Tag Archives: Pat Carleton

Poop or Chaos? A Whistler Sewer Story

As we have recently learnt at the Whistler Museum, maintenance problems can pop up at the most inconvenient times and create quite the disruption. The same was true when a truck came down on power lines in Whistler one New Year’s Eve.

Disposing of human waste was an ongoing challenge for residents of Alta Lake and Whistler until the wastewater treatment plant opened in 1977. Prior to the sewer system, residents had private septic systems or outhouses, which posed environmental and practical problems for the growing community. On the weekends Brian Leighton, who lived in Creekside, regularly had to knock on the door of the upstairs units asking if they would hold off from flushing the toilets, as the septic system would back up through his toilet when all the units were full.

According to Garibaldi’s Whistler News, in 1977 Whistler had a permanent population of 800, but this swelled to nearly 7000 during the peak season and a reliable sewer system was required before the town could grow further. The importance of the sewer was not understated by Mayor Pat Carleton during the grand opening of the wastewater treatment plant, which included lunch, tours and much fanfare, when he said, “The foundation of Whistler’s future is this plant and sewer system.”

The sewer system was an important step before construction of Whistler Village could begin. Garibaldi’s Whistler News.

Despite initially being built to accommodate a growing community, the wastewater treatment plant could not keep up with the rapid and relentless increase in the population. Cliff Jennings was originally in charge of water distribution and sewer collection for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) before becoming the superintendent of the wastewater plant. According to Cliff, every two years the wastewater treatment plant was having an expansion. However, with the economy slowing in 1981 there was no money to improve the plant coming from the Provincial or Federal Governments despite the population increasing. “We were pretty much always three years behind until just very, very recently. It was always just [cross your fingers].”

Continual construction of the plant during this time had its own challenges. Timing had to be perfect because it could only be powered down for short periods, around 90 minutes, before the waste had to be diverted, which meant raw sewage would be pumped directly into the river. “We never had to purposely divert but we got awfully close,” said Cliff.

Mayor Pat Carleton hands Cliff Jennings the keys to the municipal truck, August 13, 1978. Whistler Question Collection.

On the fateful New Year’s Eve, the power company had been working on the lines at the intersection of Highway 99 and Nesters when the hydraulic lift broke, landing the lift on the power lines. To get the lift off and the lines restored the power would have to be turned off to the entire Valley while it was fixed. This included the Village, which relied on floodlights as the main security measure on New Year’s Eve. Bringing down the lights would have meant total chaos in the busy Village, and would be questionable for safety. However, without turning the entire power grid off the line could not be fixed, and power to Whistler Cay and Nesters would be off all night until BC Hydro could fix the truck on the line. That would mean that the wastewater plant for these areas would also have no power for far longer than the 90 minutes, and without power, diversion of wastewater into the environment.

Due to safety concerns in the Village, the decision was made to keep the power off to Whistler Cay and Nesters for the night, rather than turn all the power off to the entire Valley to fix the line. Thankfully Cliff Jennings and the wastewater team were instead able to keep the treatment plant going with a diesel generator. The lucky team got to ring in the New Year’s with the sewage in the dark, but kept it going long enough that the lines could be fixed without any diversion, while revellers could continue as normal in the Village.

Revellers setting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Whistler Village, 1985. The Village was still busy but there were fewer security measures in place. Whistler Question Collection.

‘Skiing is a Sunset Industry’

Have you ever been told something wouldn’t work, and then tried it anyway? Luckily for everyone who enjoys Whistler, that is exactly what the early council and planners did when they were told that Whistler would never be a destination resort.

Before the development of Whistler Village, when the lifts only went from Creekside, a moratorium on development was put in place to prevent haphazard development across the region until a community plan could be completed. By 1973 speculators and developers had started to buy land throughout the valley with plans for hotels and commercial developments, individuals hoping to strike it rich by personally creating a destination resort on private land. With a background in community planning, Bob Williams, then Minister of Lands, placed the moratorium on commercial development until further studies could be completed.

Initial investigations in 1974 recommended the development of a community with a single town centre on crown land near the then-garbage dump. This site was recommended due to the close proximity to both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and because it was crown land, thus providing more control over the development than if the town centre was developed on private land. Absolutely critical for the success of Whistler, the report prepared by James Gilmour also recommended that a special form of local administration govern Whistler, with more planning control than a typical municipality to ensure that the resort met the expectations and needs of the province. Following this, the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act was introduced in 1975, and the first local council elected and sworn in that same year.

