Category Archives: Museum Musings

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

What is the WRA?

In late August 1979, the government of British Columbia introduced an amendment to the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act (the legislation that established Whistler as a municipality in 1975) that would allow for the creation of a resort association. According to section 14.1 of the Act, the purpose of such an association would be “to promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.” Due to this legislation, the Whistler Resort Association (WRA) began operations in 1980.

There were no other resort associations in British Columbia at the time, though several examples could be found in American resorts such as Sun Valley, Aspen, and Vail. In their October 19779 newsletter, the Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) wrote that “The concept of a destination resort and of a resort association are both new to Canada, and that is perhaps why some misunderstandings have arisen.” Though they did not detail what kind of misunderstandings had occurred, the WVLC did go on to provide and explanation of the purpose and structure of the WRA.

Land Company President Terry Minger delivers a presentation to Whistler Rotary about the purpose of the Whistler Resort Association. Whistler Question Collection.

The WVLC stated that the main purpose of the WRA was “to ensure the success of Whistler,” mainly through marketing. Marketing Whistler included promoting and advertising the resort, providing public relations, and making reservations. Their operations would include a computerized central reservation system able to book rooms for large groups such as conferences, a service to handle general inquiries about Whistler, and a central billing system. The WRA would also be able to sponsor events in Whistler, such as concerts and festivals.

The WRA membership was to include those who owned or operated in the (still under construction) Town Centre and the Blackcomb benchlands, as well as anyone owning or operating a tourism related business outside of the “resort land” who chose to join. According to Land Company President Terry Minger, the WRA would function not unlike a shopping centre merchants association or a tenants organization.

Once completed, the WRA was also in charge of operations at the Whistler Conference Centre. Whistler Question Collection.

For the first few years, the WRA was expected to be funded mainly by the WVLC and contributions from the operators of Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, organizations who would also make up the majority of the board positions. The proposed budget for their first year of operations was set at $500,000.

Though some had expected the WRA to begin operating as early as late 1979, its bylaws first had to be approved by the provincial government. In March 1980, the Whistler Council voted to receive the new Resort Association Bylaws. By May 1980, all that the Whistler Question had to report was that no statement had been issued by the WVLC, the Council, or the province regarding the passage of the bylaws. Finally, by July 1980, the bylaws of the WRA had been approved and the association could move forward.

The WRA used federal government student employment programs in the early 1980s to provide entertainment in the village, offer tours, and work at the information booth. Whistler Question Collection.

The WRA quickly got to work hiring staff, such as their first executive director Karl Crosby, setting up systems, and marketing the resort of Whistler to the world. There were some challenges in their early years, such as a recession, continued construction, competing demands of members, and various changes in management (past general manager Peter Alder once said that for a period the WRA “went through managers like they went through coffees in the morning”) but the WRA remained a visible force promoting Whistler. They set up information booths at travel displays outside Whistler, coordinated visits for tour operators and conference organizers to show that Whistler was capable of, produced maps and directional signs in the valley, helped sponsor events such as the Fall Festival, Winterfest, and the first street entertainment program, and in 1981 introduced Whistler’s first mascot, a marmot named Willie Whistler. By 1986, membership of the WRA had grown to over 600 entities.

The WRA continues to operate in Whistler, promoting Whistler as a destination resort, operating a computerized central reservation system, and more, though today they are much better known as Tourism Whistler.

Completing the Library

This is the third and final instalment of a brief history of the Whistler Public Library. Find Part One here and Part Two here.

When the Whistler Public Library (WPL) opened January 1995 in its portable location on Main Street, it more than doubled its space and was able to expand its collection and services. By the end of the year, visits had also more than doubled to 50,000 and the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA) was already looking ahead to a new location.

WPL offered patrons more than the opportunity to borrow books. The new library had two public access computers that, for a charge, could be used for Internet access and word-processing. Patrons could also take home cassettes, CDs, videos, and magazines and the library continued to offer popular programs such as storytimes and summer reading club. The increased usage of the library and constantly growing collection meant that WPL grew out of its temporary space quickly.

Patrons check out a display at the entrance to the Whistler Public Library after moving to the portables doubled the available space. Whistler Question Collection, 1996.

The lot on which the library portables were placed had been set aside for parking and the library was meant to move into a permanent location by 1999. The WPLA and staff expected to stay in the portables on Main Street for only three to five years. In October 1995, WPLA board members attended a Building Planning Workshop, followed by a community workshop in November. Anne Townley, then the chair of the WPLA, said it was important to gather comments from community members and library patrons as “the Whistler library should be tailored to Whistler needs.” As an example of one such need, Townley mentioned that many people lived in “cramped quarters” and may be coming to the library because they didn’t have any place at home in which they could read or work quietly. At the November meeting, the WPLA was told that, to the community, the library was a space for “research, socialization, relaxation and education” and a “cornerstone of the community.”

