Tag Archives: sustainability

Green Talks, July 3rd: Is Waste Incineration in our Future?

Is a waste-to-energy incineration plant, like this one in Burnaby, in the Sea-to-Sky's future?

Is a waste-to-energy incineration plant, like this one in Burnaby, in the Sea-to-Sky’s future?

Energy, waste, recycling, land-use planning, carbon emissions, air quality, climate change… The topic of producing electricity through burning our garbage touches on many of the key environmental issues of our time. Not surprisingly, it is also quite polarizing.

There is significant movement surrounding the potential of bringing a waste incineration plant to the Sea-to-Sky (click on the photo above to link through to a relevant newspaper article).

Should we embrace this as an opportunity to produce sustainable, quasi-renewable energy? Or should we fight like hell to protect the air we breathe? IPPs and asphalt plants have already proven that these are two hot-button concerns for our region. So naturally, one should be as informed as possible.

Come on down to the Whistler Museum on Wednesday, July 3rd for the latest installment of the bi-monthly Green Talks series, organized by AWARE. The FREE talk features local environmental professional Sue Maxwell, and promises to be important, informative, and most likely contentious as well. Afterwards, everyone is encouraged to join AWARE regulars for a round of Green Drinks at Black’s Pub.

When: Wednesday, July 3rd, 6:30pm – 8:00pm

Where: Whistler Museum (4333 Main Street, behind the library)

How Much: FREE (donations to AWARE encouraged)

Why: Because it’s important!!!! 

Presenter’s Bio: Sue Maxwell is the principal of Ecoinspire. She holds an MA degree in Environment and Management from Royal Roads University with a thesis topic of Zero Waste, as well as a B. Sc. In collaboration with teams, she has developed the program plans for the first phase of the LightRecycle fluorescent lamp stewardship program and Unplugged, the small appliance recycling program and seen them through to program implementation on time and on budget. A thorough understanding of EPR in BC is complemented by knowledge of waste reduction programs and experience implementing recycling and composting programs within the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. She co-authored Closing the Loop –Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Creating Green Jobs Through Zero Waste in BC and recently she was part of a team with EBA developing a Zero Waste Strategy for the Resort Municipality of Whistler. She is a Whistler resident and has gained a solid understanding of the local solid waste system through volunteering on the Whistler 2020 Materials and Solid Waste Task Force, the Whistler Official Community Plan Community Advisory Group and the Squamish Lillooet Regional District Plan Monitoring Advisory Committee. Other volunteer roles have been on the Board of the Recycling Council of BC and its policy committee, and with various Zero Waste and sustainability projects. She has also taken courses in the Natural Step (Level I) and Community Based Social Marketing (basic and advanced).

Bringing the environment into the mainstream: Ken Melamed, AWARE in the 1990s

Ken photo 1

Last week we wrote a post about the early history of local environmental group AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment). We wrote the piece, in part, to promote this month’s Speaker Series featuring long-time environmentalist, former AWARE president, and former Whistler mayor Ken Melamed. Well, last Wednesday Ken delivered some great insights into the history of local environmental movements in the Whistler Valley, so we’ll follow up with some more AWARE history.

One of the great things about Ken’s talk was the broad perspective he brought and his insights into the political processes that informed the development of the Whistler Valley over the years. As a dedicated grassroots environmentalist and a successful politician, he was able to provide excellent context for why specific project and initiatives went forward while others were stopped.

First, lets’ go to Ken, and hear his explanation of one of the key turning points in our valley’s environmental history in the early 1990s:

One lesson he made very clear in the question and discussion session at the end of the night, was “It is always better to be at the table.” What he meant by this was, though it might entail challenging and discouraging compromise, you can always have more influence when you are involved in top-level discussions. Once Ken was elected to municipal council in 1996, he could be far more effective in trying to ensure environmental protection went hand-in-hand with the valley’s continued development.

One such victory was the protection of the Emerald Forest in 1997. Ken expressed disappointment with the compromise which led to some development of the sensitive wetlands, and feels that they could have gone into the development bargaining more aggressively than they did, he still is proud of the fact that only a few acres of the roughly 140-acre parcel were developed. If the original plan to develop the entire area had gone through, Ken asserted, “it would have been an environmental catastrophe.”

