Tag Archives: Order in Council

The village that ceased to exist, part two

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

After a May 1980 Order in Council (OIC) called for the evacuation of their village, the residents of the Garibaldi Townsite faced a stressful and uncertain future. At first, many of the residents refused to accept the fate of their community, and fought the OIC with everything they had. With every day that passed, their situation seemed to become more complicated and controversial.

After the OIC was issued, the evacuation process progressed quickly. Property assessments for the area were to be completed by the coming September. Following that, residents would have until December 31st to accept their purchase offer. The residents were given the option to buy back their buildings at auction (so long as they could meet the highest bid), but at the time there were no plans for a relocation site, so the residents had nowhere to move their houses.

A Garibaldi Townsite home being relocated. Whistler Question Collection.

The situation seemed bleak in the summer of 1980, but by the fall there was a little more hope. The deadline to accept offers was extended to June 1981, which gave residents a little more time to get their affairs in order. An interdepartmental committee between the Ministry of the Environment (who were handling the evacuation) and the Ministry of Housing (who were handling the relocation) was established, and residents who chose to buy back their homes were given permission to leave them on the land until a relocation site was completed.

Despite these concessions, the evacuation order remained in place, and residents remained unwilling to give up on their town. The matter was brought to Ombudsman Karl Freidman in October 1980. While reviewing the case, he found several causes for concern. Among them was a lack of open communication between the government and the residents, the terms of sale being stacked in the government’s favour, and the lack of official commitment to a relocation plan. A few months later, likely in response to Freidman’s report, the provincial government sent letters to the residents that included the complete OIC and plans for a relocation site 7km north of the Townsite.

Just as the plight of the residents was starting to improve, disaster struck the Townsite on December 26th 1980. After days of heave rain, B.C. Hydro was forced to open the gates of the Daisy Lake Dam to prevent it from overflowing. The resulting flood wrought havoc on the village. One home was swept away into the Cheakamus River, many were undermined, and the Garibaldi Townsite infrastructure was severely damaged. The destruction shook many of the resident’s resolve to continue fighting for their community, and some decided to leave entirely.

In September 1981, the remaining residents launched a final attempt to save their town, or at the very least to spread awareness about the mismanagement and perceived unfairness of their situation.

A Garibaldi resident stands beside some of the signs for the September 1981 protest. Whistler Question Collection.

Fifteen signs were placed along Highway 99, and drivers were asked to pull over to be handed copies of “The Great Barrier Grief”, a circular that detailed their situation, the OIC, and their theories and questions about the matter. “The Great Barrier Grief” was put together by Ian Barnet, who owned the Garibaldi Lodge. It included everything from editorials on the issue, stories of longtime residents, political cartoons, and summaries of some of the theories about the cause of the evacuation.

The circular suggested four theories behind the evacuation. The first (“Pure Government Bungling”), suggested that it was miscommunication within the government that caused the situation to escalate as it had. The second (“Over-Reaction to Tenuous Report”), suggested the government’s seemingly sudden action had been caused by the eruption of Mount St. Helens (it erupted on May 18, 1980, shortly before the OIC was issued). Perhaps, it suggested, since the government had been aware of the potential risk of the Barrier, they could be held accountable for any damage it did. The third (“The Conspiracy Theory”) suggested that due to all of the development happening in the valley, the government had a vested interest in owning the land, and were therefore forcing the residents out by any means necessary. Similarly, the fourth (“The Land Grab Theory”) suggested that because land values in Whistler had recently sky-rocketed, the Crown stood to profit should they take back the village’s land, hold onto it for a few years, and to then redistribute it at Whistler prices.

Below are some examples of illustrations from the publication.

Illustration from “The Great Barrier Grief” that shows the path a landslide would have to take to damage the Townsite but none of its surroundings.
Illustration from “The Great Barrier Grief”

In the end, their resistance was not enough to save their village, but it did result in a guaranteed relocation site and provincial commitment to better and more transparent communication. In 1982, residents were offered lots in a new development called Black Tusk. Residents were welcomed to the new community in September 1984, though some fought to stay until as late as 1986. In the end, only twenty-six Townsite families chose to relocate to Black Tusk, and the remaining lots were sold to the general public.

Today, all that is left of the Garibaldi Townsite is a small collection of ageing cabins tucked away off Highway 99 across from Daisy Lake.

The village that ceased to exist (part 1)

Since the day of the mandatory evacuation order in 1980, the removal of the Garibaldi Townsite has been shrouded in controversy. A small but growing community was urgently ordered to leave their town, and the fight that ensued made headlines for years. During the evacuation, tensions ran high, motives were questioned, and a variety of theories (some more feasible than others) were put forward.

At the center of the controversy is the Barrier, a 500 meter rockface that dams the Garibaldi lakes. As early as the 1850’s there were concerns about its stability. Indigenous oral histories document a destructive landslide in 1855 that resulted from a slab of rock falling from the Barrier. Later that decade William Downie, a surveyor sent to the region by the Hudson’s Bay Company, noted in his diary that the land beneath the Barrier had been ruined, and voiced concern over its stability. It took over a century for something to come of these accounts, and in the meantime the area continued to be developed.

In the 1970s, the Department of Highways commissioned a study to determine the stability of the Barrier. The subsequent report by the Garibaldi Advisory Panel (also known as the Barrier Report) was completed in May 1978. It claimed the risk of another slide was relatively low, but, if one were to happen the results could be catastrophic. It recommended that “concentrated development” be limited in certain regions, but said nothing about evacuating existing communities.

Even after the risk had been established, the report lay dormant in Victoria for two years. During those years, the residents of Garibaldi built a new firehall, repaired the schoolhouse, and cleared space for a playground. What happened next came as a complete shock to the growing community.

In May 1980, an Order in Council was issued that declared Garibaldi a civil-defense zone and prohibited “development, construction, excavation, or alteration” of any land in the implicated area. This meant that residents became tenants on their property, and that they had to choose between selling to the government and living on land that they could no longer alter.

Sign posted outside Garibaldi Townsite. Whistler Question Collection.

There are many theories about why the evacuation happened when it did, and in order to begin to understand those theories, it is helpful to know what was there before the evacuation. Garibaldi Townsite began as the Garibaldi Station, and was one of the many communities that owed its origins to the expansion of the railroad.

Built in 1922, Alpine Lodge was the second lodge built at the Townsite. Whistler Question Collection.

At first, it followed a similar trajectory to Alta Lake. Development began in the early twentieth century and picked up in the late 1940s when families who were unable to find accommodation in Vancouver were drawn to the valley (back then Vancouverites often lined up outside newspaper offices to get an early look at rental listings). For some time, Garibaldi had a larger year-round population than Alta Lake, and one Garibaldi resident, after having spent the winter of 1946 working in Alta Lake, described it as a “terrible place” that was “ten times as desolate as Garibaldi.” By 1960, there were just over 60 full time residents (with up to twice as many on weekends), and the town had its own campground, post office, firehall, and store. By 1980, when the order was issued, Garibaldi was well on its way to being an established community and tourist destination.

Members of the “Alive Club” pose outside the Alpine Lodge for a photo in 1979. Forbes Collection.

Next week’s article will cover the many conflicting theories about why the evacuation happened when it did, and will detail what happened to the residents after they were forced to leave.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program. She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.