A Temporary Home

As discussed last week, the Whistler Public Library (WPL) opened its doors in the basement of Municipal Hall in the summer of 1986, less than a year after the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA) was formed, thanks to the dedicated work of members of the WPLA, community groups, and volunteers. The library quickly became a well used facility within the community and began providing books, storytimes, school presentations, summer reading programs, and in time even a public access computer under the direction of librarian Joan Richoz.

It was widely understood even before the WPL opened in the basement that this would not be a permanent location. The WPLA had been granted a five-year lease of the space in 1986 and Richoz was told that the library should expect to be in the basement for three to five years. A building fund was started by the WPLA in 1989 but by 1991, as the end of their lease approached, the building committee reported that it would probably be another five years before a new building was ready. The library began operating on a month-to-month lease and then received a two-year lease for the basement space.

Assistant librarian Rob Ross demonstrates the closed sign, which would be seen more often – a shortfall in their operating budget meant that the library, which had been open seven days a week, began closing on Sundays in February 1991. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

The library quickly outgrew its basement location, even after the Whistler Museum and Archives moved out of their part of the space in 1989. In 1990 WPL already had 1,157 registered borrowers, while Squamish had only 704 and Pemberton had 261, and Whistler was continuing to grow. Despite this increase in usership and dedicated fundraising efforts, the library struggled to secure enough funding for operations, sometimes having to dip into their building fund.

The question of where to put the library was met with various proposals, including office space in the newly constructed Marketplace and the high school planned for 1996. The municipality had set aside various sites for community use and in 1992 a lot on Main Street, referred to as Lot 21, was zoned for a library. In October 1992 there was talk of building a municipal cultural centre to house the library, museum and Whistler Arts Council as tenants on Lot 1 but in November the municipality committed funding to build an ice rink at Meadow Park instead. This was also when the idea of moving the library, along with the museum and Arts Council, into portables on Lot 21 came up.

In July 1994, having added as much shelving as possible to the basement space, the library was presented with three options, all of which were temporary measures involving portables. Staying in the basement was no longer an option, as it was needed for the growing Planning and Parks & Recreation departments, then housed in their own portables next to Municipal Hall. The library chose to move into the old Canada Post trailers that were to be moved to Lot 21. This move would double their space, shelving, and number of seats and allow the library to continue growing their collections and programs.

Carpenters add the finishing touches to the outside of the portables after their move to Main Street, despite the apparent snow already in the valley. Whistler Question, 1994.

In December 1994, after the portables had been moved and refurbished by the Municipal Building Department and community members, the library shut down for a week and staff and volunteers moved furniture, books, magazines and more to the new location. The circulation desk, left over from the previous occupants, bore the colours of Canada Post and the new recycled space offered room for a children’s area and reading tables. Now ground level, Richoz told the Whistler Question, “We’ve got windows and view. It’s just fantastic,” and the first library patron Liz Stamper described it as “absolutely beautiful.”

The family who took out the most books was given the opportunity to cut the ribbon at the grand opening, a duty which was taken very seriously. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Unlike at the previous location, the grand opening of the new location occurred a month after rather than before WPL welcomed its first borrowers on Main Street. The opening in January 1995 attracted about 150 people, despite a lack of signage and large snow banks that hid the building, and featured a ribbon cutting and a silent auction to raise money to offset the cost of moving.

Despite the increase in space, this new location was also meant to be a temporary measure. In 1995, staff expected the library to remain in the portables for three to five years.

Whistler’s Answers: September 23, 1982

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/answers/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: Pat Carleton was elected as Whistler’s first Mayor in 1975 and served multiple terms during which the Resort Municipality of Whistler opened a sewage treatment plant, developed infrastructure, and began developing the Whistler Village. In September 1982, after seven years of being the only mayor Whistler had known, Carleton announced that he would not be running for another term.

Question: What was your reaction to Mayor Carleton’s announcement that he will not run again?

Robert Bishop – Real Estate Salesman – High Forest

I’m sure it’s been a hard job and he’s probably really been feeling the strain in the last few years. It’s nice to see he has the wisdom to know when to step down.

Norm Lock – Appliance Repairman – Emerald Estates

I think he’s done a good job – he represented us well with things like lobbies in Victoria but I also think it’s time for a change.

Sid Young – Travel Agency Owner – Alderman – Alpine Meadows

It’s always a pity when a man such as Pat, who has given so much to the community over the years, decides to retire. There’s no doubt in my mind that his experience and drive will be sorely missed.

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.

Are you good at identifying people? Naming Night is back!

Naming Night may not be back at the museum, but it will be back online this week! Like previous Naming Nights, we’re seeking assistance in putting names to faces and places that appear in the Whistler area’s history. Whether you’ve been in the valley for decades or are new to the area, have lived here or visited over the years, are staying home in the valley or haven’t been back in an age, we’ll be displaying a collection of new (to Naming Night) photographs that we are searching for more information on. Help us identify your friends, family, coworkers, and anything in between!

We will be posting an album of photos on our Facebook page (find it here) at 7 pm on Thursday, September 23. Names and information can be added to each individual photo in the comment section, or you can even tag your friends in the photograph. Despite the physical distance, we hope the photos will still generate the discussions and debates about their who, what, where, when and why that we have enjoyed so much at our in-person events.