Whistler community more than Whistler Village, skiing and mountain biking

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Resort community offers so much more than carousing, skiing and mountain biking

Andrew McCredie
The Province

If your idea of culture in Whistler is hooking up with German tourists at last call at Garfinkel’s for some late-night poutine and falafals, you clearly haven’t been to the four-season resort lately.

True, the classic pub crawl still winds its way through the pedestrian pathways of the village, but if its more high-minded matters you seek, there’s a vibrant cultural crawl that will quench your thirst for local knowledge, history and tradition.

Surprisingly, as I discovered on a recent couple of culture-filled days up here in the mountains, little of that history has to do with skiing or single-track biking. And it dates back much longer than 1966, the year the first Garibaldi Lift Company chair started operation on the newly minted ‘Whistler Mountain.’

I learned this and much more about the town’s first century during a fascinating one-hour guided walking tour of the village by Whistler Museum program coordinator Jeanette Bruce. (I’ve been coming up here every year for almost three decades, and the fact that Whistler has a museum was another revelation!).

Whistler Museum Walking Tour

Granted, being led around by a guide holding up old black & white 8×10 glossies won’t exactly earn you big style points in the fashion-conscious Whistler Village, but how else are you going to learn about John Millar, a Texan on the run from the law who in 1910 was the first white settler in the area? Or about Myrtle and Alex Philip, a young Vancouver couple who in 1914 purchased 10 acres of land on Alta Lake to build a fishing lodge? Alex was a Gastown bartender and was enthralled by occasional patron Millar’s accounts of the untouched beauty of the area.

You’ll learn how Philip’s Rainbow Lodge set the blueprint for the ‘resort’ in Resort Municipality more than a century ago, and how for decades Vancouverites traveled on the Pacific Great Eastern Line to fish and get away from it all.

Then came a logging boom, with four mills located around Green Lake.

The walking tour meanders through the modern village, so it’s not until about the halfway point of the tour that you are standing in front of a historical touchstone. In this case, a garbage dump. Well, at least it was back in the early Seventies, and our guide Jeanette tells us it was one of the few sources of entertainment back in the day. ‘You’d come here in the evening to watch all the bears and eagles.’ Today, it’s the base of Blackcomb Mountain, teeming with mountain bikers and tourists.

The most enlightening aspect of the tour, for me at least, was surrounding Eldon Beck, the landscape architect responsible for Whistler’s pedestrian-oriented village. After having just been in Banff, I realized how different — and ordinary — Whistler could have ended up if it was designed on a traditional car-oriented, street grid pattern, as was the original town plan until Beck was brought in.

The tour ends at Olympic Plaza, and with Jeanette holding up one of her handy glossy photos — this one of original settler Millar — beside the Olympic rings, there’s a century of Whistler history in the making.

Of course, the history of the region did not begin with Millar or the Philips, as First Nations people occupied areas up and down the valley floor and into the mountains for centuries prior.

The next stop brought that history into focus.

Squamish Lil-Wat Cultural Centre

As remarkable as the art collection and the building that houses it are, this museum’s true accomplishment is the collaboration between two nations that have co-existed—mostly peacefully—in the Whistler area for millennia.

What you come to quickly understand as you make your way through the museum—on a tour or self-guided—is that despite that close proximity to one another, the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations were, and are, very culturally diverse from one another. They dress differently, have different customs and traditions, and have their own unique ancestor stories.

The presentation of the artifacts and artwork of the two nations is done in a manner that distinguishes each on their own accord, yet ties them together in a way that underscores how the two nations’ histories have been linked for centuries.

The centre opened in 2008 and is well worth a visit, and come hungry. The Thunderbird Café’s modern First Nations cuisine includes homemade venison chili, bannock tacos and bison pot pie.

Audain Art Museum

The newcomer to Whistler’s cultural scene is also the area’s unabashed heavyweight. Both in terms of the collection and the remarkable building it is housed in.

Opened in the winter of 2016, the 56,00 square-foot museum is a loving tribute to British Columbia built and donated by Michael Audain and his wife Yohiko Karasawa.

The only gallery in Canada devoted to the works of one province, the Audain’s collection is breathtaking. The First Nations mask collection is one of the world’s finest; there are 24 Emily Carr works on permanent display; and the list of contemporary B.C. artists whose creations are here include Jeff Wall, Robert Davidson and Xwalacktun Harry. Then there’s the E.J. Hughes Gallery, which celebrates contemporary life on the B.C. coast.

The collection is set up chronologically, beginning with a stunning room of carved masks punctuated by a Dance Screen by James Hart that fills one entire wall of the room. Fittingly, the collection concludes with contemporary First Nations artwork.

Spend an hour getting lost in this amazing collection, and you’ll all but forget that you are in Whistler, a place many equate to outdoor activity.

My how that has changed.

Pan Pacific package a one-stop cultural stop

The simplest way to book a Whistler cultural experience is with The Cultural Explorer Package.

Offered by Pan Pacific Whistler in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, the three-night package includes admission to the Audain Art Museum (including a copy of the museum’s ‘Masterworks’ coffee table book) and the Squamish Lil-Wat Cultural Centre, a ride on the Peak2Peak Gondola, and a spot on the Whistler Museum Walking Tour.

The package starts at $747 (plus tax and based on double occupancy) and is available until Oct. 9 of this year. Visit panpacific.com for details.

If you’re more inclined to DIY exploring, the Cultural Connector is a Whistler Municipality initiative linking six points of interest together.

Pick up a brochure in your hotel lobby or at the museum, which features a map of the route along with information about the six venues, which in addition to the two listed above include the Maury Young Arts Centre, the Lost Lake PassivHaus, the Whistler Public Library and the Whistler Museum.

© 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.


Comments are closed.