During the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games it was common to see mascots Quatchi, Miga and Sumi around, as well as their sidekick Mukmuk the marmot. However, before these mascots descended on Whistler a different marmot mascot ruled Whistler. That marmot was known as Willie Whistler.
The Whistler Resort Association (WRA) began operations in 1980 with the aim ‘to promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.’ The new mascot of the WRA, Willie Whistler, was introduced in 1981 to promote Whistler. The name ‘Willie Whistler’ was chosen through a competition for local children to ‘Name the Whistler Marmot’. Eight-year-old Tammi Wick won a Blackcomb season pass for choosing the winning name.
Willie’s first big event was the Fall Festival, an event to celebrate the upcoming winter and bring life to the time of year still known as the ‘shoulder season’. Each day of the festival had a scheduled meet and greet with Willie Whistler so everyone could get a picture with the new mascot.
Mascots were so popular in the 1980s that the ‘First Annual Mascot Race’ was held on Blackcomb Mountain on March 26, 1983. The race was held as part of the Yukon Jack Challenge, which also saw the Pacific Western Pro Tour Finals race on upper Springboard and a ‘Hospitality Cup’ – where local hospitality staff were tasked with minimising spillage while carrying loaded trays through a challenging obstacle course.
There was no shortage of local mascots to compete in the Mascot Race. The Whistler Question did not mince words when discussing the popularity of suited figures. ‘Though Pro Tour racers are supposed to hold centre stage for the weekend, they just might lose it for a while to a herd of furred, feathered, and finned mammals who will ramble, scramble and swim their ways up Blackcomb Mountain to participate in the First Annual Mascot Race.’
‘Confirmed entries in this unpredictable contest include: Whistler’s own famous marmot, Willie Whistler; the race’s sponsor Yukon Jack; E. Bunny, the mystery rabbit, from Blackcomb Mountain; The Mountain Inn’s Delta Duck; the A&W Root Bear, Hemlock the friendly sasquatch; and Bee Bob the Beluga Whale from the Vancouver Aquarium. It will be strictly a case of survival of the fittest in that event.’
Though the mascots featured on the front cover of the Whistler Question the following week, it is unclear who won the First Annual Mascot Race. We also could not find any evidence of the mascot race continuing annually.
Willie Whistler was always in the middle of the action greeting visitors, shaking hands with dignitaries, playing golf, skiing and presenting awards. After a busy life eventually it was only mice that wanted to be inside the mascot suit. Ultimately, Willie went the way of Dusty the Horse and finished up in the landfill.
In may technically still be (and at times even feel) like summer, but for many people the beginning of September signals the beginning of fall. While many people will have spent this weekend celebrating a certain beverage at the Whistler Beer Festival, in the 1980s this past weekend would have featured a celebration of the upcoming season with the Whistler Fall Festival.
The Fall Festival was first organized by the Whistler Resort Association (WRA, now known as Tourism Whistler) in 1981. At the time, the Whistler Village was beginning to emerge from a craze of construction and Blackcomb Mountain was looking forward to its second season of operations. There was a lot to celebrate in Whistler and the festival featured many of the growing community’s arts, crafts, sports, and activities.
One of the local characters showcased at the Fall Festival was Willie Whistler, the new mascot of the WRA. Willie’s name came from a “Name the Whistler Marmot” contest for children in the area in which the winner, eight-year-old Tammi Wick, won a Blackcomb season pass. The mascot was created to promote Whistler at local and other events and the Fall Festival, which included time each day to “Meet Willie Whistler,” was his first big event.
The festival also featured local artists and artisans who demonstrated their crafts in the village, including pottery, fibre spinning, stained glass, and painting. Performers over the weekend included acts such as Evan Kemp and the Trail Riders, the Alpini Band, and local favourite Doc Fingers, as well as dance performances and Bo Bo the Clown.
For visitors and residents alike, the Fall Festival offered different ways to see the Whistler valley. Snowgoose Transportation offered free 50 minute bus tours, showing off everything from residential areas to the gondola base in Creekside to the Blackcomb daylodge. To see the valley from above, participants could enjoy a flight from Okanagan Helicopters, take advantage of Blackcomb Mountain’s offer of free chairlift rides, or, subject to wind conditions, go up in Chuck Bump’s hot air balloon, billed at the festival as the “World’s Largest Hot Air Balloon.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, sports and competitions also featured prominently at the Fall Festival. Spectators could take in volleyball, Pro/Celebrity tennis matches that paired pro players with notables from politics, business, and media, a softball game between the Whistler Contractors Association and the Whistler A’s, or even a parachuting demonstration. For those looking to compete, the Waiters Race challenged Whistler’s servers to run a timed obstacle course without spilling a drop, and the Labatt’s Great Whistler Water Race relay covered four lakes and the River of Golden Dreams through canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and windsurfing.
