In an article published last March in High Country News George Sibley contemplated place.
"When Americans talk about place today, and sense of place, its often in the context of real estate, because that's the way Americans think," Sibley wrote. "But if you are going to really consider place, you must distinguish it from the concept of property. Both place and property are matters of possession, but its who and what are possessed, and how, thats important. Property is a cultural convention whereby a person has the belief, confirmed by a piece of paper, that he or she possesses a piece of land. Place, on the other hand, is something related to the land that comes to possess a person."
Sibleys words came to mind while contemplating Whistlers sense of place and some of the issues facing the community in the last weeks of 2002. Theres the amendment to the OCP that will permit development in the Callaghan, which the new council will consider Monday. Theres the next phase of the Whistler. Its Our Future process the Simm City phase where Whistlerites will be asked to consider what they want this place to look like in the future. And theres a whiff of fear in the air as we approach mid-December with no appreciable snow and people quietly, privately considering what this place would look like if the winter of 1976-77 were repeated.
"No place is a place," said American writer Wallace Stegner, until two things have happened: 1) "things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends, or monuments;" and 2) "it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry."
A little of Whistlers history, and some poetry, are being celebrated Saturday at the GLC, where the official launch of a new book called Whistler: Against All Odds takes place. Written by Michel Beaudry and filled with gorgeous photographs from some of Whistlers best photographers, the book is all about place, about the people who have been possessed by this land.
In Whistler, and much of British Columbia, place is often secondary to property indeed, it could be argued that there can be no place if there isnt property first. Property, be it in the Callaghan or elsewhere, often provides opportunity, which is essential to attracting and keeping people. But it is people who create a sense of place.
The Callaghan is an interesting situation in the place-property-opportunity debate. Many peoples reaction is: Why would Whistler want to build a satellite community there when there may be areas within the existing physical and social infrastructure that could provide opportunities to house people? To quote Gertrude Stein, yet another American writer, "There is no there, there."
The counter-argument might be that purpose-built towns, like Whistler, eventually develop their own place and the Callaghan community would too. The question is whether the Callaghans sense of place would be shared by Whistler and vice versa.
But of course Whistler is only considering a part of the Callaghan. The Squamish Nation and the Lilwat also see opportunity in the Callaghan in the form of a hotel and a golf course, among other things. They also claim the Callaghan as a place part of their history rather than property.
And perhaps someday history and legends will be made in the Callaghan. Meanwhile, Whistler must continue to build a sense of place.