Despite early planning, fundraising efforts, and a lot of hard work, the library remained in the portables past the 1999 deadline. Plans for the building went through various changes before the groundbreaking ceremony in 2005. In 1996, the WPLA and Whistler Museum and Archives Society formed a Joint Building Committee and went so far as to present plans for a shared building to Council before parting ways in 2003. In 1997, the WPLA voted to become a municipal library. When millennium projects were announced in 1998, the municipality chose to make the library building its project, though it was delayed until after the completion of the community project (a new Whistler Skiers’ Chapel facility) to avoid direct competition. Finally, plans were confirmed and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in June 2005.

Stories were often told in the children’s area of the portable library building. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Changes were made not only to building plans over this time, but also to the library portables. By 2000, the combination of multiple leaks and carpeted floors led to complaints from library patrons of a slight smell of mildew, though it did not stop library usage from continuing to grow. In the summer of 2001, the Municipal Building Department added an additional layer of shelves on top of the present stacks and then added new shelves to the children’s area that winter. To hold their growing collection in preparation for a new building, the library purchased a storage container in 2002.

To familiarize the community with the new building, the building plans for painted onto the parking lot outside the portables and patrons were able to wander (or play tag) through the future spaces of the library. Delays and cost increases related to a boom in construction, however, meant that they were not able to see the physical spaces until 2008.

TThe parking lot in front of the library and museum portables was used to show the scale and layout of the new library building.. Photo: Whistler Public Library

January 6, 2008, marked the last day of library operations in the portables. On January 13, patrons took part in Books on the Move, where a long line of community members moved one book each onto shelves in the new building (the rest of the books were then moved by a professional moving company). Just days before the official opening and ribbon cutting on January 26, library staff were still cataloguing and shelving books while electricians finished working around them.

Just like in 1995, library usage increased by over 100% during its first year in the new (and current) building. The library continues to grow its collection and programs each year and adapt to meet community needs.

A Temporary Home

As discussed last week, the Whistler Public Library (WPL) opened its doors in the basement of Municipal Hall in the summer of 1986, less than a year after the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA) was formed, thanks to the dedicated work of members of the WPLA, community groups, and volunteers. The library quickly became a well used facility within the community and began providing books, storytimes, school presentations, summer reading programs, and in time even a public access computer under the direction of librarian Joan Richoz.

It was widely understood even before the WPL opened in the basement that this would not be a permanent location. The WPLA had been granted a five-year lease of the space in 1986 and Richoz was told that the library should expect to be in the basement for three to five years. A building fund was started by the WPLA in 1989 but by 1991, as the end of their lease approached, the building committee reported that it would probably be another five years before a new building was ready. The library began operating on a month-to-month lease and then received a two-year lease for the basement space.

Assistant librarian Rob Ross demonstrates the closed sign, which would be seen more often – a shortfall in their operating budget meant that the library, which had been open seven days a week, began closing on Sundays in February 1991. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

The library quickly outgrew its basement location, even after the Whistler Museum and Archives moved out of their part of the space in 1989. In 1990 WPL already had 1,157 registered borrowers, while Squamish had only 704 and Pemberton had 261, and Whistler was continuing to grow. Despite this increase in usership and dedicated fundraising efforts, the library struggled to secure enough funding for operations, sometimes having to dip into their building fund.

The question of where to put the library was met with various proposals, including office space in the newly constructed Marketplace and the high school planned for 1996. The municipality had set aside various sites for community use and in 1992 a lot on Main Street, referred to as Lot 21, was zoned for a library. In October 1992 there was talk of building a municipal cultural centre to house the library, museum and Whistler Arts Council as tenants on Lot 1 but in November the municipality committed funding to build an ice rink at Meadow Park instead. This was also when the idea of moving the library, along with the museum and Arts Council, into portables on Lot 21 came up.

In July 1994, having added as much shelving as possible to the basement space, the library was presented with three options, all of which were temporary measures involving portables. Staying in the basement was no longer an option, as it was needed for the growing Planning and Parks & Recreation departments, then housed in their own portables next to Municipal Hall. The library chose to move into the old Canada Post trailers that were to be moved to Lot 21. This move would double their space, shelving, and number of seats and allow the library to continue growing their collections and programs.

Carpenters add the finishing touches to the outside of the portables after their move to Main Street, despite the apparent snow already in the valley. Whistler Question, 1994.

