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A new chapter

Whistler is writing its own festival for readers and writers



A few years ago, Stella Harvey broke her wrist while she was skiing.

Hopped up on pain medication, she was wheeled out of emergency and ran into someone she knew. News travelled quickly. By the time she and her husband, Dave, got home there were three messages on her answering machine asking if she was all right and offering help. "I'm a city girl," Harvey says, "but I love that about a small town. And now it's home."

Harvey shared this story over tea in the village after I told her that a dental hygienist who was cleaning my teeth recently relayed, excitedly, that the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, the event Harvey first started in her living room 12 years ago, was selling tickets at an even faster rate than last year.

Buoyed by $30,000 from the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Festivals Events & Animation funding, this year's festival is on track to be the biggest yet. It's stacked with award-winning headliners and, a few days before the event on Oct. 18 – 20, just under 400 people had bought over 1,000 tickets, compared to 400 people in total last year buying 600 tickets. To top it off, nearly 70 per cent of those tickets were purchased by people outside the resort, from as far away as California and Ontario.

Those numbers could go a long way to securing future funding for the festival from the FE&A pool, which is designed to help grow existing events and draw visitors during slower seasons in the resort. But the festival couldn't have reached this point without the enthusiastic support of locals who have volunteered or attended the festival without fail over the years, Harvey says. "It really has been the support of this community that has brought its success," she says. "From 20 people in my living room, then you have 100 people, then you have 300 people. Lots of times it was only Whistlerites who came and now, so far this year, about 68 per cent of people who have bought tickets are from outside the corridor. It's shocking."

But the festival has grown incrementally each year, and Harvey says she's taken lessons from each installment. For instance, at first she shied away from attention-grabbing headliners and, instead, focused on those authors who needed a boost. "The (first) time I had one headliner, it drew a lot of people in, but when you have a combination of headliners or people who are well known on the same stage with people who are less known, you shine a light on those people," she says. "A lot of times people end up buying that person's book or they find a new author they didn't know about. That's a big part of why I do it."