Opinion » Editorial


Another year goes into the books

P>Another year goes into the books

The year 2003 doesn’t mark any sort of significant anniversary in the history of Whistler, other than another year older and perhaps another year wiser. It’s not the 25th anniversary of anything especially significant – much less the 50th or 100th – although it is 26 years since the winter of 1976-77, when there was so little snow in Western Canada that Silver Star honoured Whistler Mountain season passes, and the skiing at Silver Star that January was significantly better than what was available on Whistler.

On Dec. 31, 1976 the Resort Municipality of Whistler was barely 15 months old, and few people had any idea of the significance of its incorporation. Whistler was still largely a weekend ski area for people from the Lower Mainland. The idea of developing Blackcomb Mountain for skiing – snowboarding didn’t exist – was floating out there but there were far more pessimists who didn’t think it would ever happen than there were optimists chomping at the bit to ski Blackcomb Glacier.

Sometime during 1977 (my limited collection of newspaper clippings doesn’t specify) the provincial government announced plans for "a Gastown-style ski village at Whistler Mountain," according to the Province newspaper. Gastown, for those who weren’t of B.C. in the mid-70s, seemed to represent the coolest trend in urban planning. In actual fact, it was one of the few areas of Vancouver that hadn’t been torn down to make way for some glass and steel monolith or underground mall.

Twenty-six years later, the only real similarities between Gastown and the Whistler Village are that both have brick-like pavers on their streets and both periodically host bicycle races on their faux cobblestones. Oh yeah, and Alex Philip, husband of Whistler matron Myrtle Philip, apparently met Alta lake trapper John Millar at a restaurant in Gastown and sold Philip on the idea of opening a fishing lodge here.

Since the Whistler Village, and Blackcomb, opened in December of 1980 Gastown has been forgotten as a reference. But writers are still searching for words to describe the village. In a how-I-spent-my-Christmas-vacation piece in the Globe and Mail in January of 2001 John MacLachlan Gray called the village: "…an extended shopping mall designed in what I would term Disney Alp (the French Alps, not the German or Swiss – no lederhosen and not a yodel to be heard), with postmodern clock towers and a confusing European street plan around a village square."

In November of that year Skiing magazine called the Whistler Village, "… the resort’s famed centrepiece a lively, nouvelle-Alpine pedestrian village that many visitors think is what they’ve actually come to see."

And in October of this year Susan Reifer, writing in SKI magazine, said: "They stream through Whistler’s nouvelle Alpen pedestrian village with all the bustle of Grand Central Station, juggling coffee, toddlers and gear, coordinating with each other on cell phones, and flowing, like a busy human river, toward the lifts."

This is the village where in the summer of 1986 Bill Vander Zalm was elected leader of the Social Credit party, and therefore premier of the province. Vander Zalm left his mark on all three.

One of the biggest debates of 2002 was whether Whistler should invite the World Economic Forum to hold its annual meeting here in January of 2004, and whether people would still be able to stream through the nouvelle Alpen pedestrian village amidst all the security that would be required. Whistler decided no, at least not in January. A compromise invitation, to host the meeting in the spring or fall, has gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, Canada played host to the G8 summit in 2002, which included a meeting of the G8 foreign ministers in Whistler. The Whistler meeting had little impact, either on the global political front or on the town. However, things must have been different at the main meeting on the other side of the Rockies. Immediately prior to the Kananaskis summit, delegates to the North American Anarchist Gathering in Kansas told a Calgary Herald reporter no one was going to protest at Kananaskis because things were "badly planned." Which of course begs the question: How bad does the planning have to be for anarchists to not attend?

The final word on Whistler for 2002 – assuming there’s no riot in the village on New Year’s Eve – goes to one of our own. Rico Suchy, after making a Dec. 5 court appearance in North Vancouver on charges of feeding wildlife, told the Province newspaper of Whistler: "There’s a bunch of little people in that town. It’s a bunch of little women."

At least it ain’t Gastown.

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