Tag Archives: Eldon Beck

A Different Olympic Dream

Since the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) first dreamed of hosting the Olympics on Whistler Mountain, there have been a lot of plans for developments in the Whistler area, both big and small. Some, such as building lifts or creating the Whistler Village, have been fulfilled, but there are many others that never came to fruition. Most of these, including Norm Patterson’s “Whistler Junction” around Green Lake, GODA’s various early plans for an Olympic village, and Ben Wosk’s proposed $10 million development at the Gondola base, remained concept drawings and scale models. Also on the long list of developments that were never fully developed are the plans the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation (WMSC) had for Olympic Meadows on Whistler Mountain.

In January 1987, WMSC ran a nation-wide ad campaign courting developers. The ad included drawings of Whistler Mountain’s existing lifts, plans for mountain and real estate development, and an architect’s drawing of a large hotel at the Gondola base. When WMSC unveiled their development plans to the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) in February, however, their plans centred not on the Gondola base but on Olympic Meadows, an area at the base of the Black Chair (today the top of the Olympic Chair).

The top of the Black Chair and base of Olympic Chair, around the area where Whistler 1000 would have been located. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Early ideas for Olympic Meadows included moving the office and maintenance facilities up from the Gondola base and building hotel rooms and parking, serviced by a 4.1 km road which could eventually be lined with residential development. There were a few different options for hotel developments on the site, ranging from a 340-room “lodge-style hotel” with 500 day parking stalls to two terraced hotel blocks up to nine stories high with a total of 1,200 rooms.

Over the next months, WMSC’s plans for Olympic Meadows were refined and WMSC president Lorne Borgal brought in landscape architect Eldon Beck (which is why he was in town to talk with Kevin Murphy about Village North). By the fall, development plans were referred to as “Whistler 1000” and “Whistler 900.” Whistler 1000 featured lodges, townhouses, some commercial services, tennis courts, and 1,000 stalls of day skier parking at the top of the Village Chair (today’s Olympic Station), which was set to be replaced by a high-speed gondola in the next couple of years. Whistler 900 would be located nearby above Brio with future plans for a chairlift from Whistler 900 to the base of the Orange Chair. Both Whistler 1000 and 900 would be accessed by a winding road off of Panorama Ridge.

The view to the valley that the hotels of Whistler 1000 would have featured. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

WMSC’s plans depended on development rights recognized by the ski area agreement with the province but not included in the RMOW’s official community plan (OCP). The RMOW was in the process of reviewing the OCP but timing was tight. WMSC needed the development rights in place before placing their order for new lifts and ski-related development, which needed to go in by February 1988. The earliest date for possible amendments to the OCP was that January. At one time, there was even talk of Whistler Mountain trying to legally separate from the RMOW, though it was not thought likely.

While WMSC was developing its plans for Olympic Meadows and waiting to hear about amendments to the OCP, their competition Intrawest was presenting big plans for the Benchlands and Blackcomb Mountain.

WMSC came close to getting the amendments they needed in January 1988, when Council began drafting bylaws to amend the OCP, but community concerns about the scale and elevation of the proposed development, as well as the pace of development in Whistler more broadly, meant these amendments were not ultimately approved and the WMSC plans were stalled.

Blackcomb Mountain and the Benchlands experienced massive development that year, but Whistler 1000 and Whistler 900 never did break ground. However, at least one of the WMSC’s plans did materialize: the Village Chair was replaced in 1988 by the Village Express gondola.

Expanding the Village

Read part one here.

In the late 1980s, the 58 acre Village North site was owned by the province and zoning was controlled by the RMOW. Whereas the original Village development had been mainly visitor driven, Village North was envisioned as supporting the community and bringing residents and visitors together. Community workshops were held through 1988 to determine what residents wanted to see in Village North before any rezoning was planned. According to then-Director of Planning Mike Vance, one ideas was to locate facilities such as the post office, medical centre, municipal hall, library, and museum in this area. At a speaker event in 2019, landscape architect Eldon Beck described his vision for such a plan: “This was intended to gradually involve the community in shopping, recreation, coming down to the town hall, coming to the library. So it’s a sequence of community interest activities merging then with the tourism population coming the other way, so the Northlands is where these communities all come together.”

