Tag Archives: portables

A Temporary Home

As discussed last week, the Whistler Public Library (WPL) opened its doors in the basement of Municipal Hall in the summer of 1986, less than a year after the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA) was formed, thanks to the dedicated work of members of the WPLA, community groups, and volunteers. The library quickly became a well used facility within the community and began providing books, storytimes, school presentations, summer reading programs, and in time even a public access computer under the direction of librarian Joan Richoz.

It was widely understood even before the WPL opened in the basement that this would not be a permanent location. The WPLA had been granted a five-year lease of the space in 1986 and Richoz was told that the library should expect to be in the basement for three to five years. A building fund was started by the WPLA in 1989 but by 1991, as the end of their lease approached, the building committee reported that it would probably be another five years before a new building was ready. The library began operating on a month-to-month lease and then received a two-year lease for the basement space.

Assistant librarian Rob Ross demonstrates the closed sign, which would be seen more often – a shortfall in their operating budget meant that the library, which had been open seven days a week, began closing on Sundays in February 1991. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

The library quickly outgrew its basement location, even after the Whistler Museum and Archives moved out of their part of the space in 1989. In 1990 WPL already had 1,157 registered borrowers, while Squamish had only 704 and Pemberton had 261, and Whistler was continuing to grow. Despite this increase in usership and dedicated fundraising efforts, the library struggled to secure enough funding for operations, sometimes having to dip into their building fund.

The question of where to put the library was met with various proposals, including office space in the newly constructed Marketplace and the high school planned for 1996. The municipality had set aside various sites for community use and in 1992 a lot on Main Street, referred to as Lot 21, was zoned for a library. In October 1992 there was talk of building a municipal cultural centre to house the library, museum and Whistler Arts Council as tenants on Lot 1 but in November the municipality committed funding to build an ice rink at Meadow Park instead. This was also when the idea of moving the library, along with the museum and Arts Council, into portables on Lot 21 came up.

In July 1994, having added as much shelving as possible to the basement space, the library was presented with three options, all of which were temporary measures involving portables. Staying in the basement was no longer an option, as it was needed for the growing Planning and Parks & Recreation departments, then housed in their own portables next to Municipal Hall. The library chose to move into the old Canada Post trailers that were to be moved to Lot 21. This move would double their space, shelving, and number of seats and allow the library to continue growing their collections and programs.

Carpenters add the finishing touches to the outside of the portables after their move to Main Street, despite the apparent snow already in the valley. Whistler Question, 1994.

In December 1994, after the portables had been moved and refurbished by the Municipal Building Department and community members, the library shut down for a week and staff and volunteers moved furniture, books, magazines and more to the new location. The circulation desk, left over from the previous occupants, bore the colours of Canada Post and the new recycled space offered room for a children’s area and reading tables. Now ground level, Richoz told the Whistler Question, “We’ve got windows and view. It’s just fantastic,” and the first library patron Liz Stamper described it as “absolutely beautiful.”

The family who took out the most books was given the opportunity to cut the ribbon at the grand opening, a duty which was taken very seriously. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Unlike at the previous location, the grand opening of the new location occurred a month after rather than before WPL welcomed its first borrowers on Main Street. The opening in January 1995 attracted about 150 people, despite a lack of signage and large snow banks that hid the building, and featured a ribbon cutting and a silent auction to raise money to offset the cost of moving.

Despite the increase in space, this new location was also meant to be a temporary measure. In 1995, staff expected the library to remain in the portables for three to five years.

A Trailer by Many Other Names

Portable buildings are not a new or uncommon phenomenon in Whistler.  Since the formation of the municipality many civic and social institutions have been housed within these portable buildings, shifting, adding and removing spaces as the community has grown.  Before the construction of the village, Whistler’s bank, liquor store and post office operated out of trailers (leading to one of the most straight forward bank robbery attempts – hitch it up in the night and drive away).  The Whistler Health Care Centre also began in a trailer located at the base of Creekside.  In the 1990s some municipal departments were located in trailers outside Municipal Hall and before the opening of Spring Creek Elementary in 2004 Whistler’s growing population meant that more students at Myrtle Philip Community School were taught in portable classrooms on the school grounds than inside the building.

Here at the Whistler Museum it’s natural for us to have an interest in the histories of these scattered portables; after all, we call one of them home.  The current space occupied by the museum began its journey in Whistler as the Canada Post building.  After the post office moved into its current location in Market Place in 1993 the trailer sat empty until its revival in 1995.

Moving the trailers to Main Street, 1994. Photo: Whistler Public Library

Moving the trailers to Main Street, 1994. Photo: Whistler Public Library

In 1994 the Whistler Public Library was searching for a new building as the lease on their space in the basement of the municipal hall was nearing its end.  After examining several options the library board decided that the WPL would move into the old Canada Post trailers that would be moved to Main Street (at the same time the museum moved into an adjacent trailer on the current site of Florence Petersen Park).  When Canada Post had vacated the trailers they had left behind the counter and cupboards.  These were reconfigured to be used in the library and for the thirteen years in which the trailer housed the library the circulation desk bore the colours of Canada Post.

The library in the trailer. Photo: Whistler Public Library

The library in the trailer. Photo: Whistler Public Library

The library operated out of this trailer from January, 1995, until its move up the road to its permanent building in January, 2008.  Locals coming into the museum today may remember attending story time where our offices now sit and can wander through our exhibits as they once wandered through the stacks.

 

flpark

The trailer in its current setting in Florence Petersen Park.

After the library moved the Whistler Museum took over the building in 2008.  Some major renovations were needed to rework the space (time had not treated the portable well; carpets needed to be removed and leaks addressed, as well as more structural and cosmetic changes) but by the end of 2009 this trailer had reopened its doors in its third reincarnation.  The removal of the adjacent trailers, the addition of a large mural and the development of Florence Petersen Park have made the space almost unrecognizable as the former library parking lot.  To those who have not yet visited, though, the washrooms might still seem eerily familiar.