Tag Archives: Olympic Plaza

The Hills Were Alive… With the Sound of Music

In September 1988 an article written by Joanna MacDonald about a performance by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra appeared in The Vancouver Sun.  This might not seem noteworthy or appear to have anything to do with Whistler’s history except that the concert written about took place 1850m above sea level on Blackcomb Mountain.

This was not a typical concert for the VSO, nor was it a typical year.  From January to July of 1988 the organization’s growing deficit had halted VSO performances.  In July, after creditors had forgiven the deficit and financial assistance was acquired by the symphony, the VSO began a series of outdoor concerts.  Their summer performances included concerts at Ambleside, English Bay and Granville Island, but none of these required transporting a $500,000 sound system, a 14-tonne stage and two tonnes of instruments up a mountain.

While the first performance on Blackcomb took place in the heat of summer, the VSO also played in the rain some years. Whistler Question Collection.

The weather made the stage on Blackcomb Mountain an interesting venue to perform on.  The VSO had though about the implications of wind and low temperatures, but didn’t expect 32 degree heat at the top of the mountain.  While the musicians were under cover and didn’t get too hot (despite wearing formal dress) audience members were encouraged to bring hats and sun screens.

Concertgoers on the mountain sat on hay spread around a 1.4-hectare site within an alpine meadow, a ver different arrangement than the Orpheum Theatre, the VSO’s usual venue.  According to Nancy Spooner, a VSO spokesman, “One family had the full red and white checkered tablecloth and a wine bucket with glasses.  There were families with grandparents and kids, and people were wearing everything from bathing suits to hiking gear.  Some people even brought up some mountain bikes and went riding before the concert.”  5,238 people were recorded as attending the performance.

A mountaintop performance on Whistler, 1995. Whistler Question Collection.

The VSO continued to perform annually on top of the mountain, first on Blackcomb Mountain and then switching to Whistler Mountain.  In 1998 their concert on Whistler was postponed as the mountain was closed for the summer due to the construction of the new Roundhouse Lodge.  This postponement lasted fourteen years.

In 2012, after an absence of over a decade, the VSO returned to perform in Whistler.  Instead of the top of a mountain, performances took place in Olympic Plaza over a weekend in late July.  In 2014 the VSO began performances on Canada Day and announced the creation of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestral Institute at Whistler, both of which have continued each summer.

The VSO performs in Olympic Plaza. Photo: John Alexander

Unlike the first performance in 1988, today’s VSO performances in Whistler are not held in an alpine meadow and the audience does not pay to attend.  In other ways, however, the concerts are still very similar.  The VSO still attracts of crowd of thousands and a mix of visitors and residents.  Groups still bring picnics, families attend with kids and grandparents, people wear bathing suits and hiking gear, and quite a few people look like they just got off their bikes.

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Discover Nature at Family Après

If you’ve been at Family Après in Olympic Plaza over the past couple months, you might have recognized a tent from the Discover Nature summer program at Lost Lake.  In July and August the Discover Nature team shared its knowledge of Whistler’s natural history through touch tables, activities and nature walks around Lost Lake.

Discover Nature at Family Après focuses on some of the animals that are active in Whistler during the winter.  The challenge is to identify eight mammals in Whistler that neither migrate nor hibernate using replicas of their skulls, tracks and claws.  This may not sound like a whole lot to go on but the teeth can give you clues about what an animal eats and the shape of the skull can indicate traits such as a keen sense of smell or better than average night vision.  Hints and help are also on hand if you get stuck.

The touch table at Discover Nature in the summer. Some of the same skulls, pelts and tracks are on display this Monday in Olympic Plaza.

While hiking, biking and even skiing around Whistler I have encountered over half of the animals featured at the Discover Nature tent, but one that I have never seen is the wolverine.  After learning about an encounter John Millar once had with a wolverine, I’m not so sure I want to.

Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel family, which also includes martens, mink and river otters.  Sometimes described as a mixture of a dog, a bear and a skunk, wolverines have short legs, long hair and distinctive markings, including a dark mask around their eyes and a light stripe on each side running from their shoulders to the base of their tails.  Although wolverines are typically about the size of a medium-sized dog they are effective predators and can even smell prey hibernating beneath six metres of snow.  Their diet can range from berries, rodents and ground squirrels to mountain goats and moose.

John Millar outside his cabin (today the area of Function Junction). Millar Creek was named for this early settler. Photo: Philip Collection.

Millar is perhaps best known as the trapper who introduced Myrtle and Alex Philip to Alta Lake.  A Polish immigrant, Millar arrived in the valley sometime before 1906 by way of Texas, where he worked as a cook at a cow-camp.  He purchased some land along the Pemberton Trail near the junction of Millar Creek and the Cheakamus River (today the area of Function Junction) and built a roadhouse for travellers, supplementing his income from trapping by charging 50 cents for a bed (meal not included).

From the account of Dick Fairhurst, Millar may not have always been the most successful trapper.  He regularly caught marten, rabbit, mink, muskrat (the basis for a memorable stew), and beaver.  Once, however, while out on his trap line Millar caught a wolverine.  Thinking it was dead he added it to his pack and walked on.  Unfortunately for him, the wolverine was still very much alive and came to while still on his back.  It ate a hole through Millar’s pack and “grabbed John by the seat of the pants.”  While Millar managed to extricate himself from the angry wolverine it was awhile before he could sit comfortably again.

Discover Nature will be back at Family Après in Olympic Plaza this Monday, March 5.  If you think you can tell a wolverine from a bobcat, come by and say hello.