Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Whistler’s Answers: April 8, 1982

We’re starting something new on the Whistorical blog!  In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: The front page of the April 1, 1982 issue of the Question featured a story about Drew Meredith, a local real estate agent, winning $2 million and donating it to the Whistler municipality. As the paper was published on April 1, many readers recognized the story as an April Fool’s prank. A major recession hit North America in late 1981, with interest rates reaching up to 20%, and Whistler’s economic future was still unsure in early 1982.

Question: What did you think when you read the story last week about Drew Meredith giving away $2 million?

Sharon Berry – Head Cashier – Alpine Meadows

Actually, I did believe it while I was reading the article, and kept on believing it until the next day when I heard other people talking about it and realized it was a joke.

My first impression, though, was that he was a fool. I couldn’t imagine how anyone would be that stupid to give all that money away.

Jack Cram – Restaurateur – Village

I believed it for about two hours, mainly because I thought Drew is the kind of person to do something like that. But with the economy the way it is, especially the real estate market, I wondered why he would do it.

I was busy when I read it so it took a while to sink in.

Ross Tocher – Office Manager Mountainside Lodge – Nester’s

Basically, I thought if it was true, then (a) he was nuts, (b) he wanted a mountain named after him or (c) he wanted to be Mayor.*

Only someone like Mother Theresa would do something like that.

Lisa Knight – Manager of Calberg’s – Brio

I thought it was a lot of fun. When I first read it, I believed it. Then as I read more, it became more obvious.

A $2 million giveaway – I sure wouldn’t have done it. But a lot of people believed it.

Brian Fitzpatrick – Logger – Emerald Estates

I was disgusted. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to throw away $2 million.

I believed it, but it didn’t seem to make any sense. Those real estate b——- are either robbing us blind or throwing it away.

Bob Currie – Contractor – Alpine Meadows

Well, I immediately had grave doubts about the whole story. I laughed a lot the minute I saw a $2 million giveaway.

It was just too much of a coincidence to have a story like that April 1.

*Drew Meredith did, in fact, serve as Mayor from 1986 – 1990.

Our First Virtual Speaker Series – July 7!

Registration for our very first virtual Speaker Series opens tomorrow morning!  Spots are limited for this film screening featuring footage from a 1972 canoe trip through the Grand Canyon of the Liard River and Q&A session with Mike Stein.  Registration is by donation and can be found here:

For a taste of what you’ll experience, Mike put together a preview featuring some incredible paddling!