Category Archives: Museum Musings

These articles have also appeared in the Whistler Question or Pique Newsmagazine in the Whistler Museum’s weekly column.

Livening Up the Street

On the mid-to-late 1980s, after working as the Vice-President of Marketing at Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, Mike Hurst began a new position as the acting general manager of the Whistler Resort Association (WRA), known today as Tourism Whistler. While Vancouver had drawn international attention during Expo 86, summers in the Whistler resort were still quite slow, with some businesses even shutting down for the season. According to Hurst, “People would come up to the Village, and they’d come in, and they’d go to a restaurant, and then they’d walk around wondering what to do, and there’d be very little to do.”

In an effort to change this, Hurst contacted Maureen Douglas and Laurel Darnell of Street Access and asked them to organize street entertainment in the Village for the summer of 1987. Though Douglas spent Expo 86 recovering from a broken leg, she was inspired by the “sleeper hit” street performers at the festival and wanted to ensure that talent wasn’t forgotten. She and Darnell formed Street Access Entertainment Society as a non-profit street entertainment booking and development society in September 1986. They were soon contracted to organize three days/week of entertainment in Whistler.

Some acts included combinations of acrobatics and knife juggling. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Each weekend the Village would host performances by jugglers, musicians, comedians, and character actors who roamed the Village Stroll. At the end of the summer, fifteen acts were brought together for the Whistler Street Festival Grand Finale over the Labour Day weekend to compete for a contract to perform at Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia.

The street entertainers from the very first season in 1987. Photo courtesy of Maureen Douglas.

Street Access continued to organize summer street entertainment for the WRA, increasing to four days/week in 1988 and then seven days/week in 1989. The WRA then decided to bring festival and entertainment planning in house and asked Douglas to write a job description and apply. She began working at the WRA and ran the street entertainment program through the 1990s.

The Checkerboard Guy demonstrates how to eat fire on the Village Stroll. Whistler Question Collection, 1992.

According to Douglas, each year’s lineup was made of about 50% returning acts from the Lower Mainland and 50% new or touring acts. One regular act was Carolyn Sadowska, who appeared as Queen Elizabeth II and would instruct visitors on points of etiquette, provide tiaras and props, and pose for photos. Other acts included Fifi Lafluff (“the world’s worst hairdresser”), a cappella groups such as Party Fever, bands like the Mulberry Street Jazz Band, clowns, and comedic jugglers such as the Checkerboard Guy and Mike Battie (whose grand finale involved juggling pins and broccoli, which he proceeded to eat, accompanied by the William Tell Overture). Over the years Douglas also started to hire local musical acts, such as Stephen and Peter Vogler, singing group Colours on Key, and harpist Alison Hunter.

Colours on Key, a local singing group in Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

By most accounts, the street entertainment program was a big success. Through the 1990s the September festival was renamed Whistler’s Really Big Street Fest and weekly showcases were added to the schedule. Acts were carefully placed throughout the Village, as some could attract audiences of 300 to 400 people. While this was alright in Village Square, in other areas those numbers created gridlock.

Performances could fill Village Square, sometimes even impeding foot traffic. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Whistler became part of the street entertainment circuit, joining other festivals across Canada in cities such as Halifax and Edmonton. While some of the other areas offered performers a chance to make a lot of money through busking, the WRA didn’t want the audience to have to pay and instead offered a “working holiday,” with a decent fee, accommodation, wine and cheese get-togethers on Fridays, and time to enjoy summer in Whistler. Douglas remembered that one of the producers of a busking festival once told her, “You know, our one beef with Whistler is that you guys are just too nice. They come here and then we don’t treat them quite as well and they’re miffed.”

Encouraging summer visitors was a large focus of the WRA and Mike Hurst in the mid-to-late 1980s and street entertainment was just one strategy to increase numbers. For many visitors and residents, however, the performers were one of the most memorable parts of their Village experience.

The village that ceased to exist, part two

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

After a May 1980 Order in Council (OIC) called for the evacuation of their village, the residents of the Garibaldi Townsite faced a stressful and uncertain future. At first, many of the residents refused to accept the fate of their community, and fought the OIC with everything they had. With every day that passed, their situation seemed to become more complicated and controversial.

After the OIC was issued, the evacuation process progressed quickly. Property assessments for the area were to be completed by the coming September. Following that, residents would have until December 31st to accept their purchase offer. The residents were given the option to buy back their buildings at auction (so long as they could meet the highest bid), but at the time there were no plans for a relocation site, so the residents had nowhere to move their houses.

A Garibaldi Townsite home being relocated. Whistler Question Collection.

The situation seemed bleak in the summer of 1980, but by the fall there was a little more hope. The deadline to accept offers was extended to June 1981, which gave residents a little more time to get their affairs in order. An interdepartmental committee between the Ministry of the Environment (who were handling the evacuation) and the Ministry of Housing (who were handling the relocation) was established, and residents who chose to buy back their homes were given permission to leave them on the land until a relocation site was completed.

