It’s a sign we’re growing up. What began as a mission to carve a ski resort out of a valley, the vision of Whistler’s pioneers likely did not stretch so far as to foresee the town of today — not its population, its infrastructure, its sophisticated level of governance nor its power-house economy. But that’s what Whistler became. And as more immigrants than ever before decide to call Whistler their permanent home, it’s a sign this ski resort has matured into a municipality of stability, purpose and promise.
Over the past few years newcomers have been steadily arriving from Eastern Europe, South and Central America and the Philippines. According to the most recent Census report, the number of non-speaking English residents currently stands at 12 per cent of the community. These new residents are not coming to Whistler for a ski holiday, but to earn a better income than they would in their home countries, and to provide a better future for their children.
Working as cleaners, kitchen staff and other semi-skilled positions, the influx of newcomers is motivated for reasons much different than their working-holiday coworkers.
Even after working in Whistler for one or two years, it is not uncommon for this new wave of immigrants to have never stepped foot on the ski hill. But it’s the success of that ski hill that created the conditions to which they’re drawn: a strong economy, a plentiful job pool, a clean environment, a friendly community and, overall, a high quality of living.
“I was at home in Mexico when my wife saw a job ad to work in Whistler,” says resident Juan Alfonso Gonzalez. “I came here to work for six months and was able to extend that work permit for two years then finally applying for permanent resident status.
“In Mexico it is hard to make enough money to pay the bills, the jobs are not there.”
Many newcomers start their workdays early in the morning and are at their jobs seven days a week. Their determination and work ethic comes from the responsibility to send money back to family in their home country. Their relatives see them as a primary source of income. This results in long work hours and a pressure to succeed.
It’s not only the abundance of jobs attracting immigrants, but the type of jobs, particularly in the service sector. It qualifies them for the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program, which allows them to apply for permanent resident status in Canada and make the move to Whistler a permanent one.
“Some of these newcomers came to work temporarily for the Olympics and are now applying for permanent status,” says Carole Stretch, program manager for the Whistler and Pemberton ESL Settlement Assistance Program.
"A lot of the families want to stay in Whistler, but sometimes they can't. The younger people, if they're going to study they're going to have to move away, but a lot of the families want to stay and a lot of the families are."
Nancy Alinas Paguia who arrived from the Philippines was a teacher in her home country and now works as a housekeeper at one of the larger hotels. “My children are now learning English and enjoying the activities on the mountain,” she says.
For the first year working in Whistler, Nancy did not go out or enjoy social activities. Working long hours and saving the money she made was her top priority. It was only after the first year that she became aware of the resources available to immigrants and made new friends. Then her employer explained the opportunity of the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program, which would enable her to live permanently in Whistler. The immigration program was a chance for her to be reunited with her family, for her husband and children to join her in Whistler. Her husband now works a gas station attendant and as a restaurant steward. They have a life they enjoy in Whistler, and the security of knowing work is plentiful.
The employment opportunities, a future for their children and a chance at a quality of life are some of the main reasons that these immigrants are relocating to Whistler.
“We need to support these new immigrants because they are making their home here in Whistler and will be contributing to the community for the long term,” says Stretch.
“Pretty much without exception they are working in the tourism industry in entry level jobs. Without them, the businesses are going to find it hard to run. They’re providing some kind of on-going stability … They are the backbone of tourism here in Whistler.”