Lot 29 in Village North is cleared by the Alldritt Development Group and Bradley Development Corporation, who planned to build 28 condo units by Lorimer Road. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

The next step, after deciding on this plan, was to divide the entire site into parcels and zone each parcel in accordance with a master plan. Together, the RMOW, Beck, and Whistler Land Company Developments (WLC) developed a master plan even more detailed than that created for the first Village site, including not just the purpose of each parcel but also the individual elements of each building. According to Vance, this level of detail led to ” the largest single deposit in the land registry office’s history,” requiring most of a day to sign all of the documents involved. Council voted to approve the zoning bylaws for Village North on August 14, 1989 and by the end of 1990 WLC began selling development parcels. According to Mayor Drew Meredith, it took some time for Village North to get going and it remained “a weed patch” until developers such as Nat Bosa decided they wanted to be involved.

The construction of Marketplace in Village North. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Once it got going, however, work progressed quickly; Vance recalled a year when up to eleven cranes were up on the Village North site. Looking back in 1997, WLC President Jim Switzer said that the development of a master plan and the completed zoning provided stability and certainly for developers who knew exactly what was expected of them and for the RMOW who could plan for the future based on a clear picture of how development would proceed. In 1993, Mayor Ted Nebbeling cut the ribbon of the bridge over Village Gate Boulevard, officially connecting the Village Stroll through Village North. By 1997, of the development parcels were sold and the entire site was expected to be completed by the end of 1999.

Traffic lights are installed at the intersection of Village Gate and Northlands Boulevards. As the Village expanded, so did the traffic and roads. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Not everything in Village North went entirely smoothly. Beck’s vision was to have a series of buildings descending with the grade of the Village Stroll, but provincial regulations and the fire department required flat and level platforms, leading to a design with more steps, ramps and raised walkways than Beck wanted and narrowing the pedestrian stroll. Some developers also didn’t want to stick to the master plan. In 2019 Jim Moodie, previously a development consultant for WLC, remembered that the developer of Marketplace tried to convince them that he could “give [them] more money for [their] land” if the developer was allowed to build a one-level strip mall with parking out front and no residential units on top. Not surprisingly, the developer was told to stick to the plan.

In 1997, Switzer said that the primary job of the WLC was to recover the province’s investment in Whistler. According to the calculations of Garry Watson (a Free Person of the Resort Municipality of Whistler), the province invested about $20 million in Whistler when they formed the WLC in 1983 and made around $50 million on the development of Village North. Or, as Meredith summed it up, “They got all their money back and then some” and Whistler got the extended Village we see today.

Selling Ideas of the Village

The Whistler Village is often thought of as a single entity, stretching from the gondolas at the base of Whistler Mountain to Marketplace on Lorimer Road, and for some including the Upper Village at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. For those who visit Whistler for the first time, Village North is just as much a part of the Village as Village Square or Skiers Plaza. Village North, however, was built a whole decade after the development of the “original” Village had begun and, according to some stories from the late 1980s, the Village North of today was almost not built at all.

When Whistler, like the rest of Canada, was hit by a recession in the early 1980s, the Whistler Village was still in the early stages of development. While some buildings were completed and businesses were beginning to open, others had only poured their foundations. In 1983, the provincial government under Premier Bill Bennett established Whistler Land Co. Developments (WLC), a Crown corporation to take over the debts and liabilities of the Whistler Village Land Company. WLC also took over ownership of the Village North lands, which were eventually supposed to provide a return on investment for the province.

Eldon Beck and Drew Meredith speak at the event on the development of Whistler Village. Many stories were told, including a few featuring Kevin Murphy of BC Place Corporation and the development of Village North.

The economy slowly recovered and the province and the RMOW started negotiations in 1986 to return control and assets to the RMOW, including the development of Village North. By 1987 most of the Village sites had been completed, the conference centre and golf course were operating, Expo 86 had brought more international exposure to the area, Intrawest had bought Aspen’s interest in Blackcomb and was beginning to develop the Blackcomb Benchlands, and Canadian Pacific Hotels had announced the $80 million Chateau Whistler Resort. Whistler was expanding as a resort and becoming known as a destination.

The relationship between the WLC and the RMOW was not always harmonious. To some, it appeared that the WLC had been sent to “fix the problem” in Whistler and members of the WLC seemed dismissive of the work done and the future ideas for the Village. Over time Chester Johnson, the chair of the WLC board of directors, was persuaded of the merits of Whistler’s original plans for the Village, but Kevin Murphy of BC Place Corporation (another Crown corporations involved in the WLC and the ownership of the Village North lands) needed more convincing. In a speaker event in 2019, Drew Meredith (mayor of Whistler from 1986 to 1990) recalled that Murphy had decided the WLC was going to cut up Village North into residential lots and sell the lots to developers to build what they wanted.

