When the Resort Municipality of Whistler was incorporated in 1975, the town was a far cry from its beginnings as the small settlement of Alta Lake. Development had transformed the town, now with a permanent population of over 500 people, into a recreational park and ski area with huge touristic appeal This led to competing groups battling out the issue of how best to manage the burgeoning resort town.
The composition of the town at this time was made up of a small, local population whose property holdings were dwarfed by non-resident holders: more than 80% of the residences in the town were second homes, mostly belonging to owners in Vancouver. The Provincial Government was also a presence in the area, considering the high quality recreational opportunities an invaluable resource for the province – and investment in their development a means of stimulating the tourism industry in British Columbia. These groups had some very different ideas about what successful advancement would look like for the area. There were non-residents who would be content to see the ski hill remain an under-developed weekend getaway, locals who urgently sought improvement in community resources such as a sewage system and externally-run dump site, and outside investors looking to expand the town’s resort potential, particularly with regards to bed capacity.
So who represented the town’s interests in the early ‘70s The Alta Lake Ratepayers’ Association was a committee of residence owners who raised funds in order to seek legal advice and have a voice in local affairs concerning the longevity of the community. They took on responsibility for many local services, one of which was the regulation of the volunteer-run community dump before the incorporation of the municipality. Whistler was governed at regional level by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which had been incorporated in 1968, and at provincial level by the Department of Municipal Affairs. The issue, as the Ratepayers’ saw it, was that property owners were paying taxes to an entity that did not represent them and their needs. For the Regional District and the Province, Whistler’s disperse population could not raise sufficient taxes to support the necessary facilities for its many weekend and seasonal visitors. There were calls for local, self-representative government at many levels, as Whistler continued to emerge as a town with unique needs.
The issue of government became more urgent in the face of a bid to host the Winter Olympics in 1976 – if the bid were to prove successful, huge development would take place in the town. In 1974, sensing how crucial the next few years would be for the town and its recreational facilities, the Provincial Government instigated a land freeze and undertook a development study. Their results formed the framework of priorities for a new local government.
On September 6, 1975 the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the first of its kind, was incorporated by the RMOW Act. This Act bestowed the Council with the duties of law-making and service provision, while also endowing it with the responsibility to “promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.” The Council’s position was to be one that involved a careful balancing of interests between residents, visitors, and investors.
Even after such huge development that has taken place in Whistler up to today – with almost 10,000 permanent residents and over two million visitors annually – the diverse groups that make up the identity of the town have remained much the same. The Council still represents the interests of a local community, second-home owners, and seasonaires, while maintaining Whistler’s status as a destination that draws tourists from all corners of the globe.
-Written by guest blogger, Melinda Muller