Treating Whistler

For decades, portable buildings and trailers have been temporary homes for organizations and businesses in Whistler. At one point or another, the liquor store, real estate offices, Municipal Hall, the library, the museum, the Whistler Arts Council, and even the bank have been located in trailers around the valley. One facility that you might not expect to find in a trailer, however, is the Whistler Medical Centre.

In the late 1960s, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began providing accommodation for the Whistler Mountain Medical Association, a group of skiing doctors who also provided medical care for residents after skiing on winter weekends. It wasn’t until 1980, when two local doctors set up practices, that full time medical care came to Whistler. Dr. Christine Rodgers saw patients in her home in White Gold, while Dr. Rob Burgess set up in a trailer near the base of Whistler Mountain in Whistler Village, which was still under construction.

Dr. Rob Burgess, Dr. Christine Rodgers, Howie Goldsmid and Bill Hooson at a hospital meeting. Whistler Question Collection.

The Whistler Health Planning Society was then formed in 1982, spearheaded by residents including Craig MacKenzie and Rollie Horsey. The Society began fundraising for a dedicated medical facility and, in September 1982, opened the Whistler Medical Centre in a double-wide trailer. It was located on Whistler Way between the Delta Mountain Inn (now the Hilton) and the Sports & Convention Centre (today the Conference Centre). This new facility had rooms for both Dr. Rodgers and Dr. Burgess, as well as the public health nurse Marilyn McIvor and physiotherapist Susie Mortensen-Young, and a holding area for injuries.

Craig McKenzie of the Whistler Health Planning Society inspects the trailer brought into position adjacent to the Sports & Convention Centre for Whistler’s new medical clinic. Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler Emergency Services also began operating out of the facility at the beginning of the ski season. The station was operated by Shari Imrie and Beverly Wylie, both Registered Nurses, who between them treated emergency patients 36 hours/week.

The trailer was always meant to be a temporary facility for the Medical Centre, but, in 1984, the Society turned down a location in the lower level of Municipal Hall due to concerns about their ability to fund the larger space and worries that this new facility would lead the province to think that Whistler was adequately serviced. By this time, however, it would appear that the medical needs of the community and its visitors had outgrown the 111m2 space. It was reported that 69% of the patients treated at the Medical Centre during the ski season were visitors and Society member Chuck Blaylock described the facility as “a little scruffy. It’s like a MASH unit on a busy weekend.” This sentiment was seconded by Bev Wylie, who later remembered taping IV units to the wall while patients lay on the floor because there were no empty beds.

The Whistler Medical Clinic, located on Whistler Way in Whistler Village. Whistler Question Collection.

The Society had continued fundraising for a new facility through charitable donations and events such as chilli cookoffs, hot dog sales, golf tournaments, and raffle draws. In 1985, the Whistler Health Planning Society changed its name to the Whistler Health Care Society and restructured its constitution so that the Medical Centre would qualify for provincial funding. The next year, the Whistler Medical Centre moved into the earlier proposed space in Municipal Hall, tripling the size of its space. The trailers, which at that time were located on the parking lot of the Whistler Golf Course, were sold to Whistler Land Co. Developments. The medical needs of the community and visitors, however, would continue to grow and outgrow the space, leading to another move in the 1990s.

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