As Ken and council started to get serious about habitat conservation and putting intelligent controls on rampant development, AWARE became entangled in its most contentious campaign to date. The story is too long, twisted, and involving to fully recount here, but essentially, major protests sprung up in opposition to the logging of newly discovered old-growth stands in the upper Elaho Valley. Some of the Douglas Firs were estimated at 1300 years old! The activists (from both AWARE and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee) were dedicated to preserving these ancient stands, but some of the loggers were just as dedicated to doing their jobs. Things turned ugly, and violent clashes at logging road blockades actually led to jail time for some of the worst perpetrators. Despite the ugliness (perhaps, in part, because of it), today, the old-growth stands are protected, as well as recognized as a Squamish Nation Wild Spirit Place.

For a more detailed account of the story, read local biologist Bob Brett’s take on the Elaho Old Growth forests from June 2000.

At the same time, AWARE was becoming stretched too thin by the Elaho campaign, and numerous other interests that its membership was pursuing. It was time to take stock of the situation…

AWARE.: definitely not a WASTE

With Ken Melamed’s  upcoming speaker series on the history of habitat conservation in the Whistler Valley, we figured it was an opportune time to look into the history of AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment) the local environmental advocacy group that Ken played a formative role in during the 1990s.

AWARE’s origins cold not be any more grassroots; in October 1988 Michelle Bush (still in Whistler today, best known as a  Village Host and as a stage actor/performing artist) was ankle deep in junk mail at the post office, and couldn’t believe that pristine BC forests were being cut down just to create this waste. Instead of shrugging it off, Michelle placed a classified ad inviting anyone and everyone who was similarly fed up.

Roughly 15 people showed up at Citta’s that autumn day to talk about the lack of recycling in Whistler, and to figure out a solution.  They realized pretty quickly that they were going to need a name for their fledgling group. Two witty acronyms were considered: “Whistler Association to Save The Environment” had a nice ring to it, but the acronym WASTE was too negative sounding, so they opted for AWARE.

Fitzsimmons Creek is one of several important habitat areas in the Whistler Valley, protected thanks to AWARE's environmental advocacy. Bob Brett photo.

Fitzsimmons Creek is one of several important habitat areas in the Whistler Valley, protected thanks to AWARE’s environmental advocacy. Bob Brett photo.

An Earth Day fundraiser was organized for that April (a band named Zumac headlined) and the money raised went towards a municipal waste management study. It took some effort convincing the more “old school” administrators at muni hall, but, with the help of now-retired municipal official Cliff Jennings (who was part of the original AWARE group but had to back out due to conflict of interest with his muni position), Whistler’s first municipal recycling system came on board through the early 1990s.

In 1990 Ken Melamed became AWARE’s president, and with the success of its recycling campaign, the organization’s focus shifted to habitat conservation. Coinciding with North American economic recovery starting in the late 1980s, this period saw another boom cycle of development in the valley. Vancouver-based Intrawest entered the Whistler scene, Upper Village was built, and development proposals were expanding throughout the valley.

And thus, AWARE took it upon themselves to act as stewards of our valley’s important wildlife habitat and sensitive ecosystems. It was these prominent environmental campaigns that helped lead Ken (and others) into an even more prominent role in local politics as a councillor and later mayor. But we’ll let Ken tell that part of the story.

Make sure to pick up tickets before this sells event out, it promises to be a compelling and informative presentation. We’ll check back in next Saturday with a recap of Ken’s talk, and we’ll continue this story with some of AWARE’s more recent work.

Mar 2013 SS Poster-small


When: Wednesday, March 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum
Who: 19+
Cost: $7 regular price, $5 for museum members

To purchase tickets (seating is limited), call the Whistler Museum at 604.932.2019, or visit us at 4333 Main Street, just behind the library.

There will be a cash bar featuring the Whistler Brewing Company and Jackson Triggs Wines, as well as complimentary coffee served courtesy of the Whistler Roasting Company and teas from Namasthé.

Speaker Series – Ken Melamed on Whistler’s Conservation History

A mallard duck enjoys some of Whistler's prime wetland. Photo: Bob Brett

A mallard duck enjoys some of Whistler’s prime wetland. Photo: Bob Brett

It is easy to take Whistler’s natural splendour for granted. A closer look, however, reveals that it is only thanks to a number of thoughtful, committed people that so much has been preserved for future generations. One of these figures is Ken Melamed.

