A tale of two cities 

With Whistler’s tourism role well established, Squamish attempts to define what it means to be The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada

Midnight. Two hooded figures creep through the darkness silently. Dressed in black, they sneak commando-style along the roadside, wielding an awkward package that is wrapped in garbage bags. The headlights of vehicles passing illuminate them like skittish deer as they go about their mission. Despite racing hearts, they aren’t detracted from their task. Averting their eyes from the lights, the figures manhandle the package. They wrestle it into place, remove the garbage bags, and depart as mysteriously as they came.

And so it was by way of a midnight-stealth operation that on Good Friday 2001 Squamish announced itself as The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.

"A number of people involved in adventure recreation pursuits in Squamish – mountain bikers, rock climbers, backcountry skiers, mountaineers, hikers, windsurfers – had over the years described Squamish in a variety of ways," explains Squamish resident and writer Ron Enns. "Not as an outstanding area only for the specific activities in which they were involved, but for its incredible diversity of high-quality opportunities. We'd always talk about things like being one of the premier places in North America for mountain biking, that Olympic whitewater kayaker Margaret Langford sometimes trained on the Mamquam River, that Everest expedition leader Chris Bonington sometimes climbed here, that the ski touring, hiking and mountaineering within a close radius was unlimited. We always knew that this place was incredible – as did all of the people who were coming here from around the world to play here."

What these local evangelists were seeing was the destination potential of Squamish. Twenty years after Whistler-believers had decided their holy grail was to become an international four-season resort, Squamish visionaries were ready to start building their own capacity to become a tourism destination.

A destination, Tourism Whistler President Barrett Fisher explains, is a place that is export-ready, with the ability to attract customers from long-haul markets, and the amenities and resources to meet their demands. Fisher identifies key ingredients in cooking up a destination: the natural environment and its physical attributes that engage active participation, scenery that draws people in to admire it, and a sense of place and character. "When I look at Squamish," she says, "I think of world-class rock-climbing, amazing windsurfing, kayaking."

Now, Squamish is registering on the radar and its destination assets are being recognized. And the time is ripe for Ron Enns to come out of the closet as one of those masked operatives, who decided to take matters into their own hands, and put Squamish on the map.

The name, The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, had been in use for about three years. It was coined by then Economic Development Officer Brent Leigh and 99 North co-founder Patricia Heintzman. Recreation wasn’t on the District of Squamish council’s agenda at the time, so a motley band of individuals were forced to work from basements and back-alleyways to promote their vision of Squamish as a mecca for outdoor and adventure recreation.

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