Category Archives: Whistler: A Town

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

Fire at The Keg

While cataloguing the Griffith Collection (a collection of roughly 50,000 images donated by photographer Greg Griffith), our Assistant Archivist Stephanie recently came across slides of a fire at The Keg building that we had previously only seen in black and white.

The first Keg in the Whistler valley was opened at Adventures West on Alta Lake in 1974, but when construction of the Whistler Village began in 1979 plans were made to open a new Keg restaurant in the Whistler Village Inn.

When the first Keg building was moved up Lorimer Rd. to become the new Municipal Hall in 1981, the new Keg building was still under construction.  The hotel and restaurant were expected to open by the end of January 1982, in time for the World Cup, and by the beginning of January restaurant staff had already been hired.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department works to contain the fire in The Keg and Whistler Village Inn building. Greg Griffith Collection.

Around 3:30 pm on Wednesday, January 13, 1982, a fire broke out in the building, caused by a leaking propane tank.  The fire started in the restaurant section, spread upwards into the roof and, aided by strong winds, spread across the entire building.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD) worked well into the night.  According to the Whistler Question, they poured water on the building for over seven hours.  Luckily there were no injuries from the fire, but one firefighter was taken to hospital with chest pains and several others were treated for smoke inhalation.

The next week the WVFD sent a whole bundle of roses into the Whistler Question’s “Bricks & Roses” section to thank those who had helped.  The Whistler and Pemberton ambulance crews were present all night, Dr. Christine Rodgers spent the night on call, Terry Rodgers manned the radio, Carol Simmie, Kathy Hicks and Katie Rodgers helped coordinate the effort, and the RCMP provided crowd control.  Members of the Surrey Fire Department and Squamish Fire Department who were in Whistler also came out.

Crowds watch the fire from the Village Stroll. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

As it was January, dry clothing and hot food were greatly appreciated in the -20°C weather.  The Grocery Store opened late to provide food supplies, the Alta Lake Community Club, Stoney’s, the Brass Rail, Tapley’s and The Gourmet all brought coffee and food, and the Blackcomb Lodge offered the use of their dryers.

The fire was contained to the top floor of the hotel section, and most of the building was considered structurally sound on the lower levels, with some damage from water and smoke.  The damage was estimated at $2.5 million.

By mid-February demolition work had already begun.  Smith Brothers & Wilson Construction Ltd. got to work repairing and reconstructing the restaurant and hotel.  Because the Whistler Village Inn was designed in two separate buildings, they were able to open 44 rooms in 1982, but the hotel was missing planned amenities such as a pool, restaurant, and permanent lobby.

Brian Moran, Ken Till, Bob Elliott and John Grills outside the soon-to-be-opened Whistler Keg.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

January 1983 was a busy month, as finishing touches were put on the restaurant and over 100 staff were hired from over 500 applicants.

The Keg was finally able to open on Friday, February 4, with some familiar faces.  Herb Capozzi, a founder of the Keg restaurant chain, was one of the first to be served, and some staff members from The Keg at Adventures West came back, such as Scott Paxton.  Over the first three evenings, the restaurant served over 900 meals.

A face from yesteryear – Scott Paxton, who worked at The Keg at the Mountain many years ago when it was located in Whistler Cay has now resurfaced at the new Keg as the official “bunmaster”. Paxton and fellow employees geared up for the opening night at The Keg Friday, February 4 for another era of Keg lovers.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Though the Whistler Village has expanded and prices may have changed (in 1983 an 8 oz sirloin would cost you $8.95 and highballs at Brandy’s were $1.85), The Keg and Brandy’s continue to occupy the space opened in 1983.

Bringing the First Television to Whistler

Bringing television access to Whistler was no easy feat before cable and satellite, but Walter Zebrowski can be credited with bringing it to the valley.

The Chamber of Commerce apparently began discussing television at its first meeting in 1966, and members wrote letters to the provincial government in Victoria asking for the installation of antennas or a TV cable.  But they heard nothing back from their queries.

Walter feeding the fish at Eva Lake Park.

Zebrowski eventually asked the Chamber members to give him free rein to attempt to bring television to the Whistler valley.  He was determined and eager, and the members approved.  In 1970, Zebrowski took a trip to Vancouver and with his own money purchased a TV antenna and a small battery-operated television set.

Next came the challenge of finding a location for the antenna where it would receive a TV signal.  Zebrowski spent months exploring the surrounding mountains be snowmobile and helicopter for the right location.  Between the two peaks of Mount Sproatt he found a signal.

