The History of Whistler Village

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

Whistler Village is less than two hours drive north of Vancouver. It's a drive offering the unspeakable beauty of coastal island and spectacular mountain vistas. A popular destination year-round, you’ll be welcomed like family, and swept up by the excitement 'The Village'. Whether skiing, biking, canoeing, hiking, meandering through the many shops, or just relaxing in a hot tub, Whistler is a wonderful destination spot, with much to discover.

Stretching from North Vancouver to the Squamish River watershed, the Whistler Valley was once an isolated wilderness inhabited by First Nations people for thousands of years. The Lil’wat Nation inhabited the Mount Currie area, the Squamish Nation was at the foot of the Squamish River, and the Coast Salish people lived in the northern area of Howe Sound (Gibson’s Landing). The name 'Whistler' comes from the seven distinct whistling sounds made by the region's hoary marmots (a beaver-like animal).

In The Beginning

A trapper named John Millar was one of the first white settlers to arrive in the area, in 1860. He soon established a 'stopping house' (a boarding house for fur traders and early pioneers) in the area that became known as Millar’s Creek, near today’s Function Junction.

In 1877, the Pemberton Trail was completed, linking the Pemberton Valley to the Pacific coastal areas north of Vancouver.

Alex & Myrtle Phillips Started It All

In 1910, an American couple, Alex and Myrtle Philip, immigrated to Vancouver from Maine. Alex took a job managing the Horseshoe Bar & Grill in Gastown.

One day, in the spring of 1911, John Millar came down to Vancouver to sell some furs and pick up provisions. He happened into the Horseshoe Bar & Grill, where he struck up a conversation with the manager, Alex Philip. Millar’s description of his secluded mountain valley struck a chord with Alex, who had a dream of one day opening his own fishing resort. Right then and there, he accepted Millar's invitation to visit the area.

In August of that same year, Alex and Myrtle made the 3-day trek to Alta Lake. First, they took a steamship from Vancouver to Squamish. They stayed in Brackendale that night, and the next day, made the two-day horse trek to Alta Lake. Seeing the string of glacier-fed lakes teeming with trout, the Phillips realized they had found the perfect place to make their dream come true.

The Railway Comes to Whistler

In 1914, Alex and Myrtle bought ten acres of land on the shores of Alta Lake, and built the Rainbow Lodge. Some of Myrtle’s family, the Tapleys, even came out from Maine to help with construction. Originally, it had just four bedrooms, a large living/dining area, and a kitchen. Not long thereafter, the Pacific Great Eastern Railway completed railway access to link the valley to the lower mainland. Whistler soon became the base for logging and mining operations.

Within a few years, the Rainbow Lodge became the most popular fishing resort west of Banff. At full capacity the Rainbow Lodge was able to accommodate as many as 100 guests. Alex and Myrtle sold the Rainbow Lodge in 1946 for the sum of $100,000. Meanwhile, other fishing lodges opened up around the valley, and the area continued to prosper.

Whistler Becomes a Ski Destination

In 1962, four Vancouver businessmen, headed by Franz Wilhelmsen, put in a bid to host the 1968 Winter Olympics with their plan to build a ski hill. Though their bid was unsuccessful, they proceeded with the ski hill plan, and formed the Garibaldi Lift Company. They developed Whistler's first ski hill on the south side of Whistler Mountain. By 1966, the province paved the road connecting Vancouver to Whistler, and the ski hill officially opened for business.

Although the road was dangerously 'windy' and often speckled with hazardous rockfalls, it made Whistler easily accessible. By the Fall of 1975, the Municipality of Whistler was incorporated, and designated Canada's first 'resort municipality'. Soon after, plans were made for a new town centre on the north side of the mountain, to accommodate expansion into the international marketplace.

Blackcomb Mountain Opens

In 1978, construction began on the new town centre, which would become what is now Whistler Village. By 1980, Blackcomb Mountain opened and together with Whistler Mountain, became one of the largest ski complexes in North America. By 1985, it had expanded to become North America’s only 'mile high' ski resort. In 1992, Snow Country Magazine voted Whistler the 'Number One Ski Resort in North America'. Six years later, the Intrawest company purchased the two ski hills and merged them under one company, Whistler-Blackcomb.

The 2010 Olympics

The Olympic games finally arrived in Whistler for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Events included Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross-country Skiing, Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping, Bobsleigh, and Luge. Nearly 25 years after 'Expo 86', Vancouver's first international event, the 2010 Olympics became the regions biggest 'world event' ever!

Today, Whistler-Blackcomb is operated by Vail Resorts. With a total of 37 chairlifts and 200 ski runs over some 8,000 acres, it continues to be one of the world's most popular ski resorts.

Nowadays, over 2 million people visit Whistler each year, to ski in the winter, or enjoy mountain biking, hiking, and fishing in the summer. In fact, I go there often, and find some of my greatest inspiration from the region!

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