Category Archives: Olympics

The First Pride Parade in Whistler

Last month, the Whistler Museum opened our latest temporary exhibit, Pride & Progress: From the Grassroots Altitude to the Fearless Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, which looks back at the thirty year history of the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival. One of the most public and visible events of the festival is the Pride Ski + March, where skiers and snowboarders and rainbow flags make their way down Whistler Mountain towards Olympic Plaza. The first march through Whistler Village, however, took a shorter route and happened not during the festival but during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It was led by the first Pride House.

Pride House in Whistler. Photo courtesy of Clare Johnson

The idea of an LGBTQ2S+ space modeled on the hospitality houses set up by national Olympic committees took a few years to come together. While attending the 2007 InterPride conference in Zurich, Switzerland, WinterPRIDE (now the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival) organizer Dean Nelson was inspired while learning more about what pride meant in other countries, especially nations more hostile towards LGBTQ2S+ communities.

Three years later, with a lot of hard work, organization, and dedication, the first Pride Houses opened in February 2010, one in a portion of the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre and another in Vancouver (Pride House hosted a daily in QMUNITY, BC’s Queer, Trans, and Two-Spirit Resource Centre, while the sports bar SCORE on Davie St. served as a celebration space). In both locations, Pride House was designed to have multiple functions. They served as educational centres, with resources on many topics including homophobia in sport and Canadian immigration and refugee protection. They were also a welcoming space for LGBTQ2S+ athletes, coaches, officials, family, friends, and fans. Additionally, Whistler’s Pride House hosted a media room for unaccredited media, to which Nelson credits the high exposure of Pride House, as it offered a new Olympic story and a chance at more airtime. Over the 2010 Games, 5,000 people visited Whistler’s Pride House, including skeleton gold medallist Jon Montgomery and Olympic swimmer Mark Tweksbury.

The parade down Village Stroll to Whistler Media House. Whistler Pride Collection.

Whistler Pride House’s march through the Village came about in response to disparaging remarks made by two commentators about American figure skater Johnny Weir, in which they questioned his gender and the example he set for young skaters. Pride House contacted Whistler Media House (located in the Maury Young Arts Centre) to arrange a press conference with accredited media (Weir held his own press conference in Vancouver to respond to the remarks) and, quite literally, marched over with rainbow flags and banners.

Their march took them from the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre, down the stairs, along the Village Stroll, down to Celebration Plaza (today Olympic Plaza), around the Olympic Rings, and back to the theatre in what Nelson described as “probably the most dramatic press conference that the Whistler press team held during the Olympics and Paralympics.”

The parade takes a pause on the steps outside Pride House. Whistler Pride Collection.

With a few changes to the route the following year, the march became part of WinterPRIDE. According to Nelson, “We’ve held onto that tradition ever since and I think it’s really important to have that visibility.” The festival has grown increasingly visible within Whistler over the past thirty years, from the Resort Municipality of Whistler raising rainbow banners in the Village to businesses putting flags in their windows.

You can learn more about the growth of the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival and the legacy of Pride House at Pride & Progress, which will be on display at the Whistler Museum through April 19, 2022.

New Exhibit Opening Tonight!

The 29th annual Whistler Pride and Ski Festival is right around the corner! This week of January 23 – 30, 2022 will be chock-full of events dedicated to diversity, inclusion, and fun. Coinciding with this year’s festivities, the museum is pleased to announce the launch of a new temporary exhibit titled Pride & Progress: From the Grassroots Altitude to the Fearless Whistler Pride and Ski Festival.

Opening to the public this evening, Tuesday, January 25, 2022, the exhibit will take visitors through a visual and descriptive history of Whistler Pride.

Whistler’s rainbow crosswalks are just one example of increased visibility mentioned by Dean Nelson during our online talk in February 2021. Photo courtesy of Dean Nelson.

The challenges and triumphs leading up to the world-renown festival we know today weave a fascinating narrative. The story begins in 1992, when Altitude – as it was known then – covertly hosted around seventy participants for a gay ski week at Whistler Mountain. From these humble beginnings, the festival continued to grow, welcoming more guests and hosting increasingly renowned performers with each year, all the while working to create a safe space for the LGBTQ2s+ community in our mountain town.

