His life changed forever in June of 1961. "That was my first visit to Whistler," says Garry Watson. Invited to spend the weekend at a client’s logging camp near Alta Lake, the Vancouver-based outdoorsman was keen to scale the local heights. "We climbed up the backside of what was then called London Mountain," he explains. "Looking down from the peak to the valley was one of the most startling experiences I’ve ever had. What a beautiful place…"
Land could be had for $200 an acre in those days. So Garry decided to invest for the future. He joined the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA), bought some land from a trapper he’d befriended in Alta Lake and built himself a modest mountain cabin. With the prospect of a ski lift – and maybe even a regional ski area – coming to the valley, and the road pushing through eventually, Watson figured his new cabin would be a great refuge from the rigours of his urban law practice. Little did he know how much his life would become entwined with the story of this place.
One of the community’s most enduring (and effective) social activists – a member of the original Whistler Council whose four decades of public service include setting up Whistler’s groundbreaking resident housing policy back in 1990 – Watson still professes a great deal of affection for his mountain home. "You know, some years ago Franz Wilhelmsen gave me a lifetime pass to Whistler-Blackcomb," he says with a barely suppressed grin. "And every time I go up the mountain, I remind myself how lucky I am. In fact, I’m still amazed that this place ever happened. It’s kind of like my own little dream-come-true."
There are few people on this planet who are as intimate with Whistler’s transformation from isolated mountain valley to world-class resort community as Garry Watson is. And there are even fewer who have given so much of their time and energy to making that dream come true.
"The 1968 Olympic bid was in full swing when I joined GODA," he says. "And one of the first priorities was figuring out where to put the Games village. Because I’d done a graduate course in planning law, I volunteered to work on GODA’s community planning committee." And so the die was cast. That committee work was the first step in a marathon of community involvement that saw Watson become Chairman of GODA, then serve as a member of the Alta Lake Ratepayers’ Association and the Advisory Planning Commission for the regional district, before finally being elected to Whistler Council for three terms (from 1975 to 1980). "I took a sabbatical from my firm when I was first elected to council," he explains. "I figured I’d do it for one year, there’d be a new election and I could move on." He laughs. "But I got so caught up in it that I never went back to the firm…"