Ask about the beginnings of municipal politics in Whistler and two things will unfailingly be mentioned: the year 1975 and the name Pat Carleton. In the early 1970s Whistler had yet to gain a local governing body. The area including Whistler was governed directly by the province and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. Change began in 1974 when the province became interested in developing tourism and enacted a land freeze in the area, preventing private land owners from determining the development of the valley for financial gain. Their report concluded that a strong local government was the solution. The result was the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act and the creation of a new kind of government in 1975.
This new resort municipality was to be unlike any other resort or municipality in the country. Canada had resorts, such as Banff, where a local advisory committee provided guidance to the senior level of government with absolute control over the resort. Canada also had municipalities. Whistler’s new governing body was to be unique. Property owners and residents would elect their own mayor and three aldermen. What made Whistler different, however, was the fourth alderman, appointed by the province to oversee financial isssues and maintain the interests of the province.
On September 6, 1975, the first municipal council was sworn into office. The three elected aldermen, Garry Watson, John Hetherington, and Bob Bishop, were joined by Al Raine, the provincial appointee, and these four representatives were led by Whistler’s first mayor, Pat Carleton.
Many residents of Whistler gathered to watch the swearing in of their first elected government by Judge C.I. Walker. Some, however, were unable to attend the ceremony due to a last minute change in location. Originally the ceremony was planned to take place at the Roundhouse Lodge on the top of Whistler Mountain. Free gondola and chairlift rides were provided for those who wished to attend, but some Whistler residents decided to take a more active approach. Paul and Jane Burrows had hiked up the mountain with their dog to attend the ceremony, unaware that as they were hiking the ceremony had been moved to the base of Whistler Mountain at Creekside. Paul, president of the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and founder of the Whistler Question, had run against Pat Carleton for mayor and was looking forward to watching Whistler officially gain a municipal government. Unable to download their dog on a chairlift, the Burrows were sadly unable to get down the mountain in time and missed the swearing in of Whistler’s first aldermen and mayor.
Like many before him, Pat Carleton, a coffee salesman, first came to Whistler on a fishing trip in 1956. He fell in love with the area and built a house on Alpha Lake with his wife, Kay, which the family used for holidays. Pat and Kay retired to their home in Whistler in 1971 and Pat became an active member of the community through the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association. From 1975 to 1982 he served four terms as Whistler’s mayor.
From the get-go council faced a daunting task: to build a resort. Their plan was to develop a Town Centre on the dump at the base of both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, a goal not made any easier by the valley’s lack of a sewage system and opposition from private land owners who wanted to develop the resort on their own properties. Council had few resources, apart from a gaval presented to the mayor, and no municipal building. Meetings were held in various locations such as the Carleton’s garage and the lunchroom of Myrtle Philip School. Despite these difficulties, the municipal governments under Pat worked endlessly to shape Whistler into the resort it is today.
The early development of Whistler did not progress smoothly. Early in 1976 the community of Whistler and Council agreed upon an official community plan which placed the new Town Centre on top of the dump at the base of both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. This plan was strongly opposed by private land owners who formed the Whistler Development Association. Council waited and became frustrated as provincial approval of their plan continued to be withheld. After less than a year in office, council members voted unanimously to resign if the province refused to support the offical community plan and Pat Carleton, Al Raine, and Garry Watson travelled to Victoria with their resignations in Pat’s pocket. They met with Municipal Affairs Minister Hugh Curtis who had recently received a delegation from the Whistler Development Association including planners and large fancy model. Luckily, Curtis had been unimpressed by this proposal and approval was given for the plans of the community. Whistler’s mayor returned home with the resignations still in his pocket.
The first seven years after the incorporation of Whistler as a resort municipality saw dramatic changes to the area. On August 21, 1978, Pat turned the first sod on the Town Centre site and the construction of today’s Village began. By then the problem of a sewage system in the valley had mostly been solved in 1977 with the opening of Whistler’s first sewage treatment plant. At the official opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980 Pat was there to do the honours. The early work of Whistler’s first council and its first mayor was instrumental in creating the resort that Whistler is today. In September of 1982 Pat Carleton announced he was not going to seek re-election and was succeeded in December by Mark Angus, Whistler’s second mayor.