Tag Archives: Whistler Village

Livening Up the Street

On the mid-to-late 1980s, after working as the Vice-President of Marketing at Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, Mike Hurst began a new position as the acting general manager of the Whistler Resort Association (WRA), known today as Tourism Whistler. While Vancouver had drawn international attention during Expo 86, summers in the Whistler resort were still quite slow, with some businesses even shutting down for the season. According to Hurst, “People would come up to the Village, and they’d come in, and they’d go to a restaurant, and then they’d walk around wondering what to do, and there’d be very little to do.”

In an effort to change this, Hurst contacted Maureen Douglas and Laurel Darnell of Street Access and asked them to organize street entertainment in the Village for the summer of 1987. Though Douglas spent Expo 86 recovering from a broken leg, she was inspired by the “sleeper hit” street performers at the festival and wanted to ensure that talent wasn’t forgotten. She and Darnell formed Street Access Entertainment Society as a non-profit street entertainment booking and development society in September 1986. They were soon contracted to organize three days/week of entertainment in Whistler.

Some acts included combinations of acrobatics and knife juggling. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Each weekend the Village would host performances by jugglers, musicians, comedians, and character actors who roamed the Village Stroll. At the end of the summer, fifteen acts were brought together for the Whistler Street Festival Grand Finale over the Labour Day weekend to compete for a contract to perform at Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia.

The street entertainers from the very first season in 1987. Photo courtesy of Maureen Douglas.

Street Access continued to organize summer street entertainment for the WRA, increasing to four days/week in 1988 and then seven days/week in 1989. The WRA then decided to bring festival and entertainment planning in house and asked Douglas to write a job description and apply. She began working at the WRA and ran the street entertainment program through the 1990s.

The Checkerboard Guy demonstrates how to eat fire on the Village Stroll. Whistler Question Collection, 1992.

According to Douglas, each year’s lineup was made of about 50% returning acts from the Lower Mainland and 50% new or touring acts. One regular act was Carolyn Sadowska, who appeared as Queen Elizabeth II and would instruct visitors on points of etiquette, provide tiaras and props, and pose for photos. Other acts included Fifi Lafluff (“the world’s worst hairdresser”), a cappella groups such as Party Fever, bands like the Mulberry Street Jazz Band, clowns, and comedic jugglers such as the Checkerboard Guy and Mike Battie (whose grand finale involved juggling pins and broccoli, which he proceeded to eat, accompanied by the William Tell Overture). Over the years Douglas also started to hire local musical acts, such as Stephen and Peter Vogler, singing group Colours on Key, and harpist Alison Hunter.

Colours on Key, a local singing group in Whistler. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

By most accounts, the street entertainment program was a big success. Through the 1990s the September festival was renamed Whistler’s Really Big Street Fest and weekly showcases were added to the schedule. Acts were carefully placed throughout the Village, as some could attract audiences of 300 to 400 people. While this was alright in Village Square, in other areas those numbers created gridlock.

Performances could fill Village Square, sometimes even impeding foot traffic. Whistler Question Collection, 1993.

Whistler became part of the street entertainment circuit, joining other festivals across Canada in cities such as Halifax and Edmonton. While some of the other areas offered performers a chance to make a lot of money through busking, the WRA didn’t want the audience to have to pay and instead offered a “working holiday,” with a decent fee, accommodation, wine and cheese get-togethers on Fridays, and time to enjoy summer in Whistler. Douglas remembered that one of the producers of a busking festival once told her, “You know, our one beef with Whistler is that you guys are just too nice. They come here and then we don’t treat them quite as well and they’re miffed.”

Encouraging summer visitors was a large focus of the WRA and Mike Hurst in the mid-to-late 1980s and street entertainment was just one strategy to increase numbers. For many visitors and residents, however, the performers were one of the most memorable parts of their Village experience.

A Disco Comes to Whistler

For decades, many of Whistler’s businesses, including late-night establishments, have been concentrated within the Village. The first nightclub (or, as it was called at the time, disco) to open in the Village was Club 10 forty years ago.

Club 10 opened beneath Stoney’s on Friday, March 6, 1981 in the space most recently occupied by Maxx Fish. The venture was a new one for the owners, Michel Segur and Jean-Jacques Aaron, both of whom operated restaurants in the Lower Mainland (Segur’s Chez Michel continues to operate in West Vancouver today). Club 10 offered music, dancing, some limited food such as cheese plates and quiches, and drinks in Whistler’s “normal, pricy range,” and, by all accounts, was an almost instant success.

