Tag Archives: Resort Municipality of Whistler Act

Whistler at 22% Interest – Part 1

In the early 1980s, just as the development of Whistler Village was starting to boom, the economy bottomed out and interest rates skyrocketed. Whistler Village was left with 27 unfinished lots as owners, developers, and contractors were going bankrupt at unprecedented levels. Remembering the mess left behind as construction halted, Drew Meredith said, “Imagine standing in Village Square looking up towards Mountain Square and all you see is half finished concrete foundations with rebar sticking out of it. Rusty, dirty rebar. The stroll was there but on both sides of the stroll was just chaos. Very tough to sell that to anybody who wants to come for a holiday.”

Construction in Whistler Village halted when the economic crisis of the 1980s reached Canada leaving many lots unfinished. Eldon Beck Collection.

Canada’s inflation had accelerated throughout the 1970s, reaching over 10% in 1980. To curb inflation, the Bank of Canada raised interest rates to a peak of 21%, however inflation remained high. During this time interest rates for home loans reached 22% and Canada went into a recession. To top it off, in November 1981 the federal government ended the Multiple-Use Residential Building (MURB) program of tax credits. With multiple-use residential on the second and third floor of every building, much of Whistler Village was constructed with the understanding that MURB would provide tax incentives for investors. With the MURB program coming to an end many investors poured the foundations quickly to make use of these incentives before it was too late.

While some developments in the new Whistler Village had opened, most were just a foundation as the economic crunch really hit. Whistler had prioritised small developers in the building of the Village and many struggled to continue and could not pay their land taxes.

Aerial view of the construction in Whistler Village, December 1980. Whistler Question Collection.

The Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) was a non-profit arm of the municipality incorporated in 1978 to oversee the sale and development of the Village. As land was sold, the WVLC would use the income to pay their liabilities, including loan repayments and development costs for municipal assets, notably the Arnold Palmer Golf Course and the Resort Centre intended to host a pool and ice rink (eventually the province dictated that the Conference Centre would be built instead). However, in the early 1980s when more lots were placed on the market they would not sell. To further financial woes, in July 1982, only 60% of taxes were paid to the municipality on time and they could charge a maximum of 10% on late payments, less than the bank’s interest rates. Between 1981 and 1982, the municipality’s capital budget was almost halved from $1 million to $650,000 and in 1982 municipal staff took a 2.5% pay cut.

With finances in dire straights, WVLC staff were let go and WVLC operations transferred to the municipality. With debts of approximately $8 million, no way to pay them, and creditors knocking, concerns were mounting that the banks would repossess assets worth far more than the loan amount. Banks could then sell these lands independently to developers, while the government would get nothing for the sale and still have to pay liabilities.

Bringing in the big guns. New Mayor Mark Angus takes Lands Minister Anthony Brummet and Assistant Deputy Lands Minister Chris Gray for a tour of the rebar with WRA Executive Director Earl Hansen in January 1983. Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler went to the provincial government for assistance. On January 6, 1983 it was announced that Whistler Land Company Developments, a new Crown corporation, had acquired the assets and liabilities of WVLC for $1. Government studies showed that all outstanding debts would be paid with future land sales and continued development would create many jobs, plus the expected revenue from tax and tourism. While there was uproar at the time about a taxpayer bailout, the provincial government went on to recoup far more than the initial investment through the land sales of Village North, and today Whistler brings in 25% of BC’s annual tourism revenue.

Looking at some of the unfinished construction in Whistler Village. Whistler Question Collection.

Hear how some of the Whistler community dealt with the economic crisis next week in Whistler at 22% Interest – Part 2.

Designing a Community

Some town centres grow organically as the population grows. Whistler was not one of those towns. Instead, Whistler was carefully planned to ensure the growth of a vibrant, happy and healthy community. If you have recently been enjoying some of the few moments of spring sun on one of Whistler’s many patios, you can thank Eldon Beck, the early council, and Whistler’s planning and project management team.

Early sketches of Whistler Village show how sunlight, views and wind direction were accounted during the planning.

The first resort municipality in BC formed in 1975, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was an experiment that gave the RMOW far more control of the land, development and community than was typical for a municipality. When Phase 1 of the Town Centre went to development bid in 1978, the 12 parcels had strict covenants for use and planning restrictions attached. It was also divided into small parcels to ensure that local owner-developers could buy land parcels, keeping it in the community and ensuring that one large conglomerate would not and could not buy the whole village.

