Last week marked my 10th anniversary of living up here. I can hardly wait to use this factoid the next time I am at a meeting where people attempt to gain authority and credibility by prefacing their comments with a statement about the length of their residency. (I have always found this a weird custom, but have come to accept it as being as much a part of the culture here as Australian Day or stagette season.)
A decade ago, I moved up when the snow was thick on the ground and the thermometer was rarely breaking the zero mark on the thermometer. If I’d been a skier this would have been great. But I had been lured to the mountains by love’s siren song. I had no idea about fleece; thought that an unlined, leather car coat could take me through the season and was certain that a Sorel was a type of mushroom.
I moved here at a time when the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics was underway and dissent was in the air. And while a lot of people in the city had seemed ambivalent about the prospect of a Vancouver-Whistler games (“We’re trying again? Isn’t it Toronto’s turn?”), nobody seemed to have the passion — both negative and positive — that this tiny little mountain town had. My introduction to the town was illuminating and blasted away many of my long-held misconceptions about the place. Real people, with real issues and real lives called this place home and that’s something I never expected to find when I followed that moving truck up the Sea to Sky Highway.
Recently, I worked on a project where I had the opportunity to interview a number of movers and shaker on Whistler. When questioned about their success, for the most part they said the expected things: it was a result of hard work, perseverance, dedication, great staff and good timing. What I wasn’t expecting is that every single person also attributed the success of their business or organization to the community.
How they expressed this was interesting. Some cited community loyalty and the fact that Whistlerites are always willing to back a local. Others described the giving nature of the community, whether that giving came in the from of hard cash donation — as in the case of the thousands of people who annually support local fundraising efforts — or by informal mentorships and innovative partnerships. But what grabbed me most was the fact that each of the people I spoke to said they chose to base their careers here because they simply loved the community. Many said living here was the first time they had experienced the depth of what community could be.
Community is a concept that seems to be evaporating and something we have in spades. Social isolation and disconnection has become a well-documented phenomenon in cities. But here it’s different. We’re small enough where we experience, at most, three degrees of separation and that usually means you’re a newbie with only a handful of connections. No, we’re all pretty connected here and while that can create a perfect environment for mass hysteria — like when there’s a controversial project being undertaken or a grove of trees at risk of becoming wood chips — it also creates a sense of safety and belonging.
As the resort moves into its fourth decade of existence, we’re continuing to hold onto our sense of community and cultural identity. Together we’ve created a solid base from which we all can grow. Let’s remember that this is what makes people stay here once the snow melts.