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Slowly but surely, Vail began to transform itself into a people-friendly community again. “Great places often get strangled by their own success,” says Beck. “And that had been the case with Vail. Once we got folks out and walking — once we freed them from the module of their automobiles — it was much easier for them to connect with other people, the environment etc.…”
Meanwhile, Minger had migrated north to Canada to become the first manager of the fledgling Whistler Land Company. His job: to get the new proposed townsite up and running. On a 1978 research trip to Vail with a couple of Whistler council members, Minger “happened” to introduce Beck to Al Raine. “Coincidentally,” recounts Beck, “Al had the master plan for the new Whistler townsite and he told me: ‘I’m not comfortable with this new plan. Could you look at it and tell me what you think?’”
Intrigued, Beck took a closer look. “To me,” he says, “it was a plan transplanted from the city to the mountains. It didn’t reflect at all what I thought a mountain community should be like. So I told him that.”
It was exactly what Raine wanted to hear. And then he asked the question that would change Eldon Beck’s life. Could he come up to Whistler and speak to the rest of council on this subject?
“I still remember that first trip rather well,” says Beck. “It was September of 1978. The weather was wet and very chilly. In fact, I hadn’t been that cold in a long time. But it was surprisingly invigorating too. The forest was magnificent — totally different than Vail.”
He laughs. “Although I couldn’t see the mountain summits, people told me these too were quite spectacular. And that’s when it hit me. Whatever happens here, I thought to myself, has to belong to this place. However this new townsite is developed, it has to evolve from the natural setting here.” He pauses for a moment. A shy smile flutters on the edge of his features. “And that set the guiding philosophy for me — the basis for critiquing the original plan.”
Beck’s consequent presentation to council was successful beyond his expectations. Impressed by his quickly-sketched concepts and his quiet passion for their project, council members immediately decided to dismiss the original master plan and start again from scratch. “And that put me in something of a delicate position,” he says. “For now I had to go and meet with the architect who had designed the plan and see if I could change his approach.” But when Beck presented his case, the Vancouver-based designer just shook his head. “He told me: ‘This just isn’t my style. This is not what I do.’ So I was given the job of re-creating the master plan.”
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