Despite these concession, the evacuation order remained in place, and residents remained unwilling to give up on their town. The matter was brought to Ombudsman Karl Freidman in October 1980. While reviewing the case, he found several causes for concern. Among them was a lack of open communication between the government and the residents, the terms of sale being stacked in the government’s favour, and the lack of official commitment to a relocation plan. A few months later, likely in response to Freidman’s report, the provincial government sent letters to the residents that included the complete OIC and plans for a relocation site 7km north of the Townsite.

Just as the plight of the residents was starting to improve, disaster struck the Townsite on December 26th 1980. After days of heave rain, B.C. Hydro was forced to open the gates of the Daisy Lake Dam to prevent it from overflowing. The resulting flood wrought havoc on the village. One home was swept away into the Cheakamus River, many were undermined, and the Garibaldi Townsite infrastructure was severely damaged. The destruction shook many of the resident’s resolve to continue fighting for their community, and some decided to leave entirely.

In September 1981, the remaining residents launched a final attempt to save their town, or at the very least to spread awareness about the mismanagement and perceived unfairness of their situation.

A Garibaldi resident stands beside some of the signs for the September 1981 protest. Whistler Question Collection.

Fifteen signs were placed along Highway 99, and drivers were asked to pull over to be handed copies of “The Great Barrier Grief”, a circular that detailed their situation, the OIC, and their theories and questions about the matter. “The Great Barrier Grief” was put together by Ian Barnet, who owned the Garibaldi Lodge. It included everything from editorials on the issue, stories of longtime residents, political cartoons, and summaries of some of the theories about the cause of the evacuation.

The circular suggested four theories behind the evacuation. The first (“Pure Government Bungling”), suggested that it was miscommunication within the government that caused the situation to escalate as it had. The second (“Over-Reaction to Tenuous Report”), suggested the government’s seemingly sudden action had been caused by the eruption of Mount St. Helens (it erupted on May 18, 1980, shortly before the OIC was issued). Perhaps, it suggested, since the government had been aware of the potential risk of the Barrier, they could be held accountable for any damage it did. The third (“The Conspiracy Theory”) suggested that due to all of the development happening in the valley, the government had a vested interest in owning the land, and were therefore forcing the residents out by any means necessary. Similarly, the fourth (“The Land Grab Theory”) suggested that because land values in Whistler had recently sky-rocketed, the Crown stood to profit should they take back the village’s land, hold onto it for a few years, and to then redistribute it at Whistler prices.

Below are some examples of illustrations from the publication.

Illustration from “The Great Barrier Grief” that shows the path a landslide would have to take to damage the Townsite but none of its surroundings.
Illustration from “The Great Barrier Grief”

In the end, their resistance was not enough to save their village, but it did result in a guaranteed relocation site and provincial commitment to better and more transparent communication. In 1982, residents were offered lots in a new development called Black Tusk. Residents were welcomed to the new community in September 1984, though some fought to stay until as late as 1986. In the end, only twenty-six Townsite families chose to relocate to Black Tusk, and the remaining lots were sold to the general public.

Today, all that is left of the Garibaldi Townsite is a small collection of ageing cabins tucked away off Highway 99 across from Daisy Lake.

The village that ceased to exist (part 1)

Since the day of the mandatory evacuation order in 1980, the removal of the Garibaldi Townsite has been shrouded in controversy. A small but growing community was urgently ordered to leave their town, and the fight that ensued made headlines for years. During the evacuation, tensions ran high, motives were questioned, and a variety of theories (some more feasible than others) were put forward.

At the center of the controversy is the Barrier, a 500 meter rockface that dams the Garibaldi lakes. As early as the 1850’s there were concerns about its stability. Indigenous oral histories document a destructive landslide in 1855 that resulted from a slab of rock falling from the Barrier. Later that decade William Downie, a surveyor sent to the region by the Hudson’s Bay Company, noted in his diary that the land beneath the Barrier had been ruined, and voiced concern over its stability. It took over a century for something to come of these accounts, and in the meantime the area continued to be developed.

In the 1970s, the Department of Highways commissioned a study to determine the stability of the Barrier. The subsequent report by the Garibaldi Advisory Panel (also known as the Barrier Report) was completed in May 1978. It claimed the risk of another slide was relatively low, but, if one were to happen the results could be catastrophic. It recommended that “concentrated development” be limited in certain regions, but said nothing about evacuating existing communities.

Even after the risk had been established, the report lay dormant in Victoria for two years. During those years, the residents of Garibaldi built a new firehall, repaired the schoolhouse, and cleared space for a playground. What happened next came as a complete shock to the growing community.

