Tag Archives: Whistler Community Arts Council

Whistler’s First Children’s Festival

In a town known for festivals featuring mountain bikes, snowsports, and fine dining, you might be surprised to learn that the longest running festival in Whistler began as a way to expose local and visiting children to different forms of visual and performing arts.

The first Whistler Children’s Art Festival was held in 1983, just one year after the Whistler Community Arts Council (now known as Arts Whistler, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year!) was formed in 1982. In February 1983, the Arts Council began planning for what they hoped would be the first of many Children’s Art Festivals. Over the next few months, a committee of fourteen volunteers led by Margaret Long spent many hours planning for the two-day event.

The planning committee of volunteers meets to plan the 1995 Whistler Children’s Art Festival. Whistler Question Collection, 1995.

The first festival was a combination of hands-on workshops, performances, and author readings, as well as an art show at Blackcomb Lodge featuring works for children by professional artists. Over June 18 and 19, children could attend 38 workshop sessions at Myrtle Philip School, then located next to the Whistler Village. The workshops were mainly led by artists and instructors from Whistler and Vancouver and included pottery, banner making, mask making, photography, writing, and, of course, painting and sketching with Isobel MacLaurin. Other activities included face painting, a flower painting contest on the nearby plywood construction fences (in 1983 there were still quite a few lots under construction in the first part of the Village to be developed), readings, karate demonstrations, and performances by the Celestial Circus, Pied Pear, and a children’s choir under the direction of Molly Boyd.

A shirt-printing workshop takes place in Myrtle Philip School during the 1991 Whistler Children’s Art Festival. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

According to Long, all but two of the workshop sessions were filled to capacity and one parent told the Whistler Question that their children were so excited for the festival they barely slept the night before. From the thank yous printed in the local paper after the festival, it was clearly a community event with support from hundreds of volunteers and many of the local businesses.

The success of the first Whistler Children’s Art Festival led to an even bigger festival in 1984. More than 65 workshops were offered for a small fee, including many of the favourites from the year before. Setsuko Hamazaki led an origami workshop while Penny Domries led a graffiti workshop; Arlene Byne taught children how to paint their faces while Cecilia Mavrow taught others about writing poetry. Under the Whistler Resort Association’s brightly striped tent in Village Square, groups listened to stories from authors such as Robert Munsch, Elizabeth Brockmann, Graham Walker, and Linda Lesch and watched acts including the Extraordinary Clown Band and breakdancers in Jane Bailey’s dance company.

A performance takes place in Village Square during the 1985 Whistler Children’s Art Festival. Whistler Question Collection, 1986.

The festival continued to grow throughout he 1980s, though they began to run out of space to hold workshops. In June 1983, the eleventh festival moved to a new location in the new, larger Myrtle Philip School on Lorimer Road where about 130 workshop sessions were offered. In 2005, the festival moved to Creekside and in more recent years (not including the past two, when it has been held online) the festival has returned to the Whistler Village. Though the original school may be long gone, there are still many familiar elements to the festival, which, this year, is taking place over two weekends (that past two weekends, May 21-22 and 28-29).

A Hole in the Village

In the early 1990s, Larco Investments Ltd. had grand plans for their lot in the Whistler Village. The lot, which at the time had been serving as a parking lot for skiers and visitors, was often referred to locally as the Keg Lot, as it was located next to the building that houses the Keg restaurant. Unfortunately, over the summer of 1993, it also became known as the Keg Lot Hole.

David Evans of SCS Engineering checks an anchor in the hold excavated on the Keg Lot. The anchors are designed to ensure the concrete walls of the hole don’t collapse or slump from erosion. Whistler Question Collection, Bonny Makarewicz 1993.

Larco’s original plans for the Keg Lot featured a “bowling and condominium hotel complex,” including three levels of parking, a 24 – 34 lane bowling alley, health and fitness spa, car wash for the use of guests, commercial spaces, a restaurant, and, of course, guest accommodations. All this was to be built over two phases, with the first phase completed by May 1994.

Despite a few hiccups over their building permit, the excavation of the Keg Lot was well underway in July 1993. In order to provide the required 650 parking stalls and other underground spaces, a very large hold was dug. According to one report in the Whistler Question, the lot looked “like the set for a science fiction film,” with an impressively large crater surrounded by “miles” of plywood paneling. In an effort to make the plywood walls more attractive, Marion Harding of the Shepard Gallery and the Whistler Community Arts Council (now known as Arts Whistler) called on residents and visitors alike to decorate the boards. Established and aspiring artists were told they could paint whatever they liked, while being reminded that the panels would be seen by all ages.

Artists at work on panels along the Village Stroll over the summer of 1993. Whistler Question Collection, Kevin Damaskie, 1993.

Rumours and suggestions of problems at the Keg Lot began to circulate not long after the lot was excavated, centering on the Ministry of Environment’s unexpected requirement that a $2.7 million water basin be constructed below the bowling alley. The unforeseen cost led Larco to begin negotiating concessions with the municipality, asking that the RMOW take over construction of part of the parking structure or eliminate some parking stalls, as well as for concessions on the buildings’ design requirements. The municipality did not agree to Larco’s demands, pointing out that they could not be on the hook every time something went wrong with a development. On August 4, 1993, Larco had announced that it was temporarily halting the project until an agreement could be reached. By the next week, it was accepted that the hold would remain as it was until at least the next spring. This presented various problems: the RMOW had begun work on Village Gate Boulevard that depended on the work on the Keg Lot going ahead, the Village area was down a parking lot, and the lot (while not the first hole to be left in the Village) was considered unsightly.

