Category Archives: Whistler: A Town

As well as being a resort, Whistler is town (kind of) like any other.

An Oasis in the Bushes

A couple of weeks ago (Wednesday, November 17), the Whistler Museum opened Parkhurst: Logging Community to Ghost Town, a temporary exhibition about the Parkhurst Mill site. Though the Parkhurst Mill (or Northern Mills, as it was later called) closed in 1956, the site continued to be inhabited and cared for by various people squatting on the privately owned land into the 1990s.

While preparing for this exhibit, we were able to speak with one of the last (as far as we know) full-time residents of Parkhurst. Eric (also known to some as the Sheriff of Parkhurst) lived at Parkhurst from 1995 to July 1996. He first came to Whistler in 1989 and lived in various small cabins before hearing that Parkhurst had become available. He and a friend went over to talk to the previous occupant, who is believed to have lived there for twelve years, and look around the area. At that time, a two-bedroom house and a smaller cabin down the road were still habitable and the pair decided to move in. A few things needed a little bit of fixing up and the structures had no power, but there was an outhouse, gravity-fed running water, a woodshed, and a large garden. Eric and his friend invested a lot of time into the garden by keeping it up, adding a moss garden, collecting wrought iron and decorative ornaments, and making it “a little bit showy for people that were mountain biking in there.” The garden was meant to be shared with those who came by the area.

Part of the buildings and garden that were still present in 1999. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

This garden is also part of a bit of a mystery at the museum. In 2007, guestbooks from the Parkhurst garden ranging from 1995 to 1999 were mailed to the Whistler Public Library and then given to the museum to add to our archives in 2016. We don’t have any information about who sent the books to the library, who removed them from Parkhurst, or where they were kept at the garden. (If you have more information about the books, please let us know.)

Along with messages, visitors would leave drawings in the guestbooks, such as this one left in 1998.

Though some of the earlier entries are addressed to Eric, most of the entries in the books are addressed to a mysterious caretaker named “John.” Friends left messages to let John or Eric know they had been by to water the garden or take out some garbage, and two former Parkhurst residents from the 1970s wrote that they had stopped by. Anyone was welcome to write in the books and many people who hiked, biked, or paddled over to Parkhurst recorded their impressions. In July 1995, a group of Swedish physicists came across the garden and left a note to say hello and, in 1997, a hiker asked how John put up with all the mosquitoes. Occasionally, John would respond, such as when Rachel left gifts including a candle and picture for his walls.

The overarching message through the entries is gratitude for what one person described as a “nice oasis in the bushes.” The garden meant something different to each visitor but was appreciated as a peaceful, beautiful space open to all. In 1996, Christine wrote of the garden, “It has been a haven for me ever since I discovered it,” a sentiment that was expressed by many others as well.

As far as we know, this was the only wedding held in the Parkhurst garden area. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Jackson.

In September 1999, a wedding was held in the garden and gazebo when Jen and Rob paddled 75 guests over for their ceremony. By that time, it appears no one was maintaining the garden full-time and the pair did some work to the area before their wedding took place. Today, there are few traces of the garden left and the surrounding buildings have become more dilapidated.

Parkhurst: Logging Camp to Ghost Town will run through January 17, 2022 at the Whistler Museum. If you have a story about the Parkhurst area you would like to share, please let us know!

Whistler’s Waterslides

By the time Whistler Springs, Whistler’s first (and so far only) waterslide facility, opened in August 1985, it had already caused quite a bit of controversy. The project was first proposed in 1983 and was expected to be completed by December of that year, but it took two years before the first riders flung themselves down the fibreglass tubes.

In the spring of 1983, Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) was studying the economic viability of a waterslide at the base of their northside lifts after they were approached by a development company. According to Dave Balfour, then the vice president of finance and administration, studying how it could be incorporated into their operations and ski runs was “an interesting design problem.” Because the site was part of the ski area, the developer Hugh Hall first needed to apply for tenure from the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing through WMSC in order to apply for a development permit from the municipality. WMSC did not think this would be a problem and by the end of the summer plans had moved ahead.

Whistler Springs on the side of Whistler Mountain. Though covered, the walkway up was still exposed to the weather and reportedly very chilly after one’s first slide. Coates Collection

As described by Hall, the proposed facility would include a spiral staircase up to the lobby, offices, a gift shop, a juice bar, multiple spas, a heated and covered walkway, and two slides made of semi-transparent tubes. It would be one of a small number of non-skiing family-oriented facilities in Whistler and would operate for most of the year (according to Hall, it would be closed for half of May and all of June as “everyone has to accept the fact that in any resort there are certain months of the year things aren’t open.”) When it came time to apply for a development permit, however, there was some vocal opposition, especially from the site’s neighbours.

Kurt Gagel, president of the Telemark Strata Corporation, and Peter Gregory, the developer of the Delta Mountain Inn, expressed concern about the location and its impact on their property values due to the aesthetic of “unattractive waterslide tubes” and potential noise complaints. Others expressed concerns about the visual impact of the waterslides and whether there would be adequate landscaping to make the facility blend in with its surroundings. In September, over fifty people attended a three-hour public meeting to discuss the development. Only about twenty people showed up to the next meeting where council was set to vote on the matter, but letters from both neighbours were read indicating possible legal action if the permit was approved. Despite this, council voted to approve the permit 4-3 but with fourteen conditions attached before a building permit would be issued.

After many twists and turns, sliders were let out into a shallow pool. Coates Collection

Over the next two years, changes were made to the design and construction began on Whistler Springs in 1984. December was again proposed as an opening date, but the facility was not completed until August 1985, after another small controversy over 400 sq ft of floor space that had not been in the original permit.

Whistler Springs officially opened to the public on August 23. Visitors and residents alike arrived to test out the slides and it was soon discovered that the right slide ran slightly more quickly than the left. Despite what some have described as a very chilly walk up to the top, the slides became very popular with the summer ski camp kids and others. In 1987, the waterslides were even included in articles meant to advertise Whistler as a resort destination.

The slides operated for less than a decade before the space was taken over by WMSC Employee Services. Whistler Question Collection, 1991

By the early 1990s, the popularity of the waterslides was waning and Whistler Springs closed permanently in 1991. According to Peggy Vogler, after the slides closed the building was used by WMSC employees. The restaurant space upstairs became offices for the ski school and the downstairs was used by Employee Services. The site was sold to developers and eventually developed into the Westin Resort & Spa. The only trace of the waterslides left today is the name of the Whistler Blackcomb Employee Services building, still called The Springs.

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.