Zebrowski ordered the rest of the equipment that was needed to put up the antenna and it was erected with the help of Jon Anderson.  Next to the antenna, Zebrowski proudly hung a flag of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.

A few days later, however, when a storm passed over the mountain, the masts were all destroyed.  Zebrowski described the main antenna as looking like “a swan with a broken neck,” so they started all over again with smaller masts that were more resistant to the wind.

At the annual December Ball of the Chamber of Commerce, Zebrowski put a TV set in the corner of the hall and covered it.  After the usual complaining about the lack of TV, he turned the set on and embraced the astonishment and joy of the other Chamber members.

The Sproatt antenna required regular snow clearing during the winters. George Benjamin Collection.

The antenna originally received three different stations.

Along with the TV antenna, Zebrowski also founded the Whistler Television Society, which helped maintain the site and collected a fee from members to help fund the service.

In the late 1990s, the antenna was struck by lightning and one of the devices stopped working.  From then, there were only two channels available.  By the time this happened, most people in the valley were using cable or satellite TV and no one was around who knew how to, or was willing to, repair the primitive technology.

Zebrowski passed away in 1996, leaving a lasting legacy in Whistler.

Whistler T.V. Society members Floyd Eclair, Richard Heine and Albert Bryjack went up to adjust the society’s channel 6 antenna atop Sproat Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

The television signal captured by Zebrowski eventually became redundant and by 1999, it was unknown if there was anyone still using the Sproatt signal.  The municipality decided to stop collecting taxes to fund the Whistler Television Society and when the CRTC licence expired in 2000, the signal was no longer usable.

The site of the Sproatt antenna was an ideal location, as it was later proposed, to build an internet connection structure.  Paul Burrows, who had acted as a caretaker for the society and helped shovel snow off of the repeater in the winter, claimed that “You can see clear all of Whistler from that site.”

Canada’s First Interdenominational Chapel

Whistler has had some pretty memorable buildings constructed in the valley, but few are as instantly recognizable as the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel.  This iconic structure stood in various locations in Creekside for decades and, based on the responses we get to any photograph of the Chapel, holds poignant memories for many residents and visitors, past and present.

The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Franz Wilhelmsen, the first president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., fondly remembered small chapels in ski villages of Norway where he had skied as a young boy, and the lift company was able to donate land for the Chapel right at the base of Whistler Mountain.  In 1966, Marion Sutherland and Joan Maclean formed a Board of Trustees and a fundraising committee for the idea.  They approached the Vancouver Council of Churches to supply ministers and the Diocese of Kamloops agreed to include Whistler in the territory of Father Wilfred Scott of Mount Currie.

There were many people who donated their time and money to the construction of the Chapel.  The Chapel’s stained glass windows, designed by Donald Babcock, were gifted by Mr. & Mrs. Gordon Southam; Dewer Maclean donated a hand-lettered Founders book (currently in the Museum archives); and an organ was purchased with the proceeds from a ski movie night held in Vancouver.

The stained glass window of the Chapel. Wallace Collection.

The simple A-frame design of the Chapel was provided free of charge by Vancouver architect Asbjorn Gathe.  Norwegian-born Gathe studied architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology at the University of Zurich before immigrating to Vancouver in 1951.  He joined the firm of Frank Gardiner and Peter Thornton, becoming a partner in Gardiner, Thornton and Gathe in 1954 before leaving to start his own practice in 1966.

Gathe is best known for his three decades of work designing Westminster Abbey for Benedictine monks in Mission, BC, but he has also left a lasting mark on Whistler.  In addition to donating his design for the Chapel, Gathe also designed Edelweiss Village (a twelve-unit complex near the Creekside gondola base) and is responsible for the design of Tamarisk.

When the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel opened in 1966, it became the first non-denominational chapel in Canada.  It was purposely designed with no purely Christian symbols and its dedication ceremony included clergy from the Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish, and United faiths.

Tony and Irene Lyttle getting married in the Skiers’ Chapel, January 1967.

The first service held at the Chapel was for Christmas Eve and was open to any who wished to attend.  The Chapel’s interdenominational Christmas Carol Service on Christmas Eve proved to be increasingly popular, and by 1978 two additional services had been added to accommodate the several hundred people who attended.  By the mid-1980s, the demand had outgrown the small building and the Christmas Carol Service moved to the newly constructed Whistler Conference Centre.  It continued to be an inter-denominational services, led in 1986 by Reverend Valerie Reay from the United Church and Pastor Lamont Schmidt of the Whistler Community Church, with carols led by the Whistler Singers under the direction of Molly Boyd.