The site of Whistler Village in 1979. The incredible growth of Whistler has certainly gone against the opinions of many experts who believed the conditions were wrong for a destination resort. Whistler Question Collection.

Continuing as per provincial government recommendations, the community plan was developed and shared for community consultation in L’Après in January 1976. After much friction and to-and-fro, the community plan was approved and the council could get on with planning the Whistler Town Centre. In 1977/78 consultants were brought in from around North America, including Stacy Stanley, SnoEngineering and others, to examine trends within the snow industry. The team of expert consultants examined trends, tracking baby boomers and came to the conclusion that “one of the sad things about skiing, is that it is a sunset industry”.

According to Jim Moodie, one of the project managers from Sutcliffe, Griggs and Moodie, there were some other big strikes against Whistler that they were warned about. “Some of the reports looked at Whistler and said ‘as a destination resort you’re in trouble because Vancouver isn’t an International Airport. You’re at the end of a really crappy road. And you’re in a coastal climate zone where it rains most of the time’. We said ‘yeah, that’s cool, but we’re going to have a ski resort’.”

Skiing on Whistler Mountain when there were two t-bars at the top. Expert consultants in the 1970s predicted that the popularity of skiing would only decrease in the future as the population aged. Whistler Mountain Collection.

Despite these reports, the council was unfazed. On the 21st of August, 1978 over a hundred locals and visiting members of the press celebrated the beginning of construction for the new Whistler Village Town Centre. As well as driving the bulldozer to turn the first soil, Mayor Pat Carleton chaired a conference for media personnel where he noted that “one of the best ski area resorts in North America isn’t good enough for me…To be number one just takes a little longer.” And so it did. Whistler was voted number one ski resort in North America in 1992 by Snow Country Magazine, starting a flow of accolades and number one rankings.

Even the experts could not predict the future, with snowboarding, freestyle skiing and mountain biking all adding to the numbers and allure of our destination resort. Today the tourism challenges facing Whistler are very different to the days when we worried that no one would visit.

Pat Carleton and Whistler’s movers and shakers showing the BC Provincial Government around the village under construction in September 1980. Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler’s Answers: November 18, 1982

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: Amid questions about the financial status of the Whistler Village Land Company, unaudited Land Co. financial statements were delivered anonymously to Denver Snider, one of the aldermanic candidates in the municipal election. The documents contained information on liabilities, assets, payroll, land sales, and expense accounts. Snider and fellow candidate Ruth Lotzkar held a press conference about the financial statements, leading to more questions from candidates and voters.

Question: Do you think a full disclosure of Whistler Village Land Co.’s financial position will become an election issue?

Russ Shepherd – Hotelier – Brio Estates

I personally don’t think anyone’s been cheating or stealing money. Maybe they made an error, but who doesn’t? I just don’t think there are any underhanded motives in this issue.

Rod MacLeod – Carpenter – White Gold Estates

I’ve seen some of the figures and I think people should be made aware of the money spent on various things. I think they’d be shocked. It’s a shame the mayor is not accountable for the questions that are coming out.

Pat Carleton – Mayor – Alta Lake Road

Well, some people are certainly trying to make it an issue, but these people obviously don’t understand the problem. I don’t think that anything anyone could bring out now would sway an intelligent voter who knows today’s economic problems. The average person would not consider it an issue.

Whistler’s Answers: September 23, 1982

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: Pat Carleton was elected as Whistler’s first Mayor in 1975 and served multiple terms during which the Resort Municipality of Whistler opened a sewage treatment plant, developed infrastructure, and began developing the Whistler Village. In September 1982, after seven years of being the only mayor Whistler had known, Carleton announced that he would not be running for another term.

Question: What was your reaction to Mayor Carleton’s announcement that he will not run again?

Robert Bishop – Real Estate Salesman – High Forest

I’m sure it’s been a hard job and he’s probably really been feeling the strain in the last few years. It’s nice to see he has the wisdom to know when to step down.

Norm Lock – Appliance Repairman – Emerald Estates

I think he’s done a good job – he represented us well with things like lobbies in Victoria but I also think it’s time for a change.

Sid Young – Travel Agency Owner – Alderman – Alpine Meadows

It’s always a pity when a man such as Pat, who has given so much to the community over the years, decides to retire. There’s no doubt in my mind that his experience and drive will be sorely missed.