People often claim one of the unique aspects of this town is the fact almost everyone who lives here has chosen to live here. On the face of it, that sounds, well, facile. Until you realize there are a lot of people, maybe most of them, who live in a place not of their choosing. They were born where they live, their family is there and they wouldn't think of moving away, their job took them and keeps them there, they live in a world of immobility.
True, there are an increasing number of people who live here and were also born here. But they're a tiny percentage and if they have any sense they'll leave, maybe for education, maybe to test themselves in a bigger bubble, maybe just to see how the other 99 per cent live. Maybe they'll come back; if they do, they'll be the better for having left.
Several interesting attributes fall out of this phenomenon. Notably, there is a sizable transient population in Whistler. Less transient than the tourists who come to play, for sure, but in their way, they constitute a wave of experience for those who stay. People come and go in our lives with such regularity they all begin to blur together over the years. That, in turn, makes us either prone to making quick relationships or burrowing in with our long-time friends and seeming perhaps a bit standoffish to the newcomers.
It also creates a very dynamic populace. I know, the turnout for last Saturday's local election might argue, strongly, against the use of the word dynamic — pathetically apathetic may be more apropos — and quite a bit of the whining recently on Facebook is beginning to shake my commitment to this hypothesis. But I believe it retains validity. The people who live here are the ones who had a dream, took a chance and figured out a way to both come and stay. And anyone who thinks staying in this town has ever been easy is both naive and delusional.
Unfortunately, one of the attributes of many who live here is a tenuous grasp of local history. People seem to believe what they see is what has always been. They don't know the back story about how what is here got here.
This is troubling for several reasons. The obvious, perhaps best described by American-Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, is the well-known sentiment, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Interestingly, though, that line, arguing as it does for a sense of history, appears in a tract on progress. The lines preceding it underscore its importance. "Progress, far from consisting of change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual."
So why is a sense of local history important? Because it's hard to know which way to go in the future absent a sense of how we got here to begin with. One episode will illustrate. In the beginning — the beginning of Whistler that is — there was Creekside. It was good, if somewhat primitive. People with vision though saw the advantage of developing the north side of Whistler Mountain and those with greater vision saw the advantage to developing Blackcomb. They also saw the wisdom in siting a new village, a town centre at the base of both.
Others though, whose vision failed to extend beyond their own self-interest, thought it was a better idea to site the new village at Mons. Why Mons? They owned the land and were blinded by potential profit.
You and I might laugh at such a thought, having only known Whistler Village as a completed set piece. But there was a struggle. Garry Watson remembers the battle and remembers a delegation of Whistler's first councillors, himself included, travelling to Victoria to meet with the provincial minister who would be making the decision. They all carried letters of resignation in their pockets and were prepared to tender them in the event a decision was made favouring the Mons site.
If you've been to Whistler Village you know how this story ends. And if you were paying attention you might know Garry is still around to tell it first hand. And that is another of the unique features of this place — its history is contemporary, relatively, and there are those among us who lived it, shaped it and can tell us about it.
Which is a good thing. Because until 1976, when Paul Burrows started the Whistler Question in his basement, there was no local paper. If you ever decide to delve into the history of this place, you'll thank Paul. If you want to know what was going on in this town, the difference between pre-Question years and the post-Question period is the difference between an archival record and oral history.
This is not to lessen the importance of the handful of books people have taken the time and effort to write about Whistler's history. But much of what is written in those books — and I know since I wrote some of it — is based on the recollections of early Whistlerites still with us. Regardless of best intentions, stories retold and recalled somehow get embroidered over the years and decades. I'm not saying the history in those volumes is in any way inaccurate, but it is, to a greater or lesser degree, beholden to the memories of those who shared it.
Whistler's historical record got a lot richer 20 years ago when Bob and Kathy Barnett, with partners Kevin Damaskie and Dave Rigler, lost their senses and started Pique. There were a lot of people in town, myself included, who weren't certain Whistler was big enough to support two papers and, questionable as it was, the Question had momentum and corporate ownership on its side.
But Pique survived. And then it thrived, despite having taken me on after the first year and rapidly discovering they needed to spend money they didn't have for either liability insurance or defamation lawyers. As nice as it was to have one source for local news, if you head back into the records tucked away in the library to find out what was happening from November 1994 on, having Pique's coverage as well represents a rich vein of information. Some day, when we're either gone or as old as dirt — no cracks — some one who wants to write a historical tract on Whistler will be thankful crazy people with passion and a vision started Pique.
The rest of us can thankfully enjoy it, for free, every week. Lucky us.
Happy Birthday, Pique.