A community is not complete without local people, and much research went into how best to encourage residents and visitors alike into the Village and make sure the centre of town was full of life. According to Jim Moodie, from the project management team of Sutcliffe, Griggs and Moodie, who were tasked with preparing the development plan for the Town Centre, “We didn’t want a whole strip of T-shirt shops”. The location of the grocery store, drug store, hardware store and liquor store were carefully placed to ensure local residents had a purpose for going into the Village. They can still be found in their original location. Additionally, Tapley’s Pub opened in it’s current location in January 1981. As the first pub in the Town Centre, it was important to open Tapley’s Pub early in the development process to ensure that the construction workers had somewhere to go that would encourage them to stay in the Village during their leisure time.

Tapley’s Pub in May 1980 as the roof is going on. Still the early days of Whistler Village with very few buildings. Whistler Question Collection.

To further ensure there would be enough people to support the businesses, mixed-use rental and residential housing was required to be built over most of the commercial premises. In planning, building height and roof angle were specified to maximise the natural sunlight, and patio locations were carefully laid out. Unsurprisingly, this level of control and direction was not popular with some developers who, throughout the construction of all phases of the Village, tried to be the exception – offering more money to get an exemption from building residential rooms, underground parking, or to keep their outdoor patio closed. However the covenants for each build were clearly and carefully laid out from the beginning, leaving little room for interpretation, and each completed stage of Whistler Village is very similar to the final plans, even down to how people walk through the Village stroll.

When Eldon Beck designed the Village it was to feel connected to nature, with the stroll set out to create a natural flow of people, encouraging people to slow down and spend time with one another. Similar to a meandering river, where the Village stroll gets wider you often see people slow down and gather as they stop to talk to friends or take in their surroundings, exactly as the planners hoped.

Whistler Village under construction, November 1979. The copper beams of Tapley’s Pub can be seen in the middle left.  Hearthstone Lodge and Blackcomb Lodge are also under construction. The first completed building in the Village was the Public Service Building top right, and the old Myrtle Philip School is on the top left. During the construction of the Village the near-constant noise of the pile driver could be heard in White Gold. Whistler Question Collection.

As Whistler ticked into the 1980s the Village was coming along nicely with the development of Phase 1 well underway, however, there were economic clouds on the horizon. Soon the Canadian economy would tank, sky rocketing interest rates over 20% and temporarily halting the formerly-booming development, creating new challenges for the fledgling Whistler Village.

What is the WRA?

In late August 1979, the government of British Columbia introduced an amendment to the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act (the legislation that established Whistler as a municipality in 1975) that would allow for the creation of a resort association. According to section 14.1 of the Act, the purpose of such an association would be “to promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.” Due to this legislation, the Whistler Resort Association (WRA) began operations in 1980.

There were no other resort associations in British Columbia at the time, though several examples could be found in American resorts such as Sun Valley, Aspen, and Vail. In their October 19779 newsletter, the Whistler Village Land Company (WVLC) wrote that “The concept of a destination resort and of a resort association are both new to Canada, and that is perhaps why some misunderstandings have arisen.” Though they did not detail what kind of misunderstandings had occurred, the WVLC did go on to provide and explanation of the purpose and structure of the WRA.

Land Company President Terry Minger delivers a presentation to Whistler Rotary about the purpose of the Whistler Resort Association. Whistler Question Collection.

The WVLC stated that the main purpose of the WRA was “to ensure the success of Whistler,” mainly through marketing. Marketing Whistler included promoting and advertising the resort, providing public relations, and making reservations. Their operations would include a computerized central reservation system able to book rooms for large groups such as conferences, a service to handle general inquiries about Whistler, and a central billing system. The WRA would also be able to sponsor events in Whistler, such as concerts and festivals.

The WRA membership was to include those who owned or operated in the (still under construction) Town Centre and the Blackcomb benchlands, as well as anyone owning or operating a tourism related business outside of the “resort land” who chose to join. According to Land Company President Terry Minger, the WRA would function not unlike a shopping centre merchants association or a tenants organization.

Once completed, the WRA was also in charge of operations at the Whistler Conference Centre. Whistler Question Collection.

For the first few years, the WRA was expected to be funded mainly by the WVLC and contributions from the operators of Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain, organizations who would also make up the majority of the board positions. The proposed budget for their first year of operations was set at $500,000.

Though some had expected the WRA to begin operating as early as late 1979, its bylaws first had to be approved by the provincial government. In March 1980, the Whistler Council voted to receive the new Resort Association Bylaws. By May 1980, all that the Whistler Question had to report was that no statement had been issued by the WVLC, the Council, or the province regarding the passage of the bylaws. Finally, by July 1980, the bylaws of the WRA had been approved and the association could move forward.

