Tag Archives: development

The White Gold Estate That Isn’t

By the early 1970s, various developments had begun to appear in the Whistler area spurred on by the growing success of Whistler Mountain. Some of these projects can still be found in the valley today, but many of the developments started in the late 1960s and early 1970s never realized the entirety of the developers’ plans; the original plans for both Adventures West and Tamarisk called for far more units and facilities than can be seen today (Tamarisk was meant to include over 400 units and a “condo-lodge” that would contain a cocktail lounge and dining facilities). Another development that would look very different if the full plans had been constructed is the neighbourhood of White Gold.

According to a pamphlet in the archives, the Ambassador Development Corporation of Canada Ltd. (ADCC) was planning to build “a whole new community.” When first promoted, The White Gold Estate was to include large cabin lots, condominiums, a shopping area and a hotel complex spread over 172 acres. The developers claimed that they would keep a large portion of the natural setting intact, “retaining as much of the park-like landscape as possible.” The serviced cabin lots were described as being planned “very carefully” to leave as many trees as possible untouched, both to create a “serene” atmosphere and to guarantee privacy for the owners.

The floor plans for condos planned for The White Gold Estates. Brown Collection.

A number of these lots had already been sold by the 1970s, with some cabins already under construction. In the fall of 1970 an advertisement in Garibaldi’s Whistler News offered lease-to-purchase lots with a deposit of $250 and three-bedroom cabins available from $16,800. That winter it was reported that Nancy Greene and Al Raine hoped to be settling into their new cabin in White Gold in the new year and by 1972 it was not uncommon to see houses in White Gold advertised for rent or sale.

While some roads and cabin lots were constructed, other parts of ADCC’s plans never came to fruition. The White Gold Estates plans included a commercial area of shops off of Highway 99 near the existing Ski Boot Lodge Motel that opened in 1970. Luxury one and two-bedroom condos were to be constructed, for which a “qualified management staff” would be provided to look after the units during the owners’ absence or even handle arrangements to rent out units for owners. According to a map included in the ADCC’s pamphlet, an artificial lake was proposed in the middle of what today is protected wetlands. Along with the lots that make up today’s White Gold, cabin lots would have extended from Fitzsimmons Creek to Highway 99 and even onto the other side of the highway.

This map shows the planned lots for The White Gold Estates. The yellow appear to be cabin lots, extending beyond today’s streets through the protected wetlands by Fitzsimmons Creek and even across Highway 99. Brown Collection.

There is not much information in the archives about the ADCC or why their plans for The White Gold Estate were not completed. It appears that the company was dissolved by 1979, though it is unclear why. By the mid-1970s, however, the ADCC had completed the four roads that currently make up White Gold: Nancy Greene Dr. (fittingly named for one of the neighbourhood’s early residents), Toni Sailer Ln. (the Toni Sailer Ski Camps had been operating for several summers by that time), Fitzsimmons Rd. (running parallel to Fitzsimmons Creek), and Ambassador Crescent (presumably named for the development company that built it). Like other projects from that time, the development that we find in White Gold today is only a part of what was envisioned by early investors in the Whistler valley.

According to the ADCC, this development was “only the beginning.” Brown Collection.

Whistler Junction: The Village that Wasn’t

With Whistler Village now firmly established at the base of Whistler Mountain it’s hard to imagine the town centre anywhere else.  Whistler without Eldon Beck’s plans, the Village Stroll or Skier’s Plaza would be a very different experience for visitors and residents.

Before the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed in 1975 there was already talk of creating a centralized commercial centre for the area, but opinions differed on where to locate it.  Both John Taylor and Norm Paterson believed the centre should be built on their own properties.

Jordan’s Lodge on the shores of Nita Lake, a potential site of the Whistler Village.

Taylor had bought the Jordan’s Lodge property (now Nita Lake Lodge) and proposed building the centre near the Creekside base of Whistler Mountain.  Norm Paterson and Capilano Highlands Ltd. had already developed much of Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates and proposed building a central town site on the shores of Green Lake.

Paterson’s town centre was first announced in the Spring 1969 edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News.  Five years later, on September 21, 1974 he and Tom Wells of Imperial Ventures shared their model with the public.  From their plans it is possible to imagine a very different Whistler.

A rendering of the pedestrian mall of Whistler Junction. In some ways the plans were similar to the Village we know today.

The development, called “Whistler Junction”, was to be located on Green Lake, bordered on one side by Highway 99 and on another by the railway tracks.  The entirety of the town centre would be located within the current site of Nicklaus North.  This plan had some similarities to the village we know today.  For example, it included shops, restaurants, plazas, cafes, hotels, commercial and civic buildings and multi-dwelling residential units, all accessible by foot.

