Every year on Nov. 11, the Remembrance Day Ceremony draws hundreds to the war memorial for a simple, respectful community affair, long beloved by all those who attend.
But for 364 days of the year, the cenotaph has sat at the edge of the parking lot, out of sight and often buried in snow.
This year, thanks to the grassroots efforts of a small group of dedicated locals, the cenotaph has a new home in Whistler Olympic Plaza.
"The community truly came together for the project," said Anne Townley, the driving force behind the cenotaph's relocation.
"Whenever I asked a tradesperson to join the project there was no hesitation in getting involved. It was very rewarding being involved in such a grassroots project."
Townley also noted the group is very happy to be able to complete the cenotaph relocation during Canada's 150th year celebration and the 100-year anniversary of the battles of Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge.
The move will grant locals and visitors alike better access to the memorial year-round.
A dedication ceremony is planned for Friday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m., featuring speeches, a blessing ceremony from Josh Anderson and others from the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, a thank you to the Whistler Rotary Club and others involved with the relocation, and a few words from some of Whistler's veterans.
There will also be readings by local students who were involved in a school remembrance writing project.
The relocation is being funded entirely by grants.
Those involved with the project have secured a total of $58,775 in grant funding, including $10,000 from The American Friends of Whistler; $10,000 from The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation; $15,000 from the Community Fund for Canada's 150th (which includes $5000 from the American Friends of Whistler); $5000 from the Community Foundation of Whistler; and $5000 from the Government of Canada.
"We have also been granted $23,775 from Veterans Affairs Commemorative Partnership Program which should be received once the project is finished," Townley said.
"At this stage we think the project will be within budget, so no further fundraising is needed at this time."
The project is truly an old-school, Whistler grassroots effort — one brought about by passionate, driven people rather than municipal planning and budget sessions.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden was originally opposed to the move, fearing a new location would strip the annual ceremony of its intimate, community charm.
"I wanted to ensure that we didn't lose that kind of 'down-home' locals feeling that we've had with the Remembrance Day ceremony all of these years," Wilhelm-Morden told Pique in June.
"And when people said Whistler Olympic Plaza... I would think, 'Oh great, we'll have it up on the stage and it will just be a performance,' and that's not what this group had in mind at all."
But after meeting with Townley and seeing some rough sketches of the new location, the mayor was onboard with the change.
"It's pretty cool. Quite a number of things have been built by way of enthusiastic community members, going back to playground equipment, (the) Dandelion Daycare facility, our first library — there was a time when there would be a community project almost annually," Wilhelm-Morden said of the grassroots effort.
"It's wonderful to see a community group raise awareness and actually take the initiative. It's a breath of fresh air."
When the cenotaph is officially unveiled in its new location on Nov. 10, it will be the same stone adorned with some fresh plaques.
One will replace the current plaque, adding recognition for the war in Afghanistan, and another will identify the cenotaph in both French and English.
The updated monument will also feature a plaque dedicated to United Nations peacekeepers.
All told, the efforts to move the cenotaph included about 20 Whistlerites who volunteered their time or talents.
"In the new location, tourists, visitors from around the world, will be able to walk past and see that Whistler recognizes and remembers its past, and Canada's past, and the piece that it has played in the past wars and the past conflicts — that we are respectful of that," Townley told Pique in June.
"Sitting behind a bunch of dirty snow in the fire hall doesn't show any respect whatsoever, as much as the current day of service is wonderful and it's an amazing community service, the new location will show that, as much as we are a community of playful, sports people, that we are recognizing that there is a community and we are respectful of our history.
"And I think that's really important. There is another side of this community."
This year's Remembrance Day Ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. at Whistler Olympic Plaza on Saturday, Nov. 11. A dedication ceremony is planned for Friday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. To read more abut the grassroots effort to move the cenotaph, head to www.piquenewsmagazine.com.
Whistler's Silent Sentry honouring and remembering
After more than 37 years of standing its silent vigil, the Whistler cenotaph was quietly stood down from its post in a small, simple ceremony held on Oct. 20.
Under a dark and rained-soaked sky, about a dozen people turned out to tell their stories, share a few joyful memories, listen to poetry and honour the fallen with a minute's silence as they gathered in front of the stone marker.
The small coterie of veterans, firefighters, RCMP and community members gathered under a suddenly drenching rain to say thank you, raise a glass and wish safe journey to the 1,000-pound stone that has stoically stood as a symbol of recognition for those lost in war and peacekeeping at Firehall No.1 in Whistler Village.
Second World War veteran Howard Goldsmid, 95, told of how he and a small cohort have attended the Nov. 11th ceremonies for decades in memory and respect for the fallen. Goldsmid remembered a long-established Whistler tradition in which his co-conspirators would make sure there was a flask (or two) at the ready to be shared with those who braved the rain and snow on the day.
Longtime local Doug Forseth shared his thoughts on the importance of the cenotaph and Remembrance Day to the fabric of the greater Whistler community. He eloquently shared how he saw the event as one of the simplest, but most important events on Whistler's calendar. He has not missed it since his arrival in town more than two decades ago.
I echoed those sentiments and told the story of just two of the many memories I hold dear. In a scene with a singularly Canadian twist, I remember being stunned one year as I witnessed a perfect 'V' formation of Canada geese flying up Blackcomb Way and then veer directly over the cenotaph — at exactly the moment we were singing "O' Canada."
On a more serious note, another occasion had one of the cenotaph's Silent Sentries, one is required to stand post motionless for upwards of an hour, pass out and hit the pavement, rifle and all, directly behind me as I was speaking. The officer was uninjured, but for the first and only time, a short timeout was called on Remembrance Day while the BC Ambulance crew on scene assisted the sentry.
Whistler Fire Chief Geoff Playfair shared how, prior to the cenotaph's installation in 1985, a handful of locals gathered at the site in 1982. Rotarian Rolly Horsey was passing by, witnessed this ragtag group and decided on the spot that a proper and respectful marker was required going forward.
The central stone column was subsequently sourced and harvested from a quarry off the Duffey Lake Road. Rotary, with Horsey and local Polish veteran Walter Zebrowski taking charge, installed the cenotaph as a community project in 1985 at what was then a very quiet corner of the Public Safety Building property.
Since that time, the cenotaph has faithfully served as the focal point for Whistler's Remembrance every Nov. 11. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in numbers attending the service, likely part of a greater, Canada-wide phenomenon of renewed appreciation for the sacrifice and losses that have been made in conflict.
The Whistler service is unique in that it has always been a singularly community-led event. Commonly, the Royal Canadian Legion organizes Remembrance in Canada, but without a legion in Whistler, the service has fallen to volunteers to organize.
Even though there has been a shared solemnity to seeing the cenotaph move, our veterans and the community are energized and believe that the new location at the Olympic Plaza is a positive step.
Committee chair Anne Townley and her group have orchestrated the cenotaph's move and have done an amazing job acknowledging the community's desire to see a more accessible and central location.
Townley's committee hopes the new location will provide a more public space with greater accessibility for both Nov. 11 and throughout the year. As well, several new and updated plaques will help better tell the history of Remembrance and loss.
Closing out the cheerful but rain-soaked cenotaph farewell, two veterans, more than a half century apart in age, stepped forward and walked slowly to the cenotaph arm in arm to lay one final wreath at the cenotaph's base.
Goldsmid and recently retired Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and Afghan veteran Richard Poilly shared some private words, as only soldiers can, before they offered the cenotaph the final garland to be laid at its concrete base.
Brian Buchholz has spearheaded Whistler's Remembrance Day Ceremony since 1996.