Tag Archives: Whistler Question

Fire in Function Junction

A few weeks ago during our Speaker Series on journalism in Whistler, technical difficulties unfortunately prevented a question being asked about a fire that destroyed the production office of The Whistler Question in Function Junction in 1991. As we weren’t able to learn more about the fire from the knowledgeable people at the speaker event, both presenting and in the audience, we thought we’d start by taking a quick look at what the Question had to say about it.

The fire was actually only one of two large fires in Whistler on Friday, January 18, 1991. At Rainbow the building housing Rainbow Rentals, Rainbow Paint and Supply, Whistler Woodheat, Whistler Welding, Allan May Project Management and the truck division of Budget Rent-A-Car also had a fire. As there were no hydrants in the area and the building contained tanks of propane, oxygen and acetylene as well as cans of oil-based paints and industrial solvents, the decision was made that it was too dangerous for firefighters to go into the building. Instead, the highway was closed and the building was allowed to burn.

The rubble left after the Rainbow fire burned out, including a woodstove. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

In Function Junction, around 2:30 am, Kevin Swanlund was the only employee in the building that housed Yurrop Trading, Mountain Crests, the kitchen of The Gourmet, Little Mountain Bakery, and the Question production office when he noticed a fire. Swanlund attempted to put out the fire with an extinguisher but it kept coming back stronger. His actions alerted Carrie Waller and her daughter Amanda, who lived in the apartment upstairs, to the fire. The pair found the stairwell blocked but were able to use a ladder to climb down from the balcony.

Fire Chief Tony Evans described the fire as “a tough one to fight,” though the fire department responded promptly and were able to control the fire. A fire hydrant on the property was not connected to the municipal water system and had reportedly frozen, though luckily there were municipal hydrants nearby. The fire department did not confirm a cause of the fire, but were able to say that it appeared to have started near the building’s electrical panel.

The Whistler Question production office after the fire. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

By the time the Question came out the next Thursday, most of the businesses affected already had plans to reopen. Jan Holmberg, who owned the building and co-owned Yurrop Trading and Mountain Crests, told the Question that Mountain Crests had already located an embroidery machine in Seattle and rented space in another building and would soon be at half their usual production. Rick and Doris Matthews, the co-owners of The Gourmet, had begun cooking at home and in another kitchen while setting up in another Function Junction building, though they expected that for the next month they would be able to produce only about half of their “signature products.” Luckily for The Gourmet, most of their kitchen equipment was saved.

The co-owners of Little Mountain Bakery, Pierre LePage and Andy Schoni, both decided to use the fire as an opportunity for short vacations before beginning operations at 1212 Alpha Lake Road in February. Like The Gourmet, most of Little Mountain Bakery’s equipment was saved but the bakery lost all of their supplies.

Patrick Sarrazin helps baker Andy Schoni clean up trays after the fire at Little Mountain Bakery. Whistler Question Collection, 1991.

The Question production office was not burned but was heavily damaged by smoke and water. The Question lost computers, a laser printer, a photocopier, darkroom equipment, and five years worth of irreplaceable photographs. The paper was able to set up a temporary office in the Blackcomb Ski Club cabin and, thanks to the help of Rick Clare, Whistler Printing and Blackcomb Lodge, were able to stick to their normal publishing schedule.

The fires of January 18, 1991, affected eleven businesses in Whistler in Rainbow and Function Junction, though most were able to reopen. Firefighters were able to save a collection of negatives from 1978 to 1985 from the fire. Thanks to Question photographer Brian Smith, these negatives were restored and are now housed in the archives where the Whistler Question Collection is an invaluable resource that is used almost daily at the Whistler Museum. The Whistler Question Collection now includes photographs of different facets of life in the Whistler area from 1978 to 1986 and from 1991 to 1996. Unfortunately, due to the photographs lost in the fire the years between 1986 and 1991 are not as well represented.

Whistler’s Answers: April 15, 1982

In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Some context for this week’s question: A major recession hit North America in late 1981, with interest rates reaching up to 20%. While some buildings in the Whistler Village were completed, much of the first phase was still under construction. Work on some properties stalled but other businesses, such as the Delta Mountain Inn, moved forward with their plans to open. At the time the Whistler Village Land Corporation (WVLC) was left with debts of almost $8 million, liabilities around $30 million, and land assets that nobody would buy. In 1983 the provincial government stepped in and formed Whistler Land Co. Developments, a Crown corporation, to take over the liabilities and assets of the WVLC, but in early 1982 Whistler’s economic future was still unsure.

Question: How has the current economic situation affected you?

Pat Kelly – Real Estate Agent – Whistler Cay

It would be safe to say that given the current real estate market, my income has been quite affected.

