Opinion » Alta States

Prince of the White Circus

Toulouse and the World Cup



"Keep your dreams alive. Remember all things are possible for those who believe."

– Olympic Champion Gail Devers

Some people are watchers. Some people are talkers. And some people are doers. Whistler's Terry 'Toulouse' Spence is all three. He's a leprechaun. A trickster. A silver-haired elf. And he has the tales to prove it.

I mean, this is the guy who came up with the outlandish idea of printing a commemorative poster of an evicted community of skiing hippies... posing naked. And then made sure the image was distributed to some of the most iconic watering holes in the skiing universe. That was nearly 40 years ago. Funny, eh? That tatty Toad Hall Poster has probably done more to burnish Whistler's reputation as an exciting, edgy, youthful ski town than any of the high-priced ad campaigns conceived since. As I said, he's quite the trickster.

But no amount of tricks could alter the dire straits Toulouse found himself navigating in the mid 1970s. For with the dispersal of the Toad Hall community also came the realization that peace, love and ski bumming might be a fun philosophy, but it was lousy at covering off the bills. Especially now that he had to pay rent. Whistler was a tough place to make a living in those days. Sure, you could sling beers at the Boot Pub if you were desperate. Or you could spend your summers in the bush tree planting or on the ocean fishing commercially. But as for anything meaningful or sustainable in the valley, it was hard scrabbling.

"I lived at Garibaldi with Brian Allen for a while," recounts Toulouse. "You remember that place, don't you? It was right on the Cheakamus River. It was beautiful there..."

And then he changes the subject. For just a breath, his voice grows sombre. "Strange now, when I think of those years. Strange to think that the two bookend guys on the Toad Hall poster — René Paquet at one end and Chris Speedie at the other — are no longer here with us. It makes you think..."

The moment passes. We move on to the next chapter. "And it's a pretty amazing one," chuckles Toulouse. Indeed. It almost defies the imagination. Judge for yourself.

The time had come, he tells me, to leave Whistler. It was a hard call. But he felt he had no choice. "Brian Allen had moved to North Van and was working in a wood-working shop there. He got me a job in another shop nearby." But Toulouse wasn't all that taken with the work. Instead, he decided to study massage.

Say what? Yep, massage. And he got pretty good at it. "I studied in Vancouver, in California — in a whole variety of institutions in fact." By the spring of 1978, Spence had a pretty good handle on his new profession. Still, he was pretty surprised to get the call from the head coach of the men's national ski team.

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