Artist Matthew Bankert works on his submission to the panel competition: Post-Apocalyptic Corn. Whistler Question Collection, Kevin Damaskie, 1993.

While work was stopped on the lot, the artwork on the panels surrounding the Keg Lot continued to grow. By mid-August, about 40 of the 117 panels had already been painted and only six panels were still up for grabs. The subject matter varied: next to the North Shore Credit Union (now Blueshore Financial) was a four-panel rant, outside the Val d’Isere Restaurant (now 21 Steps) a panel featured psychedelically splattered trees, a visiting family from Seattle created a panoramic mountain scene, a local 5-year-old enlisted her family to help paint tulips, and artist Matthew Bankert entitled his piece “Post-Apocalyptic Corn.” By September, it was estimated that over 400 people had worked on the panels. A panel of judges awarded top prizes to Melisa Hardy, for her creation “Woman and a Cat,” and Lauren Collins (Children Under 12) for “Horses and Picket Fence.”

The Keg Lot Hole as it stood in March 1994. Whistler Question Collection, Bonny Makarewicz, 1994.

Construction on the Keg Lot restarted in April 1994 and by the next year there was no longer a large hold. The Whistler Village Centre Holiday Inn held a soft opening in March 1995, with the Hard Rock Cafe (in the space now occupied by Earls) and a bowling alley expected to follow later that year.

Singing Through Whistler’s History

For this week, I decided to write about something that has always defined Whistler for me.  No, not skiing, but choir!

I first came to Whistler with my high school choir for the 2010 Whistler Music Festival, and returned again in 2013.  I joined the Whistler Singers when I came to town last September, and we received a donation at the museum of concert programs, membership lists and song listings from a choir member several months later.  With all this in mind, I set to work scouring the archives for anything that could help construct a history of choirs in Whistler.

The Whistler Singers under the direction of Molly Boyd.  Whistler Question Collection.

The earliest reference found was a photograph of the Myrtle Philip School Choir in the December 20, 1978 edition of The Whistler Question.  As the school had only opened in 1976, this shows that musical education was available from the very early years.

Another Question photo, dating from 1979, shows a group of young vocalists referred to as the “Community Club Christmas Carol singers.”  Various BC choirs gave performances in Whistler in the 1980s, including the Squamish Youth Chorale, a Vancouver a capella group Vox Humana, and the Kildala choir from Kitimat.

Whistler’s first adult choir – the Whistler Singers – began in 1982 with just nine people.  It may have started small, but the members’ shared passion for music would carry them on to become Whistler’s longest-running community arts group.  Welcoming “anyone aged 13 to 113,” it regularly performs at Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve carol services and performs an annual spring concert.

It was an Easter sunrise service without sunshine, but that didn’t stop approximately 80 people from attending the special 7 am service Sunday morning on the shores of Lost Lake. Molly Boyd, playing the organ, led the Whistler Singers who also turned out in full force.  Whistler Question Collection.

In April 2003, the Whistler Singers – now 45 strong – released its debut CD, Ascend.  The album included Canadian classics, folk anthems, traditional scores, and songs in Hungarian, Welsh, Japanese, Korean and Swahili.  Juno-award-winning sound engineer Don Harder lent a hand with the recording and local photographer Leanna Rathkelly designed the album’s cover.  This milestone was celebrated with a release party at the Maury Young Millennium Place (now the Maury Young Arts Centre).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus is another time-honoured staple of the Whistler musical scene.  This group began in 1991 when a Vancouver orchestra performing Noye’s Fludde, an operatic version of the story of Noah’s Ark, sought a children’s choir to sing with them.  Whistler Singers director Molly Boyd rose to the occasion and assembled a group of youngsters aged six and up.  The following year it formally became known as the Whistler Children’s Chorus.  In addition to regularly yearly concerts (including Remembrance Day and Christmas Eve services with the Whistler Singers), the Chorus has performed in Ottawa for the 2002 Canada Day and at events leading up to and including the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games (they got very good at singing O Canada!).

The Whistler Children’s Chorus performing Hakuna Matata, 1995 Photo courtesy Whistler Childrens Chorus

Another children’s choir, the Moving Chords Youth Showchoir, was also active in Whistler in the 1990s.  Information about this group has proved hard to find, but it performed at Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in the summers of 1998 and 1999.  A thank you card from the choir directors to their sponsor, the Whistler Community Arts Council, can be found in the museum’s collection.

Since the turn of the millennium, Whistler has drawn in musical talent from around the world.  Choirs and small vocal ensembles from outside Canada that performed here in the early 2000s included the Cwmback and Dunvant Male Choirs from Wales, the Dursley Male Voice Choir from Gloucestershire, the British quartet Cantabile and Huun Huur-Tu, throat singers from the state of Tuva in Siberia.

Wherever you are from, Whistler is sure to bring a little music to your life.

Holly Peterson is the archival assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract after completing the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Fleming College (Peterborough, Ontario).