It’s pretty obvious that Myrtle Philip was a tough lady.
Its not every early 20th century woman who decides to move to the bush and build a lodge, and still fewer who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and do the labouring themselves.
From the very first day I started working at the museum it was clear that Philip was no wimp. For instance, when a group of PGE railway men were stranded north of Rainbow Lodge in a massive snow-in, it was Philip, not her husband, or any of the other men in the valley, who strapped on her cross-country skis and guided the group to Squamish.
Even though I was well aware of her strong character I couldn’t fail to be both surprised and amused by this little anecdote that I happened upon recently:
Gordon Cameron was a young man whose family regularly summered in Alta Lake. In his younger days Philip had taught him how to ride horses by the unorthodox method of tying his feet together underneath the horse’s belly. The horse reluctantly traipsed around Alta Lake with the boy strapped firmly astride for most of the day, until it finally managed to shake loose the ties and buck the young Cameron into the River of Golden Dreams.
Later, in 1934, Cameron was recruited by Philip, along with some other boys, to fix a trail, which often flooded in high run-off years. The crew got to work slashing the bushes to make the trail wider, while one of the boys held the horses. All of a sudden, one horse bolted; everyone stopped to see what was happening only to see that just down the trail was a mean looking black bear sniffing the wind. The crew turned to their escape route and had the unpleasant sight of a large tawny cougar stalking towards them. Whilst the boys were scrambling their thoughts into some sort of action a “whoop and a holler” was heard coming up the trail “in a slightly off-key feminine voice that would have curdled the milk”.
Faced with such a vision the bear took off, straight up the mountain, and the cougar took one look at the apparition coming charging down the trail and disappeared. Philip was so mad she let off steam in a language that was certainly not ‘ladies chit-chat’.
The young boys learned a lot that day….
Sarah Drewery is executive director for the Whistler Museum.