Though the original Whistler Skiers’ Chapel was dismantled after a final Easter Service in 2000, the many weddings, christenings, and services held in the A-frame are well remembered by those who attended.

Trick or Treating at Tapley’s

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Legends of Whistler… tell the stories last week!

Quite a few of the stories took us back to a time when Whistler was much smaller, and had us thinking about how Whistler has grown over the last few decades.  This growth can be seen in almost every aspect of the community, including the celebration of Halloween.

Jane Burrows and her class show off their Halloween costumes. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Tapley’s Farm has been a popular place to spend Halloween since the 1980s.  What had begun as an idea in a real estate office in 1979 had (with a lot of hard work) become a neighbourhood by the mid-1980s.

According to Francois Lepine, this neighbourhood was different from other subdivisions in Whistler in that, “It was the only subdivision that looked exactly the same on a Saturday night or a Wednesday night.”

John Robinson puts final touches on his MDC home with help of wife Diane and daughter Kristal.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Tapley’s was lived in by full-time residents, while other subdivisions had a mix of residents and second-home owners.  This made Tapley’s Farm an ideal area for trick or treating.

Like most traditions in Whistler, Halloween in Tapley’s began as an unofficial neighbourhood event.  In 1985, the decision was made to close the streets to cars during the evening so that kids could trick or treat without worry.  This was so successful that the neighbours continued putting up roadblocks and families from other subdivisions came and joined in the fun.

Houses received more than 100 trick or treaters in 1986, and Lee Bennett, a Tapley’s resident who organized the event in 1987, expected about 125 as the populations of the valley grew.  By this time, donations of candy were sought from those bringing their kids to the neighbourhood to lessen the cost for residents of Tapley’s.

Donated candy is sorted and then distributed throughout Tapley’s Farm. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Bennett attributed the popularity of Tapley’s to both the proportion of occupied houses and the layout of the houses.  As she told The Whistler Question, “They also don’t have to climb 100 stairs like in some other subdivisions.  It’s easy for the children to get around.”

By the mid-1990s, more than 600 kids were trick or treating in Tapley’s Farm annually and it had become known as Whistler’s “designated haunted neighbourhood.”

A trick or treater heads down Easy Street. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

Residents took an active part, decorating their houses and handing out treats in costume.  A competition had even been introduced for the best decorated house.  Donations of candy for the event could be dropped off at Myrtle Philip School, the Whistler Children’s Centre, or at the house of one of the organizers.

A fireworks display in the lower field, presented by Whistler firefighters and Nesters Market, was the grand finale of the evening.  According to Keith Mellor, one of the firefighters who volunteered for the show, more than 1,000 people were expected to attend the fireworks in 1998, as Halloween fell on a Saturday and Tapley’s was expected to attract Vancouver visitors as well as Whistler residents.

Crowds gather on the field for the Tapley’s Farm Halloween fireworks display. Whistler Question Collection, 1994.

As the full-time population of Whistler has grown over the last 30 years, other neighbourhoods have started hosting their own Halloween trick or treating, including Millar’s Pond and Cheakamus Crossing.  New traditions have developed, such as the annual Cheakamus Zombie Walk.

As of last week, however, Halloween at Tapley’s Farm is still going strong.

Whistler’s First Mayor

Pat Carleton became Whistler’s first mayor in 1975 and served four terms until 1982.  Born in Langley, BC in 1920, Carleton was not a career politician.  He played trombone as a band member of the Royal Air Force auxiliaries in World War II and then made a career as a coffee salesman for 25 years.

Kay and Pat enjoy a toast from the goblets given to them at a surprise party on April 3 to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

In 1956, Carleton’s neighbour Ted Harris told him about Alta Lake.  Harris and Carleton went on a weekend fishing trip and stayed at Jordan’s Lodge.  Carleton and his wife Kay later built a cabin along Alpha Lake and in 1958 and, after he retired in 1971, moved to their cabin to live full time.

Kay recalled their first winter at the cabin as a record snowfall.  They thought if they left at any point they wouldn’t be able to get back to Alta Lake until spring, so they stayed full time with no running water and wood heat, which Kay did not particularly enjoy.

