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Chester Johnson to receive Order of British Columbia


What do Sarah McLachlan, Robert Bateman and Chester Johnson have in common?

Nothing, yet. But on June 20 they and 13 other outstanding British Columbians will become this year’s recipients of the Order of British Columbia.

Lieutenant Governor Garde Gardom announced the 2001 Order of British Columbia recipients May 14. The award recognizes "excellence that serves as an inspiration to all of us, and the accomplishments of these outstanding British Columbians have made a difference to the lives of thousands of people in our province," Gardom said in a release.

While the accomplishments of Saltspring Island artist Bateman, singer/songwriter McLachlan and opera singer Judith Forst are well known to many, Garibaldi Highlands resident Johnson has a lower public profile – but he has played several important roles for the provincial government, including in Whistler.

The release from Gardom’s office states Johnson, "accepted daunting challenges in the corporate and public sectors and delivered results that exceeded expectations. While chairman of a sawmill group, he developed the concept and implementation of a chip export facility to solve the long-standing wood chip surplus problem. He was director of finance for Expo 86 and chair of the Vancouver Airport Authority, and is presently chair of the transportation committee for the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympic bid."

Johnson has also served as chairman of B.C. Hydro, but in 1982 he was appointed by former premier Bill Bennett to steer the Whistler Village Land Company, and by extension the fledgling Whistler resort, out of the financial quagmire. The recession had hit hard and no one was buying into the Whistler Village development. The conference centre, which was then designed for a skating rink, was partially finished and rebar poking out of the ground lined what is now Village Stroll.

Drew Meredith says Johnson "was never known for his sensitivity," and wasn’t popular with many people in Whistler, but he understood the value of the village plan and helped keep it together.

Johnson asked Bennett for $21 million to finish the conference centre and get the municipality back on its feet.

"Bill Bennett was a very clever premier, a clever man, and he knew that he couldn't afford Whistler going down, and it was going down, no question about it," Johnson said in an interview last year. "It came very close to going down and if it hadn't been for him and the cabinet to bankroll us and have us fix the place, it would have gone down.

"It was a tough time. But hey, it's a success. I got the Order of Canada for what I did up there."

The province took over the Whistler Village Land Company, which became the Whistler Land Company, and was repaid for its $21 million bailout when it sold the Village North lands in the 1990s.

"We knew we had all those Village North lands, which was like a bank," Johnson said. "It’s worked out that way too. The government got all their money back – plus."

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