This past Wednesday, homage was paid to one of the most influential figures in our valley’s history, Jack Bright. As would be expected of such an occasion, the gathering drew a long list of prominent and long-time Whistlerites.
Besides it’s main purpose to commemorate the life of a cherished family member, friend, and colleague, the celebration served a sort of window into another era. Whistler’s history is so short and mercurial, it is easy to forget how much change has occurred in just a few decades. We are fortunate to still have with us many people who have witnessed (and contributed to) Whistler’s rise from its modest beginnings as a remote venture with an uncertain future. Jack’s celebration drew many such folk, and the informal conversations spreading throughout the crowd were a veritable oral history of the ski resort.
There couldn’t have been a more appropriate venue. If you find that Roland’s Pub has an unpretentious atmosphere reminiscent of Whistler’s modest early years, that’s no mistake. In its first incarnation the building housed the Whistler Inn, built by Jack Bright himself in 1975. They expanded it a year later to make room for JB’s Restaurant, and the building has been a hub of the Creekside neighbourhood ever since.
Several people volunteered, or were summoned, to speak in front of the crowd. Among these was Hugh Smythe, first hired by Jack as a 19 year old ski patroller in 1966. Hugh described the Brights as a sort of surrogate family for him in those early days, fondly recalling family dinners at their home.
There is an interesting symmetry to Hugh and Jack’s story. Building upon his early experience working for Jack, Hugh went on to work, in a roundabout manner, at every level of ski resort management himself, including as Blackcomb Mountain’s first general manager. Focusing on Jack’s mentorship and entrepreneurial intuition, Hugh also recalled a road trip the two of them took to Todd Mountain (now Sun Peaks) to try and lure ski star Jim McConkey to Whistler to head the nascent ski school.
Appropriately enough, a few minutes later, “Diamond Jim” himself was up front, remarking on how well Whistler has treated so many people, and the crucial role Jack played in this success. Several other friends and family members came before the crowd to celebrate Jack’s many qualities and accomplishments.
The event was gracefully hosted by Jack’s son Lance, who, along with his mother Ann (Jack’s wife) and brother Jordan, shared some heartfelt impressions of Jack.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances there was a warm, relaxed feel, like a sort of high school reunion for the ski resort’s early years. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the day and the opportunity to reminisce that it provided, a testament to how overwhelmingly positive those memories are of an era of Whistler’s history in which your Jack featured so prominently.