Tag Archives: Alta Lake

‘Skiing is a Sunset Industry’

Have you ever been told something wouldn’t work, and then tried it anyway? Luckily for everyone who enjoys Whistler, that is exactly what the early council and planners did when they were told that Whistler would never be a destination resort.

Before the development of Whistler Village, when the lifts only went from Creekside, a moratorium on development was put in place to prevent haphazard development across the region until a community plan could be completed. By 1973 speculators and developers had started to buy land throughout the valley with plans for hotels and commercial developments, individuals hoping to strike it rich by personally creating a destination resort on private land. With a background in community planning, Bob Williams, then Minister of Lands, placed the moratorium on commercial development until further studies could be completed.

Initial investigations in 1974 recommended the development of a community with a single town centre on crown land near the then-garbage dump. This site was recommended due to the close proximity to both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and because it was crown land, thus providing more control over the development than if the town centre was developed on private land. Absolutely critical for the success of Whistler, the report prepared by James Gilmour also recommended that a special form of local administration govern Whistler, with more planning control than a typical municipality to ensure that the resort met the expectations and needs of the province. Following this, the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act was introduced in 1975, and the first local council elected and sworn in that same year.

The site of Whistler Village in 1979. The incredible growth of Whistler has certainly gone against the opinions of many experts who believed the conditions were wrong for a destination resort. Whistler Question Collection.

Continuing as per provincial government recommendations, the community plan was developed and shared for community consultation in L’Après in January 1976. After much friction and to-and-fro, the community plan was approved and the council could get on with planning the Whistler Town Centre. In 1977/78 consultants were brought in from around North America, including Stacy Stanley, SnoEngineering and others, to examine trends within the snow industry. The team of expert consultants examined trends, tracking baby boomers and came to the conclusion that “one of the sad things about skiing, is that it is a sunset industry”.

According to Jim Moodie, one of the project managers from Sutcliffe, Griggs and Moodie, there were some other big strikes against Whistler that they were warned about. “Some of the reports looked at Whistler and said ‘as a destination resort you’re in trouble because Vancouver isn’t an International Airport. You’re at the end of a really crappy road. And you’re in a coastal climate zone where it rains most of the time’. We said ‘yeah, that’s cool, but we’re going to have a ski resort’.”

Skiing on Whistler Mountain when there were two t-bars at the top. Expert consultants in the 1970s predicted that the popularity of skiing would only decrease in the future as the population aged. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Despite these reports, the council was unfazed. On the 21st of August, 1978 over a hundred locals and visiting members of the press celebrated the beginning of construction for the new Whistler Village Town Centre. As well as driving the bulldozer to turn the first soil, Mayor Pat Carleton chaired a conference for media personnel where he noted that “one of the best ski area resorts in North America isn’t good enough for me…To be number one just takes a little longer.” And so it did. Whistler was voted number one ski resort in North America in 1992 by Snow Country Magazine, starting a flow of accolades and number one rankings.

Even the experts could not predict the future, with snowboarding, freestyle skiing and mountain biking all adding to the numbers and allure of our destination resort. Today the tourism challenges facing Whistler are very different to the days when we worried that no one would visit.

Pat Carleton and Whistler’s movers and shakers showing the BC Provincial Government around the village under construction in September 1980. Whistler Question Collection.

Dusty’s Infamous Opening and Closing Parties

The events at Dusty’s are legendary; staff parties with the band playing from the roof, the celebration after Rob Boyd’s World Cup win in 1989, end of season parties, dressing up for theme nights, and scavenger hunts. Even amongst these events the opening and closing parties at Dusty’s stand out.

Dusty’s opened in 1983, after Whistler Mountain took over food and beverage on the mountain and redeveloped and rebranded L’Après. The massive opening celebration aimed to show off the new facility to the community, with a guest list stacked with ‘local dignitaries’ including Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain management, the RMOW, and local clergy.

Sue Clark serving cold drinks at Dusty’s. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Throughout the night the celebration ended up showing off a lot more than just the facility. As one version of this now-infamous event goes, right as the Reverend was blessing the new venue, Lady Godiva jumped ‘bareback’ onto the stuffed Dusty’s horse, shirt waving in the air like a lasso. With that, a legend was born and the new Whistler was open for business.