The story of Whistler Pride wouldn’t be complete without an exploration of the relationship between the LGBTQ2S+ community and mountain sports. Centering on Pride House, the LGBTQ2S+ pavilion established during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games was a beacon of courage, visibility, and support for queer athletes to be their authentic selves. As the struggle for acceptance continues, this section of the exhibit invites visitors to reflect on the presence of homophobia in sport, and the importance of safe spaces to create awareness and encourage important conversations.

Whistler’s Pride House was located at the Pan Pacific Village Centre and was very visible from outside. Photo courtesy of Clare Johnson.

The exhibit will also feature artifacts, photographs, and films from the past 29 years of the festival in its various forms that will give insight to these historic Pride events. Thanks to Dean Nelson, former festival director (2008 – 2018), for donating many of the artifacts and archival materials being used for the exhibit.

We’re also happy to announce that our extensive collection of Whistler Pride records and materials have now been officially catalogued, rehoused, and published on our online database. Here you can find descriptions on various events, promotions, photographs, and audiovisuals to name a few. Please browse through at your leisure for more information on the history of the festival.

Some of the materials donated as part of the Whistler Pride collection.

We will be celebrating opening night of Pride & Progress: From the Grassroots Altitude to the Fearless Whistler Pride and Ski Festival on this evening, January 25, 2022 with evening hours from 6 to 9 pm. We will also be open from 11 am – 5 pm on Wednesday, January 26. As ever, entry is by donation and masks are required for all visitors to the museum – we hope to see you all here! Otherwise, the exhibit will be on display during our normal operating hours until April 19, 2022.

Not quite ready for an in-person visit? Our 2021 Speaker Series conversation with Dean Nelson is also available to watch on our YouTube channel here.

Chris Monaghan is the assistant archivist at the Whistler Museum and Archives. He has been here on a Young Canada Works contract through the fall and winter.

Volunteers of 2010: The Weasel Workers

This past month, the Whistler Museum opened a temporary exhibit on the Sea to Sky volunteers of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The exhibit will run through March as Whistler continues to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Paralympic Games.  One of the groups included in this exhibit is a group that formed well before the Games ever came to Whistler.

The Weasel Workers formed in the 1970s when Bob Parsons bad his crew of six prepped the course for the first World Cup Downhill races in Whistler.  Most of the early volunteers were parents of Whistler Mountain Ski Club members, but membership grew over the years as Weasels continued to work on the courses for large races on Whistler and began sending volunteers to help build courses for World Cups, World Championships, and Winter Olympics on other mountains.  When the Games were awarded to Whistler and Vancouver in 2003, the Weasel Workers began recruiting and building their team well in advance of the alpine events held on Whistler Mountain.

Weasels on the course with no sign of the sun. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

During the 2010 Games, the number of Weasel Workers swelled to about 1,500 volunteers.  Volunteers came from across Canada and other nations to join a core group of 400 to 500 volunteers from Vancouver and the Sea to Sky area.  About 300 volunteers worked specifically for the Paralympics, and a couple hundred Weasel Workers volunteered to work for both the Olympics and Paralympics.  Weasel volunteers began their work for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) on Whistler Mountain as early as mid-November 2008 and continued to clean the courses well after the Games had left town.

Even during the Games, the Weasels continued to be a family affair.  Bunny Hume, who began volunteering the with Weasels with her husband Dick in the early 1980s when their grandsons began ski racing, volunteered alongside multiple family members.  She handed out and collected race bibs, her son Rick was the Chief of Course for the women’s course, and her grandsons Jeff and Scott worked on the dye crew.  Rick’s wife Lynne also worked as a Weasel during the Paralympics.

Weasel Workers working on the downhill course for the Olympics. Photo: Lance the Ski Patroller

Some of the Weasel Workers who began volunteering as ski club parents even had children competing in the Games.  Long-time Weasel Andrée Janyk, who could often be found working on a course with a smile, saw two of her children, Britt and Mike, race in the Olympics in their hometown.