Parking would be located on the edges of the development.  Some underground parking would also be located at the transportation terminal on the railway that would service both rail and bus passengers.  This terminal was to be connected to the shopping and residential areas via an overhead walkway.

The Whistler Junction train and bus station.

At their presentation the developers stressed that the natural setting would be disturbed as little as possible.  Wells pointed out that “as many trees as possible would be left standing” and that “the plan is drawn around these and the other natural features.”

With a lakeside location, it’s no surprise that water was to feature prominently in the design.  A lagoon and waterways were to be built into the site, not completely unlike the river that runs through Whistler Village.  A pier would be located at the lagoon and a boardwalk would be built along the shore of the lake.

The townsite master plan for Whistler Junction, showing the proposed lagoon, rivers and boardwalk along Green Lake.

Unfortunately for Paterson and Wells, the provincial government had frozen all commercial development in Whistler in 1973, a year before they unveiled their model.  In 1974 a report by James Gilmour of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs’ planning services department recommended a single town centre located on the central dump and a new form of municipal government.

When the Resort Municipality of Whistler was created, the new council supported a plan to build a town centre at the recommended site of today’s village.  Paterson, Taylor and other members of the Whistler Development Association continued to push for their own vision but the province ultimately approved the central location we see today.

Locals Profile – Walter Zebrowski

Extensive (excessive?) development. Cutting-edge facilities. Running Water. It’s easy to take Whistler as we know it today for granted. With these mountains, these lakes, this snow, how could things have turned out otherwise? But it doesn’t work that way.

Everything around us is a product of the past.  Stuff happens, and usually, people are behind it.

One of the most influential figures in the early development of what eventually became Whistler was the strong-willed and gregarious Polish immigrant Walter Zebrowski.

Zebrowski’s WW2-era skis now rest in the Whistler Museum Archives.

Born in Skierniewice, Poland in 1913, Zebrowski was uprooted from his quiet, small-town life as a soldier during World War 2. This fascinating story is far too long to tell here (his book-length biography In Search of Freedom is available at the museum for those curious for more details), but it led him from Poland to Portugal, England to Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Egypt and many points in between. By war’s end he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, escaped from the Nazis twice, and received various medals and awards from Poland, Britain, France, and Italy. Of special note to mountain-folk, he specialized in mountain warfare and many of his exploits were carried out on skis.

After the war, rather than return to communist Poland, Zebrowski traveled to Canada’s west coast to establish a new life. From 1948 until 1964 he lived in Burnaby with his wife Hanka and his daughter Eva, establishing a successful chicken farm among other business ventures.

His new home allowed him to re-visit his love of the mountains, often visiting the North Shore and Garibaldi Park. It was during one of his frequent ski trips to Diamond Head Chalet (near today’s Elfin Lakes huts) that he developed his vision for the potential development of a ski resort in the southern Coast Mountains.

Beginning in the early 1960s he began exploring for suitable lands. By 1962 he began winding down his farm and was preparing to move to the mountains, having purchased lots around where Creekside is today. Keep in mind that Whistler Mountain didn’t begin ski operations until February 1966 (some call this luck or “right place, right time”; others call it vision.)

Walter makes an appearance in the Squamish Citizen, circa 1985.

Over the next three decades Zebrowski was one of the most active developers in the Whistler Valley. He started out alone in the woods, clearing the land and building roads with his bulldozer. By the time he was done he had developed most of today’s Nordic Estates neighborhood, played a central role in the establishment of the Whistler Water Works, the volunteer fire department, the Whistler Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and even brought television to the valley for the first time. If you’re outside, look up to the top of Sproatt Mountain where you can see his tv-signal repeater station.

Of all his contributions to Whistler my personal favourite is the beautiful Eva Lake Park. Dedicated to his daughter, this pocket of wilderness hidden in the middle of Nordic was actually fully landscaped by Walter while doubtful onlookers watched in puzzlement. He even stocked the lake with trout, which, despite the naysayers, continue to thrive in the small pond to this day. Reading, writing, or merely soaking in the solitude is my favourite “quiet time” activity this town has to offer.

Still at it at 80!

A relentless booster of Whistler, his influence extended far beyond his own projects. Passionate and outspoken, he never hesitated to offer his opinion in all aspects of the community. His philanthropy extended to many local organizations including the museum, and his commemorative scholarship supports youth who exemplify his ideals citizenship. One of Whistler’s earliest champions, Walter Zebrowski passed away in 1996 but his legacy continues to thrive, built into the very landscape of his adopted home.

Walter feeding the fish at Eva Lake Park.