Tag Archives: Resort Municipality of Whistler

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 Phillip 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.

Completing the Library

This is the third and final instalment of a brief history of the Whistler Public Library. Find Part One here and Part Two here.

When the Whistler Public Library (WPL) opened January 1995 in its portable location on Main Street, it more than doubled its space and was able to expand its collection and services. By the end of the year, visits had also more than doubled to 50,000 and the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA) was already looking ahead to a new location.

WPL offered patrons more than the opportunity to borrow books. The new library had two public access computers that, for a charge, could be used for Internet access and word-processing. Patrons could also take home cassettes, CDs, videos, and magazines and the library continued to offer popular programs such as storytimes and summer reading club. The increased usage of the library and constantly growing collection meant that WPL grew out of its temporary space quickly.

Patrons check out a display at the entrance to the Whistler Public Library after moving to the portables doubled the available space. Whistler Question Collection, 1996.

The lot on which the library portables were placed had been set aside for parking and the library was meant to move into a permanent location by 1999. The WPLA and staff expected to stay in the portables on Main Street for only three to five years. In October 1995, WPLA board members attended a Building Planning Workshop, followed by a community workshop in November. Anne Townley, then the chair of the WPLA, said it was important to gather comments from community members and library patrons as “the Whistler library should be tailored to Whistler needs.” As an example of one such need, Townley mentioned that many people lived in “cramped quarters” and may be coming to the library because they didn’t have any place at home in which they could read or work quietly. At the November meeting, the WPLA was told that, to the community, the library was a space for “research, socialization, relaxation and education” and a “cornerstone of the community.”

Despite early planning, fundraising efforts, and a lot of hard work, the library remained in the portables past the 1999 deadline. Plans for the building went through various changes before the groundbreaking ceremony in 2005. In 1996, the WPLA and Whistler Museum and Archives Society formed a Joint Building Committee and went so far as to present plans for a shared building to Council before parting ways in 2003. In 1997, the WPLA voted to become a municipal library. When millennium projects were announced in 1998, the municipality chose to make the library building its project, though it was delayed until after the completion of the community project (a new Whistler Skiers’ Chapel facility) to avoid direct competition. Finally, plans were confirmed and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in June 2005.

Stories were often told in the children’s area of the portable library building. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

Changes were made not only to building plans over this time, but also to the library portables. By 2000, the combination of multiple leaks and carpeted floors led to complaints from library patrons of a slight smell of mildew, though it did not stop library usage from continuing to grow. In the summer of 2001, the Municipal Building Department added an additional layer of shelves on top of the present stacks and then added new shelves to the children’s area that winter. To hold their growing collection in preparation for a new building, the library purchased a storage container in 2002.

To familiarize the community with the new building, the building plans for painted onto the parking lot outside the portables and patrons were able to wander (or play tag) through the future spaces of the library. Delays and cost increases related to a boom in construction, however, meant that they were not able to see the physical spaces until 2008.

TThe parking lot in front of the library and museum portables was used to show the scale and layout of the new library building.. Photo: Whistler Public Library

January 6, 2008, marked the last day of library operations in the portables. On January 13, patrons took part in Books on the Move, where a long line of community members moved one book each onto shelves in the new building (the rest of the books were then moved by a professional moving company). Just days before the official opening and ribbon cutting on January 26, library staff were still cataloguing and shelving books while electricians finished working around them.

Just like in 1995, library usage increased by over 100% during its first year in the new (and current) building. The library continues to grow its collection and programs each year and adapt to meet community needs.

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.