Whistler is a town that attracts strong women and this dates back right to our pioneer days and Myrtle Philip, whose strength I have written about in previous articles. However, it appears that Myrtle was not the only strong woman in Rainbow Lodge: this is the story of Mollie Stephenson, who worked at Rainbow Lodge as a wrangler.
After graduating from Ladysmith High, Mollie worked for the BC Telephone Company. During this time, in her own words she was “at loose ends,” and decided to enrol in Normal School in Victoria to pursue a teaching career. Unfortunately, she grew ill with bronchitis and a doctor ordered her to move to a drier climate. As luck would have it, this coincided with Alex and Myrtle Philip advertising for girls to come and work in their dining room at the Rainbow Lodge.
In her memoirs Mollie states that she “applied, was accepted and left Victoria in May 1926 fully intending to go back to Normal School in the fall.”
As many Whistlerites may guess, Mollie soon fell in love with her new surroundings and remained on well beyond 1926. After a mere week working as a waitress at Rainbow Lodge, Mollie was “brimming with health and happiness.” That July, the man who owned the horses that were kept for guests to ride had to go to Vancouver for an operation and asked Mollie to look after them in his absence. The Philips agreed to her transfer, and she worked as a wrangler and guide for the remainder of the season.
Stephenson writes, “What a joy it was to spend 12 to 14 hours a day in that virgin forest with its huge cedars and firs, mossy trails and rushing streams…”
In September, the season ended and Mollie returned to Victoria to find a winter job. In spite of her mother’s urging to return to Normal School and get on with her teaching training, she opted to take on a temporary position. When the following June arrived, Mollie was once again aboard the steamship bound for Squamish.
Alongside all the horseback riding, Mollie also enjoyed swimming in Alta Lake. She had been swimming across the lake all summer when a couple of naval officers staying at the Alta Lake Hotel asked Alex Philip if any of his guests would join them in a friendly race from McDonald’s cabin at the south end to the River of Golden Dreams at the north end. Alex knew that Mollie was fond of swimming, so he asked her if she would like to race. Mollie explained that she liked swimming for leisure but would be willing to swim along with them on the condition that she wasn’t expected to win.
The two naval officers promptly took the lead in the swim, but about halfway through the three swimmers encountered a glacial current that “took one’s breath away.” The officers decided they had had enough and headed toward the beach, while Mollie, who was made of tougher stuff, kept swimming until she reached the River of Golden Dreams. There was a huge bonfire and Myrtle was at the ready with a warm blanket, but according to Mollie, the real prize was to be had after dinner when the two officers asked her to dance!
Sarah Drewery is the executive director at the Whistler Museum.