Tag Archives: Squamish-Lillooet Regional District

Building an Identity: Whistler the First Resort Municipality.

When the Resort Municipality of Whistler was incorporated in 1975, the town was a far cry from its beginnings as the small settlement of Alta Lake. Development had transformed the town, now with a permanent population of over 500 people, into a recreational park and ski area with huge touristic appeal This led to competing groups battling out the issue of how best to manage the burgeoning resort town.

Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association pamphlet.

Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association pamphlet.

The composition of the town at this time was made up of a small, local population whose property holdings were dwarfed by non-resident holders: more than 80% of the residences in the town were second homes, mostly belonging to owners in Vancouver. The Provincial Government was also a presence in the area, considering the high quality recreational opportunities an invaluable resource for the province – and investment in their development a means of stimulating the tourism industry in British Columbia. These groups had some very different ideas about what successful advancement would look like for the area. There were non-residents who would be content to see the ski hill remain an under-developed weekend getaway, locals who urgently sought improvement in community resources such as a sewage system and externally-run dump site, and outside investors looking to expand the town’s resort potential, particularly with regards to bed capacity.

1971-1972 Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association sticker

1971-1972 Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association sticker

So who represented the town’s interests in the early ‘70s The Alta Lake Ratepayers’ Association was a committee of residence owners who raised funds in order to seek legal advice and have a voice in local affairs concerning the longevity of the community. They took on responsibility for many local services, one of which was the regulation of the volunteer-run community dump before the incorporation of the municipality. Whistler was governed at regional level by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which had been incorporated in 1968, and at provincial level by the Department of Municipal Affairs. The issue, as the Ratepayers’ saw it, was that property owners were paying taxes to an entity that did not represent them and their needs. For the Regional District and the Province, Whistler’s disperse population could not raise sufficient taxes to support the necessary facilities for its many weekend and seasonal visitors. There were calls for local, self-representative government at many levels, as Whistler continued to emerge as a town with unique needs. interior

The issue of government became more urgent in the face of a bid to host the Winter Olympics in 1976 – if the bid were to prove successful, huge development would take place in the town. In 1974, sensing how crucial the next few years would be for the town and its recreational facilities, the Provincial Government instigated a land freeze and undertook a development study. Their results formed the framework of priorities for a new local government.

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

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

On September 6, 1975 the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the first of its kind, was incorporated by the RMOW Act. This Act bestowed the Council with the duties of law-making and service provision, while also endowing it with the responsibility to “promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.” The Council’s position was to be one that involved a careful balancing of interests between residents, visitors, and investors.

Even after such huge development that has taken place in Whistler up to today – with almost 10,000 permanent residents and over two million visitors annually – the diverse groups that make up the identity of the town have remained much the same. The Council still represents the interests of a local community, second-home owners, and seasonaires, while maintaining Whistler’s status as a destination that draws tourists from all corners of the globe.

-Written by guest blogger, Melinda Muller

A New Kind of Government

Ask about the beginnings of municipal politics in Whistler and two things will unfailingly be mentioned: the year 1975 and the name Pat Carleton.  In the early 1970s Whistler had yet to gain a local governing body.  The area including Whistler was governed directly by the province and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.  Change began in 1974 when the province became interested in developing tourism and enacted a land freeze in the area, preventing private land owners from determining the development of the valley for financial gain.  Their report concluded that a strong local government was the solution.  The result was the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act and the creation of a new kind of government in 1975.

This new resort municipality was to be unlike any other resort or municipality in the country.  Canada had resorts, such as Banff, where a local advisory committee provided guidance to the senior level of government with absolute control over the resort.  Canada also had municipalities.  Whistler’s new governing body was to be unique.  Property owners and residents would elect their own mayor and three aldermen.  What made Whistler different, however, was the fourth alderman, appointed by the province to oversee financial isssues and maintain the interests of the province.

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

 On September 6, 1975, the first municipal council was sworn into office.  The three elected aldermen, Garry Watson, John Hetherington, and Bob Bishop, were joined by Al Raine, the provincial appointee, and these four representatives were led by Whistler’s first mayor, Pat Carleton.

Many residents of Whistler gathered to watch the swearing in of their first elected government by Judge C.I. Walker.  Some, however, were unable to attend the ceremony due to a last minute change in location.  Originally the ceremony was planned to take place at the Roundhouse Lodge on the top of Whistler Mountain.  Free gondola and chairlift rides were provided for those who wished to attend, but some Whistler residents decided to take a more active approach.  Paul and Jane Burrows had hiked up the mountain with their dog to attend the ceremony, unaware that as they were hiking the ceremony had been moved to the base of Whistler Mountain at Creekside.  Paul, president of the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and founder of the Whistler Question, had run against Pat Carleton for mayor and was looking forward to watching Whistler officially gain a municipal government.  Unable to download their dog on a chairlift, the Burrows were sadly unable to get down the mountain in time and missed the swearing in of Whistler’s first aldermen and mayor.

Pat Carleton. Whistler Mayor 1975 – 1982.

Like many before him, Pat Carleton, a coffee salesman, first came to Whistler on a fishing trip in 1956.  He fell in love with the area and built a house on Alpha Lake with his wife, Kay, which the family used for holidays. Pat and Kay retired to their home in Whistler in 1971 and Pat became an active member of the community through the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association. From 1975 to 1982 he served four terms as Whistler’s mayor.

From the get-go council faced a daunting task: to build a resort.  Their plan was to develop a Town Centre on the dump at the base of both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, a goal not made any easier by the valley’s lack of a sewage system and opposition from private land owners who wanted to develop the resort on their own properties. Council had few resources, apart from a gaval presented to the mayor, and no municipal building.  Meetings were held in various locations such as the Carleton’s garage and the lunchroom of Myrtle Philip School.  Despite these difficulties, the municipal governments under Pat worked endlessly to shape Whistler into the resort it is today.

The early development of Whistler did not progress smoothly.  Early in 1976 the community of Whistler and Council agreed upon an official community plan which placed the new Town Centre on top of the dump at the base of both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.  This plan was strongly opposed by private land owners who formed the Whistler Development Association.  Council waited and became frustrated as provincial approval of their plan continued to be withheld.  After less than a year in office, council members voted unanimously to resign if the province refused to support the offical community plan and Pat Carleton, Al Raine, and Garry Watson travelled to Victoria with their resignations in Pat’s pocket.  They met with Municipal Affairs Minister Hugh Curtis who had recently received a delegation from the Whistler Development Association including planners and large fancy model.  Luckily, Curtis had been unimpressed by this proposal and approval was given for the plans of the community.  Whistler’s mayor returned home with the resignations still in his pocket.

Early stages of Whistler Village construction, October 1979.

The first seven years after the incorporation of Whistler as a resort municipality saw dramatic changes to the area.  On August 21, 1978, Pat turned the first sod on the Town Centre site and the construction of today’s Village began.  By then the problem of a sewage system in the valley had mostly been solved in 1977 with the opening of Whistler’s first sewage treatment plant.  At the official opening of Blackcomb Mountain in 1980 Pat was there to do the honours.  The early work of Whistler’s first council and its first mayor was instrumental in creating the resort that Whistler is today.  In September of 1982 Pat Carleton announced he was not going to seek re-election and was succeeded in December by Mark Angus, Whistler’s second mayor.