Bill Bailiff is one of the more intriguing characters of Whistler’s pioneer days. A stonemason by trade he was born in England. The death of his fiancée left him broken- hearted and Bill decided to start a new life in Canada. In 1913 he got himself a job constructing the PGE Railway line but quit after a dispute with the foreman. Bill drew attention to a rock that overhung the track that Bill felt was unsafe, but the foreman in charge felt otherwise. Bill quit over the issue and walked up the railway Alta Lake, where he made his home for the next 45 years. (Incidentally Bill was correct, the overhanging rock did fall, although luckily at night when no one was around to be injured.)
Although he did exercise his stonemasonry skills sometimes, including building the spectacular fireplace in Rainbow Lodge, Bill primarily made his living here as a trapper. He had a trap line up on the Spearhead Range and another far up the Callaghan Creek area. Dennis Greenwood, whose parents took over Rainbow Lodge in 1948 remembers helping Bill trap ermine, which was in high demand for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952.
Although you may feel being a trapper is anti-environmental, Bill was intimately acquainted with the land and cared deeply about the environment. In his old age he wrote extensively in the Alta Lake community newsletter about the impact of logging in the valley. An extract from 1956 reads as follows:
“As is natural with a primitive forest, wildlife was abundant, but with the logging at a feverish pitch it is being slowly forced back as their feeding grounds and haunts are destroyed … The cascade hare (snowshoe rabbit) squirrels and other rodents were plentiful all through the woods but now with the moss and other succulent vegetation being destroyed they can’t survive. This in turn affects the carnivorous animals that preyed on then, so it’s easy to see how man upsets the balance that nature sets up.”
Bill was by all accounts a friendly fellow whose doors were always open to visitors. Those who were children in Alta Lake at that time remember him fondly, especially as his rather ruddy complexion made him the perfect choice to play Santa Claus at Christmastime. He was also remembered as being an excellent cook, and not being one to waste food, would cook whatever he caught in his traps – including Stellar’s Jays, which he baked in a pie!
Bill remained an integral part of the small community at Alta Lake until he passed away in 1958.
Sarah Drewery is the executive director of the Whistler Museum