In a town where homelessness is rare, Grant "Max" McLellan was an all-too-visible reminder of the real world, where the basic conditions for life - shelter, warmth and food - are not guaranteed. But unlike many of B.C.'s homeless, Max chose the life he had. He was offered assistance time and time again, but turned it down to stay close to his friends in Whistler and for his own sense of independence.
"I used to come home to a warm house and just know that he's out there somewhere sleeping in the freezing cold used to bother me immensely," said Grant Johansen, who has known Max for 15 years. "I always said 'come to my house, you can stay in the extra room,' but he wouldn't take anything... he chose to live that way. Who knows why, we're all kind of confused by that, but this was a really great guy."
On Friday, April 3, the RCMP responded to a report of a sudden death behind the library, where another homeless man discovered Max. He had been having health issues recently, and Johansen learned that he suffered a stroke three months ago and spent some time in the hospital in Squamish.
Coroner Jan Macfadden says they are still waiting for toxicology reports, but added the death was quick and painless. She has been in touch with Max's family in Ontario and Quebec, as well as friends locally and said his body will remain at Vancouver General Hospital until it's picked up by a funeral home.
"He had no fixed address, but this man chose to stay in Whistler because he had so many friends here. It's amazing how many friends have surfaced," said MacFadden. "The friend who found him knew him for 28 years, which is a rare thing. I also know his family gave him opportunities, to move home, to move to Squamish, but he didn't want to go. He wanted to live in Whistler because that's where his friends were."
McLellan was 54 and was looked after by several local residents, while also collecting bottles to earn extra money.
Johansen did not know too much about Max other than the fact that he used to be a chef at Kypriake Norte, that he lived in a shed in White Gold for a while and that he carried around a picture of his mother and sister. It wasn't for a lack of interest - "We always asked him questions about his life, and we really wanted to know where he was sleeping, but he never gave us a straight answer," said Johansen. "Max always seemed more interested in others, and never complained once about his situation.
"I don't even think he was collecting welfare," said Johansen, who would give Max money from time to time, when Max would accept it.
Other friends used to save their empty bottles for him. Tapley's Pub, which held a memorial for Max on Sunday evening, used to provide him with free meals from time to time.
Alan "Alphonse" Kolb knew Max the longest of anybody. They lived together in 1987 when Max arrived in Whistler, and they saw each other regularly in the village - including Max's last night.
"He didn't look good, but then he wasn't looking good the last five years," said Kolb. "He wasn't working but he knew an awful lot of people in the village who had been his friends for a long time, and he was loved by everybody. He had a rough life, and had been living outside for about 10 years, but he still always had a smile on his face, and he always sat down and talked with people.
"He wasn't a skier. He tried it one day and decided he wasn't meant to be a skier. He wasn't into any sports at all, even back then, but he loved the town."