Ken moved here in 1976 to live the ski bum’s life as a young patroller. Since Ken has called Whistler home since before the village was built and we became a global destination, he’s witnessed first-hand this valley’s massive development in the intervening decades.

Meanwhile, the environmental movement was gathering momentum around the globe, and so did it gain prominence in Whistler as well. Sustained, and, at times, reckless development throughout the 1980s increasingly galvanized residents around the need to fight back to protect our local environment.

One of the many wetlands that AWARE has helped protect over the years. Photo: Bob Brett

One of the many wetlands that AWARE has helped protect over the years. Photo: Bob Brett

Ken was at the forefront of this grassroots awakening, helping found the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) in 1989. AWARE soon took on several key habitat protection initiatives such as the Emerald Forest, Fitzsimmons Fan, and, most controversially, old-growth forest stands in the Elaho Valley.

Ken Melamed

Ken Melamed

It was Ken’s environmental advocacy that raised his profile in the community and led him into municipal politics as a councilor in 1996, then mayor in 2005. Throughout this period he continued to champion principles of sustainability and leveraged Whistler’s growing profile to extend our community’s environmental influence well beyond municipal confines.

Always an engaging speaker, for his presentation Ken will return to his environmentalist roots, providing an insider’s perspective on the major conservation campaigns that he contributed to over the years. This evening presents a chance to learn the back story of our local environmental movement and engage in a discussion of what the future might hold for our region’s natural spaces. Please join us for this enlightening session.


Mar 2013 SS Poster - small

When: Wednesday, March 20th; Doors at 6pm, show 7pm-9pm
Where: Whistler Museum
Who: 19+
Cost: $7 regular price, $5 for museum members
Saving the forest and the trees (and the marshes, and the meadows…)

To purchase tickets (seating is limited), call the Whistler Museum at 604.932.2019, or visit us at 4333 Main Street, just behind the library.

There will be a cash bar featuring the Whistler Brewing Company and Jackson Triggs Wines, as well as complimentary coffee served courtesy of the Whistler Roasting Company and teas from Namasthé.


Presenter’s Bio: Since 1976 Ken Melamed has been active in the mountain resort community of Whistler. Ken was a founding director and president of the local environment group AWARE, municipal councilor, and mayor. He led the community through a period of intense strategic planning and rigorous pursuit to sustainability principles, guided Whistler 2020, the community’s long-term sustainability vision, for which he was a principle champion. Ken was born in Philadelphia, became a Canadian in 1971, is married and has two sons. He is an avid mountain biker, skier, speaks French and plays guitar.

About Whistler Museum’s Speaker Series: More than mere repositories of old stuff, museums are institutions of ideas, venues where communities share, debate, and explore their thoughts on the world at large. To that end the Whistler Museum hosts regular Speaker Series events featuring presentations on a diversity of subjects: from the usual suspects of mountain culture and adventure travel, to the environment, design, current events, and beyond. These events are hosted on the third Wednesday of the month, October through April (minus December), and present the perfect opportunity for locals and visitors alike to encounter compelling stories in a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. All Speaker Series events have a cash bar and are 19+.

Changing Seasons – Harvest Time

Wow. And just like that, it’s Autumn. In a matter of days everyone went from lounging at the beach to excitedly gossiping about snow at the Roundhouse, ski-movie premieres and the upcoming La Nina redux.

For our valley’s pioneer-era residents the end of summer was an equally momentous event, but for completely different reasons.

In Alta Lake’ early days, there were no grocery stores or farmer’s markets. Shipping fresh food up from Vancouver was expensive and unreliable, so Alta Lake residents procured as much food locally as possible.

Fresh vegetables were especially hard to import, so virtually everyone had a large garden. Today fresh local produce is treated like a delicacy; back then it was the norm. All summer long residents and visitors alike dined on greens mere yards from where they were plucked from the rich valley-bottom soil.

Where Myrtle grew the greens that kept Rainbow Lodge guests happy.

The alluvial fan between Nita and Alpha Lakes, near where Nita Lake Lodge is today, was one of the best growing sites. In the 1920s Harry Horstman had a small farm there, whose produce he sold throughout the Alta Lake community. Russ Jordan bought most of this land from Horstman, building Jordan’s Lodge (pictured here) in 1931. Jordan maintained a large orderly garden to help provision his guests.

