By Nicole Wilson, Whistler Museum.
Growing up in the Whistler area in the early 1900s was of course much different than it is today. With no Internet or electricity for items such as a fridge that we now consider essential, the routine of daily life was a busy one with no time to be bored.
In a 2011 interview, Helen Magee (née Woods) explained how much work it was to keep everyone fed. She said that her family grew all their own vegetables, as well as feed for their cows. Flour and sugar were the only items they had to buy. Helen’s father, Fred Woods, built a root-house in order to store vegetables year-round. Helen said:
“The root-house is where you had bins full of sand and you keep the vegetables in the sand and it really keeps them perfect…with no electricity, no refrigeration….And sawdust, two walls and sawdust in the middle and really insulated at the top. It was a wonderful way to keep stuff…we didn’t have any ice cream…but it was a good life.”
Helen’s mother, Elizabeth Woods, made jam, baked pies and also canned deer, goose, and other meats to preserve them. The children picked the berries for the jam and pies, leaving little time for play.
We also have oral histories of another Whistler family: the Jardine-Neilands.
Once the school opened in 1932, Helen and some of the Jardine-Neiland children received their education together. The Jardine-Neiland children lived at Mile 43 (now Function Junction) and had a long travel to the school on Alta Lake.
The two eldest of the Jardine-Neiland children, Jenny and Jack, did not attend school at all between 1921, when the family left North Vancouver, and 1932, when the first school opened in Alta Lake. When they left school in 1921 Jenny was eight and her brother was only six. They began working in the logging industry at the ages of twelve and ten. Although they did take lessons by correspondence, they rarely had the time or energy left to study. In her memoirs, Jenny recalls:
“I started to work out in the woods when I was 12, driving a horse – a big Clyde with a white face. Pa [Thomas Neiland] got a portable saw mill and set it up on the lower field…I lifted the slabs off as the circular saw slabbed them…We had correspondence school lessons to work on but somehow there was too many other things to do, so lessons were only done at night or if it rained.”
Life was somewhat easier for Jenny’s younger siblings, Bob and Tom, as the school at Alta Lake opened at this time. They had their mother Lizzie Neiland to thank, as she helped to instigate the building of the first school in the area. In 1931, a school assessment appeared on the tax notice even though there was no school. Bob recalled about his mother: “When she got the tax notice of $7.50 she got real worked up, as money in those days was tight. She started a movement to look into the possibility of building a school.”