CBC Digital Archives

Landslides threaten Whistler

The mountains and spectacular scenery have always been there. But until the 1950s, the Whistler area was just a small collection of lodges and cabins. Then a group of Vancouver businessmen with big dreams built a ski hill. Despite some troubles along the way, Whistler Village was built and became one of Canada's best-known resorts. CBC Digital Archives takes a look at the still-bumpy road to Whistler's international success.

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Carved from the mountains between Vancouver and Whistler, the Sea-to-Sky Highway faces an ever-present possibility of landslides. Less known is the potential for devastating landslides in Whistler itself, as illustrated in this 2006 CBC-TV report from The National. Aerial footage shows a major crack along Fitzsimmons Creek, which runs through Whistler. Experts say a debris basin must be built to mitigate the major damage from a slide, but no safety structure is in place yet. With the Olympics coming to Vancouver and Whistler in 2010, the possibility of disaster is getting more attention than ever.
• In a CBC news story from Jan. 24, 2005, geotechnical engineer Frank Baumann (the expert in this clip) warned that Whistler could be hit by a massive landslide. The story reports that Baumann wrote to the Whistler council in 2003 and questioned whether the municipality could safely hold an Olympic event below the mountain slope. Baumann said he received no reply. Whistler mayor Hugh O'Reilly said council was monitoring the situation closely and seeking the input of multiple consultants.
  • According to the government of British Columbia website, the province is particularly susceptible to landslides because of its "steep, mountainous terrain, its complex geology, its high precipitation, both as rain and snow, its abundance of unconsolidated glacial sediments, and its geographic position astride the earthquake zone that surrounds the Pacific Ocean." The site also notes that landslide is a general term to describe "the down-slope movement of soil, rock and organic materials under the influence of gravity. It also describes the landform that results."

B.C. has had some of the most notable landslides in Canadian history. They include:

• July 6, 1891, North Pacific Cannery (District of Port Edward): A landslide damn gave way following heavy rains. Worker's homes were besieged by debris or flooding; 35 dead.

• Aug. 13, 1905, Spences Bridge: Victims were swept away as a gravel landslide tumbled into Thompson River and caused a displacement wave; 15 dead.

• Nov. 28, 1909, Burnaby: a railway embankment gave way and derailed a work train; 22 dead.

• March 22, 1915, Jane Camp (near Britannia Beach): A mining camp was decimated by a rock avalanche from above the mine's portal; 56 dead.

• Oct. 28, 1921, Britannia Beach: A culvert in railway fill became blocked and damned Britannia Creek. The fill collapsed, setting off an outburst flood that swept away more than 50 houses 4.5 kilometres downstream; 37 dead.

• Jan. 14, 1965, Ocean Falls: A community was struck by a slush avalanche and debris flow, the result of melting snow; 7 dead.

• Oct. 28, 1981, M-Creek Bridge, Squamish, Highway 99: Heavy rains forced a debris flow that destroyed a bridge. Four vehicles plunged into a creek; 9 dead.

In recent years, there have been two notable landslides:

• A landslide on Feb. 4, 2007 closed Highway 99 (Sea-to-Sky Highway) for seven hours. Though there were no injuries, thousands of people were stranded on either side for hours.

• On July 29, 2008, a major landslide on the Sea-to-Sky Highway just missed crushing a tour bus and left an estimated 16,000 cubic metres of rock strewn across the two-lane road and onto the shores of Howe Sound.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 2, 2006
Guest(s): Frank Baumann, Andrée Blais-Stevens, Ken Melamed, Torry Seranin, Aldrich Unger
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Natalie Clancy
Duration: 7:01

Last updated: March 6, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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