Tag Archives: development

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.