Category Archives: Whistler: A Town

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

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.

W is for Whistler

For some visitors to the museum, the most recognizable images of Whistler’s past are not photographs or objects, but logos and company branding. Just seeing Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.’s green and blue “G” can instantly remind a former lift operator of their company-issued jacket and the months they spend loading the Red Chair sometime between 1965 and 1980. Some logos and branding initiatives have lasted for decades while others were only in use for a few years and then forgotten, though traces of them can still be found around the Whistler valley long after they were first introduced.

Jim McConkey is his Ski School uniform, including a small blue and green G on the label. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

The Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) introduced their “W” logo in their newsletter in December 1978. It was designed by Robert McIlhargey, an architectural illustrator who, with his wife Lori Brown, created much of the concept rendering work for Expo 86. McIlhargey was hired by the WVLC along with David Clifford as design consultants, helping plan elements of the Whistler Village like the logo and even directional signs. According to McIlhargey, the “W” logo and uniform branding and signage throughout the resort were meant to “reinforce the image of Whistler.”

The “W” logo consisted of a circle of Ws, often with the words Whistler Village written underneath. It was designed to be easily adapted to different settings through the use of different text and background colours (the logo was first introduced in green). Shortly after its introduction, the Ws were visible on signs at the entrance to the Whistler Village site and into the 1980s the Ws could be found on wooden signs, pamphlets, advertisements, and even turtlenecks. In 1979, Don Willoughby and Geoff Power of Willpower Enterprises were given permission to use the “W’ logo to produce 1,000 t-shirts as souvenirs of the World Cup race that was meant to have run on Whistler Mountain.

New signs recently put up in the area of the new Whistler Village by the Whistler Village Land Company. Whistler Question Collection.

Not all marketing and branding initiatives in Whistler have been as seemingly well received as WVLC’s “W” logo. The reception to the memorable Big Old Softie initiative wasn’t exactly what the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) had hoped for.

According to WMSC’s then Vice-President of Marketing Mike Hurst, Whistler Mountain began to be perceived as “the big ol’ tough ol’ mountain from way back” after Blackcomb Mountain opened for skiing in 1980, while Blackcomb built a reputation as a beginner-friendly mountain. Hurst described Blackcomb’s reputation as “this big, friendly family mountain, nice and soft, everything’s good.” Whistler Mountain did not yet have the same on-mountain amenities of family-focused programs that Blackcomb did, but after fifteen years without local competition Whistler Mountain was working to change its image.

The Big Old Softie sticker, showing a friendly image of Whistler Mountain.

Hurst and his team began trying to show that Whistler Mountain was “every bit as friendly and family oriented” as Blackcomb with lots of easy beginner terrain. Working with Ron Woodall (the person behind the A&W Root Bear and the creative director of Expo 86), the Big Old Softie initiative was created. Featuring a rounded, smiling mountain, the Big Old Softie was not a universal hit. On rainy days, some changed the name to the “Big Old Soggy” and, according to Hurst, he and the Whistler Mountain team “got raked over the coals pretty good by pretty much everybody” about the campaign. Despite this, the Big Old Softie has proven memorable, and Hurst thought that it did bring attention to Whistler Mountain’s softer side and developing programs.

While you are unlikely to come across an image of the Big Old Softie walking through Whistler today, there are still circles of Ws and even some Garibaldi Lifts Gs that can be spotted around town.

A Different Olympic Dream

Since the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) first dreamed of hosting the Olympics on Whistler Mountain, there have been a lot of plans for developments in the Whistler area, both big and small. Some, such as building lifts or creating the Whistler Village, have been fulfilled, but there are many others that never came to fruition. Most of these, including Norm Patterson’s “Whistler Junction” around Green Lake, GODA’s various early plans for an Olympic village, and Ben Wosk’s proposed $10 million development at the Gondola base, remained concept drawings and scale models. Also on the long list of developments that were never fully developed are the plans the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) had for Olympic Meadows on Whistler Mountain.

In January 1987, WMSC ran a nation-wide ad campaign courting developers. The ad included drawings of Whistler Mountain’s existing lifts, plans for mountain and real estate development, and an architect’s drawing of a large hotel at the Gondola base. When WMSC unveiled their development plans to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in February, however, their plans centred not on the Gondola base but on Olympic Meadows, an area at the base of the Black Chair (today the top of the Olympic Chair).

The top of the Black Chair and base of Olympic Chair, around the area where Whistler 1000 would have been located. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Early ideas for Olympic Meadows included moving the office and maintenance facilities up from the Gondola base and building hotel rooms and parking, serviced by a 4.1 km road which could eventually be lined with residential development. There were a few different options for hotel developments on the site, ranging from a 340-room “lodge-style hotel” with 500 day parking stalls to two terraced hotel blocks up to nine stories high with a total of 1,200 rooms.

