Extensive (excessive?) development. Cutting-edge facilities. Running Water. It’s easy to take Whistler as we know it today for granted. With these mountains, these lakes, this snow, how could things have turned out otherwise? But it doesn’t work that way.
Everything around us is a product of the past. Stuff happens, and usually, people are behind it.
One of the most influential figures in the early development of what eventually became Whistler was the strong-willed and gregarious Polish immigrant Walter Zebrowski.
Zebrowski’s WW2-era skis now rest in the Whistler Museum Archives.
Born in Skierniewice, Poland in 1913, Zebrowski was uprooted from his quiet, small-town life as a soldier during World War 2. This fascinating story is far too long to tell here (his book-length biography In Search of Freedom is available at the museum for those curious for more details), but it led him from Poland to Portugal, England to Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Egypt and many points in between. By war’s end he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, escaped from the Nazis twice, and received various medals and awards from Poland, Britain, France, and Italy. Of special note to mountain-folk, he specialized in mountain warfare and many of his exploits were carried out on skis.
After the war, rather than return to communist Poland, Zebrowski traveled to Canada’s west coast to establish a new life. From 1948 until 1964 he lived in Burnaby with his wife Hanka and his daughter Eva, establishing a successful chicken farm among other business ventures.
His new home allowed him to re-visit his love of the mountains, often visiting the North Shore and Garibaldi Park. It was during one of his frequent ski trips to Diamond Head Chalet (near today’s Elfin Lakes huts) that he developed his vision for the potential development of a ski resort in the southern Coast Mountains.
Beginning in the early 1960s he began exploring for suitable lands. By 1962 he began winding down his farm and was preparing to move to the mountains, having purchased lots around where Creekside is today. Keep in mind that Whistler Mountain didn’t begin ski operations until February 1966 (some call this luck or “right place, right time”; others call it vision.)
Walter makes an appearance in the Squamish Citizen, circa 1985.
Over the next three decades Zebrowski was one of the most active developers in the Whistler Valley. He started out alone in the woods, clearing the land and building roads with his bulldozer. By the time he was done he had developed most of today’s Nordic Estates neighborhood, played a central role in the establishment of the Whistler Water Works, the volunteer fire department, the Whistler Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and even brought television to the valley for the first time. If you’re outside, look up to the top of Sproatt Mountain where you can see his tv-signal repeater station.
Of all his contributions to Whistler my personal favourite is the beautiful Eva Lake Park. Dedicated to his daughter, this pocket of wilderness hidden in the middle of Nordic was actually fully landscaped by Walter while doubtful onlookers watched in puzzlement. He even stocked the lake with trout, which, despite the naysayers, continue to thrive in the small pond to this day. Reading, writing, or merely soaking in the solitude is my favourite “quiet time” activity this town has to offer.
Still at it at 80!
A relentless booster of Whistler, his influence extended far beyond his own projects. Passionate and outspoken, he never hesitated to offer his opinion in all aspects of the community. His philanthropy extended to many local organizations including the museum, and his commemorative scholarship supports youth who exemplify his ideals citizenship. One of Whistler’s earliest champions, Walter Zebrowski passed away in 1996 but his legacy continues to thrive, built into the very landscape of his adopted home.
Walter feeding the fish at Eva Lake Park.