Decima Research announced this week that Bryan Adams’s 1984 hit song Summer of ’69 is Canada’s top driving song, as determined by a poll of Canadians interested in driving songs.
For millions of Canadians who didn’t take part, don’t have a favourite driving song, or who don’t drive, this is just another ubiquitous poll, another contest gimmick in an age when information gathering has become big business.
But for many of those who took part in the poll, driving music – presumably – means something. It may not be the focus of their lives but it is one of the things that could be used to define these people. Think of the mini-biography that might go into a personal ad: "Likes warm summer nights, dinners on patios, Stephen King and driving music."
In 2004 the CBC held its Greatest Canadian contest, a nationwide poll and television show that garnered more than 1.2 million votes and solid television ratings over six weeks. Voters, after weighing the words of advocates for the top 10 nominees, chose Tommy Douglas as the Greatest Canadian of all time. The rest of the top 10 included Frederick Banting, Alexander Graham Bell, Don Cherry, Terry Fox, Wayne Gretzky, Sir John A. Macdonald, Lester B. Pearson, David Suzuki and Pierre Trudeau.
Whether these are the 10 greatest Canadians was, of course, the source of much debate. The merits of Don Cherry’s contributions to Canadian society are difficult to compare with, for instance, the discovery of insulin, but a significant number of Canadians voted that Cherry and Banting are among the all-time great Canadians.
And the choice of Terry Fox, David Suzuki, Emily Carr, WAC Bennett and Roderick Haig-Brown as the top five British Columbians by listeners of another CBC program, B.C. Almanac, was equally contentious.
But these polls also say something about us collectively as Canadians and British Columbians. People are key to defining a place, to creating a sense of identity. It doesn’t mean we all aspire to be like David Suzuki or Terry Fox, but that these people embody some of the values many of us as British Columbians and Canadians consider important.
There hasn’t been a poll to determine Greatest Whistlerites of all time but you could probably start with Myrtle Philip, go to the short list of Freemen of Whistler and the chamber of commerce’s list of Citizens and Businesspeople of the Year, add a few athletes and you’ve got a good starting point.
Of course it’s not only "the greatest" who define a place but all the rest of us, too: the boot fitters, the property managers, the clerks, the retirees – even the phonies who set up shop here, like Christopher Rocancourt and John Davey.
We define ourselves in what we do, in the choices we make. Those choices are little revelations about us, whether it’s a vote for our favourite driving song or our political leaders.
Who we are and what Whistler is are questions that will be asked by many people in the next few years. As the world watches and learns about Whistler those people will come to their own conclusions. It’s not for those people that we too need to ask these questions, but it would help us if we were clear in our own minds.
Whistlerites set a goal many years ago – to be the number one ski resort – and reached it. And in working toward that goal they defined themselves: as entrepreneurs, as creative thinkers, as can-do people.
Whistler’s goal today is less well defined. Whistler is a bigger, more complicated place. And the things that identify us as Whistlerites are not so easy to pinpoint.
There are, however, a few institutions that, judging by their popularity and the passion they invoke, seem to embody some of the values that Whistlerites cherish. Ones that come immediately to mind are the sustainability lecture series of a few years ago, the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association and its programs, the weekly farmers’ market and Whistler Animals Galore.
I don’t know that any conclusion about Whistler or its people can be drawn from such a brief, subjective list, but in terms of trying to understand what direction this community is heading, maybe there’s a starting point in there somewhere.