The real estate market, which my income is tied to is inactive right now. My guess is that the volume is at least half of what it was last year.

But I’m going to hang in there. I can see certain potential here that others may not be able to.

Diane Robb – Waitress – Gondola Area

Actually, it hasn’t really affected me. But then it’s hard to tell as I haven’t worked all winter because I’ve been travelling.

At the restaurant, people are still tipping at least 15 per-cent. And with the turn out there is for skiing, you know people must have money.

Things can’t be too rough – Whistler had a record day Friday.

Denver Snider – Mons Towing – Emerald Estates

Well, it hasn’t affected me yet. I feel the economic conditions in this valley will depend not on the ability to work, but on the willingness to go out and work.

It’s true. I just bought another dump truck.

Don Willoughby – Businessman – Alpine Meadows

Well, the price of golf balls has gone up.

“Fast” Eddy – Union Construction Worker – Alta Vista

It hasn’t affected me at all because I wasn’t one of the morons who balked at the business agent from the union hall who came up here to give us jobs.

Now I’m still working, but I know of a lot of other contractors who are sucking wind.

Susan Nielsen – Bookkeeper – Whistler Cay

I haven’t felt any negative effects of the economic situation because there is a good demand for my type of work in Whistler.

However, if I had to move to Vancouver and find a job there things would probably be much different.

Whistler’s Answers: April 1, 1982

We’re starting something new on the Whistorical blog!  In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer).  Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1982.  Please note, all names/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.

Question: What type of activities would you like to see in Whistler this summer? Why?

Mike Culwell – Logger – Alpine Meadows

I’d really like to see them get a baseball field together.  We’ve got a team now, but there’s no place to play.

Outdoor concerts on the mountaintop would be a great idea. It might be a bit of a hassle to figure out how to do it, but it definitely would be worth it.

I’d also like to see organized outdoor barbeques.

Heather MacLeod – Deli Clerk – Alta Vista

I would like to see a sailing regatta, 10-speed cycling races, and a few organized ‘fun runs’. Something that would be really popular would be local outdoor dances.

We need the type of activities that gets the whole community involved together and gives everyone something to do besides handing around in bars.

Min Carter – Waitress – Alta Vista

Horseback riding, definitely, because there’s nothing nicer than riding horses through the mountains. I’d like to see organized overnight rides up into the hills complete with tents and packs.

The biggest thing we lack here is getting things organized. We’ve got almost everything else.

Frank Switzer – Bartender – Gondola Area

We need more support from the whole town for existing athletes in the form of providing both enthusiasm and facilities. People know that sports exist here – why don’t they push a little harder to develop them?

I think the Town Centre should support the fastball league a little better. Who knows? Someday this town could compete on a national or international level in a variety of sports.

Harry Carman – Unemployed – Adventures West

It’s an outdoor area, so I want to see fishing and baseball. One thing we definitely need is horseback riding, which I hear they’re going to be starting soon.

They also need to build more hiking trails because it’s such a beautiful area, people should be able to explore and enjoy it more.

Also, we need more access to the lakes around here.

Paul Roche – Unemployed – Alpine Meadows

We need some community organization. I’d like to see organized hikes and outings into the back country, and tournaments for baseball or soccer – any activities which generate a community feeling and allow people to get to know each other in ways other than working together.

We need more in the way of public facilities like tennis and racquet ball courts.

One good project would be the restoration of the rec centre.

Our Next Virtual Speaker Series – Looking Back at Journalism in Whistler!

Our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series is back at 7pm on Thursday, March 25 with a look at how journalism in Whistler has changed with Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett, and Clare Ogilvie.  Whistler has been served by multiple publications with varying aims since the 1970s despite a relatively small population, but how did it all get started?

You can attend our 2021 Speaker Series events on Zoom for free by registering here or contacting us at the Whistler Museum.  Events feature interviews with our speakers followed by a live (virtual) Q&A with the speakers and audience.

Our Virtual Speaker Series is being held using Zoom.  To attend the event, you do not need to have a Zoom account or a camera on your device.  If you register through the Eventbrite link, you will be able to attend the event through the online event page on Eventbrite.  If you register by contacting us directly at the museum, we will send you a link to the event via email.  You can then attend simply by clicking on the link after 6:55 pm on the day of the event.  If you have any questions about attending any of our Virtual Speaker Series, please contact us!

We are also excited to announce that the traveling exhibit Land of Thundering Snow from the Revelstoke Museum & Archives has been extended through Saturday, April 17th!  If you haven’t been able to see it yet, you now have over two extra weeks to fit in a visit to the museum!

