Loungin’ With Myrtle: The First Lady Of Whistler

Alta Lake was a summer destination in the 1930s, and a damn fine one at that. Outings for guests at Rainbow Lodge included fishing, swimming, boating, hiking and riding in the Whistler Valley. These excursions were often in the company of the legendary Myrtle Philip (seventh from the front of the log), who pioneered the valley and opened Rainbow Lodge in 1914 with her husband Alex.


Myrtle (7th from the right) and guests saddle up at Lost Lake. Courtesy WHISTLER MUSEUM & ARCHIVES

words :: Allyn Pringle

Raised in New England and trained as a teacher, Myrtle’s early life did not suggest that she would end up running a fishing lodge in a then-remote area of British Columbia.

article continues below

Myrtle and Alex first came to the valley from their home in Vancouver in 1911, three years before the Pacific Great Eastern Railway arrived. Despite a lack of experience with horses or packing, the pair rented packhorses in Brackendale and headed up the Pemberton Trail. Two days later they arrived at Alta Lake and found the fishing perfect for their dream of opening a fishing lodge.

After buying land in May of 1914, Myrtle, her father and her two brothers started construction on the lodge. As Myrtle later recalled, “Mr. Philip (Alex) stayed in town and kept working to make money enough to buy food to keep us alive while we were building. We came to the property and pitched our tent on the side of the hill, and started in with a saw and axe to clear the land where Rainbow Lodge now sits.” With a lot of determination on everyone’s part, Rainbow Lodge opened that same year.

Myrtle embraced her new life, waking before dawn to make breakfasts and collect the mail packet from the train in her role as postmaster. In the 1930s, she, Lizzie Neiland (whose family was being taxed for the schooling of her four children despite not having a school to send them to) and other members of the small but growing Alta Lake community lobbied for and collected materials to open Alta Lake’s first school.

For her new lifestyle, Myrtle also made her own clothing. As she said, “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 horse or something … you just can’t do things in skirts.” With no women’s pants available at the time, Myrtle made her own.

We came to the property and pitched our tent on the side of the hill, and started in with a saw and axe to clear the land where Rainbow Lodge now sits.

By the time this photo was taken in 1931, Rainbow Lodge was the most popular resort west of the Rockies and Myrtle was completely at home in the mountains, even chasing off a bear and cougar from an unlucky crew of young boys recruited to work on a trail.

In 1948, Myrtle and Alex sold Rainbow Lodge but both remained active in the community. Myrtle served as a school trustee for over 35 years (one of Whistler’s elementary schools still bears her name) and was a contributing member of both the Alta Lake Community Club and the Alta Lake District Ratepayers Society. Through their hard work, the Philips and Rainbow Lodge put Alta Lake on the map as a tourist destination. And Myrtle proved from day one that women could, and would, thrive in the wilds of Whistler.

For more on Myrtle Philip or other pieces of Whistler history head into the Whistler Museum & Archives next door to the library or hit up whistlermuseum.org