Whistler Museum and Archives Society: Coast Mountain Gothic

Those of us who have rambled, hiked, scrambled and climbed in the BC mountains will have, inevitably so, spent evenings in a variety of huts. The Whistler Museum and Archives Society has, midst many other admirable collections, drawn together an introductory history of sorts, entitled, “Coast Mountain Gothic: A History of the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Huts.” Each of the 17 compact and suggestive chapters (replete with photographs and short oral interviews) lights down on a fascinating array of tales to be told about Gothic Arch Huts on the Coast, Island, Alaska and Interior of BC.

The titles of the well-told chapters sum up succinctly the historic tale of Gothic Arch Huts:

1) Canadian Alpine Tradition

2) The History of Mountaineering in BC

3) The Gothic Arch Design

4) Building of the Gothic Arch Huts

5) The Challenge of Building Alpine Huts

6) The Rebirth of Alpine Hut Construction

7) The Desire for More Huts

8) The Evolution of the Gothic Arch Hut Design

9) Gothic Arch Huts from Alaska to Vancouver Island

10) Site Selection

11) Hut and Trail Maintenance

12) Club Trips

13) Navigational Tools

14) Hut Etiquette and Environmental Concerns

15) Spearhead Huts and Beyond

16) Additional Background on the History of Mountaineering and Alpine Shelters

17) Additional Background on the Geology of BC

The key in the ignition history is brought to an end with “Additional Resources” and “Credits and Acknowledgements.”

Wedgemount Lake Hut

The  way that BC Mountaineering Club, UBC-Varsity Outdoor Club, BC Parks and the Alpine Club of Canada, at different times and seasons, worked together to construct such huts, some having lasted decades in the same place (Russet Lake: 1968, Wedgemount Lake: 1969, Elfin Lakes: 1972-1974), others disappeared through time (Chilliwack Valley, Brittania Beach and Garibaldi Neve Huts) and others rebuilt and moved many times, such as Brew Hut, is a historic tale more than worth the hearing and seeing. The recently built Watersprite Lake Hut (2016) continues an older tradition, whereas the much more ambitious 3 huts in the Spearhead Traverse will open up a new era in more sophisticated hut construction (in most ways vastly different from the Gothic Arch Huts). The building of the 20 Gothic Arch Huts from 1969 forward has done much to facilitate backcountry hiking, skiing, scrambling and climbing.

Those who have some interest in the history of BC mountaineering and the journey of various mountain clubs in BC to create a backcountry mountain culture via huts cannot but find the contribution of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society most significant and admirable.

Wedgemount Lake Hut

I was part of the weeklong ACC 100th anniversary (1906-2006) trip to the Tantalus Range and nights spent in Lake Lovely Water Hut—yet higher up the glacier field is the Haberl Hut. It would have been valuable if these huts (the former much older than the later—a fine photo of Elfrida Pigou in it) were also included in such an overview of BC mountaineering huts. I might also add that the Sunshine Coast Trail (with its extensive hut to hut system, although not Gothic Arch) is part of a larger and growing hut tradition in BC for hikers, scramblers and climbers.

We should, indeed, be most grateful for the fine work of John Alexander of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society for his fastidious work in writing and curating the “Coast Mountain Gothic: A History of the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Huts.” Indeed, a fuller and more comprehensive book is waiting to be research and written on the topic.

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