Karl Ricker, also a long-time dedicated Weasel Worker, was on the mountain trying to prevent people from crossing where the winch-cats were working when he received the news that Maëlle Ricker, his daughter, had won a gold medal in snowboard-cross on Cypress Mountain and become the first Canadian woman to claim an Olympic gold on home soil.  He went down to Vancouver to attend her medal ceremony, but was back at work on the course early the next morning.

Despite rain, wet snow, and warm weather over the first few days of the Games, and the postponement of three races, the Weasel Workers created and maintained courses for the men’s, women’s, and Paralympic alpine races that were seen around the world in 2010, and those who came to Whistler to work with the Weasels became just as much a part of the team as the long-time volunteers.  Patrick Maloney, then the Weasel president, told The Whistler Question that, “Anybody that’s on that track is a Weasel Worker.”  This sentiment was echoed by Weasel Worker Colin Pitt-Taylor, who claimed that, “as soon as you started working on an alpine course, you became a Weasel Worker, whether you like it or not.”

“Ask Me! I’m a Local” and the 2010 Games

It is well established that Whistler residents have a strong history of volunteering, both for major events and more regularly within the community.

Perhaps the largest event put on in Whistler with the help of volunteers was the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, which required hundreds of volunteers each day.  One specific volunteer program that was in place during the 2010 Games was Ask Me! I’m a Local.

The Ask Me! program was conceived by Whistler resident Janis McKenzie and her visiting friend Dan Perdue over a cup of coffee in January 2009.

The idea was simple: connect friendly, button-wearing locals to visitors who might need some help.  Local residents would sign up to wear an Ask Me! button while in the Whistler Village, and the button would identify them as someone visitors could approach to ask directions of, make recommendations, or even take a photo (though selfies were becoming increasingly popular, front-facing cameras on phones were not as common as they are today).

Ask Me! I’m a Local program creators stand with Sumi, the 2010 Paralympic Games mascot. Photo courtesy of Janis McKenzie.

McKenzie approached the RMOW, which agreed to fund the program, and got to work developing it so it would be in place by 2010.  According to the Ask Me! strategic plan, “[Whistler is] a community that prides itself on being friendly and reaching out to help our visitors in their native tongue.  We do this because we genuinely care and know that the experience our guests have will define our future.”  Unlike official Olympic volunteers with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC), this program did not require a set number of shifts often lasting eight to ten hours.  This meant that residents could volunteer and act as ambassadors for Whistler simply by walking through town wearing their button.

To recruit volunteers and raise awareness of the program, a launch party was planned for October 1, 2009.  While McKenzie said they hoped to have 80 to 100 people attend and sign up, over 200 people lined up to attend the party at the GLC.  Those who signed up for a button at the party were entered into a draw prize and were eligible to win a season pass donated by Whistler Blackcomb, who also covered all of the costs for the party.

According to McKenzie, over 600 people had registered for buttons by the time of the Games.  The buttons were available in five languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese), and businesses could also take part by displaying a decal in their window.

Joan Richoz poses proudly with her Ask Me! I’m a Local button during the 2010 Games. Photo courtesy of Claire Johnson.

Though organizers originally thought that few participants would want extra training, over 80 per cent of participants registered for in-person training and over 90 per cent registered to receive a monthly newsletter in order to learn more about Whistler.

The success of the simple grassroots program was recognized in the media and the idea spread, with Vancouver introducing its own version of the program for the Games, and Russian representatives asking about it ahead of their own Games.

Though the Ask Me! buttons can no longer be seen, many of its duties are now carried out by the Village Host program.  McKenzie described the program as “an incredible journey” that exceeded all expectations.  Throughout the Games locals could be found in Whistler proudly wearing their buttons, answering questions, and giving directions to the thousands of visitors and participants of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.  The main idea behind the program remains relevant in Whistler today: “It’s the smallest things we do that will make the biggest difference for our guests’ experience.”