Tag Archives: Village construction

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.

Turning 40 in the Whistler Village

The past few months have seen various businesses reach 40 years, including Whistler Magazine, Blackcomb Mountain, and even The Grocery Store just last week.  This is not surprising, as at the beginning of the 1980s Whistler was undergoing huge changes and growth.  The first buildings of the Whistler Village were being completed and, in turn, the first Whistler Village businesses were beginning to open to the public.

While many of the original Village businesses have changed over the past four decades, some have been constant fixtures, like Tapley’s Pub.

Tapley’s Pub during its first week of operations.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The Windwhistle Building was one of the first lots to be completed in the Whistler Village, along with the Hearthstone Lodge, the Rainbow Building, and Blackcomb Lodge.  The plans for the building included a somewhat semi-circular shaped space just off Village Square that would house the Village’s first bar.  During construction, one of the more notable features of the building was the copper pillars that, on a clear day, reflected the sun.

An artistic view of Tapley’s under construction. George Benjamin Collection.

Tapley’s original opening date of January 23, 1981, was delayed when a section of Highway 99 at Culliton Creek was washed out on January 21.  The road reopened on January 26 and, on January 29, Tapley’s Pub opened for business.

The Tapley’s crowd enjoy a few brews in the sun on Sunday, March 1. Photo by Greg D’Amico.  Whistler Question Collection.

Opening day was presided over by John (J.R.) Reynolds, Tapley’s first proprietor, who reportedly looked “relieved that it had all finally come into place.”  All staff were on hand to welcome both local residents and visitors.  According to the Whistler Question, staff included Roland Kentel, Geoff Fisher, Ross Morben, Al Mattson, Rod MacLeod, Steve McGowan, Sheryl, Nancy, Kim, Heather, and Janet (we are not sure why reports of the opening did not include last names for female staff, but would appreciate anyone who could help us fill them in).  The day got off to a quiet start at 11 am but steadily filled as people came for beer, snacks, and darts, leading to a packed house by closing time.

Tapley’s was one of many businesses to open in the Whistler Village in 1981.  Just a couple of weeks later, Stoney’s opened on February 14, occupying the space now home to La Bocca.  Co-owned by Dick Gibbons, Jack Cram, and Lance Fletcher, Stoney’s was the first business of Gibbons’ to open in the Village.  The Longhorn Saloon, his second, would open by the end of the year.  Like Tapley’s the Longhorn is still operating in the Village today, though it looks a little different.  The two businesses are now connected, as Tapley’s Pub was taken over by Gibbons Hospitality in 2004.

Owner Dick Gibbons (left) and designer Gilbert Konqui lend a hand getting the Longhorn ready for action. Located in Carleton Lodge in the Village, the 250-seat restaurant is ready to serve you a drink and a quick, hot meal.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The last forty years have certainly seen some changes at Tapley’s.  Looking at early photos from 1981, the many windows provided views straight to Sproatt and Whistler Mountain, views that have since been blocked by further construction of the Village and the Whistler Conference Centre.  While the copper pillars are still there, other parts of the decor and furniture have changed along with the view and a smoking lounge built in 2000 has evolved into a large patio area.  Keep an eye out over the next few months and years as more and more of Whistler’s businesses and organizations, founded during a decade of incredible changes, reach new milestones.

Opening the Delta Mountain Inn

A while ago the museum received a donation of a scrapbook from the Fairmont Chateau detailing the construction and opening of what is still Whistler’s largest hotel.  Before the Chateau, however, another big hotel built in Whistler opened July 23, 1982: the Delta Mountain Inn.

Mountain Inn – as it’s been for two months. New construction should start soon.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The planning process for the Mountain Inn began 40 years ago as Whistler Village was just beginning to take shape.  The hotel was the dream of Peter Gregory of Maple Leaf Developments Ltd., the owners and developers of the property.  Gregory’s previous experience lay mostly in the lumber and sawmill industry and the Mountain Inn was his first foray into the hotel industry.

The foundations for this $25 million project were poured in 1980, while Gregory was still selling the idea to Delta Hotels.  The brand was initially skeptical about the project because of the strata title ownership structure of most hotels in Whistler.  Delta was concerned the restricted use of the unit owners would disrupt the smooth operation of a hotel but were convinced to come on board over the course of two years.

In the spring of 1982, when the Delta Mountain Inn was nearing completion, the Whistler Question reported the project to be the “largest building ever constructed at Whistler.”  The building included retail space, five conference rooms, ski storage, tennis courts, two whirlpools, an exercise room, an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant named Twigs, an “entertainment lounge” called Stumps, and more than 160 hotel suites.

The Twigs patio at the Delta Mountain Inn looks busy on a sunny summer afternoon.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

The suites were categorized into three different layouts.  The A suites consisted of a single room with kitchen, living and sleeping areas; B suites included a separate bedroom and six foot jacuzzi; nine C suites featured a bedroom, separate dining area, two fireplaces, and a double jacuzzi.  One owner paid $600,000 (just under $1.5 million today when adjusted for inflation) for the creation of a D suite, a 2800 sq ft combination of a B and a C suite with a few walls removed.

John Pope, the Mountain Inn’s first general manager, described opening a new hotel as similar to a ship’s maiden voyage.  The first few weeks are full of learning experiences and then it is “full steam ahead.”  Over the spring and summer of 1982, Pope had the task of hiring and training a full staff to service the hotel and the customers who had already booked nights.  Staff from other Delta hotels were to be loaned to the Mountain Inn for the first week of operations, but after that they were on their own.

One of the first customers makes an inquiry at the reception desk of the newly opened Delta Mountain Inn last Friday.  Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

Though the opening of the Delta Mountain Inn was counted as a great success, the summer of 1982 was not the easiest time for Whistler.  The opening took place the same week that the sudden wind down of the Whistler Village Land Co. made headlines in Vancouver, headlines that would reportedly “make one think the gates to Whistler have been locked forever and someone has thrown away the key.”  Whistler was feeling the effects of an international recession, including high interest rates, inflation and high rates of unemployment across Canada.

Despite the timing, people in Whistler were optimistic.  When asked by the Question what they thought of the opening, local residents Lance Fletcher, Keith Inkster and Don Beverley all expected the convention facilities and nationally recognized name to help drive business to the resort.  Their expectations proved correct over the following years and in 1987 a $13 million second phase of the development was built, including 126 more suites, new tennis courts and expanded retail and commercial space.  This expansion completed the structure that is such a familiar view in Mountain Square today.