Learning to Ski with Ski-ed

Each week we really enjoy sharing stories, events and photos from Whistler’s past through the Museum Musings column in Pique Newsmagazine.  This column offers a way to share far more stories than would be possible in our physical building.  In 1980, another Whistler institution had its own column in another Whistler newspaper, the Whistler Question, that they used to share knowledge and information each week.  This was “Get Ski-ed on Blackcomb,” written by various employees of Blackcomb Mountain.

In preparation for the official opening of Blackcomb Mountain in December, the first “Get Ski-ed” column was published in the early fall of 1980.  Though the main purpose of the column was stated as “to keep you informed on the most up-to-date skiing ideas and hints to further your skiing education,” the column also offered a way to introduce members of the Blackcomb team and new programs to the public.

Dennis Hansen, the first director of Ski-ed, poses outside the temporary Blackcomb offices. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

“Get Ski-ed” was kicked off by Dennis Hansen, a 29 year old Level 4 instructor who had previously worked at the Grouse Mountain Ski School.  He joined Blackcomb as the director of Ski-ed, “a new focus on ski education offering programs for everyone.”  Hansen shared his tips for getting in shape before the winter season, stating that getting in shape by skiing was not recommended.  Conveniently, this article coincided with the introduction of a “Get fit for skiing” program for adults offered by Ski-ed.

Running or jogging was the preferred way of getting in shape for Bob Fulton, the assistant director of Ski-ed.  He recommended varying your running rout to prevent boredom, using a run as a chance to take in the scenery around Whistler’s many trails.

Jose (Pepo) Hanff shows off some the Blackcomb uniform pieces featuring the original Blackcomb logo. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Over October and November, Fulton and Hansen shared tips for buying equipment (“The most important part of your equipment for any level of skier is your boots.”) and maintaining current equipment.   From minor ski tuning to how to wax skis, they encouraged skiers to prepare for the upcoming season and continue taking care of their equipment throughout the season.

In total, seven of Blackcomb Mountain’s “Ski Pros” were introduced through the Whistler Question column by the end of 1980.  Linda Turcot and Jose (Pepo) Hanff discussed the Molstar Race program for recreational racers and how to start racing as an adult skier.  Rob McSkimming offered tips for skiing smoothly with less effort, taking inspiration from Swedish racer Ingemar Stenmark.  Jani Sutherland, Ski-ed’s Kids Specialist, gave parents helpful tips for getting their kids ready for ski lessons.  Her advice included such practical matters as ensuring they were send to a lesson with Chapstick, Kleenex, and contact information for a parent in the pockets.  Sutherland also provided information about buying equipment for children and advised parents to pay attention to their own form when skiing, as children learn through imitation.

Cathy MacLean thought that one of the most important parts of learning to ski was mastering the chairlift. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Perhaps the most practical advice provided by “Get Ski-ed” column that year was from full-time Ski Pro Cathy MacLean, who wrote her article about how to ride a chairlift.  According to MacLean, “first thing to do is try to find a person who has ridden a chairlift before, and is willing to go up with you.”

At the time, the “Get Ski-ed” column, like the earlier articles by Jim McConkey in Garibaldi’s Whistler News, blended advice, information, and promotion of Blackcomb Mountain’s events and programs.  Today, however, they offer insight into changes in equipment technology, the teaching of skiing, and even the individuals who worked at Blackcomb Mountain in its first year of operations.

Blackcomb’s First Season

Back in September the museum posted a series of photos on social media picturing some of the activity taking place on Blackcomb Mountain as they prepared to open for their first season in December 1980.  One comment made on the photos made clear that their first season wasn’t necessarily all that Blackcomb had hoped it would be, point out “except it didn’t snow.”  Unfortunately for Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, this was true for most of the early winter season.

The 1980/81 season didn’t start out too badly.  On December 4th, when Pat Carleton cut the ribbon on Lift 2 with a chainsaw, there was snow in the valley and the weather looked promising.  The new triple chairs to reach the top of Blackcomb were operating and skiers were able to end their day with a piece of the 5 m cake and draw prizes.  According to Hugh Smythe, the mountain enjoyed “phenomenal skiing for three weeks” and then it started to rain.

The opening ceremonies on Blackcomb Mountain had promising snow and skiers lined up to ride the new lifts. Greg Griffith Collection.

The Whistler Question reported that it began raining in the region on December 24, 1980, and it was still raining towards the end of January 1981.  Sections of the highway between Whistler and Squamish were washed on by heavy rains twice in that period, first on December 26 and again on January 21, cutting Whistler and Pemberton off from the Lower Mainland except by train or helicopter.  Within Whistler, Alpine Meadows was cut off from the rest of the town when 19 Mile Creek flooded its banks.  All this rain might not have been too terrible for the ski season, except that the rain was accompanied by unseasonably warm temperatures (at one point in January the temperature in Whistler was recorded as 5°C).  On January 8, 1981 the Question editorial stated, “As you look out of the window on January 6 it looks more like May 6 with little or no snow in the valley and only a minimum coverage above 4,500 ft.”