The crowd gets out onto the dance floor at Club 10. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

As Club 10 was described as Whistler’s first “real disco,” it’s no surprise that the owners invested in their sound equipment and design, though it appears their aim was not to deafen their patrons. Guy O’Hazza, who installed the club’s sound system, said that, “The sound was not made to be loud, it was made to be clean. It’s directed at the dance floor, so you can still sit at a table and talk.” The system was installed with the capacity to use turntables, but at the time of Club 10’s opening the music relied entirely on cassette tapes. The music itself was varied, ranging from New Wave to swing to country and more.

Mayor Pat Carleton (centre) congratulates Michel Segur (left) and Jean-Jacques Aaron on the opening of their new club. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The interior of Club 10 was designed by Gilbert Konqui, who had also designed Stoney’s and, later that year, would design the interior of The Longhorn. According to Konqui, the design was “ultra modern mixed with funk,” a combination of “funky, fun and relaxed.” From the ceiling hung a combination of art nouveau lights and disco balls, reflecting red and blue lights throughout the space. Decorations included two plaster angels, an eagle above the bar, a wall of books, and a large image of Humphrey Bogart.

The only part of Club 10’s opening that was not a success was the entrance, which was described by the Whistler Question as “a bit disconcerting” and reminiscent of a “somewhat sterile” entry to a warehouse. This problem was quickly solved by hiring Raymond Clements, and artist from Horseshoe Bay, to paint a mural in the stairwell. After three days, the plan walls were covered by mountains, chairlifts, ferries, and palm trees.

The walls of the entrance to Club 10, decorated by Ray Clements. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

Through the 1980s, Club 10 hosted themed parties, fashion shows, and more before being sold, rebought, and then sold to Mitch Garfinkel in 1990. Garfinkel, an attorney from Florida, had plans to open similar bars in various ski resorts under the same name, Garfinkel’s Club 10’s space was redone, replacing painted walls with wood panelling, updating the sound system to play compact discs, and adding a large bar with a fish tank in the centre. In June 1990 Garfinkel’s was ready to open to the public, complete with its logo featuring a moose holding a draft beer.

Garfinkel’s operated for nine years before locating to its current location in 1999. Though the business occupying the space may have changed, its purpose has been the same since it first opened as Club 10 four decades ago.

Turning 40 in the Whistler Village

The past few months have seen various businesses reach 40 years, including Whistler Magazine, Blackcomb Mountain, and even The Grocery Store just last week.  This is not surprising, as at the beginning of the 1980s Whistler was undergoing huge changes and growth.  The first buildings of the Whistler Village were being completed and, in turn, the first Whistler Village businesses were beginning to open to the public.

While many of the original Village businesses have changed over the past four decades, some have been constant fixtures, like Tapley’s Pub.

Tapley’s Pub during its first week of operations.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The Windwhistle Building was one of the first lots to be completed in the Whistler Village, along with the Hearthstone Lodge, the Rainbow Building, and Blackcomb Lodge.  The plans for the building included a somewhat semi-circular shaped space just off Village Square that would house the Village’s first bar.  During construction, one of the more notable features of the building was the copper pillars that, on a clear day, reflected the sun.

An artistic view of Tapley’s under construction. George Benjamin Collection.

Tapley’s original opening date of January 23, 1981, was delayed when a section of Highway 99 at Culliton Creek was washed out on January 21.  The road reopened on January 26 and, on January 29, Tapley’s Pub opened for business.

The Tapley’s crowd enjoy a few brews in the sun on Sunday, March 1. Photo by Greg D’Amico.  Whistler Question Collection.

Opening day was presided over by John (J.R.) Reynolds, Tapley’s first proprietor, who reportedly looked “relieved that it had all finally come into place.”  All staff were on hand to welcome both local residents and visitors.  According to the Whistler Question, staff included Roland Kentel, Geoff Fisher, Ross Morben, Al Mattson, Rod MacLeod, Steve McGowan, Sheryl, Nancy, Kim, Heather, and Janet (we are not sure why reports of the opening did not include last names for female staff, but would appreciate anyone who could help us fill them in).  The day got off to a quiet start at 11 am but steadily filled as people came for beer, snacks, and darts, leading to a packed house by closing time.