In May 1980, an Order in Council was issued that declared Garibaldi a civil-defense zone ad prohibited “development, construction, excavation, or alteration” of any land in the implicated area. This meant that residents became tenants on their property, and that they had to choose between selling to the government and living on land that they could no longer alter.

Sign posted outside Garibaldi Townsite. Whistler Question Collection.

There are many theories about why the evacuation happened when it did, and in order to begin to understand those theories, it is helpful to know what was there before the evacuation. Garibaldi Townsite began as the Garibaldi Station, and was one of the many communities that owed its origins to the expansion the railroad.

Built in 1922, Alpine Lodge was the second lodge built at the Townsite. Whistler Question Collection.

At first, it followed a similar trajectory to Alta Lake. Development began in the early twentieth century and picked up in the late 1940s when families who were unable to find accommodation in Vancouver were drawn to the valley (back then Vancouverites often lined up outside newspaper offices to get an early look at rental listings). For some time, Garibaldi had a larger year-round population than Alta Lake, and one Garibaldi resident, after having spent the winter of 1946 working in Alta Lake, described it as a “terrible place” that was “ten times as desolate as Garibaldi.” By 1960, there were just over 60 full time residents (with up to twice as many on weekends), and the town had its own campground, post office, firehall, and store. By 1980, when the order was issued, Garibaldi was well on its way to being an established community and tourist destination.

Members of the “Alive Club” pose outside the Alpine Lodge for a photo in 1979. Forbes Collection.

Next week’s article will cover the many conflicting theories about why the evacuation happened when it did, and will detail what happened to the residents after they were forced to leave.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program. She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

Building Meadow Park

In 1980, while Blackcomb Mountain was preparing to open and the Town Centre was still in early stages of construction, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was putting together a plan to build parks throughout Whistler. The Outdoor Recreation Plan they proposed suggested plans for lakeside parks, such as today’s Lost Lake Park, Wayside Park, and Alpha Lake Park, as well as calling for smaller parks within subdivisions. In Alpine Meadows, the plan proposed a park with a playground, softball field, open play area, nature area, bikeway terminus, and parking with highway access. Over the 1980s, this suggestion of a park would become Meadow Park.

Municipal trail crews cut through the brush to make the final connection between the Alpine Meadows trail and Meadow Park trail (under construction). Paving to complete the trail system will begin at the end of July. Whistler Question Collection, June 1983.

Work on Meadow Park began in the early 1980s with the building up of 11 acres of marsh. By September 1983, though still a work-in-progress, Meadow Park was connected to the Whistler Village by an early section of the Valley Trail and tennis courts had been installed. Despite this progress, the park was still a long way from finished. In May 1984, a feature article in the Whistler Question described the area as “a sorry sight,” with skunk cabbage where other parks boasted daffodils and a brown patch in place of a playing field. By the River of Golden Dreams, however, a grassy picnic site featured panoramic views of mountains.

Over the summer of 1984, the brown patch would be seeded and transformed into a field complete with baseball diamond and backstop, the Valley Trail would be paved and extended to the highway, and a playground would be installed near the tennis courts. According to Parks Planner Tom Barratt, the RMOW’s plan with these facilities was “to make the park as much a community park as it is a local, subdivision park.”

Meadow Park mom’s gathered on a Tuesday afternoon. The pre-nap strategy: “Get them out and let them run wild.” Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

The next major addition to Meadow Park was made in 1988 with the installation of the water park. The water park was partially funded by a grant from BC Lotteries and was built by L.A. Systems, who had just finished installing a similar park in Horseshoe Bay. According to municipal parks director Bill Barratt, the water park would offer a safer alternative to lakes for small children during hot weather.

The water park was completed by August 1988, featuring water cannons, sprinklers, geyser, water slide, and “a fish that blows wherever the wind does.” A community event, referred to by some as the “Big Splash,” was put together by the Alta Lake Community Club to celebrate the water park’s opening. Dandelion Daycare sponsored a bicycle-decorating contest, the Rotary Club provided ice cream, the Lions Club brought hot dogs and drinks, and local businesses provided prizes. Children and parents “flocked” to the new facility.

The water park being well used during the summer months. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

The water park continued to be well used by residents and visitors alike and Meadow Park was soon established as a neighbourhood park. In a 2016 post for the Whistler Insider (the blog hosted by whistler.com) author Feet Banks wrote that, “The water park was an integral part of childhood for Whistler kids who licked in the north end of town. With no public transit, this was the closest cool-down option and we made almost daily pilgrimages to splash down the slide, run the spray tunnel, refresh and play Frisbee on the massive grass fields.”

The Valley Trail system has been extended and public transit introduced making it easier to access other parks and lakes, but Meadow Park continues to be a popular park for those who live in Alpine Meadows and many others. Picnickers can still be found next to the River of Golden Dreams and, especially when the temperatures rise, children and adults alike can be seen splashing in the water park.