Tag Archives: school opening

School Days in Whistler

The community of Whistler has undergone many changes in the last hundred or so years, and nowhere is this more evident than in our elementary schools.

When the first non-indigenous settlers began to make their homes around Alta Lake in the early twentieth century, there was no school- no infrastructure at all, in fact. The first school was built in 1931 as a community effort. Over $300 was raised from the small collection of residents- impressive at a time when a litre of milk cost ten cents! The Alta Lake School was fairly bare-bones.  It was warmed by an iron stove and had a nearby creek as a water source and gas lamps for light.

ARTICLE ALTA LAKE SCHOOL ACCESS WMA_P88_001 R JARDINE

Whistler’s first class photo, at Alta Lake School in 1933. Photo: Jardine Collection.

Ten students had to attend in order for the school to be funded by the government.  Only nine were then available at the time, so one boy, Jack Jardine, was persuaded to come for a half-day every week. Teachers today dream of small class sizes but this lack of students became the Alta Lake School’s curse. The school would close in 1946, reopen in 1951, close in 1962, reopen in 1964 and close for good in 1970 as families moved in and out and the number of children fluctuated. One teacher, Mel Carrico, was even hired on the condition that his four children attend the school.

As the permanent population grew following the opening of Whistler Mountain, the school was able to stop it’s constant reopening and closing. In 1976 a new school named Myrtle Philip School was built at today’s location of the Delta Village Suites. Though it opened with only 57 students, the students soon began to outgrow the school and an addition and then eight portables were added.  In 1992 the students were moved to the new Myrtle Philip Community School at its current location on Lorimer Road.

The first Myrtle Philip School at the beginning of the school year, 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection.

Whistler was now faced with a constantly growing student population. In 1999, Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half the school’s population. Anyone who’s had class in a portable can tell you that while fine on paper, they’re not ideal – they’re small, are often too hot or too cold, and have no water supply (especially noticeable when walking out to the washroom in a blizzard). Grade 7s  had been moved to Whistler Secondary when it opened in 1996 and soon the high school was in need of portables too. It was decided that a second elementary school was needed, and in 2001 the Howe Sound School Board began to draw boundaries for catchments of the two schools.

This resulted in some conflict – the new school needed half the youth of Whistler to attend, but not everyone lived with easy access to Spring Creek and there were worries about longer commutes and more cars on the road. Boundaries were eventually decided on and building could commence.

This wasn’t as simple as it sounded. The school was initially slated to open September 2001, but this was pushed back multiple times- first to September 2002,  then January 2003, then again to November 2003, then finally January 2004, as funding was secured and construction completed.

The wait was worth it. The new school boasted new science and art rooms, a computer lab, a well-stocked library, and, after a few years, a French Immersion program.

Spring Creek Elementary, Whistler’s newest school.  Photo: Olivia Brocklehurst.

Finding ten children to attend school in Whistler is no longer a problem. Whistler’s students now attend four elementary schools – Myrtle Philip, Spring Creek, École la passerelle and the Whistler Waldorf School. Even now discussions are beginning again about the possibility of a new school as Spring Creek. From the days of one-room schoolhouses to multiple school buildings, education in Whistler has certainly changed, though it remans an important part of community life.

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20 Years of Whistler Secondary School

Whistler Secondary School has a central role in the Whistler community.  This school, along with the many extracurricular activities offered in Whistler, is the basis to encouraging the athletic, creative and academic minds that flourish in this town.  It’s hard to imagine that just over twenty years ago there was no secondary school in Whistler.  Instead, the 135 students from Grade 8 to 12 had to make a 70km round trip to Pemberton Secondary School every day.

Whistler Secondary School at the time of its opening in 1996 – if you look today you might find it a bit larger.

Due to this unnecessary and inconvenient commute, funding of $12,095,987.00 was confirmed in 1994 for the building of Whistler’s own secondary school.  This budget accounted for 200 students, leaving a bit of wiggle room from the 135 who currently made the commute.  However, in the summer of 1996, just before the school was to open, enrollment had reached 315.  There had been plans to physically expand the school in the coming years, but no had expected the space to be needed quite so soon.  This left each student about $20 short in funding, particularly affecting the Grade 11 and 12 students.

The money fell short when it came to upper year science courses and the necessary equipment for laboratory experiments.   The district asked the ministry to make up the difference but with late notice it was questionable whether the ministry could help in time for the coming year.  The Howe Sound District refused to let Whistler’s students be at a disadvantage.  In the meantime, they planned to either permission to loan money from the bank or, if need be, send the Grade 11 and 12 students back to Pemberton for the year.

This unexpected abundance of students left Principal Rick Smith in a bit of a bind.  Instead of solely preparing the school for its opening, he was left with the task of hiring extra teachers.  This principal was cut out for his job and made do with what they had.  When Whistler Secondary School opened on September 3, 1996, you wouldn’t have guessed that they stretched their budget over the length of the school.

The grand opening of the school included mounties and fruit hats courtesy of Colours on Key.

Resourcefulness was key with this new school, which was set to take full use of every space they had.  A good example of this was the room that branched from the school entrance which they named the Multi-Purpose Room.  This space was to be used as both a classroom and a lunchroom.  Anything that needed a big open space, such as assemblies, was held in the gymnasium.  Making use of every space they had still left the school with less space than students.  To make up that last deficit in space, they parked four portables behind the school to hold various classes (these remained in use for almost ten years).

Despite the budget hiccup, the school and its students were not at any disadvantage.  There was a library stacked with books, an adjoining glass-enclosed computer lab featuring 20 internet-linked terminals, and 10 tv monitors spread throughout the classrooms.  Many of these features were only possible because of the many generous donations to the school from various companies in the community.  The home-ec room was equipped with fridges and stoves and the art room with five potting wheels and a kiln to make sure that no student’s interests were ignored.  The issue with science equipment was bypassed and one lab had the usual gas, water and dissection capabilities for chemistry and biology.  As well as these physical accessories, the school was well equipped with programs.  There was an up and coming work-experience program for the Grade 11 and 12 students.  Instead of working for pay, this program have students real employee experience for school credit.  Since Whistler is home to many sports and activities, this high school also planned to work with athletes’ schedules.  They developed programs for skiers and other athletes to make sure they remained caught up in their schooling.

What is a school without students?

Whistler Secondary has come a long way since it opened just over 20 years ago.  The most notable changes are the physical developments of the school.  After a few years the school expanded the multi-purpose room, getting rid of the portable classrooms.  They also replaced the computers, stocked the library with more books and built an entire new wing with new classrooms.  As well as the physical changes to the school, there have been athletic and academic advancements at Whistler Secondary every year since it opened.  The school has grown to offer programs and experiences that could not be offered anywhere except our beautiful valley.

Article by Sierra Wells.  Sierra graduated from Whistler Secondary School in 2016 and is currently a student at Queen’s University.