Tapley’s was one of many businesses to open in the Whistler Village in 1981.  Just a couple of weeks later, Stoney’s opened on February 14, occupying the space now home to La Bocca.  Co-owned by Dick Gibbons, Jack Cram, and Lance Fletcher, Stoney’s was the first business of Gibbons’ to open in the Village.  The Longhorn Saloon, his second, would open by the end of the year.  Like Tapley’s the Longhorn is still operating in the Village today, though it looks a little different.  The two businesses are now connected, as Tapley’s Pub was taken over by Gibbons Hospitality in 2004.

Owner Dick Gibbons (left) and designer Gilbert Konqui lend a hand getting the Longhorn ready for action. Located in Carleton Lodge in the Village, the 250-seat restaurant is ready to serve you a drink and a quick, hot meal.  Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

The last forty years have certainly seen some changes at Tapley’s.  Looking at early photos from 1981, the many windows provided views straight to Sproatt and Whistler Mountain, views that have since been blocked by further construction of the Village and the Whistler Conference Centre.  While the copper pillars are still there, other parts of the decor and furniture have changed along with the view and a smoking lounge built in 2000 has evolved into a large patio area.  Keep an eye out over the next few months and years as more and more of Whistler’s businesses and organizations, founded during a decade of incredible changes, reach new milestones.

Whistler’s Silver Book

When talking about the creation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 1975 and the early development of the Whistler Village through the 1980s, one of the documents that is often mentioned is the “Silver Book,” also known as the Community Development Study for the Whistler Mountain Area.  The Silver Book was put together in 1974 by the Planning Services Division of the Department of Municipal Affair of BC and contained a study of the current state of the area, thoughts on potential growth, and a recommended framework for creating both a short and long term community development plan.  The report was a key factor in the formation of the RMOW and was one of the first documents to recommend a single-centred Town Centre on the site of the garbage dump.

The aptly named “Silver Book”

The Silver Book also, included plans for residential development, infrastructure such as sewer and water systems, further recreational development, and transportation both to and within the area.  Reading through the report, it is clear that some of the transportation woes experienced by Whistler in the past few years are similar to those thought of back in 1974.

At the time, almost all travel between Whistler and Vancouver was done by private automobiles on the two lane highway.  According to the report, “At peak times, particularly winter Sunday evenings, traffic on the highway is almost bumper to bumper.”  The capacity of the highway in winter conditions was calculated to be about 500 vehicles per hour, but with many skiers arriving and leaving at the same time the traffic slowed to a crawl.

Snowy winter days could already lead to backed up traffic exiting the Whistler Village by 1984. Whistler Question Collection.

The idea of building a new road with a different route to Whistler was dismissed as too expensive at $80-100 million (adjusted for inflation, $400-500 million), as was a proposal to expand the existing highway significantly.  Using rail to expand transport capacity was considered, but it was concluded that the railway, designed for moving freight, “does not lend itself to the operation of high-speed passenger trains.”  A weekend ski-train was proposed but this would have removed only 600 skiers per day from the road.  Though increased bus service was expected to provide only a modest increase in capacity, it was considered the most effective solution.

Buses were also an important part of the transportation plan within the Whistler area.  The community was expected to develop in a linear fashion along the highway and be “somewhat sprawling.”  The plan for a single Town Centre meant that municipal and commercial services would require traveling outside of the different subdivisions, which, if all trips were taken in a private automobile, could lead to excessive traffic noise, air pollution, and “aesthetically inappropriate large-scale parking lots” at the Town Centre.  Instead, the recommendation was to develop an efficient public transport system within the valley.

A bus picks up skiers at the Gondola base, today known as Creekside. Whistler Question Collection, 1979.

The Silver Book outlined several ways of encouraging the use of public transport, but only one was marked “not workable” by the donor of one copy in our collections: toll gates and restricted parking.  The idea was that toll gates at the north and south ends of Whistler would encourage visitors to take a bus or train, while residents could apply for an annual windshield sticker that would allow them through.  These “stickered” vehicles would, however, not be allowed to part at the Town Centre during peak periods, thereby “forcing” residents to use buses and reducing the size of parking structure needed.

The Silver Book provides an interesting look at what the Province thought Whistler could become from the early 1970s.  Some of the plans and predictions of the report (such as the linear development) have been realised while others either have never come to fruition (toll gates) or have far exceeded these early plans.