Opinion » Editorial


Celebrate the people who are Whistler’s story



Jon Montgomery was in town last week, taking part in a Crankworx celebrity bike ride. The Olympic skeleton champion, the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal in Whistler, the guy who celebrated his victory by drinking from a jug of beer as he walked through Whistler Village, the man the Toronto Star called "the life of Whistler's party," returned to the scene of that party for the first time.

And then left, presumably to resume training and return to his summer job as an auctioneer.

He will be back, certainly for November's World Cup event. Perhaps then there will be some sort of public recognition of all the Canadians - Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, Helen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown, Lyndon Rush, Chris Le Bihan, David Bissett and Lascelles Brown - who won medals in Whistler at the 2010 Olympics. One hopes.

Whistler spent seven years preparing for the Olympic Games. By most measures they were a tremendous success. The plan all along has been to leverage the exposure that the Olympics brought to boost business in the years following the Games.

But it's not the Games themselves that are remembered, it's the personalities and the moments, like Jon Montgomery walking through the village and drinking beer from a jug.

In mid-June Val d'Isere was locked up tighter than drum, as it is for several weeks every spring and fall. One restaurant, one convenience store and one hotel was the sum total of businesses open. Yet, banners and posters let visitors to this temporary ghost town know that it was the home of Mathieu Bozzetto and Deborah Anthonioz, bronze and silver medalists in snowboard events at the Vancouver Olympics.

To find a similar public display of Canadian Olympians in Whistler you'd have to visit the local branch of the Royal Bank. There, on an inside wall, are images of two RBC-sponsored Olympic athletes, Pemberton's Kristi Richards and Quebec's Dominique Maltais.

Whistler tried, with its controversial $96,000 Canada Day weekend party, to celebrate local Olympians - including gold medalists Ashleigh McIvor and Maëlle Ricker - and maintain some momentum from the Games. Whether it was effective or the effort lost in the controversy over the spending is open to debate.

McIvor is certainly being recognized as a B.C. athlete, appearing in television commercials to promote tourism in the province. She was doing the same in San Francisco earlier this spring. But Whistler has yet to claim her as one of its own in a way that is apparent to visitors.

There is still the possibility that some of the personalities of the 2010 Games - medalists and the tragic Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili - will be memorialized in the final design of Whistler Olympic/Celebration/Medals Plaza. But the plaza won't be completed for another year. Whether there will be anything in Whistler this winter to remind visitors that McIvor and Ricker grew up here, or to honour the performances of people like Petra Majdic and Brian McKeever, remains to be seen.

The lack of acknowledgement, to date, contrasts with March 1998, when Ross Rebagliati returned home to Whistler with the first Olympic gold medal in snowboarding. At the celebrations in Village Square it was announced that a run on Blackcomb would be renamed Ross's Gold and Rebagliati Park was christened.

In March, Vail announced it was renaming a run in honour of Lindsey Vonn, just weeks after she won the women's Olympic downhill.

To be fair, Whistler was pretty busy putting on the Paralympics in March. And there may well be celebrations and honours planned to kick off the winter season. One hopes.

Canadians in general, and Whistlerites in particular, seem reluctant to celebrate their history. Certainly there are records of decisions and big events. But history - meaningful history - is about people and moments; putting a face on historical accomplishments. We've tried (how many people know where the Terry Rodgers Bridge or the Ted Nebbeling Bridge are?) and sometimes we haven't tried hard enough. (When Mike Janyk won a bronze medal at the 2009 FIS World Alpine Championships, parties were held in his honour in Austria and Montreal; Whistler overlooked the opportunity.)

The Olympic rings sitting next to Whistler Olympic Plaza are a huge draw for visitors. They are symbolic of many things. They are a part of Whistler's story. But they don't tell the Whistler story the way people do.