By Michel Beaudry
Education is vital to Whistler’s future. At least, that’s what Dave Demers believes. “Education will drive families here,” says Whistler’s 2006 Business Person of the Year. “Education will also keep families here long-term.” He pauses for a moment. Searches for a way to frame his next thoughts as diplomatically as possible. “We desperately need a post-secondary facility at Whistler,” he says. “So why is the municipality ignoring such an important issue?”
Demers has thought about this matter a lot. And he’s not afraid to call a spade a shovel. “Look — it’s simple,” he says. “We really need to attract young families here. I want 30 year olds to settle down here with their kids. I want them to be excited about investing their future in Whistler. But it’s happening less and less now. We have this incredible brain trust of talented youth — and they’re all leaving.” Another pause. “So how do we keep our young people at Whistler? Provide them with affordable housing. And offer them great education!”
It’s a no-brainer, he says. But it will require a real shift in thinking among Whistler’s leaders. “Muni Hall has to open the door — be ready to listen and learn from a wide range of people: academics, entrepreneurs, young and old.” He takes a deep breath. He knows he’s walking into contentious territory now. “In my mind, the Cheakamus Athletes’ Village site would be ideal for a new post-secondary facility — a college that showcases our core strengths and competencies. So why isn’t it happening? I really don’t know…”
The president and part-owner of the Sundial Boutique Hotel, Demers is no newcomer to Whistler. “I moved here from Montreal back in 1979,” he says. “I had $80 in my pocket and my car was running on three cylinders.” But those were mere details to the university grad. Demers was here to ski big mountains. And ski them he did.
“One of my first jobs at Whistler was working for Dave Kirk at the old Chamonix Ski Shop at Creekside,” he explains with a laugh. “It was a great job. But Dave must have fired me a dozen times for arriving late to work.” You see, Demers’s idea of a good ski day was seeing how many times he could hike to the peak of Whistler Mountain (this was before Whistler’s high country was accessible by chairlift). Invariably, he’d do the 40-minute climb one too many times…
“My next job was working for Jim McConkey at his shop,” he recounts. “And the same thing happened there. But I really didn’t care in those days. Money and security were secondary issues for me. Skiing was everything.”