Tag Archives: 1976 Olympic bid

The 1976 Winter Olympics: A Dream Almost Realized

In May 1970 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gathered in Amsterdam to choose the winning bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics.  Vancouver/Garibaldi, Denver (USA), Sion (Switzerland) and Tampere (Finland) were all in the running to host the 1976 Winter Olympic Games.

However, Vancouver/Garibaldi ended up being taken out of the running because the IOC chose Montreal to host the Summer Olympics in 1976.  The Winter Games were awarded to Denver, Colorado instead.

The logo for the 1976 bid drew heavily on the design of the relatively new Canadian flag.

But the political climate the changing in the 1970s and in the face of growing environmentalist movements and concerns over the expenditures made to host an Olympic Games, Denver decided to hold a referendum on hosting the mega-event.  The “No Games” side won the referendum – and to this day, it is the only city and state to reject the Olympic Winter Games after successfully winning a bid.

The referendum was held on November 15, 1972.  It left the IOC in a lurch and the Olympic Committee, thinking it easier to have the Games remain in North America, offered them to Vancouver/Garibaldi.

The Government of Canada was willing to chip in $10 million to help Vancouver and Garibaldi host the 1976 Winter Olympics, as long as the provincial government provided matching funding.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.

Dave Barrett, Premier of British Columbia and leader of the first NDP government in British Columbia, had been in office for two months when the issue of hosting the Games came up.  He felt the money would be better spent on other priorities as opposed to hosting the Olympics.

W.A.C. Bennett, who had just lost to Barrett and was the leader of the Social Credit Party, claimed he would have given the Vancouver/Garibaldi Olympic Committee the money.

John Fraser, President of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) at the time, felt that, because of the recent government change and as local support for the Games was at an all-time low following the initial bid rejection, it wasn’t the best time to host the Winter Games.  They too passed on hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Whistler today would look very different if the 1976 bid had been successful.

Other commentators were disappointed, but at the same time relieved that the Garibaldi area and Whistler would be able to develop at a more leisurely pace.

John Jerome wrote an article in Skiing in 1971 titled, “I’m Glad Whistler lost the Olympic Bid – Glad, do you hear?”  In it he said “… I felt their immense disappointment keenly; I knew how bloody hard and long they had worked for that award; I loved them for their effort.  But deep down inside I was glad they failed.”

The IOC ended up reusing a past host site to hold the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the site of the 1964 Winter Olympics.  This was the first time in the modern Olympic Games that a site hosted the Olympics twice.

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GODA’s Many Olympic Bids

With the 2018 Winter Olympics going on in PyeongChang we’re taking a look back at Whistler’s own Olympic past.

There’s no doubt that over the past six decades this town has been greatly influenced by the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.  If the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) had had their way, this month would mark the 50th anniversary of Whistler’s Olympic Games instead of the 8th.

In 1960 a group of Vancouver businessmen and Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) members formed GODA with the aim of bringing the Olympic Winter Games to BC.  In the introduction to their bid for the 1968 Olympics, GODA wrote: “In the northwestern part of Garibaldi Park, only 75 road miles from Vancouver, and part of a picture-post card panorama of mountains, snow and forest is Whistler Mountain, proposed site of the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.  It is this mountain and this area that offers the ideal physical location for the Games.”

Driving to Whistler, 1959. Not quite as easy as they made it sound.  MacLaurin Collection.

What their introduction didn’t mention was that the 75 road miles were mostly logging roads and a difficult drive at the best of times, or that the site had no power, water or sewer and all venues and facilities would have to be constructed form scratch.

Not surprisingly, GODA’s first bid was not successful and Banff, Alberta was put forward as Canada’s nomination.  In the end the 1968 Games were held in Grenoble, France.

GODA looked to the future and formed Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. to develop Whistler Mountain.  Five years later, with lifts now installed and paved highway linking the site to Vancouver, they put forward another bid for the 1972 Games.  Again the COC chose Banff to represent Canada (Banff then lost to Sapporo, Japan) and again GODA went back to work on another bid.

Three separate combined Vancouver/Whistler bids were put forward through the 1970s.  By 1970, when the bid for the 1976 Games was put forth, Whistler Mountain had become an established ski resort and was continuing to grow.  This bid received endorsement from the COC and was put forward as an official national bid.  Because of this, we are fortunate today to have many records of the vision for the 1976 Games.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.  Whistler Mountain Collection.

