Tag Archives: Village construction

Myrtle Philip: School and Community Centre

Looking through the photographs of The Whistler Question one thing that sticks out is how many of the photographs were taken at the same venues.

It makes sense – the Village was still under construction for many of the years covered by The Question Collection and indoor venue options were limited in the late 1970s.  One of the locations that shows up again and again is the first Myrtle Philip Elementary School.

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

Myrtle Philip School, originally located about where the Delta Suites sits today, first opened its doors in 1976.  Prior to its opening, students from the Whistler area attended school in Pemberton after the Alta Lake School closed in 1970.

Unlike the Alta Lake School, which in 1956 had excited students with its indoor plumbing and uneven playing field, Myrtle Philip School was a modern elementary school.  It had six classrooms, a gym, lunchroom, library, computer lab, offices, a full-size playing field, tennis courts and an ice stock sliding area.

It was obviously built with room to grow; in 1976 the school had 57 students and three teachers (including Roger Griffin, who was also the principal).

The new school had also been built with the growing community in mind.  The Squamish Lillooet Regional District contributed $300,000 to the school for a larger gym and common facilities that were to be used by the community as a whole.  From the photographs, it certainly looks like these spaces were put to good use.

The Community Club Craft Fair held in the Myrtle Philip School gym, December 1978. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

As well as school activities, such as Christmas and spring concerts, the annual science fair, awards ceremonies and sporting events, Myrtle Philip School also hosted meetings (of the business, political and Brownie varieties), art exhibitions, dances, performances and even elections (you can see Myrtle Philip vote in Myrtle Philip School in the Week of November 26, 1978).

A community meeting in the gym gets a unanimous verdict in January, 1979. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

Before the construction of the conference centre, the gym was the setting for the European Dinner Dance as well as performances by the Squamish Youth Chorale and Dave Murray’s retirement party.  Some events were both school and community events, such as Myrtle’s Hoedown Showdown held in 1991 to celebrate what would have been Myrtle Philip’s 100th birthday.

A spring baseball game on the field of Myrtle Philip School in May, 1980. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

As Whistler is generally a pretty active community it’s not surprising that the school and its facilities were often used for soccer matches, baseball games, ice stock sliding practice and dance classes (photos of both Debbie Gurlach’s jazz dance class and the Squamish Youth Chorale’s performance of The Day He Wore My Crown can be seen in the Week of April 18, 1983).  The school gym was also the site of Whistler Mountain Ski Club ski swaps and community markets.

By the late 1980s enrollment at Myrtle Philip School had grown to 250 students and by 1991 the school had eight portables, a type of classroom many Whistler students would be familiar with through the early 2000s.

In 1979 Myrtle Philip School and the firehall were two of the few finished buildings in the Village. Photo: Whistler Question Collection

In 1987, only ten years after the school had opened, the Howe Sound School Board had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school.  The second Myrtle Philip School on Lorimer Road opened in September 1992 and also included community spaces.

Although the first Myrtle Philip School only operated for fifteen years it provided an important space for a growing community to gather and many classes, community groups and community programs continue to operate out of school spaces today.

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Creating the Consummate Ski Village

Building on the post from two week’s ago which examined some of the key influences that informed landscape architect Eldon Beck’s design for Whistler Village, now we will delve deeper into some of the challenges and happy surprises that came to light during the actual construction of the village.

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As Beck recalls, though he had a lot of support and leeway in crafting an initial design true to his personal vision, getting it built was a different story.

Probably the biggest [challenge] was that the various designers with their projects, the architects, were used to doing stand-alone buildings… The requirement that they subordinate their individuality to the totality of the Village was really hard for many to comprehend. We’d set it up, and that’s why we required models. We wanted to see how the models would fit together. We’d get one model, stick it by another, you’d see it didn’t match. We’d talk with them and say, “Can’t you make your roof form fit, can’t you make this happen?” We lost all of those battles.

My first reaction when they were built was to walk around I got probably 40 or 50 slides of mistakes. So I took pictures of all these things that didn’t quite fit. A couple of years later I did the same thing and said, “Well those are really pretty nice.” It was almost the mistakes of not fitting that became human. It was more real and more human because of the imperfections rather than controlled perfection. It was interesting. I had to flip my mind around and say, “Oh, that’s kind of neat.” That really looks like [several] people did it instead of being totally controlled. But that was the big one. Their understanding that they were subordinate to the Village totality was hard for most designers to comprehend.

And so in his typically philosophical manner, Beck learned that relinquishing some control could actually enhance his vision.

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However, not all the unplanned changes pleased him. One notable concern he continues to raise is the impact of some of the larger buildings in the village:

I have not been consulted on any of those. I’ve been consulted on most new things in the Village, revisions within the Village… The problem with the big buildings, when they become vertical, they lose the relationship with the pedestrian level.

