There are many options when it comes to holiday shopping in Whistler and, for many, craft fairs and markets are looked forward to as an opportunity to fine something unique while supporting local artists. For many years, the best known craft market in Whistler was the Bizarre Bazaar.
Ten years before the first Bizarre Bazaar was organized by the Whistler Community Arts Council (now called Arts Whistler) in 1987, the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) began hosting their annual Fall Fair fundraiser for the Club where local artists could sell handmade crafts among other activities. The first Fall Fair in 1977 was held in the gym of Myrtle Philip School and was so successful that it made a profit in its first year. By 1985, the Fall Fair had grown large enough that it moved into the recently opened Conference Centre.
Christmas decorations are sold at the Alta Lake Community Club’s Fall Fair in 1984. Some tables at the Bizarre Bazaar would have looked similar. Whistler Question Collection, 1984
Like the Fall Fair, the Bizarre Bazaar began in the Myrtle Philip School gym as a fundraiser, this one to support the Whistler Children’s Art Festival. At the time, the Arts Council was still young (Arts Whistler celebrated their 40th year of operations this year), had no office space, and was run by a group of dedicated and hands-on board members and volunteers, including Gail Rybar who coordinated the first Bizarre Bazaar in 1987.
Held on December 5, 1987 the first Bizarre Bazaar included sales of local arts, crafts and food, a raffle, live entertainment from flautist Dorothy Halton and Celtic harpist Theodore Gabriel, lunch and dinner, a “beverage garden,” children’s craft workshops with Pene Domries, and photos with Santa. Like the Fall Fair of the ALCC, the first year of the Bizarre Bazaar was reportedly a success and raised enough money to fund the Children’s Art Festival in 1988. According to long time Arts Council board member Joan Richoz, however, the first year was not without its challenges.
Gail Rybar, organizer of the first Bizarre Bazaar in 1987. Whistler Question Collection, Bonny Makarewicz, 1993
Looking back over 25 years of Bizarre Bazaars in 2013, Richoz recalled that the volunteer organizers had to put long hours and a lot of effort into the first market. They had borrowed tables from the Delta Mountain Inn (now the Hilton) and, though the hotel was located not far from the school had to transport the tables over snowbanks. A heavy snow on December 4 meant that some vendors from outside of Whistler were not able to make it, while others left the market early in order to make it home. Volunteers set up stalls and workshops and even made chili so that everyone working the market would have dinner to eat.
In the following years, the Bizarre Bazaar grew and also came to include a bake sale fundraiser for the Whistler Museum & Archives Society. Museum volunteers including Florence Petersen, Joan Deeks, Lil Goldsmid, Isobel MacLaurin, Kathy Macalister, Shirley Langtry, Viv Jennings, Darlyne Christian and more would spend weeks ahead of the market baking in order to raise money for the organization. Other community groups also got involved, with the Girl Guides running activities, the Whistler Community Services Society operating the food concession, the Whistler Public Library selling tickets to their own annual fundraiser, and both the Whistler Singers and the Whistler Children’s Chorus performing seasonal numbers.
When a new Myrtle Philip Community School opened on Lorimer Road in 1992, the Bizarre Bazaar moved with it and continued to run out of the school gym until 1996 when it moved into the Conference Centre. In the 2000s, the market continued to expand and change, moving to a weekend in November, partnering with Bratz Biz (a youth artisan market for local young entrepreneurs) in 2006, occasionally switching location to the Westin Resort, and changing its name to the Arts Whistler Holiday Market.
Mary Jones inspects one of the delicate and exquisitely crafted small wood boxes by Mountenay of Squamish at the 1994 Bizarre Bazaar. Whistler Question Collection, Bonny Makarewicz, 1994
This winter, though there is no Bizarre Bazaar or Arts Whistler Holiday Market, Bratz Biz and the Whistler Artisan Market will be taking place in the Upper Village on November 26 & 27. If you’re in search of archival images of Whistler, we will be at the Whistler Artisan Market and can’t wait to see you there!