In December 1994, after the portables had been moved and refurbished by the Municipal Building Department and community members, the library shut down for a week and staff and volunteers moved furniture, books, magazines and more to the new location. The circulation desk, left over from the previous occupants, bore the colours of Canada Post and the new recycled space offered room for a children’s area and reading tables. Now ground level, Richoz told the Whistler Question, “We’ve got windows and view. It’s just fantastic,” and the first library patron Liz Stamper described it as “absolutely beautiful.”

The family who took out the most books was given the opportunity to cut the ribbon at the grand opening, a duty which was taken very seriously. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Unlike at the previous location, the grand opening of the new location occurred a month after rather than before WPL welcomed its first borrowers on Main Street. The opening in January 1995 attracted about 150 people, despite a lack of signage and large snow banks that hid the building, and featured a ribbon cutting and a silent auction to raise money to offset the cost of moving.

Despite the increase in space, this new location was also meant to be a temporary measure. In 1995, staff expected the library to remain in the portables for three to five years.

The Library in the Basement

Last month, when asked by the Whistler Public Library (WPL) if we had photos that they could share to celebrate their birthday, we noticed that the museum hasn’t written a whole lot about our neighbour, so we thought we’d take a look back at the early days of the WPL.

After the Keg building was moved to its current location on Blackcomb Way in 1981, most of the building was renovated to become the offices and meeting spaces of Municipal Hall. It was ready to be occupied by fall 1984 but there was still an unfinished lower level that the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) wasn’t planning to use. A large portion of this level was earmarked for the Whistler Health Care Centre, which had been operating out of portables, and it was proposed that the remaining space could be used for a library.

Library supporters had the chance to “sponsor” a book of their choice to be part of the library’s permanent collection at one of the Whistler Public Library Association’s fundraisers, supervised by WPLA Chair Heather Hull. Whistler Question Collection, 1986.

In December 1985, a petition was started to form the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA) and with ten signatures the library was on its way to becoming reality. The Whistler Rotary Club (WRC) set up a book depository at the Chef and Baker building in Function Junction to collect donations and in January 1986 the province granted the WPLA legal status and $7,000 for start-up costs. The WPLA was able to have their first official board meeting and set up additional collection spots.

The WPLA shared their early progress at their first public meeting in February. This included fundraising plans, the need for volunteers to collect and sort books, and the results of a questionnaire attempting to determine what the residents of Whistler wanted to see in their library. According to the 100 people who completed the survey, Whistler wanted the National Geographic, more non-fiction books than fiction, and a mix of mystery, spy, science fiction and romance novels.

Provincial Secretary Grace McCarthy signs the first library card for the new Whistler Public Library with WPLA Chair Heather Hull. Whistler Question Collection, 1986.

By May 1986, over 2,000 books had been donated (though not all were in suitable lending condition) and $47,000 had been raised for the library, including a $10,000 grant from the RMOW and over $20,000 contributed by local groups such as the WRC and the Alta Lake Community Club. Book donations came from bookstores, Capilano College (texts about the hotel and restaurant trades) and accounting firms (books on bookkeeping, taxes and financial matters). According to librarian Joan Richoz, they hoped to open with 3,000 books on the shelves.

Perhaps the largest fundraiser was Whistler’s Night in April 1986, an auction/dinner/dancing/performance combination that raised over $15,000. Whistler’s Night was a community affair, as restaurant and hotel staff volunteered to cook and serve a seven-course meal, local groups showed off performances prepared for Expo 86, and the Whistler Fire Department ran the bar.

Vancouver: A Year in Motion is presented to librarian Joan Richoz by Star Sutherland, whose father Tom published the book, on the library’s first full day of operations. Whistler Question Collection, 1986.

On July 28, 1986, around 60 people attended an official opening of the library in the basement of Municipal Hall, which had been finished and furnished by the WRC. The library wasn’t actually quite ready to open to the public, as about half of the collection still needed to be catalogued and shelved, but the Social Credit Party was holding their convention in Whistler that weekend and both Provincial Secretary Grace McCarthy (the minister responsible for libraries) and local MLA John Reynolds were on hand to make speeches and unveil plaques. After July 28, the library shut down for another month and over twenty volunteers worked to finish cataloguing and shelving books.

The next opening, and the date celebrated by the WPL as their birthday, was August 27, 1986. The collection included 4,600 books that could be borrowed during the sixteen hours/week that the library was open. Borrowing privileges were free for children, students, and seniors while adults paid $8 for the year.

The Whistler Public Library began as an idea at the end of 1985 and in one year (with a lot of hard work by the WPLA and help from the community) had created a collection, opened a facility, and registered almost 400 card holders.