For some people the long, dark and cold nights of winter are reason to stay warm indoors and catch up on episodes of something on television or watch movies in the comfort of your own home.
Though now a common way to spend an evening, television did not arrive in Whistler – then Alta Lake – until the 1960s and movie nights in Alta Lake began as community events.
In 1954, the Alta Lake Community Club (a social club formed by residents and regular visitors in the 1920s) raised enough money to buy a projector and began holding weekly movie nights in the community hall throughout the year. On Saturday nights a film was shown using a sheet for a screen and a gas-powered generator for electricity. In the busy summer season these screening would be followed by dancing. Alta Lake resident Dick Fairhurst said of the film selection that, “perhaps they were not the most up to date, but they were fine as we had never seen them.”
In recalling her first year living in the valley in 1968, Trudy Alder provides a description of a winter’s night at the movies: “The films started when it was dark as the hall did not have any curtains. The shows were usually the social event of the week. Everyone who could walk would come. Sometimes there was a large audience of 25 people. We could buy popcorn and soft drinks from the children. Dogs were only allowed in the movies when you promised to have them sitting under your seat. But they found out fast that it was better to snuggle with the children in a cozy pile on the floor in front of the front row. You should have heard the howling if there was a dog or two in the movie. For us these movie nights were half an hour walks each way in the deep snow.”
Pat and Denis Beauregard ran the movie nights for eight years as volunteers in the 1960s and 70s, first in the community hall and then later in the cafeteria at the base of Whistler Mountain using a portable screen donated by Myrtle Philip. For those who missed a show due to impassable roads, the Beauregards would provide an extra showing in their home.
The building of the Rainbow Theatre during the construction of the Village in the 1980s marked Whistler’s first commercial theatre. Due to having only one screen and limited show times, however, movies continued in many ways to be community events (without the howling dogs), especially during the slower spring and fall seasons.
Today visitors and residents of Whistler have many options when deciding what to watch; Village 8 Cinemas opened in December 2002 with multiple showings of various films daily, the Whistler Public Library has a large collection of movies that can be borrowed for free and streaming services such as Netflix provide access to films without the need for walking through the snow at all.
I was Marketing Director for Labatt’s BC in the first half of the 70’s and Labatt’s had a big library of movies and sport films that were loaned out to groups for beer nights. On several occasions in 71and 72 I would provide movies to a Whistler group for these showings and would attend to promote Labatt brands. I can’t remember where these were held but it may have been at that community centre. Peter or Trudi Alder will recall.
Labatt’s also sponsored a lot of the Whistler Mountain events that period and later, particularly the early days of freestyle.
Great memories……..Mike Hurst