The rains did damage to more than just the snow – bridges, including this rail bridge over Rutherford Creek, were washed away. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The holiday season, usually one of the busiest times of year in Whistler, saw only 20% of its usual volume.  Blackcomb employees delivered newsletters throughout the subdivisions in the valley to let people know that Blackcomb Mountain was open for skiing but bad press coverage of the weather did not encourage skiers to visit.

Whistler Mountain was able to continue operating (or, some might say “limped along”) through January, but Blackcomb shut down operations and laid off staff temporarily because there was not enough snow to get skiers up to Lift 4 and Lift 3 was not designed for downloading.  Blackcomb tried grooming the runs on Lift 4 and moving snow onto the road that led to the top of Lift 2, enabling skiers to ski down to the bottom of Lift 3 before downloading.  They even borrowed snow making equipment from Grouse Mountain, who reportedly did not open at all that season, but the warm temperatures made it impossible to keep or make enough snow.

After the highway washed out a second time, BCR saw an increased demand for passenger cars. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Blackcomb Mountain was able to reopen later in the season and by March there was consistently snow on the mountains.  Blackcomb has gone on to operate for 39 successful seasons and, this December, will celebrate their 40th anniversary (fingers crossed without the rain).

Photographs and the WCA

Throughout 2018, the Whistler Museum’s blog, Whistorical, published a weekly feature called “This Week in Photos” (find all the posts here).  We had recently finished scanning the Whistler Question collection of photos from 1978 to 1985 and used the photos (which were helpfully arranged by their week of publication) to illustrate what was happening in Whistler in a particular week for each year the collection covered.  Most photos that had been published in the paper were catalogued with captions that helped provide context but for some photos you need to go to copies of the Question to understand what’s pictured.  One such photo can be seen here:

Crowds begin to mass for the Town Centre rally organized by the Whistler Contractors Association. Over 300 people took part in the rally and march through Town Centre.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The image of a protest in front of a partially constructed Town Centre was published in the week of September 11, 1980 but the story behind it can be found in the Question throughout that year.  The first report of tensions around Town Centre construction projects in found in an editorial from June 5, 1980.  The dispute was mainly over whether the Town Centre was considered an integrated site, allowing both union and non-union workers to work on the different parcels, or a common site, allowing the Town Centre developers to employ only union workers.  There were four parcels being built by non-union contractors at the time.

The Labour Relations Board (LRB) had been asked to make a decision on the matter.  On June 11, the Whistler Contractors Association (WCA), headed by Doug O’Mara, attended the talks with a letter from Mayor Pat Carleton and the rest of Council expressing a desire to keep the Town Centre as an integrated site, allowing the independent contractors of the WCA to continue working there.

This seemed to be the main question in Whistler that summer. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The LRB chose not to make a ruling at that time and construction of the Town Centre by both union and non-union workers continued over the summer, though there was still tension.

Over the August long weekend the unions did stop work for a day, leading to what the Question described as “an extra long weekend.”  However, the Question editorial staff were confident enough that the construction season would end without a major disruption that they published an editorial on August 21 thanking those who had kept the Town Centre moving and claiming “we’re fairly confident that the relative harmony that has existed over the area for the summer will extend into the fall.”  One week later, on August 28, approximately 200 union workers walked off the Town Centre site.  This action began another hearing of the LRB beginning September 3.

The rally pictured was quickly organized by the WCA and took place on September 4.  Over 300 people turned out to support the WCA and signed a petition to be taken to the LRB.  The rally also attracted media attention and interviews with O’Mara, Nancy Greene, and other contractors were aired on CBC and CKVU and featured on the front page of the Province.

The WCA led media and supporters on a walk through the Town Centre showing just how much work was still to be completed. Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

The talks with the LRB continued for almost two weeks while the remaining construction season got shorter.  On September 15, the LRB announced that they needed to investigate the issue further and would send two officials to Whistler.  In the meantime, the Town Centre was to be treated as an integrated site.

Work resumed on the Town Centre over the next week, just in time for the Premier and Cabinet to visit, but the dispute did not end there.  The LRB announced on December 2 that, effective January 1, 1981, the Town Centre would be considered a common site, excluding the Whistler Golf Course and work on Blackcomb Mountain, which opened just two days later.  The WCA stated that they would appeal the decision, but Mayor Carleton was not hopeful the decision would be reversed.

Though looking through the Question doesn’t always provide the whole story behind a photograph, it often helps provide some context.