One way or another, Art Den Duyf was always there for Whistler. He was a true believer in the future of the resort, moving here with his family in 1978 and establishing his excavation and construction company that would, among other things, be the first to break ground on the site where Whistler village was built.
Art passed away this past weekend at the age of 77 after being diagnosed with cancer back in February. He was given the option of taking chemotherapy to extend his life by a matter of months, but decided against it. Instead he spent time with family and passed away in his own home on Saturday morning with his wife Nellie of 43 years, a former nurse, at his side.
He is survived by his wife, his children Joanne and Dave, and five grandchildren. But while he was a quiet, family man in many ways, Den Duyf was always there to help out the community however he could. Sometimes he donated machinery, other times the use of his trucks or valuable staff time.
Hard-working and creative, he was successful in business, growing and diversifying his company over more than three decades. He was also active until the end, forgoing retirement to stay involved in the day-to-day operations of his company.
"He was still loading equipment around the valley until last fall, and still hopping into the equipment himself," recalled son David Den Duyf. "He really enjoyed what he did. And he knew he couldn't have done it without the employees he had and the customers he had."
David, who manages Sabre Rentals for the Sabre Group, said it was a great experience to work so closely with his father for so many years.
"He was definitely not — how do I say this? — a traditional thinker, he definitely came up with some unique solutions to problems and I definitely learned a lot about business from him," he said.
"I also enjoy the fact that I can say that I saw him every day for the last 20 years and got to work with him. It was really a privilege."
The family was grateful that Art was able to pass away peacefully at home, according to his wishes.
"He was able to stay at home right to the very end, and we're all super happy that mom was able to look after him because that was really his wish," said Dave, adding that the family is grateful for all the help they received.
Peter Alder has known Art since he arrived in the resort and got to work. "It was very busy in the village in the beginning, and just a lot of enthusiasm to build," he said. "Basically, it was just Art and Nigel (Woods) around here as contractors, and they had a lot of material to haul. And Art was always quite a fellow, a good, honest Dutchman. He was very determined, very stubborn and very consistent."
Art was also humble, according to Alder. "Art was always very critical of anything that went on, but he was also very honest and he did so much good behind the scenes," said Alder. "He looked after people who were short of money, and nobody really knows about that side of him. He was very generous supporting the families of his workers and making sure they were taken care of. He never wanted to take credit for it, but it was unbelievable how much good he did behind the scenes."
Milo Rusimovitch has also known Art for a long time, although he said that the people who knew him best, and he cared about the most, were family.
He credits Art for helping him out in a few times of need, providing work when his own trucking business was having a hard time.
"He really helped me out when I came back from my misadventure," recalled Rusimovitch. "I spent a lot of time with him talking about what I was going to do, and he always had great advice. I could go for advice at any time and have a beer with him, but really he was very involved with his family and work."
Like Alder, Rusimovitch was amazed how much charitable work Art did behind the scenes.
"His contributions to the community, nobody knows," said Rusimovitch. "He gave through his church and his family and silently — he wasn't one to put up a sign. The only one who knows how much he gave was Nell, but he was very generous.
"He's a legend here. He developed so much here and in Pemberton and Squamish, and he was always the guy in the thick of things.
"You would never know he had any money, he came to work every day in work clothes and a baseball cap. He was a very good guy and I'm going to miss him terribly."
A memorial is planned for Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. at West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish at the CN Roundhouse and Conference Centre.
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