It never ceases to amaze me how entertaining the “How I came to be living in Whistler” stories are. Whether following a dream, joining up with a lover, or simply dropping by for a holiday (and staying forever), the wild and woolly tales people tell of how they came to reside in this magical mountain wonderland — and the various challenges they overcame to remain here — clearly illustrate how appealing this place really is.
It’s part of Whistler’s DNA. Part of its identity as a resort community. For it is in these stories that one discovers the true nature of the people who call this Coast Mountain town home. Don’t you think?
One of the most compelling of these roots stories comes from landscape architect/resort planner, Shelagh Bridgwater. Although she and husband, Ryley Thiessen, have been living and working in the valley for the last five years, it turns out that this is Shelagh’s second stint as a Whistler local. Alas, all she knows of that first stay are the Bridgwater family legends she’s heard repeated over the years.
She laughs just to think about it. “I was only a year old,” she says in self-defence. “But those stories have been recounted so many times that they’ve become part of me.”
Like so many other Whistlerites, her roots are in Southern Ontario. “My dad worked with my Opa as a stone mason,” she recounts. “When the Ontario economy hit the skids in 1980, their business was really impacted.” But rather than throwing up his arms and giving up, Shelagh’s dad decided to move his young family west. “I was the baby,” says Shelagh. “I had two older brothers, Richard, 6, and Eric 8.” Another burst of laughter. “We camped the whole way across Canada (in an old Saab). My parents stuck me in the back seat, between my two brothers, in a vain attempt to keep them from fighting…”
Her dad, Martin, had heard that things were booming at Whistler. His goal was to start a small residential construction company here — and ski, of course. On arriving in the valley, the parents made a pact: whoever got a job first, went to work. The other spouse would stay home and take care of the kids. “Well, my mum got a job at Tamarisk pretty quickly,” says Shelagh. “So that left my dad with the kids. The two older boys were no problem — they were in school full time. But what was he going to do with me?”