The development of the Whistler Village in the 1970s and early 1980s required detailed plans, models and designs for each building and walkway before anything was built. This was almost not the case for Village North. Eldon Beck Collection

This horrified the RMOW and Meredith called up Lorne Borgal, then the president of Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, and asked to borrow Eldon Beck. At the time, Beck, who had provided much of the vision of the first Whistler Village development, was working for Whistler Mountain on Olympic Meadows plans that never materialized. As Meredith described it, “We injected Eldon into the room with Kevin Murphy and two hours later they came out arm in arm. And what you got is what we got.”

It’s not clear exactly what happened in that meeting, but Beck jokingly described the experience at the same 2019 event: “I just appealed to his good side and so we went into the room together and I talked to him, we sand the Canadian national anthem, hugged, and cried a little bit and came out and the deal was done.” According to Jim Moodie, it was incredibly fortunate for Whistler that Beck got along with Murphy, who was “one of the toughest guys [he] ever worked for.”

An agreement between the province and the RMOW was reached by August 1989 and a detailed plan for the Village North site had been created. Next week, we’ll look a bit more at the development of Village North to the sale of the last lot in 1997.

Eldon Beck Comes to Whistler

It is a commonly held belief that Whistler would be very different today if it were not for the influence of Eldon Beck.  Beck, a trained landscape architect from California, is often credited as the visionary behind the Whistler Village, which he began working on in 1978.

In 1972, Beck’s firm was hired by Vail, Colorado, to consult on a community master plan.  The plan aimed to resolve some of the community’s traffic issues and create a pedestrian-centred village.  From 1972 to 1978, Beck worked with Vail as their primary consultant, a time he described as forming the bulk of his early mountain planning experience.

Eldon Beck stands in the centre, discussing the Whistler Village with an unidentified group. Eldon Beck Collection.

By 1978, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) had spent three years discussing, consulting, planning, and working hard on a town centre to be built on what had been the dump.  The site and funding, from both the provincial and federal governments, were secured; the RMOW, however, did not yet have a final plan for the site.

Terry Minger, who had been the general manager of Vail and would become the president of the Whistler Village Land Company, introduced Beck and Al Raine, the provincial appointee to the Whistler municipal council.  Though Beck described the existing plans for the town centre as a grid plan “like a little city” which “felt like a mini-Vancouver,” there were parts of the council’s plans that excited him.  They wanted to build a pedestrian village (the early plans included a pedestrian spine that was intersected with vehicle crossings) with lots small enough that they could be bought and developed by local developers.  Beck was asked to come take a look and modify the plans, which he felt imposed a building plan on the natural environment rather than letting the land guide the plan.

The Whistler Village under construction, under Beck’s watchful eye. Eldon Beck Collection.

Beck first arrived in Whistler in September 1978.  According to him, his first impression of the area was not of the mountains but of being overwhelmed by the fragrance of the forest.  It was cloudy, as can often by the case in September, and Beck had to trust Raine when he “swore up and down there were mountains.”

The weather did clear up and Beck was able to gain an idea of the site’s natural surroundings, though the site was somewhat overgrown and some of the sightlines were hard to make out.  To get a good view of Fissile Peak, Beck decided to “elevate” himself, or climb as high up a tree as he could (he later claimed this blew Raine away and ensured he got the job).  As he remembered it, he was then taken to someone’s garage where he was introduced to the council and asked to come up with something for their next meeting.

Eldon Beck and Drew Meredith speak at the event on the development of Whistler Village in 2019.  Whistler Museum Collection.

In the foreward to Beck’s book Edges, Raine claimed that the Village Stroll and some of the buildings of the Whistler Village began to appear on Beck’s sketch book within the next 24 hours.  His plans were presented to council three days later and quickly endorsed.  What was supposed to have been a modification of the existing plans had become a wholly new design.

Beck’s visit to Whistler in 1978 was the first of many (he was most recently here last October, when he participated in a speaker event on the development of the Whistler Village) and the beginning of a longstanding relationship with a town he describes as “a happy place.”