The history of Whistler’s waste disposal is not often told, though some parts of it have become widely known. Most people have been told about how the Village used to be a dump, but how many know that the first garbage collectors were nor Carney’s Waste Systems but the Alta Lake Sons of Tipplers Society?
Before Whistler was Whistler and the valley was still known as Alta Lake, there was no centralized waste disposal. Lodges in the area made their own dumps and homeowners were responsible for disposing of their own waste, which often meant burning anything that could be burned. Recycling as we think of it today was yet to be introduced to the valley, though anything that could be reused often was.
At the time, the relation between garbage and bears becoming aggressive had already been recognized. Bill Bailiff, president of the Alta Lake Community Club, wrote a series of articles for their newsletter on the local wildlife and had this to say about bears:
When encouraged it loses its fear of man and comes in close to buildings. If [a bear] scents anything edible it will use its powerful claws to rip and tear into anything and screening on a meat safe goes like so much tissue paper, so don’t encourage them around if you don’t want trouble.
The Whistler valley did not have a central dumping location until the 1960s. The Alta Lake Ratepayers Association (ALRA) applied to lease acreage at the base of Whistler Mountain where the Village stands today. Equipment and labour to dig ditches and cover said ditches once full were donated by the Valleau Logging Company (the same company that moved the train wreck to where it now lies) and families living at Alta Lake were each assigned a week to keep the area tidy, mostly by raking garbage that had been removed by bears back into the ditches. Clearly, the bears were regular visitors.
The growth of skiing at Whistler brought large numbers of visitors to the area who often left the garbage they produced lying at the train stations when they departed. The ALRA placed oil drums at the stations in an attempt to contain the mess. The oil drums were purchased and painted green using left over tip money from Rainbow Saturday nights and so the barrels were given the label ALSOTS (Alta Lake Sons of Tipplers Society) to celebrate their origins.
Despite the efforts of the ALRA, the garbage dump did not always run smoothly. In a notice to the community, the ALRA noted that garbage was being found around instead of in the trenches and in the fire prevention water barrels, the signs that read “Dump in Trench Only” were quickly disappearing and, despite the dump being a “No Shooting” area, bullet holes rendered the water barrels useless in case of fire. More disturbingly, some people seemed to be going to the dump to shot the bears that frequented the area as trophies.
When construction of Whistler Village began in 1977 the garbage dump was moved to Cheakamus. In 2005, this landfill closed and Whistler’s waste management moved to its current location in the Callaghan Valley when construction began on the Olympic athletes’ village. Carney’s now operates two recycling centre in Whistler and a compost facility in the Callaghan. To learn about how Whistler tries to reduce human-bear conflict and keep our garbage away from bears, visit the Get Bear Smart Society.