Dusty’s went on to become a popular spot for live music and a testing ground for up and coming entertainment, including the Poppy Family, and Doug and the Slugs. In 2000 it was announced that Creekside was to be redeveloped, including the demolition of Dusty’s. In honour of the incredible music scene, live music played each night in the week leading up to ‘Dusty’s Last Stand’ in April 2000.

Local rock band Foot in the Door at Dusty’s in 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

The final weekend brought with it a disco party, retro fashion show, a prize for the person with the most Whistler Mountain passes, and of course, more live music. Local favourites who took the Dusty’s stage ‘one last time’ included Guitar Doug, Steve Wright, Dark Star, Pete and Chad and the Whole Damn County, and the Hounds of Buskerville.

Starting early in the afternoon, the crowds built until servers were required to walk a hundred metres up the base of Whistler Mountain to deliver orders. Once the sun set, the eager crowd dispersed or relocated inside. With the saloon packed with over 2000 people it was a sight to be seen, the mosh pit and stage diving like no other. The crowd was so wild that management nearly stopped the last band from taking the stage. Even with the twenty additional security personnel brought in specifically for the event, it was still difficult to manage the crowd intent on sending Dusty’s out in style.

Crowds also spilled out of Dusty’s during Whistler Mountain’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. Local legend Seppo can be seen on the far left. Whistler Question Collection.

With so much of Whistler’s history made in L’Après and Dusty’s, everyone was encouraged to record their memories before and during the event. Those with particularly fond memories were stealing tables and chairs as souvenirs, and there were some arrests in the afternoon and evening, including a snowboarder carrying on the local tradition of celebrating sans clothing. Rumours had been swirling that people were planning on burning the building down before it could be demolished but thankfully the gas canisters were found outside before anything happened.

Despite these few hiccups, according to David Perry, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Whistler Blackcomb, “It was probably the best party this valley has ever seen”. For a party town like Whistler, that is a big call. Within hours of the party ending the area was fenced off for demolition.

The story of Dusty’s does not end there. Only eight months later the modern Dusty’s had it’s ‘grand re-opening’ and playing on the new stage was none other than Guitar Doug’s band, the Hairfarmers.

Now that Dusty’s has reopened for the winter season the Hairfarmers will again be gracing the stage on Tuesday and Saturday each week, continuing the live music tradition.

Do you have any photos of L’Après or Dusty’s? We would love to add to our archives!

Best in Snow – The Volkswagen Beetle

Snow tire season is upon us! Even through snowy and icy conditions you will see all types of vehicle tackling the Sea to Sky Highway today. Fifty years ago, however, one car dominated the snow, and that was the Volkswagen Beetle.

In the 1960s, Volkswagen touted the VW Beetle as the best car for driving in the snow, and North America listened. In one famous commercial a Beetle is seen driving through snowy conditions. The narrator asks “Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snowplow, drives to the snowplow? This one drives a Volkswagen, so you can stop wondering.”

George Benjamin’s Volkswagen Beetle on Alta Lake. George Benjamin Collection.

At this time, most American-made cars were rear-wheel drive and had their heavy engines at the front, resulting in little weight over the drive wheels and thus less traction. Despite also being rear-wheel drive, the Beetle did better in the snow because the engine was also in the rear, giving the drive wheels more traction for slippery conditions. Somewhat surprisingly, the narrow wheels also seemed to help because the Beetle cut through the snow rather than riding on top.

In 1965, Cliff Jennings bought his 1957 Beetle before heading out west to Alta Lake. It was not a straight forward journey. “When I arrived in Vancouver, nobody had heard about this new area, so I just headed blindly north. Two hours later, in Squamish I got directions and headed up a steep gravel road, arriving eventually at a dead end with a trailhead signposted to Diamond Head. Back in Brackendale, I hung a right and headed blindly north again on what would now be called a 4×4 road. The first sign of civilisation was Garibaldi and Daisy Lake Dam, which the road proceeded over onto a detour around Shadow Lake through huge puddles that nearly drowned my Beetle. Finally, five hours after leaving Vancouver, I arrived at a big slash clearing and a swampy parking lot in pouring rain.” Cliff had made it to the ski resort!

The Volkswagen Beetle is a little harder to recognise in this photo. George Benjamin Collection.

