CBC Digital Archives

The father of 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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In the '60s, Franz Wilhelmsen was one of a group of Vancouver men who navigated the mountains north of Vancouver in search of the perfect untarnished ski hill. The group eventually found the right peak, but the hard work had just begun. "It was a ... struggle from the beginning to sell it because ... it was difficult to explain what we envisioned. People thought we were just dreamers," Wilhelmsen says in the 1996 CBC-TV clip. As the "father of Whistler" is feted for launching the Whistler construction boom, he reflects back on roaming the mountains that he was sure were just as beautiful as the great peaks of Europe.
• Whistler Mountain didn't always have the same name. In the 1860's British Naval Officers and Surveyors called it London Mountain. However, local residents were inspired by the whistling sound made by the hoary marmot, a local species that inhabited the hillside, and began referring to the peak as Whistler. The name was officially changed on Aug. 27, 1965.
  • The land that has been developed into the Resort Municipality of Whistler was first inhabited in the 1880s by the Squamish and Lil'wat people. Their legacy is honoured at The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre. According to the centre's website, it "embodies the spirit of partnership between Whistler's two Native cultures, the Squamish Aboriginal people and the Lil'wat Aboriginal people."

• The original name of Whistler (village) was Alta Lake, though the lake itself was called Summit Lake because of the north and south flow of its creeks, creating a chain of four connected lakes (Alpha, Nita, Alta and Green). The lake's name was changed to avoid confusion with the other "Summit" lakes in BC. Surveyors first filed notes on the area around 1910 (the precise date is not cited in British Columbia's government records) and it's not clear if the lake was named before the creek or vice versa.

• In 1914 the Pacific Great Eastern Railway reached Alta Lake and thereby created the first transportation link to the outside world.

• By the 1950s, the area was home to numerous lodges, hotels and cabins and was a popular summertime tourist destination, due to the spectacular setting and excellent fishing. Rainbow Lodge, completed in 1914 on the northwest corner of Alta Lake, was among the most popular resorts west of Banff and Jasper.

• In the early 1960s, a group of Vancouver businessmen - which included Wilhelmsen - changed the Whistler landscape forever when they formed the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA), which was geared toward eventually bringing the Games to Whistler.

• At this time, the community (which was still called Alta Lake) had no road, no electricity, and no piped water or sewer.

• Garibaldi Lifts Limited, with Wilhelmsen as president, was formed in 1962. Over the next three years the south side of Whistler Mountain (known also as Creekside) saw the development of a gondola and chairlift, a day lodge and several ski hills.

• Despite its business success, GODA was unsuccessful in each of its four attempts to bring the Olympics to Whistler. In 1968 Vancouver/Garibaldi won the Canadian nomination for the 1976 Winter Games, but Montreal won the rights to hold the Summer Games that year and the International Olympic Committee would not allow both summer and winter games in the same country in the same year.

• Whistler was opened for skiing in 1966, but there was no plan for community development until 1974. According to whistlermuseum.com, that's when the province's NDP government instituted a land freeze and initiated a development study to identify crucial community issues. As a result of the study, the Resort Municipality of Whistler was created on Sept. 6, 1975. It was the first resort municipality in Canada.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Oct. 21, 1996
Guest(s): Franz Wilhelmsen
Reporter: Eric Dwyer
Duration: 3:53

Last updated: February 15, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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