Tag Archives: John Fraser

The 1976 Winter Olympics: A Dream Almost Realized

In May 1970 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gathered in Amsterdam to choose the winning bid for the 1976 Winter Olympics.  Vancouver/Garibaldi, Denver (USA), Sion (Switzerland) and Tampere (Finland) were all in the running to host the 1976 Winter Olympic Games.

However, Vancouver/Garibaldi ended up being taken out of the running because the IOC chose Montreal to host the Summer Olympics in 1976.  The Winter Games were awarded to Denver, Colorado instead.

The logo for the 1976 bid drew heavily on the design of the relatively new Canadian flag.

But the political climate the changing in the 1970s and in the face of growing environmentalist movements and concerns over the expenditures made to host an Olympic Games, Denver decided to hold a referendum on hosting the mega-event.  The “No Games” side won the referendum – and to this day, it is the only city and state to reject the Olympic Winter Games after successfully winning a bid.

The referendum was held on November 15, 1972.  It left the IOC in a lurch and the Olympic Committee, thinking it easier to have the Games remain in North America, offered them to Vancouver/Garibaldi.

The Government of Canada was willing to chip in $10 million to help Vancouver and Garibaldi host the 1976 Winter Olympics, as long as the provincial government provided matching funding.

The 1976 bid even had federal support from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who often skied at Whistler.

Dave Barrett, Premier of British Columbia and leader of the first NDP government in British Columbia, had been in office for two months when the issue of hosting the Games came up.  He felt the money would be better spent on other priorities as opposed to hosting the Olympics.

W.A.C. Bennett, who had just lost to Barrett and was the leader of the Social Credit Party, claimed he would have given the Vancouver/Garibaldi Olympic Committee the money.

John Fraser, President of the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) at the time, felt that, because of the recent government change and as local support for the Games was at an all-time low following the initial bid rejection, it wasn’t the best time to host the Winter Games.  They too passed on hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Whistler today would look very different if the 1976 bid had been successful.

Other commentators were disappointed, but at the same time relieved that the Garibaldi area and Whistler would be able to develop at a more leisurely pace.

John Jerome wrote an article in Skiing in 1971 titled, “I’m Glad Whistler lost the Olympic Bid – Glad, do you hear?”  In it he said “… I felt their immense disappointment keenly; I knew how bloody hard and long they had worked for that award; I loved them for their effort.  But deep down inside I was glad they failed.”

The IOC ended up reusing a past host site to hold the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, the site of the 1964 Winter Olympics.  This was the first time in the modern Olympic Games that a site hosted the Olympics twice.

Our Mountain Home

As some of you may know, last Sunday was International Mountain Day (IMD). In recognition of this, and in conjunction with the Whistler Forum’s efforts to raise the profile of IMD in Whistler, a very special event was held at the Whistler Museum on Saturday Evening. Three elder statesmen of the mountains were invited to share stories from their lives in the mountains, and to communicate what the alpine realms meant to them.

Our distinguished panel began with the 92-years-young Howard Rode, who has been climbing and skiing in our local mountains since he was a young man, and remains active today! His light-hearted recollections of early trips into Garibaldi Park recalled an era when far more effort was required of those seeking alpine adventures. Despite this, Howard spoke of his experiences with an undeniable fondness, clearly enriched from over seventy years playing in the mountains.

Howard was followed by well-known local Don MacLaurin. Don, a retired forester, educator, and parks planner, was an active mountaineer for half a century, achieving multiple first ascents in the area and even acting as President of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club for some time. Don was no stranger either to physical exertion in the name of mountain play, but his talk focused on his lifelong efforts as an educator, and his desire to share the wonder of mountain environments with others.

Our final speaker was the Honourable John Fraser, former Speaker of the House of Commons, Federal Environment Minister, and Canadian ambassador to many key international summits including the 1992 Rio Summit on Environment and Development.  Mr. Fraser gave a fascinating talk on his early adventures growing up in a forestry family and running a pack train in the Yukon before settling into his professional career as a lawyer and politician. Perhaps the most interesting moment came when he described his involvement in a committee tasked with identifying potential winter Olympic sites in the 1960s.

The distinguished legislator and statesmen concluded with several pointed suggestions for Whistler, which has been his part-time home for several decades, and more generally, for younger, environmentally minded citizens.

It was a pleasure to be able to take part in this event, and it was truly an honour to host such a distinguished and impassioned panel. Whenever you have the opportunity to listen to anyone with this much experience and accomplishment, let alone three, you should take advantage.

These three gentlemen had the great fortune (and foresight) to make the mountains a major part of their long, productive lives, and they made it quite clear that this was no coincidence. If I had to single out one lesson (among the many) to take away from the evening it has to be this : We live in a special town immersed in a truly inspiring and empowering natural landscape.  No matter how busy you find yourself this winter,  make sure you make the time to actually get up into the mountains and take advantage of all they have to offer.