On October 10 (this Thursday!) the Whistler Museum will be opening Construction of the Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984, a temporary exhibit featuring images of a village in progress from the Whistler Question collection.
The planning and development of the Whistler Village is often referred to as one of the first tasks of the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in 1975. Before a town centre could be constructed, however, a very important (though possibly not as glamourous) facility had to open: the Whistler Sewer Plant.
Prior to 1977, a small number of condominium complexes had their own private systems to deal with waste, but most of the plumbing in Whistler ran on septic tank systems. Investigations into a sewer system for the area were begun by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and continued by the RMOW when it was created. According to the Garibaldi’s Whistler News, in 1977 Whistler had a year-round population of approximately 800, which increased during peak season to near 7,000. Plans to build a town centre and expand the resort raised concerns about the environmental and practical impacts of continuing to use septic systems.
The sewer system in Whistler was planned in phases, with the first phase designed to service areas from the sewer treatment plant located three kilometres south of the gondola in Creekside to almost five km north of the gondola base, accommodating a population of 14,000 with provisions for expansion to 21,000. Thanks to financing from the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation Sewer Program, this first phase and the treatment plant were completed by June 1977. By the fall, the second phase, which extended the reach of the sewer treatment plant from Alta Vista to the site of the future town centre, was underway.
The official opening of the Whistler Sewer Plant was an exciting occasion for the young municipality. It was scheduled for September 17, 1977, and the RMOW hired Lynn Mathews to plan the event. Earlier this year, one of our amazing museum volunteers conducted a series of oral history interviews with the incredible Lynn Mathews, who first came to Whistler in 1966, and one of these interviews included a mention of the opening. According to Mathews, who had previously arranged public relations events in New York City, the opening reception for the Whistler Sewer Plant “went over very, very nicely.” Her claim is supported in The Whistler Question by both Paul Burrows and Jenny Busdon, who reported on the event.
The opening of the plant began at Myrtle Philip School, where there was a display of photographs and diagrams showing the plan construction and a brief history of Whistler, tours of the valley by bus and helicopter, and a display of Ice Stock Sliding, a sport that became popular during the winter months when Whistler Mountain had closed due to lack of snow. The main event was a lunch prepared by chef Roger Systad, including roast duck, salmon, imported cheeses and liver pate.
The lunch was accompanied by speeches from Mayor Pat Carleton and special guests including the Honourable Hugh Curtis, Minister of Municipal Affairs, and the Honourable Jack Pearsall, the MP for the area.
The day also included guided tours of the plant facilities with representatives from the engineering firm on hand to answer questions. The review from Burrows said, “The plant is a modern design that provides complete treatment based on the proven extended aeration process. It is quite interesting to see the plant in full operation.”
Though it may seem like an odd occasion to celebrate, the importance of the Whistler Sewer Plant was clearly stated by Mayor Carleton, who concluded that, “The foundation of Whistler’s future is this plant and sewer system.” Construction of the Whistler Village officially began one year later.
Construction of the Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984 will run through November 22.