Jim Moodie arrived in Whistler a few months later once the lifts had opened, also driving up in his Volkswagen Beetle. “People remark about the road being bad nowadays but the road then, a lot of it was gravel, and so it was a frightening experience if we were smart enough to think about it but we mostly didn’t. I can remember one day driving up and the car simply stopped moving forward. At least that’s what we thought had happened. When we got out to see what was happening the Volkswagen Beetle was just plowing up a great big snowdrift in front of it so we couldn’t go anymore.” Good in the snow, but not quite a snowplow.

The imagery of the Volkswagen Beetle was so connected to mountain towns that Whistler Mountain’s 20th Anniversary poster featured a red Volkswagen Beetle driving off into the sunset. In the iconic Whistler poster the car is covered in stickers with skis jammed into the bumper.

The iconic 20th Anniversary poster. Whistler Mountain Collection.

With many people sharing similar memories, it is no wonder the photographs of Volkswagen Beetles in the snow are popular prints at the Whistler Museum. You can see some of the Whistler Museum image collection on Smug Mug.

The ‘new’ Myrtle Philip Community School turns 30!

The first Myrtle Philip Elementary School opened in 1976 in the area that would become the Village, more specifically where the Delta Hotel is today. Although the school opened with only 57 students, the town of Whistler was growing rapidly and the number of students quickly outgrew the school. By 1987, the Howe Sound School Board had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school. By 1991, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary School needed eight portables to house the 268 students. It was definitely time for a new school.

Figures published by the Whistler Question in 1985 indicated that by 1991 ‘room for 336 elementary students is required – three times the current number’. However, despite this, the new school was built to hold 300 students. Unsurprising to those who completed the 1985 study, the numbers already exceeded 300 when the school opened for learning in 1992. Rooms originally planned as extra conference rooms were converted to classrooms as nearly 340 students enrolled for the opening year. In press coverage for the grand opening, the Whistler Question included the line, ‘If the baby boom continues in Whistler, plans for expansion will be examined.’

Students and staff relocating from the old Myrtle Philip Elementary School in the Village, to the new Myrtle Philip Community School on Lorimer Road in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.

A celebration for the grand opening was held on September 18, 1992 and included tours led by student hosts and an opening ceremony hosted by principal Mike Edwards, the Master of Ceremonies. It also included the presentation of a portrait of Whistler’s ‘First Lady’, Myrtle Philip, painted by Isobel MacLaurin. The painting showed two images of Myrtle side-by-side; 19 year-old Myrtle, new to Alta Lake, next to Myrtle on her 95th birthday. Myrtle was a dedicated school board trustee for nearly four decades and helped raise the money for the first school in the valley, the Alta Lake School. In recognition of her efforts, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary was named after her, in what Myrtle would describe as the greatest honour of her life. The painting of the school’s namesake can still be seen in Myrtle Philip Community School today.

Isobel MacLaurin next to the painting of Myrtle Philip. MacLaurin Collection.

The new Myrtle Philip Community School was a far cry from the first school that Myrtle helped build in the 1930s. Designed by Vancouver architects Dalla Lana Griffin, it made an impression with it’s comfortable, learning focussed design. As described in the Whistler Question, ‘Windows surround the low lying school and skylights flood the halls with light. Classrooms are not simply square, but feature curved study areas, built-in window counters that look out to the fields and mountains, and courtyards that offer quiet study areas.’ The project cost was $9,174,000, also a far contrast from the first one room Alta Lake schoolhouse that the community raised a total of $300 to build.

The new Myrtle Philip School opened with 16 teachers, plus support staff and teacher assistants. The names of some of the inaugural staff will be familiar to current Myrtle Philip students, with Gerhard Reimer and Donna Williams among the teachers.

One Ringy-Dingy. Vice-principal Rick Price rings an old fashioned bell to call students to the first day of classes after staff couldn’t figure out how to operate the electric bells in the new Myrtle Philip Community School. Whistler Question Collection.

The original Myrtle Philip Elementary School was demolished almost immediately after the new school opened to make way for commercial development in the Village. However, the new Myrtle Philip School had similar challenges to the first. By 1999, the new Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half of the school’s population. A second elementary school was required, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw up catchment boundaries for two elementary schools within Whistler. Spring Creek Community School opened in 2004. This week students will be returning to both of these schools, as well as École La Passerelle, and multiple independent and private schools in the area.

Staff and students in 1992. Whistler Question Collection.