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Alta States

A Whistler icon for all times



By Michel Beaudry

There’s a great storytelling event being planned for Millennium Place this evening. Called “Icon Gone”, the event is all about celebrating local culture by sharing tales of the bigger-than-life people, places and things that make Whistler the distinctive mountain town that we all know and love.

And lest you think things might get a little hagiographic tonight, don’t worry. It’s being set up as a sort of debating contest. On one side: the people who believe that their favourite Whistler icon is “gone” and that history in this valley quickly evaporates and disappears. On the other: the people who are convinced that their particular icon is alive and well and truly represents what Whistler is all about in 2007.

The organizers have also made sure to invite the kind of debaters who aren’t afraid to present contentious arguments or even get rowdy with their opinions. People like restaurateur Colin Pitt-Taylor, fellow Pique columnist G.D. Maxwell, comedienne Michele Bush and man-of-many-hats Kirby Brown (to name but a few).

I love the concept. I love the opportunity to discuss and argue and debate the Whistler gestalt. What is this place all about? Who are the people — living or dead — who truly represent the soul of Whistler? Are our icons changing? Are the people, places and things that defined us 10 — and even 20 — years ago still relevant? Or have we discarded these old Whistler symbols for more modern, more vibrant models? These are the kinds of questions that a community like Whistler needs to ask itself as it moves from adolescence to adulthood. And I applaud the Whistler Museum team for taking the initiative and creating such an event.

Alas, I won’t get a chance to participate in person. Family commitments have transpired to keep me away this evening. But I’m not giving up so easily. I’ve decided to mail my entry in. Or at least put it down on paper…

My dictionary defines “icon” (at least in its postmodern manifestation) as “somebody or something widely and uncritically admired, especially somebody or something symbolizing a movement or field of activity.” So for me, the answer to the Whistler Icon question is glaringly obvious. From the moment I first set foot in this valley back in 1973, one man has consistently represented what Whistler is all about for me. And that man is Jim McConkey.

As usual, I’m neither in one camp nor the other. For while Jim moved away from here years ago, he returns to Whistler often — to the great delight of his friends and fans. And every time I go up the mountain with him, I’m blown away by the emotion and nostalgia he triggers in others.