Needless to say, winter was a different story. To fend off culinary boredom (not to mention scurvy), locals spent much of the fall preparing produce to keep through the cold, deep winter.

Most year-round residents kept root cellars, something which our Pembertonian friends are familiar with. With no refrigerator, Parkhurst Mill housewife Eleanor Kitteringham depended on this vital household appliance to keep her family well fed:

There was a door cut in our floor in the kitchen, with a leather handle to lift an stairs going down under our house to put potatoes, carrots, cabbages, etc. in, as well as shelves for canned goods.

Demonstrating pioneer-era resourcefulness, Eleanor remarked how the root cellar “also made a great dark room to develop pictures in.”

Much of the canned and pickled goods were produced locally, preserving excess produce drawn from backyard gardens. The museum has a recorded interview with Myrtle Philip, describing her preferred techniques for making jams and jellies (these were made primarily with boxes of Okanagan-grown fruit).

Myrtle made jams from wild, local berries, crabapples, peaches and much more. It turns out Myrtle thought most people used too much sugar, and that she preferred jellies to jams (jellies have the seeds and pulp strained out using cheesecloth).  The most remarkable aspect of the interview is that Myrtle was making apricot jam while the interview was being recorded in 1982, at the ripe old age of 91!

Today we take such things as fresh pineapples in February for granted. Back in the day, if you didn’t work for it, you didn’t get it. With the recent “locavorian” resurgence, however, people are becoming reconnected to the hard work and dedication needed to bring nature’s abundance to our dining room table.

With our region’s agricultural renaissance in full swing, there’s no excuse for missing out. The easiest way to sample fresh, organic produce (of course, all farming was organic before the twentieth-century advent of chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and of the glorious creations by our community’s many talented culinary artisans–many of whom employ traditional food-preparation techniques–is at the Whistler Farmer’s Market. The market will keep running every Sunday until October 9th. Don’t miss out!

Appreciating Whistler’s Cemetery

Earlier this summer after an outing to Rainbow Park some of us museum folk paid a visit to the Whistler Cemetery. None of us had ever been so we figured it would be a good opportunity to see this oft-forgotten but integral local landmark.

Cemeteries provide historical researchers with a wealth of useful information that can often be hard to find elsewhere. Rows of gravestones offer reliable data such as people’s full names, places of birth, years of death, etc. Examining gravestone design and cemetery layout can provide clues regarding religion and class structure in a community, among other things.

I was especially interested as my academic background is in environmental history, a field concerned with not only the history of our landscapes, but the history in our landscapes as well.

At first I was surprised by how few grave sites there were. With some thought I recognized that over the years most local people remained connected to their places of birth, or chose to retire elsewhere; only in recent decades have people been born “Whistlerites.” The fact that grave markers were greatly outnumbered by still-unoccupied spaces, perhaps more than anything else, expresses just how young this community is.

Of course, cemeteries don’t only record useful data, they are hugely important community institutions. By paying tribute to our loved ones in an enduring, often highly personal manner, they preserve memories and emotion in their rawest, most human form.

With this in mind, I was equally struck by the landscape design of the cemetery as a whole.

It is refreshingly modest and incredibly peaceful in there.

There are no standing gravestones, only ground-level plaques to mark individual burials. In one corner there is a garden with some stone structures to house urns, as well as a separate meandering path through the forest along which ashes may be scattered. This simplicity and consistency in design ensures that nothing is overshadowed by larger monuments. Everyone has their place.

A simple, but fitting Eulogy for Myrtle.

By all accounts, Seppo was the man.

A few days after our visit, I was pedaling up the Westside Road, tired but content after a solo, late-evening trail ride. As I approached the cemetery turnoff, a hulking mule deer suddenly appeared ahead, staring intently at me over his shoulder. Ignoring my impulse to stop, I instead geared down but kept moving, the deer and I remaining locked in an intensely quiet gaze. Finally, after I had passed the deer and the distance between us grew, he turned his head and calmly wandered into the forest towards the ash-scatter garden.

The deer was at home.

As I rode off, I gained an even deeper appreciation of our community’s cemetery. This thoughtful landmark modestly commemorates  Whistler’s past without  disturbing its present. The local wildlife are far more rooted here than us human folk, after all. An inspiring model of sustainability, and a fitting tribute to past loved ones, one might say.

At the Whistler Cemetery new generations draw strength from memories of our past.