A sunny summer day and lush new landscaping – Mayor Pat Carleton and his wife Kay take advantage of Whistler at its finest to enjoy a stroll through Town Centre.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Being retired left Pat Carleton with a lot of free time.  He became very active with the Chamber of Commerce, the Rate Payers Association, and the Technical Planning Committee, as well as participating in community life.  Carleton was also active in advocating for a local government and, when the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act was passed in 1975, he was one of two residents to run for mayor.

Paul Burrows, who later founded the Whistler Question with his wife Jane, ran against Carleton for mayor but lost with 103 votes to Carleton’s 185.  Whistler’s first council was also elected at this time, which included Garry Watson, John Hetherington and Bob Bishop.  Al Raine was appointed to council by the provincial government.  Burrows described Carleton as very conservative, fair and well-liked.  The area previously known as Alta Lake became officially called Whistler at Carleton’s inauguration.

Pat Carleton, ex-mayor of Whistler, came out of the closet Sunday to join aldermanic candidates Paul Burrows and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in celebrating the official opening of Whistler’s new municipal hall. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

In the early stages the council had nowhere to meet and the Carletons offered up their home for some of their meetings.  According to Hetherington, Carleton was instrumental in dealing with the provincial and federal governments to tackle obstacles that faced the development of the resort, such as the lack of a sewer system.

The first council looked to other ski areas in North America to learn from how they had developed.  Carleton wasn’t a skier, but this allowed him to see different needs for the village that others might have overlooked.

Carleton ran for mayor again in 1978 and 1980, unopposed both times.  During his years in office he can be credited with the accomplishments of upgrading the telephone system, a local weather office, the post office, and the train station.  Over the years Carleton spent a lot of time in Victoria keeping ministers informed about what was happening at Whistler.  He worked seven days a week and even remembered holding a council meeting over radio phone during one of his trips to Victoria.

Whistler’s first council. Left to Right: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce (municipal clerk & treasurer), Pat Carleton, John Hetherington, Garry Watson

The Carleton Lodge was named after Pat Carleton by a developer from Vancouver during the construction of Whistler Village and a plaque was made in tribute to Carleton that was placed in the hotel’s lobby.

Carleton retired from public office in 1982 and spent nine more years in Whistler before moving to Chilliwack with Kay.  In 1985 he was awarded the Freedom of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, one of only eight people to have been given the honour.

Pat Carleton passed away in 2004 at the age of 84, but will always be remembered for his legacy in Whistler.

Snow Expectations

Recently Whistler Blackcomb announced the first snowfall of the season on the mountains and it has many thinking about what the winter will look like this season.  Snow is always a major topic of conversation in Whistler, as we can see by looking back on previous years.

In 1972, Garibaldi’s Whistler News noted that the snowfall in the valley was a record high at 943 cm, and according to their Fall 1972 issue “there was snow covering the mountain tops mid-September and it looks like another year for early skiing.”  The average snowfall in the years leading up to 1972 was recorded at 12.8 m.

Unsurprising for a town built on skiing, snowfall has been the talk of the town in Whistler for decades. Benjamin Collection.

This wasn’t the case for every year, however.  In 1976, the winter ski season was off to a sluggish start.  A lot of rainfall and sunny weather in November caused the snow on the mountain to melt, thereby pushing back the opening of the mountain.  The Whistler Question reported in December that employees were let go or not hired due to the lack of snow, leaving about 25 fewer people working for Whistler Mountain.  This also affected the number of tourists that came in to town and had an impact on the economy.  Whistler Mountain was able to open for the Christmas holidays, but all skiers had to download using the gondola.  In February 1977, the first snow gun was obtained for Whistler Mountain to help combat the lack of snow.

Luckily, the next winter, 1977/78, was “marked with the return of good snowfalls and a good season for the ski school,” as reported by the Whistler Question.

Roger McCarthy gets into some deep snow on the side of Dad’s Run.  Whistler Question Collection, December 1979.

Winter came early again in 1981 as Blackcomb Mountain announced it would be opening a week earlier than planned, while Whistler Mountain remained closed until the scheduled opening on November 26.

El Nino was blamed for the warmest winter of record  in 1992 by then Blackcomb president Hugh Smythe, as reported in the Blackcomb Mountain Staff News.