The WRA used federal government student employment programs in the early 1980s to provide entertainment in the village, offer tours, and work at the information booth. Whistler Question Collection.

The WRA quickly got to work hiring staff, such as their first executive director Karl Crosby, setting up systems, and marketing the resort of Whistler to the world. There were some challenges in their early years, such as a recession, continued construction, competing demands of members, and various changes in management (past general manager Peter Alder once said that for a period the WRA “went through managers like they went through coffees in the morning”) but the WRA remained a visible force promoting Whistler. They set up information booths at travel displays outside Whistler, coordinated visits for tour operators and conference organizers to show that Whistler was capable of, produced maps and directional signs in the valley, helped sponsor events such as the Fall Festival, Winterfest, and the first street entertainment program, and in 1981 introduced Whistler’s first mascot, a marmot named Willie Whistler. By 1986, membership of the WRA had grown to over 600 entities.

The WRA continues to operate in Whistler, promoting Whistler as a destination resort, operating a computerized central reservation system, and more, though today they are much better known as Tourism Whistler.

Whistler’s First Mayor

Pat Carleton became Whistler’s first mayor in 1975 and served four terms until 1982.  Born in Langley, BC in 1920, Carleton was not a career politician.  He played trombone as a band member of the Royal Air Force auxiliaries in World War II and then made a career as a coffee salesman for 25 years.

Kay and Pat enjoy a toast from the goblets given to them at a surprise party on April 3 to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

In 1956, Carleton’s neighbour Ted Harris told him about Alta Lake.  Harris and Carleton went on a weekend fishing trip and stayed at Jordan’s Lodge.  Carleton and his wife Kay later built a cabin along Alpha Lake and in 1958 and, after he retired in 1971, moved to their cabin to live full time.

Kay recalled their first winter at the cabin as a record snowfall.  They thought if they left at any point they wouldn’t be able to get back to Alta Lake until spring, so they stayed full time with no running water and wood heat, which Kay did not particularly enjoy.

A sunny summer day and lush new landscaping – Mayor Pat Carleton and his wife Kay take advantage of Whistler at its finest to enjoy a stroll through Town Centre.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Being retired left Pat Carleton with a lot of free time.  He became very active with the Chamber of Commerce, the Rate Payers Association, and the Technical Planning Committee, as well as participating in community life.  Carleton was also active in advocating for a local government and, when the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act was passed in 1975, he was one of two residents to run for mayor.

Paul Burrows, who later founded the Whistler Question with his wife Jane, ran against Carleton for mayor but lost with 103 votes to Carleton’s 185.  Whistler’s first council was also elected at this time, which included Garry Watson, John Hetherington and Bob Bishop.  Al Raine was appointed to council by the provincial government.  Burrows described Carleton as very conservative, fair and well-liked.  The area previously known as Alta Lake became officially called Whistler at Carleton’s inauguration.

Pat Carleton, ex-mayor of Whistler, came out of the closet Sunday to join aldermanic candidates Paul Burrows and Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in celebrating the official opening of Whistler’s new municipal hall. Whistler Question Collection, 1984.

In the early stages the council had nowhere to meet and the Carletons offered up their home for some of their meetings.  According to Hetherington, Carleton was instrumental in dealing with the provincial and federal governments to tackle obstacles that faced the development of the resort, such as the lack of a sewer system.

The first council looked to other ski areas in North America to learn from how they had developed.  Carleton wasn’t a skier, but this allowed him to see different needs for the village that others might have overlooked.

Carleton ran for mayor again in 1978 and 1980, unopposed both times.  During his years in office he can be credited with the accomplishments of upgrading the telephone system, a local weather office, the post office, and the train station.  Over the years Carleton spent a lot of time in Victoria keeping ministers informed about what was happening at Whistler.  He worked seven days a week and even remembered holding a council meeting over radio phone during one of his trips to Victoria.

Whistler’s first council. Left to Right: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce (municipal clerk & treasurer), Pat Carleton, John Hetherington, Garry Watson

The Carleton Lodge was named after Pat Carleton by a developer from Vancouver during the construction of Whistler Village and a plaque was made in tribute to Carleton that was placed in the hotel’s lobby.

Carleton retired from public office in 1982 and spent nine more years in Whistler before moving to Chilliwack with Kay.  In 1985 he was awarded the Freedom of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, one of only eight people to have been given the honour.

Pat Carleton passed away in 2004 at the age of 84, but will always be remembered for his legacy in Whistler.