Over the next months, WMSC’s plans for Olympic Meadows were refined and WMSC president Lorne Borgal brought in landscape architect Eldon Beck (which is why he was in town to talk with Kevin Murphy about Village North). By the fall, development plans were referred to as “Whistler 1000” and “Whistler 900.” Whistler 1000 featured lodges, townhouses, some commercial services, tennis courts, and 1,000 stalls of day skier parking at the top of the Village Chair (today’s Olympic Station), which was set to be replaced by a high-speed gondola in the next couple of years. Whistler 900 would be located nearby above Brio with future plans for a chairlift from Whistler 900 to the base of the Orange Chair. Both Whistler 1000 and 900 would be accessed by a winding road off of Panorama Ridge.

The view to the valley that the hotels of Whistler 1000 would have featured. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

WMSC’s plans depended on development rights recognized by the ski area agreement with the province but not included in the RMOW’s official community plan (OCP). The RMOW was in the process of reviewing the OCP but timing was tight. WMSC needed the development rights in place before placing their order for new lifts and ski-related development, which needed to go in by February 1988. The earliest date for possible amendments to the OCP was that January. At one time, there was even talk of Whistler Mountain trying to legally separate from the RMOW, though it was not thought likely.

While WMSC was developing its plans for Olympic Meadows and waiting to hear about amendments to the OCP, their competition Intrawest was presenting big plans for the Benchlands and Blackcomb Mountain.

WMSC came close to getting the amendments they needed in January 1988, when Council began drafting bylaws to amend the OCP, but community concerns about the scale and elevation of the proposed development, as well as the pace of development in Whistler more broadly, meant these amendments were not ultimately approved and the WMSC plans were stalled.

Blackcomb Mountain and the Benchlands experienced massive development that year, but Whistler 1000 and Whistler 900 never did break ground. However, at least one of the WMSC’s plans did materialize: the Village Chair was replaced in 1988 by the Village Express gondola.

Expanding the Village

Read part one here.

In the late 1980s, the 58 acre Village North site was owned by the province and zoning was controlled by the RMOW. Whereas the original Village development had been mainly visitor driven, Village North was envisioned as supporting the community and bringing residents and visitors together. Community workshops were held through 1988 to determine what residents wanted to see in Village North before any rezoning was planned. According to then-Director of Planning Mike Vance, one ideas was to locate facilities such as the post office, medical centre, municipal hall, library, and museum in this area. At a speaker event in 2019, landscape architect Eldon Beck described his vision for such a plan: “This was intended to gradually involve the community in shopping, recreation, coming down to the town hall, coming to the library. So it’s a sequence of community interest activities merging then with the tourism population coming the other way, so the Northlands is where these communities all come together.”

Lot 29 in Village North is cleared by the Alldritt Development Group and Bradley Development Corporation, who planned to build 28 condo units by Lorimer Road. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

The next step, after deciding on this plan, was to divide the entire site into parcels and zone each parcel in accordance with a master plan. Together, the RMOW, Beck, and Whistler Land Company Developments (WLC) developed a master plan even more detailed than that created for the first Village site, including not just the purpose of each parcel but also the individual elements of each building. According to Vance, this level of detail led to ” the largest single deposit in the land registry office’s history,” requiring most of a day to sign all of the documents involved. Council voted to approve the zoning bylaws for Village North on August 14, 1989 and by the end of 1990 WLC began selling development parcels. According to Mayor Drew Meredith, it took some time for Village North to get going and it remained “a weed patch” until developers such as Nat Bosa decided they wanted to be involved.

The construction of Marketplace in Village North. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Once it got going, however, work progressed quickly; Vance recalled a year when up to eleven cranes were up on the Village North site. Looking back in 1997, WLC President Jim Switzer said that the development of a master plan and the completed zoning provided stability and certainly for developers who knew exactly what was expected of them and for the RMOW who could plan for the future based on a clear picture of how development would proceed. In 1993, Mayor Ted Nebbeling cut the ribbon of the bridge over Village Gate Boulevard, officially connecting the Village Stroll through Village North. By 1997, of the development parcels were sold and the entire site was expected to be completed by the end of 1999.

Traffic lights are installed at the intersection of Village Gate and Northlands Boulevards. As the Village expanded, so did the traffic and roads. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Not everything in Village North went entirely smoothly. Beck’s vision was to have a series of buildings descending with the grade of the Village Stroll, but provincial regulations and the fire department required flat and level platforms, leading to a design with more steps, ramps and raised walkways than Beck wanted and narrowing the pedestrian stroll. Some developers also didn’t want to stick to the master plan. In 2019 Jim Moodie, previously a development consultant for WLC, remembered that the developer of Marketplace tried to convince them that he could “give [them] more money for [their] land” if the developer was allowed to build a one-level strip mall with parking out front and no residential units on top. Not surprisingly, the developer was told to stick to the plan.

In 1997, Switzer said that the primary job of the WLC was to recover the province’s investment in Whistler. According to the calculations of Garry Watson (a Free Person of the Resort Municipality of Whistler), the province invested about $20 million in Whistler when they formed the WLC in 1983 and made around $50 million on the development of Village North. Or, as Meredith summed it up, “They got all their money back and then some” and Whistler got the extended Village we see today.