George Bury – Whistler’s least-known dreamer
We’ve just wrapped up our 100 Years of Dreams celebrations. The events were a great success thanks to the enthusiasm of the community, the wonderful work of our many partners, and, finally, the co-operation of mother nature. We like to think our mini-festival had something to do with summer’s late, but no-less-glorious, arrival.
Since we have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of Alex & Myrtle’s first visit to Alta Lake their story has been getting a lot of coverage of late, but we came up with the “100 Years Of Dreams” tagline because we wanted to celebrate all of the dreamers and icons that have called this valley home over the last century. This week’s Whistory column features the story of Whistler’s lesser-known dreamers, George Bury. Check the Whistler Museum Blog for more photos from Bury’s 1939 expedition.
Although the development of the Whistler area for skiing is typically attributed to a group of Vancouver businessmen looking for the next place to host a Winter Olympics in the 1960s, there were earlier attempts at ski development in the area. In May 1939, George Bury and three other skiers found themselves on what they, along with their floatplane pilot, thought was the shore of Alta Lake, laden with eight-foot long skis and 70 pound packs of gear. They had made the entire journey from Seabird Island in Richmond in the plane and were eager to start skiing. Thus began a ten-day exploratory trip of the area, although in 2007 as Bury looked at maps while recounting his experience, he conceded that it was actually the shores of Cheakamus Lake from which they began their journey.
The party included Austrian George Eisenschimel, who had escaped his home country just before Hitler annexed it, and went on to travel through Switzerland, to South America and then British Columbia. Eisenschimel had the idea of developing the area for skiing and took the step of contacting Bury, who at the time was well known for being the four-way champion of Western Canada. This skiing discipline encompassed jumping, cross-country, slalom and downhill. In addition to Eisenschimel, Howard Hamil was a part of the trip. Before hearing from Eisenschimel, Bury had also looked at maps of the region and thought that it had great potential for development.
The group was greeted by warm spring conditions, and they spent their time hiking up, heating snow to produce drinking water, and then skiing down to search for another appealing ridge over the ten-day period. Ending their trip with a run down the face of The Barrier, they skied to the edge of the snowline and then hiked to the PGE railroad, where George stood in the middle of the tracks until he was able to flag down the next train and hitch a ride to Squamish.
Not long after this trip, the idea of developing the area for skiing was sidetracked when Bury joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at the beginning of the Second World War. In 1940, a Province Newspaper column entitled, “Athletes in Uniform,” described Bury as “one of the best all-round skiers in the city,” going on to state that, “George joined the Air Force as an air gunner [the previous] April and went to Montreal for training.” After the end of the war, Bury continued his career in radio and communications and never looked back. The group from that 1939 expedition never got back in touch.
In 2007 Bury made his first return to the region since the 1939 ski expedition, aside from his radio, radar and microwave technology training bringing him back to install B.C. Hydro’s microwave system on Black Tusk. Now 98 years old, George and his wife Leona live on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. He still skis, teaching cross-country skiing to First Nations children in the winters, and he is still in possession of his ski instructor’s license- the 38th ever issued in Canada.