Tragic Crash on Alta Lake

by Nicole Wilson, Whistler Museum.

Reginald and Mildred Brock were one of the many families from Vancouver who began to build vacation homes around Alta Lake in the late 1920s. Mildred went to visit a friend’s cottage on Alta Lake in 1927 and instantly fell in love with the beautiful valley. Two years later the Brocks purchased land on the southwest corner of Alta Lake and built a cottage, known as “Primrose.”

 

Brock’s “Primrose Cottage,” 1929. Photo courtesy Whistler Museum.
Brock’s Primrose Cottage, 1929. Photo courtesy Whistler Museum.

The Brocks plus their five sons – Patrick, Byron, David, Thomas, and Philip (Pip) – spent time at Primrose during the summer. Pip especially grew a strong bond to the Alta Lake area and would often come up on his own during the summer and winter.

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Reginald Brock and family with Pip in foreground. Photo courtesy Whistler Museum.
Reginald Brock and family with Pip in foreground. Photo courtesy Whistler Museum.

Traveling to Whistler was a little more difficult in the 1930s as there was no highway. Pip would ride the steamship to Squamish. There were only two trains a week so if no trains fit Pip’s schedule he would walk the entire way to Primrose – a total of 38 miles. When he was lucky, a train would come along as he walked up the tracks and stop to give him a ride. It would take Pip 10 hours to walk from the boat to Primrose. At times, he would spend fifty cents to get a taxi as far as Cheakeye; back then fifty cents seemed like a lot of money so he would often walk.

Another way to get to and from Alta Lake was by plane. On July 31st, 1935 Reginald along with David Sloan – managing director of Bralorne’s Pioneer Mines – and pilot, William R. McCluskey, left Wells Air Harbour on the Fraser River to pick up Mildred on Alta Lake.

Many pilots avoided landing on Alta Lake because of the short take-off run and the barrier of trees at the end the lake. Once retrieving Mildred, McCluskey attempted his take-off but there was not enough wind to give the plane the extra lift it needed to clear the trees. As newspapers from the time indicated, McCluskey banked sharply to try to avoid the crash and bring the plane around to the lake again. Failing this last desperate maneuver, the plane plunged to the earth, crashing 400 metres south of Mons.

 First aircraft to land on Alta Lake 1923. Photo courtesy Whistler Museum.
First aircraft to land on Alta Lake, 1923. Photo courtesy Whistler Museum.

Tragically two of the Brock’s boys – David and Tommy – were watching from the shoreline, waving goodbye to their parents as the plane crashed; this fatal moment was caught on film.

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The Vancouver Sun front page, July 31st, 1935. Courtesy Whistler Museum.

The crash killed McCluskey and Mr. Brock. Mrs. Brock and Mr. Sloan were seriously injured and transported to Rainbow lodge, then rushed to a P.G.E. freight train to Squamish, where a speedboat and doctor were arranged to take them to Vancouver. Unfortunately, Mrs. Brock died at Horseshoe Bay. Her son later stated that she had time to thank everyone at Alta Lake for their help and apologized for being such a nuisance.

The Brock property in Vancouver was designed by Samuel Maclure and is now known as Brock House. The book Thorley Park to Brock House: From Family Home to Heritage Landmark, 1912-2012, edited by Jo Pleshakov, outlines the history of this beautiful property.

 

Brock House. Photo courtesy Jo Pleshakov.
Brock House. Photo courtesy Jo Pleshakov.

 

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