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A local’s history

Harbour to publish Stephen Vogler’s history of Whistler

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Eighty-seven women to three guys: now this was living back in 1940s Whistler.

Curly Crosson parked his flatbed logging truck at Rainbow Lodge on Alta Lake. Wild child Alex Philip would be waiting inside, along with a handful of other outdoorsmen who gave up World War II frontlines for tree lines and fishing lines.

The historic scene plays out as author Stephen Vogler looks up from his computer screen out the window at present day Alta Lake. He feels like he is living with the characters he pens for his new book Top of the Pass: Whistler and Sea-to-Sky Country.

He sees pioneer Myrtle Philip tending her gardens. He watches drunken teams splash around in a canoe at the defunct Great Snow, Earth, Water Race and he witnesses little more than sheds dissolve into multi-million dollar homes.

He chuckles to himself.

As a 12-year-old boy Vogler moved with his family to Whistler in the 1970s to get away from a rural Richmond steadily becoming blockaded by shopping malls. The soon-to-be-weekend-warriors-no-more skiing family drove up the then “death trap” of Highway 99 to get away from it all.

More than 30 years later, a wilderness hideaway no more, Vogler writes about the days before condos became the brick foundation of Blackcomb Mountain.

“In a place characterized by change, I sometimes looked for the things that don’t change and that thread that runs through the change,” Vogler said from his writing desk at home. “The geography and the people it attracts who are looking for things that are unique and have a real appreciation for life in the mountains, is the thread that carries it through all the changes.”

Both changes and constants wend their way through Vogler’s newest book, a hardcover coffee table book/visitor’s guide/humorous local perspective on Whistler’s history, to be published in October as part of a B.C. history series by Harbour Publishing. In addition to Whistler, history buffs can leaf through books on other parts of the province, including Tofino, the Sunshine Coast and Bella Coola in the B.C. series.

Vogler’s 114-paged book is illustrated by the colourful images of local photographers Toshi Kawano of Pemberton and Bonny Makarewicz of Whistler. Kawano was the lens behind Tourism Whistler’s “Real Whistler” marketing campaign, and Makarewicz’s photo credit is no stranger to publications all over the world, including the New York Times.

Vogler hasn’t seen the images yet, but he is excited. The team of three has attended every Whistler event and activity imaginable over the past year for the book.

This will be the local scribe’s second book. His first self-published book entitled Whistler Features in 2000 was a collection of feature stories he wrote for Pique Newsmagazine . Vogler has since kept his pencil sharpened with publications in the Globe and Mail and Explore Magazine . The father of three has also contributed to CBC Radio’s Ideas, DNTO and Outfront. None of these accomplishments really prepared him for the blank pages in front of him, but a lifetime of skiing, raising a family, living in renter’s-ville and contributing to Whistler’s burgeoning arts scene helped.

“With all attention focusing here (in 2010), I realize there is going to be lots of publications coming out about this place and I know this place as well as anyone else, so it might as well be me,” he said.

Readers won’t find a dry history. Anyone who writes a parody on Whistler’s nauseating little dogs with sweaters or how a trip to Disneyland parallels a vacation in Tijuana is going to both entertain and inform.

Vogler laughs when he says he didn’t interview people like the mayor or members of the Chamber of Commerce for his book. Instead he talked with characters found in the village’s first watering hole, Tapley’s Pub, or managing properties inhabited for only seven days out of the year.

Top of the Pass’s colourful character list includes everyone from a ski tuner and go go dancer to a $10 million home contractor and a service industry lifer. The gritty, on the ground history toasts Whistler staples with rounds-of-beer tales about the resort’s building blocks, both political and human.

Vogler lost himself in researching the mountain politics he skipped as a pre-teen playing pinball at the Husky station and cutting school for the 10-centimetre rule.

“Even when you think you know a place well, you find there is so much to learn once you delve deeper,” said the longtime Whistler Writers Group member. “I’ve been working on it for a year and it’s been great fun. Some things I know so well I could start writing right away, but doing the research was the really rewarding part… It was interesting to look at the history from the politics going on between the provincial government and new the new municipality of Whistler and all the money involved and to see it with an understanding of how it all works now.”

The thread tying the story together is the people, whether resident, tourist or seasonal worker, the common footing has been and will always be gravity — whether sliding down on a bike, skis, boards, boats or stumbling out of a party.

Gravity and geography inspired the title of the book, Top of the Pass . Whistler is a place of passage, a place of movement, the top of a mountain pass that divides two watersheds, with all waterways flowing to places people dig their heels into, such as Squamish, Pemberton and Mount Currie.

“The geography is a defining characteristic of the place,” Vogler said of Whistler. “It attracts people who want a unique lifestyle, a place to play and party. It’s a narrow valley of motion and movement.”

Manuscript finalized, Vogler sits back comfortably to take in a mountain moment in what used to be the Fairhurst’s home, a lakeside summer cabin built in the 1940s.

However, instead of history walking past his windows, he now sees his own kids growing up in a town of newly built schools and recreation centres. He feels the construction of 2010 competition venues in neighbouring woods, and from Whistler’s oldest residence, he hears history saved in the click of a mouse as the next generation of storytelling begins this October.

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