Tag Archives: Jim Moodie

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.

Designing a Community

Some town centres grow organically as the population grows. Whistler was not one of those towns. Instead, Whistler was carefully planned to ensure the growth of a vibrant, happy and healthy community. If you have recently been enjoying some of the few moments of spring sun on one of Whistler’s many patios, you can thank Eldon Beck, the early council, and Whistler’s planning and project management team.

Early sketches of Whistler Village show how sunlight, views and wind direction were accounted during the planning.

The first resort municipality in BC formed in 1975, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was an experiment that gave the RMOW far more control of the land, development and community than was typical for a municipality. When Phase 1 of the Town Centre went to development bid in 1978, the 12 parcels had strict covenants for use and planning restrictions attached. It was also divided into small parcels to ensure that local owner-developers could buy land parcels, keeping it in the community and ensuring that one large conglomerate would not and could not buy the whole village.

A community is not complete without local people, and much research went into how best to encourage residents and visitors alike into the Village and make sure the centre of town was full of life. According to Jim Moodie, from the project management team of Sutcliffe, Griggs and Moodie, who were tasked with preparing the development plan for the Town Centre, “We didn’t want a whole strip of T-shirt shops”. The location of the grocery store, drug store, hardware store and liquor store were carefully placed to ensure local residents had a purpose for going into the Village. They can still be found in their original location. Additionally, Tapley’s Pub opened in it’s current location in January 1981. As the first pub in the Town Centre, it was important to open Tapley’s Pub early in the development process to ensure that the construction workers had somewhere to go that would encourage them to stay in the Village during their leisure time.

Tapley’s Pub in May 1980 as the roof is going on. Still the early days of Whistler Village with very few buildings. Whistler Question Collection.

To further ensure there would be enough people to support the businesses, mixed-use rental and residential housing was required to be built over most of the commercial premises. In planning, building height and roof angle were specified to maximise the natural sunlight, and patio locations were carefully laid out. Unsurprisingly, this level of control and direction was not popular with some developers who, throughout the construction of all phases of the Village, tried to be the exception – offering more money to get an exemption from building residential rooms, underground parking, or to keep their outdoor patio closed. However the covenants for each build were clearly and carefully laid out from the beginning, leaving little room for interpretation, and each completed stage of Whistler Village is very similar to the final plans, even down to how people walk through the Village stroll.

When Eldon Beck designed the Village it was to feel connected to nature, with the stroll set out to create a natural flow of people, encouraging people to slow down and spend time with one another. Similar to a meandering river, where the Village stroll gets wider you often see people slow down and gather as they stop to talk to friends or take in their surroundings, exactly as the planners hoped.

Whistler Village under construction, November 1979. The copper beams of Tapley’s Pub can be seen in the middle left.  Hearthstone Lodge and Blackcomb Lodge are also under construction. The first completed building in the Village was the Public Service Building top right, and the old Myrtle Philip School is on the top left. During the construction of the Village the near-constant noise of the pile driver could be heard in White Gold. Whistler Question Collection.

As Whistler ticked into the 1980s the Village was coming along nicely with the development of Phase 1 well underway, however, there were economic clouds on the horizon. Soon the Canadian economy would tank, sky rocketing interest rates over 20% and temporarily halting the formerly-booming development, creating new challenges for the fledgling Whistler Village.

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.