In the 1980s the Whistler Question began posing a question to three to six people and publishing their responses under “Whistler’s Answers” (not to be confused with the Whistler Answer). Each week, we’ll be sharing one question and the answers given back in 1983. Please note, all names/answers/occupations/neighbourhoods represent information given to the Question at the time of publishing and do not necessarily reflect the person today.
Some context for this week’s question: We’re not sure this question requires any additional context.
Question: BC doctors want to raise the legal drinking age from 19 to 21. Do you think this would reduce the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents?
Christine Rodgers – Physician – White Gold
I know all the studies say that if you lift the drinking age it helps but I think it would be more effective to penalize drunk drivers more heavily. I’m not in favour of raising the legal age, I’d rather see the penalties applied more stringently and across the board.
Dave Cipp – Bartender – White Gold
No, I think that would only make things worse. It would lead to drinking in parks and cars. I think they’d find this age group would become more militant not easier to handle. If they’re old enough and responsible enough to vote then it’s a real kick in the head to say they can’t drink.
Karen Playfair – Grocery Store Employee – Alpine Meadows
I don’t really think there would be fewer incidents. What authorities should do is make penalties stricter and make people more aware of the dangers and they’d have to do this when they reach 21 anyway. It’s attitudes not ages that need changing.
When the Whistler Medical Centre moved into part of the basement of Municipal Hall in 1986, it was expected to be a temporary facility that would be replaced by a purpose-built facility in the coming years. Despite the temporary nature of the facility, the space tripled the size of the Centre and was a huge improvement over its previous locations, which had been a double-wide trailer on Whistler Way and later the Whistler Golf Course parking lot.
The facility reportedly opened in 1986 with private offices for doctors (at the time there were still only two: Dr. Rob Burgess and Dr. Christine Rodgers; Whistler’s third doctor, Dr. Ron Stanley, joined the practice in 1988) and the public health nurse Marilyn McIvor, space for emergency patients, a casting bay, a lead-lined room for x-rays, and even a separate space of physiotherapy. By 1989, however, the growing medical needs of the community and visitors meant that the Centre needed more room and a 16-metre trailer was installed near Municipal Hall to house physiotherapy and doctors’ offices.
By 1993, the need for a new, permanent facility was acute. The Municipal Hall space was shared by a staff of 34 that included four nurses, and administrator, seven doctors, one lab technician, and six x-ray technicians, as well as by over 100 patients on busy days. Administrator Bev Wylie described the working conditions for staff as “comparable to a shoe box,” especially around holidays. According to Wylie, staff were doubled up in offices and the lunch room functioned as a meeting room, records room, supply room, coat closet, and quiet area. The incubator shared space in a hallway with stacks of files and a photocopier. The second-hand x-ray machine was already nine years old when it was installed in 1986 and designed to handle about 600 x-rays annually, but in Whistler it was doing over 7,000 each year. Dr. Andrew Hamson told the Whistler Question that the Centre could be “a complete, utter zoo.” Despite this, the staff continued to provide quality medical care to both residents and visitors of Whistler.
In the January 14, 1993 edition of the Question, Janet Hamer, a nurse at the Centre, compiled a list of cases the staff dealt with in 24 hours. From 8 am to 8 am, staff treated burns, sore throats, colds, flue, frostbite, fractures, injuries from fights, allergies, neck injuries, head injuries, eleven knee injuries from skiing, an overdose of LSD, and multiple patients from car accidents. By 1:50 pm, it was at least an hour to see a doctor, which became a two hour wait at 1:55 pm when a helicopter arrived with a patient with serious head and chest injuries. The Centre closed at 8 pm but the doctor on call returned at 8:25 pm to treat an anxiety attack and had patients on and off until 6:45 am.
With funding from the Squamish Lillooet Regional District Hospital board and the provincial government, as well as lots of fundraising by the Whistler Health Care Society, other community groups, and individuals, the current Whistler Health Care Centre facility was ready to open in the summer 1994. It reportedly had four times the space, with room for planned expansions (multiple expansions and upgrades to the Centre have been completed since its opening in 1994; most recently, the Whistler Health Care Foundation raised money for a new trauma unit that was completed in February 2022). When asked what they thought of the new facility, Dr. Dan Wallman told the Question, “It’s a tremendous improvement for the community and us. I would like to thank everyone who donated their time, effort, and money to this cause.” Lab technician Dawna Astle described it as “Professional, air conditioned, clean, and about time too!”
For decades, portable buildings and trailers have been temporary homes for organizations and businesses in Whistler. At one point or another, the liquor store, real estate offices, Municipal Hall, the library, the museum, the Whistler Arts Council, and even the bank have been located in trailers around the valley. One facility that you might not expect to find in a trailer, however, is the Whistler Medical Centre.
In the late 1960s, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. began providing accommodation for the Whistler Mountain Medical Association, a group of skiing doctors who also provided medical care for residents after skiing on winter weekends. It wasn’t until 1980, when two local doctors set up practices, that full time medical care came to Whistler. Dr. Christine Rodgers saw patients in her home in White Gold, while Dr. Rob Burgess set up in a trailer near the base of Whistler Mountain in Whistler Village, which was still under construction.
The Whistler Health Planning Society was then formed in 1982, spearheaded by residents including Craig MacKenzie and Rollie Horsey. The Society began fundraising for a dedicated medical facility and, in September 1982, opened the Whistler Medical Centre in a double-wide trailer. It was located on Whistler Way between the Delta Mountain Inn (now the Hilton) and the Sports & Convention Centre (today the Conference Centre). This new facility had rooms for both Dr. Rodgers and Dr. Burgess, as well as the public health nurse Marilyn McIvor and physiotherapist Susie Mortensen-Young, and a holding area for injuries.
Whistler Emergency Services also began operating out of the facility at the beginning of the ski season. The station was operated by Shari Imrie and Beverly Wylie, both Registered Nurses, who between them treated emergency patients 36 hours/week.
The trailer was always meant to be a temporary facility for the Medical Centre, but, in 1984, the Society turned down a location in the lower level of Municipal Hall due to concerns about their ability to fund the larger space and worries that this new facility would lead the province to think that Whistler was adequately serviced. By this time, however, it would appear that the medical needs of the community and its visitors had outgrown the 111m2 space. It was reported that 69% of the patients treated at the Medical Centre during the ski season were visitors and Society member Chuck Blaylock described the facility as “a little scruffy. It’s like a MASH unit on a busy weekend.” This sentiment was seconded by Bev Wylie, who later remembered taping IV units to the wall while patients lay on the floor because there were no empty beds.
The Society had continued fundraising for a new facility through charitable donations and events such as chilli cookoffs, hot dog sales, golf tournaments, and raffle draws. In 1985, the Whistler Health Planning Society changed its name to the Whistler Health Care Society and restructured its constitution so that the Medical Centre would qualify for provincial funding. The next year, the Whistler Medical Centre moved into the earlier proposed space in Municipal Hall, tripling the size of its space. The trailers, which at that time were located on the parking lot of the Whistler Golf Course, were sold to Whistler Land Co. Developments. The medical needs of the community and visitors, however, would continue to grow and outgrow the space, leading to another move in the 1990s.