It doesn't take a demographer to see that there's been a baby boom of sorts in Whistler, just a trip to any local park or playground. The combination of more employee housing, more people sticking around for longer and an aging population has resulted in a mini boom of sorts for the Whistler area. The most recent Census numbers (see opposite page) also point to an increase in married and common law couples, as well as an increase in home ownership.
While it's a measure of success in some ways — Whistler's plan to house at least 75 per cent of staff within the resort has been successful with over 80 per cent of employees living here — the number of children is putting a strain on programming and services offered to families.
The Whistler Children's Centre's waitlist has grown from roughly 100 kids to 125 kids in the last few years. Now, to ensure a spot for their children, Whistler Children's Centre director Kari Gaudet is recommending parents sign up the moment they find out they're pregnant.
"I really hope that people aren't registering before a pregnancy, which has been the situation in the Lower Mainland," said Gaudet. "Here, some are coming in as soon as they're pregnant because their friends and family told them to do that, and some aren't coming in until the baby is born, and unfortunately those people are at a disadvantage.
"The way we describe it is that if you put yourself on the waitlist when you're expecting and then take one year of maternity leave, generally we'll have some form of space available when you return to work — so about a year-and-a-half waitlist."
Gaudet estimates that there are about 115 kids enrolled in Whistler Children's Centre programs, and they can service a maximum of 74 kids per day with 24 spaces for kids under the age of three and 50 spaces for older kids.
Numbers do fluctuate though with programs like Whistler Kids ski school said Gaudet. September is one of the busiest times of the year for the centre as families return from holidays.
As well as registering early, Gaudet also recommends parents take what they can get. If a parent passes on a spot because of the day or because it interferes with a holiday, there's a good chance that space will be taken by somebody else.
"We recommend in the summer when a spot comes up that people take it," she said. "I also recommend that you take what we offer. The hardest thing is getting off the waitlist and into the program, but once kids are in it's more flexible because we deal with your needs and wants first, and we can make parents aware of other days as they become available."
This is not Whistler's first baby boom, according to statistics from Vancouver Coastal Health. In 2001, 106 live births were reported to parents living in the resort. That dropped to between 80 and 90 from 2002 to 2004, then dropped again to 69 in 2005 and 65 the following year. There were 79 in 2007, 67 in 2008, 83 in 2009, 69 in 2010 and 79 in 2011.
Although the numbers aren't directly comparable, graduation classes at Whistler Secondary have also been increasing in size. According to principal Bev Oakley, the class of 2013 is projected to graduate 55 students. In June of 2012 the grad class had 66 students. There were 58 in 2011, 74 in 2010, 51 in 2009 and 67 in 2008. However, the Grade 11 class that will graduate in 2014 has 82 students, one of the largest classes yet.
Whether the increase in births will translate to an increase in grad class size has yet to be seen, but the average number of grads from 2008 to 2011 is 62.5 while the average number of births during those years is 74.5 — a dozen more kids on average per year.
The municipality is watching demand for services closely, and they encourage parents to get on waitlists if they can't get their kids into the programs they want so they can determine the demand and expand their programs in response.
For example, the municipality acknowledged that its preschool programs are now selling out in a matter of minutes after online registration opens at midnight.
However, if parents had elected to join the waitlist for the fall session, many would have been able to get into a class after another instructor was hired to help with the program.
There are 60 kids enrolled in Whistler's preschool programs, and an average of 18 per day in Kids on the Go programs. When preschool filled up, the municipality adjusted the age for the Awesome Afternoon program from four to 3.5, allowing more kids to register.
Preference is also given to Whistler kids, though parents from Pemberton or Squamish may enroll their kids in municipal programs.
Next to preschool, the most popular program is swimming with 309 kids enrolled in lessons in 2012. In response to demand, the municipality has added more instructors and created waitlists for the upcoming winter programs — something that was never necessary in the past.
To get a sense of what parents need, the municipality is doing it research.
"Whistler is an active community with a wide variety of recreational opportunities," wrote Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden in an email. "As a result the municipality's recreation programs and services are very popular. To ensure the municipality offers the right mix and number of programs, the recreation department is planning on launching a community survey in the New Year asking residents for input on programs and facility needs."
As well, staff is reviewing the latest census numbers to get a sense of how many kids are in town.
This research, according to staff, will help the municipality establish a baseline for services based on the average number of children moving up through the system.
As well, the municipality is recognizing the growing number of programs being offered outside of Meadow Park and other municipal facilities. While having more options does help to ease pressure on municipal programs it also makes things more difficult for planners to schedule activities and programming.
As a result, the municipality doesn't know what the demand is for a program until registration day, which makes the waitlist more important.
"With the waitlist we know that there's pent-up demand, and for us that's a useful tool," said a staffer, who added that they often have time to add instructors or programs to handle the demand.
Census: Whistler families increase
Statistics Canada released its latest stats from the 2011 Census this week, focusing on Families, Households and Marital Status. Compared to 2006, the number of families — both married and common-law — was up while the number of lone parent families decreased slightly.
Comparatively, there were 2,230 census families in 2011, an increase of eight per cent over 2006. That's well ahead of the national growth rate of 5.5 per cent and the provincial average of 6.6 per cent. Married couples accounted for 60.8 per cent of the total, with common law families accounting for another 31.4 per cent. Single parent families were down 7.8 per cent to 175 from about 188 in 2006.
The number of single parent families is also well below the national average of 16.3 per cent of households.
But while more people are settling down, the number of couples having children in Whistler is still below the national average. Of all the married and common law couples in Whistler, just 40.4 per cent reported having children aged 24 and under at home. That's far less than the national average of 46.9 per cent, which itself is down significantly from just over 50 per cent in 2006.
In terms of raw numbers, there were 715 married couples with children, 115 common-law couples with children and 175 single parent families for a total of 1,005 families with children. Given that the previous census results regarding population put the number of people aged 19 and under at 1,610, the average Whistler family has approximately 1.60 children — and probably less given the number of 18 and 19 year olds who move to Whistler to live and work.
That's roughly on par with our national fertility rates, 1.61 children per family, which is up from about 1.59 in 2006, but still well below the high of 3.9 set in 1959.
Whistler is also a good place to be single, with 4,310 people — about 49.9 per cent of the population not married or living with a common-law partner. The majority are classified as single or never married, with 590 that are separated, divorced or widowed.
The number of families with children living in homes in Whistler is up about 7.9 per cent compared to 2006 — no doubt aided by the increase in employee housing in Cheakamus Crossing, Fitzsimmons Walk and Rainbow.
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