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Feature - A community in transition

With pressures on the land and a way of life residents grapple with change in Pemberton

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"Growth is inevitable," said Cindy Bush at the Pemberton branch office of Whistler Real Estate where she has been a real estate agent for the past 10 years.

Bush is a familiar face around town having lived in Pemberton her whole life.

Her great-grandmother, a widow in Ireland with a small boy, moved to Pemberton to join family. They settled into the valley for the long haul despite the sizeable challenges.

Looking around Pemberton today it’s hard to imagine that at the turn of the century there was only a handful of families eking out a living in the swampy, mosquito-filled valley.

Now Bush has no less than seven first cousins living in the area and three children of her own.

But the rapid population increase points to a growth spurt that is not just simple evolution and the inevitable expansion of the family tree.

Pemberton’s changes are directly related to the success of Whistler as one of the top resorts in North America.

Whistler’s success creates both problems and opportunities said developer Serge Coté.

"The problem is that by being so successful everybody wanted to move to Whistler and this created a lot of strain on the real estate market, moving the prices up to limits where the normal working family could no longer afford to live there," he said.

"And that of course is a problem. But a great opportunity for a town that’s located 20-25 minutes away."

The former Whistler developer took a relatively safe gamble on Pemberton’s future after looking at patterns in other U.S. resorts and their outlying communities.

Neighbouring communities to Vail and Aspen boomed with the success of the corresponding resorts. Some of those areas were even further away than the 35 kilometres between Whistler and Pemberton.

Coté was also confident in his decision to build in Pemberton because the valley had merits of its own to entice buyers.

"To put that cherry on top of the sundae, when you come here and you stand in the middle of the valley and you start observing what’s around you and the natural beauty of this valley... then you realize why this was the right bet," he said.

In 1997 he started building the multi-family development called the Peaks, under his development company Glacier Creek Contracting.