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Alta States

Greg McDonnell - speaking out for those who can't



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"Nobody in Whistler likes to talk about it much," he says, "And many aren't aware that it's even happening. But we now have a complete demographic of people (including homeless, transients, addicts) living in this valley. In that way, it's like any other B.C. town. It's not just this outlying clientele coming here to wine and dine anymore. Our speedy growth has catapulted us into our current reality."

And that reality, maintains McDonnell, will require more attention than what we've given it in the past. "A lot of the energy at Whistler has been focused on economic and environmental issues," he says. "And I think we've done a pretty good job there. But what about the third pillar of a successful community? What about our social issues?"

This is where McDonnell's WCSS work has provided him with a unique vantage point. "Unfortunately," he argues, "that social perspective has been under-represented in Whistler's planning for the future. " He shrugs. "Which is why I volunteered to be on the Community Advisory Board for the OCP in the first place. Working on the new community plan is my opportunity to bring the social agenda forward."

Still, it's a very long way from the hoop dreams Greg harboured as a kid. "Basketball was definitely my thing," he says with a self-conscious grin. "My early dreams were all about playing in the NBA." And then he laughs. Didn't matter that he'd grown up on the shores of Deep Cove and spent much of his after-school winter hours skiing on nearby Grouse Mountain. Playing ball, thought McDonnell, would be his salvation.

"I did poorly in school," he tells me. "If it wasn't for sports and the social connection it provided, I would have been lost..."

His smile evolves into a chuckle. "Whistler was always on the horizon, though. My dad had worked at the Boot Pub in the late '60's and my childhood was filled with fanciful tales of his years here. You know, like the time someone rode his horse right into the pub..." A long pause. "It was a real fantasy of mine to move up here and ski full-time."

Meanwhile, there was this little detail called school. When a b-ball scholarship to the University of Lethbridge didn't work out as planned, Greg found himself living in southern Alberta, as he says, "spending all my time and money skiing."

Obviously his dreams of basketball greatness were not as strong as he'd thought. "So I moved back to Vancouver and went back to school." He takes a breath. Smiles again. "Still, I had a Cypress pass and skied as much as I could. I have to admit - it was extremely hard for me to stay in school and finish my undergraduate degree."