Though the Fall Festival was primarily about showcasing Whistler, it also raised money for several different causes. On the Sunday, Whistler hosted a run as part of the first national Terry Fox Run, raising over $7,600. The proceeds from a beer garden hosted by the Whistler Athletic Society that evening were also donated towards cancer research.
Local causes benefited as well. The WRA donated enough funds from the Village Centre beer garden to replace the snowmobile of the Alta Lake Sports Club that had been destroyed in a fire. Umberto Menghi, who was then opening his new restaurant Il Caminetto, contributed to the festival by both providing the firework display for the Saturday evening and hosting a gala dinner at Myrtle Philip School to benefit the Whistler Health Care Society.
According to Glenda Bartosh of The Whistler Question, the first Fall Festival was about far more than raising money and generating revenue for the resort. She reported that the festival “created laughter, high energy and a true appreciation of what Whistler is all about.” The WRA must have agreed, as they continued to organize the Fall Festival for at least three more years.
At the moment, Whistler’s golf courses are an unlikely place to find a game of golf or even a determined player at the driving range. Instead cross-country skiers, snowshoers and, in the case of the Whistler Golf Club, dog walkers can be found taking advantage of the layer of snow on top of the greens. In just a couple of months, however, the skiers and dogs will be replaced by carts and clubs.
Looking through one of the books on the museum’s reference shelf I came across The Whistler Handbook containing a summary of the courses found in Whistler, written by Doug Sack in 1993. Sack was the first sports editor for the Whistler Question; he started in 1984 and held the post for 18 years. During that time he also contributed to other publications, including The Whistler Handbook put together by Bob Colebrook, Kevin Raffler and Jennifer Wilson in the early 1990s.
In the golf section of the Handbook Sack covers all of the courses from Furry Creek to Pemberton, including a few that hadn’t yet opened or were still under construction. His commentary, like most of the book, is informative while entertaining.
The oldest golf course in the corridor is the Squamish Valley, first opened in 1967. According to Sack it was built “by community-minded loggers and businessmen” and then renovated under the direction of Robert Muir-Graves in 1992.
The next course to open in the area was the Whistler Golf Course. Though it originally opened with 9 holes, the full 18-hole course designed by Arnold Palmer officially opened in the summer of 1983. Ten years later the course was reportedly busy with tournaments and visitors, making walk on tee times almost impossible except for “weekday twilights.” This course is probably the most photographed in the museum collections as the Question was there to cover all aspects from its construction to the golf lessons Palmer once gave mascot Willie Whistler in 1981 on the 9-hole course to the commercial Sean Connery filmed on the greens in 1984.
By 1993 the Pemberton Valley Golf Club, designed by Boyd Barr and opened in 1989, was described by Sack as having “two distinctive nines, one in the open with lakes, and one in the trees” and offering a “diverse golfing experience.” In only four years the course had developed a reputation as “the most popular course for locals and the most relaxed for visitors.”
Unlike the Pemberton Valley course, neither the Fairmont Chateau Golf Course nor the course in Furry Creek, both newly opened in 1993, were described by Sack as “relaxing”. According to Sack, “You know a golf course is tough when you’re standing on the first tee and you hear one of the assistant pros walking off the 18th green bragging to his co-workers about almost breaking 80.”
As of 1993 Big Sky and Nicklaus North were under construction, set to open in 1994 and 1995 respectively.
The golf courses of Whistler are only one aspect covered in The Whistler Handbook, which includes sections on the community, the resort services, winter sports and more. Anyone who experienced Whistler in the 1990s will find the contents familiar, whether they golf or not. The 1990s are not often highlighted at the museum (in part because the decade still seems recent, despite ending 19 years ago); having resources like The Whistler Handbook and others in our collection ensure that the 1990s will be preserved as part of Whistler’s history.
A lot has happened this week in Whistler’s history – this week in 1982 has almost 400 photographs. If you’re interested in seeing more the Fall Festival and other events from that year, check out the whole album here.