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Pique N Your Interest

A pioneer I am not



I don’t think I would have lasted very long as a Whistler pioneer.

I’ve come to that conclusion after a series of interviews this week about the good old days.

The interviews, in honour of Whistler-Blackcomb’s anniversaries, got me thinking about the uncanny pioneer spirit that defines this town and what life was like for them back in the ’60s and ’70s when Whistler, and all it was destined to be, was still just a dream.

Vincent Massey told me this week that his family took a four-hour car journey every single weekend, bumping along a dirt road, in a car filled to the brim with the weekend essentials. It would have been dark and a little scary on that road. And upon arriving in Whistler they still had hours of digging through the snow before they could even get inside the cabin.

Think of having to feed four children, keep them warm, unpack the car, build a fire. I’m shuddering with cold just thinking about it.

The interviews took me to the Pique’s history book where I read about the squatters who set up ‘shack’ on what is now some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Judging from the pictures some of these squats were pretty nice. Andy Munster’s, for example, looked like a cozy wood cabin, as illegal as it was.

But G.D. Maxwell writes in Whistler: History in the Making: "Everything on site, from food to building materials to books to the kerosene burning dimly in smoking Aladdin lamps, had to be carried in by hand. It took two or three or four hours of work a day just to keep everything running."

Remember, this was the ’70s. Just down the road in Vancouver people were disco dancing in their platform shoes for crying out loud. They were eating fast food and nuking frozen dinners. They were gathered around the TV, warm and safe.

They weren’t spending four hours a day performing the basic tasks required for living, hauling water up from the stream to do the washing, stoking fires, reading by kerosene lamps!

Could I have done it? Could I, a big city girl used to every mod con, have braved the cold, the inconvenience, the isolation of it all?

Bear in mind, four years ago I was worried about moving from Toronto to a town of 10,000. How was I ever to survive sleepy small town life, I thought to myself?

And yet, after taking this brief trip down memory lane with a few of the original Whistler souls, there is a part of me that’s more than a little wistful I wasn’t a part of it all.

As difficult as life back then appears to me with my 2005 eyes, man, it looked like so much fun.

A part of me wishes I could have been in the Massey’s station wagon, crammed in with the kids and the dogs, embarking on a new adventure every single weekend.

I wish I could have been in Andy Munster’s snowcat, chugging up Blackcomb Mountain without another soul in sight.

They may not have had running water in the squat. But they had snow, and lots of it.

And they had fun.

Every memory this week is filled with thoughtful nostalgia for a time less complicated.

They set up homes and families and communities here on what was considered the fringe of society. And they made it work.

They stare back at me in those old photos, mostly bearded and often shoeless, caught in a special moment in time. Did they know it then? I wonder.

Did they know what they were starting?

I wonder if they thought reporters would be calling them, asking them to share a little slice of their history 30 years later.

I wonder if they ever imagined December 2005 and what it would look like, that here where only 30 years ago there was but a few cabins and the very basics to make life livable, now there is a resort where every whim can be satisfied within minutes, where superstars come to vacation, where the land is worth millions.

If not for them, Whistler would not be what it is today. And let’s not forget the pioneers before them too, the likes of Myrtle Philip, who didn’t come for the skiing.

Thanks for leading the way. I don’t know if I could have done it myself but I’m so glad you did.