The official Vancouver/Garibaldi bid book included designs for a purpose-built Olympic Town Site located at the site of today’s Whistler Village, including a grand pedestrian concourse to the bottom of the mountain, sloping angular buildings, and a large plaza with a view of the ski jumps.  The bid promised that all Olympic facilities would be within a 4 km radius of the town site.

Despite a strong bid for Whistler, Montreal’s successful bid the 1976 Summer Games mean the Winter Games could not be awarded to Canada.  Denver, Colorado was chosen but, due to public outcry over environmental impacts and rising costs, Denver declined.  The Games were then offered to Whistler, but a newly elected Social Credit government in BC turned them down and the Games returned to Innsbruck, Austria.

In 1974, the COC approved a bid for the 1980 Games but this was rejected by the provincial government.  In 1979 Whistler and Vancouver put forward a proposal to host the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, but the COC decided on the ultimately successful bid from Calgary.  It was not until 2003, over 40 years after the first bid was put forth, that Whistler learned it would host the Olympics.

Village Square during the 2003 Olympic Bid Announcement – Whistler finally got to host the Olympics.

Over the next two months, as the Games take place in PyeongChang, we’ll all be reminded of the 2010 Games and the experience of playing host to such a massive event.  If you’ve ever wondered how the planning and details that went into that experience all came together in Whistler, you might just get some answers at our next Speaker Series.  Thursday, February 15, the Whistler Museum is delighted to welcome John Rae, Mo Douglas and Kristen Robinson for Behind the Games: Creating the 2010 Olympic Experience.  For more information check here.

Whistler’s Very Own Easter Parade

This past weekend, with the Easter holidays, the closing events of WSSF, the Whistler Cup and still more snow on the mountains, there certainly wasn’t a lack of activities to occupy residents and visitors of any age.

Despite the snow, the Easter bunny put in an appearance on Blackcomb Mountain, 1982.

The Easter holidays have a history of being a busy weekend in Whistler.  In the 1970s the list of Easter activities offered by the Chamber of Commerce and Garibaldi Lifts was an impressive one for such a small town, including fireworks, Easter egg hunts and various skiing events such as skiing displays and obstacle and costume races.  Residents and visitors to the area alike could enjoy a torch light parade ending with a bonfire and hot dog roast in the parking lot at the bottom of the mountain.  The weekend also included dancing and live entertainment at local establishments such as the Christiana Inn, L’Apres and the Mt Whistler Lodge.  For those who chose to attend, all Easter services were held at the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel on the mountain, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Easter services were held on the mountain in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Events varied from year to year.  Some years advertised prizes for an Easter Bonnet contest and in 1970 the Vancouver Garibaldi Olympic Committee was actively promoting a bid for the 1976 Olympics and used the popular weekend as an opportunity to get more people on board with a slide presentation on the bid at the Roundhouse.

The 1976 bid for the Winter Olympics was one of the most promising early bids put forward for Whistler.

One of the most popular events over the Easter weekend was Whistler’s own Easter Parade.  When thinking about parades in Whistler the first to come to mind is usually the annual community parade on Canada Day.  During the 1970s, however, the Easter Parade was not to be missed.

Traditionally an Easter parade was an informal and somewhat unorganized event in which people dressed in their new fashionable clothing in order to impress others.  Irving Berlin wrote “Easter Parade”, a popular song inspired by the Easter parade in New York, in 1933 and a film by the same name starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland was later constructed around the song in 1948.

Though the Easter Parade in Whistler may not have been designed to showcase anyone’s new finery, it did include carefully thought out floats and some illustrious leaders.  In 1971 the 52 floats were led by Miss Vancouver Ardele Hollins, Miss PNE Judy Stewart and members of the RCMP.  The following year the parade was led by none other than then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Coral Robinson, Pierre Trudeau and Dennis Therrien at the Easter Parade in 1972 sitting in a security detail car.

Whistler’s parade was open to anyone who wanted to participate.  Interested parties were told to “plan a float, come as a marching group, or just get dressed up in a crazy costume and join the fun.  The more the merrier!”  Community groups and local businesses, as well as individuals, created elaborate floats and costumes such as the Jolly Green Giant and the original gondola.  The 1974 parade was captured on film by the Petersens and can now be watched on our YouTube channel as part of the Petersen Film Collection along with other unique moments in Whistler’s history.