Tag Archives: Whistler Village Inn

Fire at The Keg

While cataloguing the Griffith Collection (a collection of roughly 50,000 images donated by photographer Greg Griffith), our Assistant Archivist Stephanie recently came across slides of a fire at The Keg building that we had previously only seen in black and white.

The first Keg in the Whistler valley was opened at Adventures West on Alta Lake in 1974, but when construction of the Whistler Village began in 1979 plans were made to open a new Keg restaurant in the Whistler Village Inn.

When the first Keg building was moved up Lorimer Rd. to become the new Municipal Hall in 1981, the new Keg building was still under construction.  The hotel and restaurant were expected to open by the end of January 1982, in time for the World Cup, and by the beginning of January restaurant staff had already been hired.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department works to contain the fire in The Keg and Whistler Village Inn building. Greg Griffith Collection.

Around 3:30 pm on Wednesday, January 13, 1982, a fire broke out in the building, caused by a leaking propane tank.  The fire started in the restaurant section, spread upwards into the roof and, aided by strong winds, spread across the entire building.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD) worked well into the night.  According to the Whistler Question, they poured water on the building for over seven hours.  Luckily there were no injuries from the fire, but one firefighter was taken to hospital with chest pains and several others were treated for smoke inhalation.

The next week the WVFD sent a whole bundle of roses into the Whistler Question’s “Bricks & Roses” section to thank those who had helped.  The Whistler and Pemberton ambulance crews were present all night, Dr. Christine Rodgers spent the night on call, Terry Rodgers manned the radio, Carol Simmie, Kathy Hicks and Katie Rodgers helped coordinate the effort, and the RCMP provided crowd control.  Members of the Surrey Fire Department and Squamish Fire Department who were in Whistler also came out.

Crowds watch the fire from the Village Stroll. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

As it was January, dry clothing and hot food were greatly appreciated in the -20°C weather.  The Grocery Store opened late to provide food supplies, the Alta Lake Community Club, Stoney’s, the Brass Rail, Tapley’s and The Gourmet all brought coffee and food, and the Blackcomb Lodge offered the use of their dryers.

The fire was contained to the top floor of the hotel section, and most of the building was considered structurally sound on the lower levels, with some damage from water and smoke.  The damage was estimated at $2.5 million.

By mid-February demolition work had already begun.  Smith Brothers & Wilson Construction Ltd. got to work repairing and reconstructing the restaurant and hotel.  Because the Whistler Village Inn was designed in two separate buildings, they were able to open 44 rooms in 1982, but the hotel was missing planned amenities such as a pool, restaurant, and permanent lobby.

Brian Moran, Ken Till, Bob Elliott and John Grills outside the soon-to-be-opened Whistler Keg.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

January 1983 was a busy month, as finishing touches were put on the restaurant and over 100 staff were hired from over 500 applicants.

The Keg was finally able to open on Friday, February 4, with some familiar faces.  Herb Capozzi, a founder of the Keg restaurant chain, was one of the first to be served, and some staff members from The Keg at Adventures West came back, such as Scott Paxton.  Over the first three evenings, the restaurant served over 900 meals.

A face from yesteryear – Scott Paxton, who worked at The Keg at the Mountain many years ago when it was located in Whistler Cay has now resurfaced at the new Keg as the official “bunmaster”. Paxton and fellow employees geared up for the opening night at The Keg Friday, February 4 for another era of Keg lovers.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Though the Whistler Village has expanded and prices may have changed (in 1983 an 8 oz sirloin would cost you $8.95 and highballs at Brandy’s were $1.85), The Keg and Brandy’s continue to occupy the space opened in 1983.

How to reuse a Keg

Whistler has a history of re-using buildings.  You may remember that before the museum building was the museum it was the post office and then the library (if not, you can read about it here).  You may knot know that before Municipal Hall was Municipal Hall the building was a popular restaurant.

In the 1970s building began on the Adventures West Village which was to provide reasonably priced recreational homes and facilities for families year-round on the north end of Alta Lake.  The original plans for the development were impressive, including 250 condominiums and many amenities.  The full plans were never realized, but in the summer of 1974 its most notable amenity opened, a Keg ‘N Cleaver restaurant.

The Keg building at its original location in Adventures West.  Photo: Garibaldi’s  Whistler News

The building was designed by William Dunn and Associates and included a cafeteria meant to serve breakfast and lunch.  The Keg menu included prime rib, sirloin and New York steaks, salmon and lobster, all within a price range of $5.25 to $6.75.

The Keg quickly became one of the social centres of Whistler.  The restaurant doubled as a nightclub with a DJ booth in the rafters and a dance floor below.  live entertainment was brought in some nights and rumour has it that the Keg was the birthplace of Doug and The Slugs, a band who would continue to play in Whistler through the 1980s.

When construction began on the Whistler Village plans were made to open a new Keg in the Whistler Village Inn building.  The Keg at Adventures West closed and the building began preparing for its new life.

Before the Keg could move the old municipal hall building had to be moved off the site. Photo: Whistler Question

Over the May long weekend of 1981, the 90 ft long building serving as municipal hall was removed from Blackcomb Way.  According to the Whistler Questiostaff kept working Thursday afternoon despite no longer having any power or telephone services.  They were out by the time Nickel Bros. Moving moved the building off its foundations later that day.  On Tuesday, May 19 the town hall reopened in Function Junction, with power but no water or telephones.

The three sections of the Keg building ready to go. Photo: Whistler Question

Moving the old town hall was only the first step in the much more complicated process of moving the Keg building, which had to be done in three sections, on Thursday, May 21.

One section of the Keg makes its way slowly up Lorimer Road. Note the rocks blasted off the corner. Photo: Whistler Question

Lorimer Road was closed from 9 am to 3 pm and BC Hydro shut off the power in the neighbourhood.  Crews had blasted off some of the rock on the side of the road but it was still a tight fit.  Telephone lines were taken down and a BC Hydro employee perched on the roof of each section to move the overhead wires as needed.  As the sections moved slowly up the road throughout the day municipal crews stood by to cut down trees if necessary.

Still moving up Lorimer, a BC Hydro employee moves the overhead wires to allow the section to pass below. Photo: Whistler Question

The three sections were left at the entrance to Lorimer Road until 4 am when, just before the sun would be rising, the Keg was moved across the highway and down Village Gate Boulevard to be installed next to the Public Safety building.  More work would be done before the old Keg reopened as our current Municipal Hall.

Another section is moved slowly to Blackcomb Way. Photo: Whistler Question

The new Keg was expected to open in 1982 but was delayed when the building caught fire.  It would be another two years before it was rebuilt and the Keg finally opened in its current location in February 1984.

To see more photos of the Keg building on the move, check the weeks of May 21 & 28 here.