home:

We didn’t want anything in the house that were plastics or artificial, it had to be all wood and natural materials, recycled. Both of us agreed. We didn’t have any money you know…so everything actually came from the dump. It’s amazing.[i]

[i] Andy Munster interviewed in 2009