Raves & Faves
Images by Joern Rohde
AN ARTISTIC PIONEER
Isobel MacLaurin is 85, and she’s still in love with life — and the mountains. Raised in New Brunswick, she met her husband Don when he was studying forestry there. After moving to B.C., they were married, started a family and visited what was then known as Alta Lake, deciding to build their “summer cabin” along nearby Alpha Lake. They immediately put their stamp on the community: she as a pioneering artist, he as one of the first recreational trail builders. Don MacLaurin passed away in 2014, having previously purchased pine coffins for he and his wife — she painted his with images of his beloved vintage ’51 red MG convertible and a sign that read, “Yes, I can take it with me.” Isobel’s coffin, painted with Whistler wildflowers, is presently in her garage — waiting.
Tell me the story of how you and Don came to Whistler.
We came to Alta Lake in ‘61 on the old Budd car (train) and stayed at Cypress Lodge, which is now the artists’ point (The Point Artist-Run Centre). We loved the people so much that Don and I said, “This is the place where we’re going to have our summer cabin.” So, he looked around and got this lot and we started building.
You and your family spent your summers here when your children were growing up. What are some of your memories of those early days?
One day we went across the lake and saw a sign that read, “The new Garibaldi lift will be opening soon.” [As a family of very keen skiers, Isobel recalls being exalted: a ski resort so close to their cabin was like a dream come true.] That was in 1965. Another time, Jack Bright, who was the first manager of Whistler Mountain, had his two boys come over to play, and I said, “You can play when you get enough rocks to help us build the cement foundation underneath the house.” We had neighbours and friends and the kids helping. So, the kids went home and Jack phoned and said, “What in the hell are you making my kids do when they go over to visit you?”
We had an outhouse, a beautiful outhouse, up on the hill. Once, one of the kids came in and said, “Mommy, mommy, our outhouse is gone.” An engineer was building a road above us, Alta Lake Road, and dynamited and knocked a whole bunch of trees down, knocking down our outhouse. It was done by the government, so they built us a new one. It was beautiful, and Nancy [Greene] once said, “Isobel, when we go to parties, would you stop talking about your outhouse?”
How and when did art become such an important part of your life?
I went to a Catholic girls school in St. John. The nuns would always get me to do the drawings and I thought, “OK, everybody can do this.” It was just such a natural thing. I’ve always drawn. However, I never learned to type, because being an artist, you don’t have to. Siri [Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant] does my work now.
You are well known for your paintings of mountain scenes and the area’s abundant wildlife, which are featured on some of the interpretive signage around the resort. Where do you get your artistic inspirations?
I love to sketch and paint every subject. As they say, any artist worth his salt can paint in every medium. When I was young, my girlfriends were furious when I went down to Granville Island, and instead of doing a beautiful mountain picture, I did a gorgeous watercolour of the workings of a decrepit sawmill. But I’ve always loved the outdoors, and I’m lucky that I’m living here.
What is your favourite Whistler hangout?
Oh, I love my house! I love my cabin! And it is still a cabin. Most important of all, I’m going to die here — I’m going to die in this place.