By Michel Beaudry
Whistler women aren’t normal. They can’t be. Living in an environment largely defined by their male counterparts, they’ve had to reach higher, run faster and act stronger. Yet they’ve also managed to leave an indelible imprint on the social texture of this place. Ever since Myrtle Philip moved to the valley back in 1914, Whistler women have played an inordinately large role in the every day affairs of this mountain community. And they’ve developed a flair that is distinctly theirs. Bold, creative, clever and funny, the women who set down roots here don’t take guff from anyone.
Consider Whistler historian Florence Petersen. Well into her 70s, the district’s former marriage commissioner is still a ball of positive energy. She’s been a homeowner in the valley for 51 years now — and has lived here full time since 1983. Citizen of the year in 1986, and the recipient of Canada’s 125 th Anniversary Commemorative Medal, Florence has given much of her free time — and considerable skills — to developing the social infrastructure that fledging communities like Whistler so badly need. And though she’s not convinced that all the changes wrought on her beloved valley have been for the best, she has no intention of moving away anytime soon.
“We all knew things were going to change dramatically when the ski lifts were built in 1965,” she says, just a little bit sadly. “After all, our summer paradise had been discovered. But nobody could have dreamed then just how big the changes would be!” She pauses for a moment. Sighs. “I wish sometimes we hadn’t been in such a hurry to ‘civilize’ this place…”
We’re sitting in her sun-drenched living room on the west side of Alta Lake. A simple post-and-beam structure erected in 1966 (“after my original cottage, Witsend, burned down,” she tells me) her current home probably boasts one of the most beautiful views in Whistler. An uninterrupted line of Coast Mountain peaks streams across her living room window — from Mt. Currie to the north to Whistler Mountain in the south. They say that at sunset, the sight of the alpenglow from here can make believers out of even the most cynical…
“There were five of us gals at first,” she says. “All school teachers — four from Burnaby and one from Armstrong, B.C . One of the gals — Betty Gray — had spent many summers working at a place called Rainbow Lodge high up in the mountains. And she convinced us that it would be a good place to buy a vacation cottage.”