There was a feeling of déjà-vu in 1995/96, as rain affected the beginning of ski season and workers were laid off.  American Thanksgiving usually marks the beginning of skiing but that year Whistler Mountain’s alpine didn’t have a sufficient base of snow, while Blackcomb was pumping water out of its snow guns and hoping the freezing level would drop enough to make snow.  Blackcomb Mountain opened on the US Thanksgiving weekend, but with only a limited number of lifts and trails.

A Whistler wonderland appeared overnight Sunday, October 17 with the season’s first snow in the valley.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Once again, a slow opening was followed the next year by great snowfalls.  Meteorologist Marilyn Manso in December 1996 said, “by mid-December we’ve had more snow on the ground than at any time since records were kept.”  There was 74 cm of snow on the ground in the valley at this time in December, compared with the previous year of 34 cm.

The first week in December 2001 brought about 1.2 m of snow on the mountains, which allowed for half of Whistler Blackcomb terrain to be open.  This was more than any other ski resort in North America at that time, and allowed for the snow guns to be moved lower on the mountain and provide ski-out access.

Last winter also got off to a slow start, so let’s hope that this season brings great snowfalls.

First Steps to Building A Village

On October 10 (this Thursday!) the Whistler Museum will be opening Construction of the Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984, a temporary exhibit featuring images of a village in progress from the Whistler Question collection.

The planning and development of the Whistler Village is often referred to as one of the first tasks of the newly formed Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in 1975.  Before a town centre could be constructed, however, a very important (though possibly not as glamourous) facility had to open: the Whistler Sewer Plant.

The Whistler Sewer Plant was one of the first steps taken before constructing the Whistler Village. Garibaldi’s Whistler News

Prior to 1977, a small number of condominium complexes had their own private systems to deal with waste, but most of the plumbing in Whistler ran on septic tank systems.  Investigations into a sewer system for the area were begun by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and continued by the RMOW when it was created.  According to the Garibaldi’s Whistler News, in 1977 Whistler had a year-round population of approximately 800, which increased during peak season to near 7,000.  Plans to build a town centre and expand the resort raised concerns about the environmental and practical impacts of continuing to use septic systems.

The Good Shit Lolly Pot on a raft at Alta Lake – some approaches to plumbing in Whistler were rather interpretive. George Benjamin Collection, 1969.

The sewer system in Whistler was planned in phases, with the first phase designed to service areas from the sewer treatment plant located three kilometres south of the gondola in Creekside to almost five km north of the gondola base, accommodating a population of 14,000 with provisions for expansion to 21,000.  Thanks to financing from the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation Sewer Program, this first phase and the treatment plant were completed by June 1977.  By the fall, the second phase, which extended the reach of the sewer treatment plant from Alta Vista to the site of the future town centre, was underway.

The official opening of the Whistler Sewer Plant was an exciting occasion for the young municipality.  It was scheduled for September 17, 1977, and the RMOW hired Lynn Mathews to plan the event.  Earlier this year, one of our amazing museum volunteers conducted a series of oral history interviews with the incredible Lynn Mathews, who first came to Whistler in 1966, and one of these interviews included a mention of the opening.  According to Mathews, who had previously arranged public relations events in New York City, the opening reception for the Whistler Sewer Plant “went over very, very nicely.”  Her claim is supported in The Whistler Question by both Paul Burrows and Jenny Busdon, who reported on the event.

Lonely toilet stands ready to serve Parcel 16 in the Town Centre.  Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

The opening of the plant began at Myrtle Philip School, where there was a display of photographs and diagrams showing the plan construction and a brief history of Whistler, tours of the valley by bus and helicopter, and a display of Ice Stock Sliding, a sport that became popular during the winter months when Whistler Mountain had closed due to lack of snow.  The main event was a lunch prepared by chef Roger Systad, including roast duck, salmon, imported cheeses and liver pate.

The lunch was accompanied by speeches from Mayor Pat Carleton and special guests including the Honourable Hugh Curtis, Minister of Municipal Affairs, and the Honourable Jack Pearsall, the MP for the area.

The day also included guided tours of the plant facilities with representatives from the engineering firm on hand to answer questions.  The review from Burrows said, “The plant is a modern design that provides complete treatment based on the proven extended aeration process.  It is quite interesting to see the plant in full operation.”

Though it may seem like an odd occasion to celebrate, the importance of the Whistler Sewer Plant was clearly stated by Mayor Carleton, who concluded that, “The foundation of Whistler’s future is this plant and sewer system.”  Construction of the Whistler Village officially began one year later.

Construction of the Whistler Village: 1978 – 1984 will run through November 22.