Independent-minded builders and excess verticality weren’t the only unforeseen challenges to attaining Beck’s vision. In late 1981, as the village was mid-construction, a massive recession brought much of the work in progress to a halt. Though the provincial government bailed out the village construction, the building environment changed substantially. As Beck recalls,

It is interesting ‘cause it was almost the opposite to the question on over-planning… The controls were eased thinking that by golly if someone can come in and build something, go right ahead. Don’t worry so much about the regulations. So as dearly as I love Al [Raine] and Nancy [Greene], I think that the roof form on their building [Nancy Greene Lodge] was absolutely wrong. And I think it was at that point the Carleton Lodge was built. And I think that violated one of the early premises that that was the town living room. In early plans it was a two-story building, low in profile, so that when you came up the street you could see the mountains. Instead it became a big old block at the end of the street. So the whole west side of Village Stroll I thought was pretty badly compromised by that period of time.

Still, Beck is very satisfied with the final outcome. We’ll conclude with some of Beck’s favourite aspects of the village, as recounted two decades after its initial construction:

Probably the thing that’s most consistent actually is the spatial framework, the pedestrian framework of the Village has really survived. It was organized around views, so as walk at the end of the place, you see a mountain. So the structure of the Village really grew out of that view. That has remained and I think that’s been the thing that’s made it really work very well.

I think Village Square is superb. The scale is right, the life is right, it really works. From there going back, Skier’s Approach to Village Commons, I think that’s probably one of the nicest sections in terms of scale… So I keep pointing back to that one section, saying that’s really what the objective was. I think Village Square is a magical place, it really works well.

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Whistler Village Influences

If the twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains put our town on the map, then Whistler Village is what keeps it there. It didn’t come together overnight; there were more than a few hiccups along the way, but to this day the village remains one of the defining features of our resort.

In the past we shared some stories from Eldon Beck, the lead architect responsible for the Village’s design. With this post we will delve a bit deeper into Beck’s creative process and the physical reality that it resulted in.

Despite the naturalistic approach, a lot of thought got crammed into Beck's initial designs.

Despite the naturalistic approach, a lot of thought got crammed into Beck’s initial designs.

When asked about the main influences on his design, Beck first pointed to his success in redesigning the village at Vail, Colorado.

My professional training is in landscape architecture…  In 1972 my firm was hired by the town of Vail to do an overall community master plan… It finally turned into resolving horrendous issues they had about traffic and servicing in their village, so the task was to make it a pedestrian village. So I worked for them as their prime consultant for about six years, from 1972-1978. That really was the bulk of my early mountain planning experience.

It was on the heels of this successful transformation of Vail into a more pedestrian-centric place that Beck was solicited for the new Whistler Village.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Unsurprisingly he took a similar approach here, to similar success, scrapping the original, grid-style design for his more flee-flowing traffic-free village. Continuing to describe how his work at Vail carried through to Whistler:

Vail did have a fairly important influence, mostly Bridge Street. The shape of the street actually was almost exactly what the shape of the valley suggested.

Going back further, Beck referred to where most influences in the ski world draw from, the Alps…

I’d done a fair amount of European traveling in the mountains, and I was fascinated by villages for a long, long, long time. So both Wengen and Interlaken [in Switzerland were major influences]. I took a lot of pictures there and I used parts of both of them. One as a pedestrian town and the other as a symbol of what a village was with the picture of shops on the ground floor and then the people who own the shops living above it. And so that was kind of the pattern, that’s the historic look of what a village is… The European villages all were shaped by the land. They didn’t violate the land. So to me that was very important. In our continent we tend to dominate the land. We don’t respect it as we should.

And so the Village adopted Beck’s more environmentally oriented design style.

This amazing scale model was produced to help visualize and plan the village before building. Note the planned hockey arena that instead ended up being the Conference Centre.

This amazing scale model was produced to help visualize and plan the village before building. Note the planned hockey arena that instead ended up being the Conference Centre.

The Village Stroll was intended to mimic the meandering curves of a flowing stream. Like an actual river, major bends in the route were conceived as eddies, incorporating open plazas where people could take a breather and watch the flow of traffic stream by.

The meanderings were intentional because, even though they weren’t direct or efficient like a grid, that wasn’t the point. Tourists weren’t here for business, Beck reasoned, but to relax, so a little happy confusion was sprinkled into the design. He wanted people to be able get a little lost in the village and wander aimlessly.

Practical considerations were not lost on Beck however; the village still needed to function. Logistical features such as the commercial loading bays, underground parking, hotel entrances and so on were tucked into back alleys in the Stroll’s many folds, hidden from view to keep the noise and distraction away from the pedestrian zones.

Recognize this spot?

Recognize this spot?

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In next week’s post we’ll return to Beck and his reminiscences about the village’s construction and how the reality matched his vision.