It’s time we set the record straight.
Contrary to longstanding popular belief (not to mention its reactionist title), Whistler’s beloved hippie-era alternative newspaper, The Answer was not an impassioned response to the community’s first weekly, The Question, a straight-laced, mimeographed publication that was, up until that point, the only game in town when it came to news.
“It actually wasn’t so much in response to The Question,” said Charlie Doyle, who’s listed on the first issue of The Answer’s handwritten masthead as editor-in-chief, artist, layout designer and letterer.
Even the inaugural issue’s editorial from April 1977 makes it clear.
“I would like to say that this paper is in no way a reflection on the Whistler Question, put out by Paul Burrows. His publication performs a much needed and appreciated function in the valley. As for the name, Paul, I couldn’t resist!”
Glad we got that settled.
Doyle and a small team of hippie ski bums, that included Robin Preboy, Tim Smith, Bob “Bosco” Colebrook and a mishmash of contributors, handcrafted the first issue not because of The Question, but rather a problem dreaded by all Whistlerites both past and present: crappy weather.
“One winter we were having a terrible snow year and a lot of people moved away — gone to Hawaii, gone to Mexico and different places,” said Doyle. “So we were writing all these individual letters to all these people, and we thought ‘Why don’t we just write one letter and make it look kind of like a newspaper and send it off?’”
Realizing the paper would cost money — a hot commodity for the motley crew who were all squatting in dingy cabins at the time — Doyle et al got local businesses to advertise and help foot the bill.
“We had the advertising, so we were sort of committed to doing 12 pages,” he laughed.
While the gang had no intention of continuing the quirky publication after its first issue, it received a positive response from the community — then only seven or eight hundred strong — so they decided to keep it going.
The paper gave the first significant voice to a segment of the community living on the fringes that didn’t always get represented at the time.
“There was no reflection of that weird hippie culture except for the fact that it was existing and you could see it in the squatted places,” said Doyle. “People were either old school European types and even the original pioneers like Myrtle Philip were still around and functioning in the community, and then there was this whole other crowd of young, hippie ski bums. When I first came here, I’m going ‘Holy shit, this is a weird little town.’”
One of its early readers was current Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who herself was squatting in a log cabin at the time.
“It was a very cheeky little newspaper, it was a lot of fun to read. They were very clever, very cheeky,” she recalled.
Throughout The Answer’s 49-issue run, which spanned from 1977 to 1982, and then again from 1992 to 1993, its “reporters” employed a satirical, playful writing style with tongues planted firmly in cheek. Controversy was occasionally courted, like in 1992 following the soft launch of the first issue of its second run, when a group of local women calling themselves Mothers for Morality protested The Answer’s liberal peppering of drug references and casual nudity, even garnering above-the-fold coverage from The Province.
“The controversy was great,” said Doyle. “One guy who used to write for us occasionally was a connection at The Province, and we got it on the front page. We were loving it; nothing was better than having women picket the opening party. “
Despite its irreverence, The Answer did cover actual events alongside the racy photos and tales of rampant drug use, and, according to Doyle, were the first media to write about Canada’s talented national ski team, which included downhill legends and local faves Dave Murray and Steve Podborski.
“Those were the days when the Canadian National Ski Team was doing really well — the Crazy Canucks and all that — and the straight press wasn’t covering it at all,” said Doyle. “We knew the guys on the team … so we set up a phone call to Switzerland, and in those days it was hard to do that.”
Especially in abandoned cabins without electricity.
“Well, we had friends with phones.”
For nearly three years, the paper was lettered primarily by hand — even the ads. The early issues especially invoke a certain DIY aesthetic that is now all the rage on websites like Etsy, just a click away. It should come as no surprise then, that even with the hyper-commercialization our little resort town has experienced since the heady countercultural days of the ‘70s , Whistler’s legion of teens and twenty-somethings can identify with a humble hippie rag that’s now more than 35 years old.
“My kids are 22 and 25 and sometimes I’d have friends of theirs over who weren’t born when (The Answer) was out the first time and weren’t reading the second time and they were all loving it,” said Doyle. “I think the values that we put forth still hold true to a lot of people. It’s still a town that has a majority of young people and they come here to have a good time.”
Thanks to the Whistler Museum and a $5,700 grant from the University of British Columbia, The Answer’s entire run has been scanned and digitized and is available for download on any platform at http://www.whistlermuseum.org/whistleranswer.
“It will be neat to see a whole new group of people see it,” said Doyle.