Feature Garibaldi's demise 

Does an unstable geological formation continue to pose a threat? Did it ever?

Doug McDonald, the owner of Alpine Lodge, has forgotten exactly where he was when he learned that the residents of Garibaldi were going to be expropriated because of the threat of the Barrier collapsing. But, he remembers the day.

"It was on May 18, 1980, the Saturday morning that Mount St. Helens blew," he says.

A B.C. Hydro employee had approached him.

"He indicated that, he had seen on somebody's desk a paper that turned out to be word for word what was in an Order in Council," McDonald recounts.

The Order in Council, passed by the provincial government, meant an end to the small community of Garibaldi, which was situated on the banks of the Cheakamus River just south of the Daisy Lake dam. It was determined that the Barrier, a headwall above Rubble Creek that holds back three lakes, was unstable. If the Barrier ever collapsed the results would be catastrophic for Garibaldi.

McDonald had spent his summer months working on the construction of the Daisy Lake dam before moving with his family to Garibaldi in October, 1966, with the intention of settling there. In addition to Alpine Lodge, McDonald built up a general bulldozing business. With the anticipated growth of Whistler, he had envisioned a secure future for the tiny community of Garibaldi. And by 1980 there were more than 100 residents there.

"We had over 400 acres," McDonald says. "I was gradually building up an equipment base so that come somewhere in the late '80s, I was planning to retire from active outside work and start doing work on our property towards a phased development of a subdivision into affordable-type housing. I figured Garibaldi would be the bedroom for Whistler."

McDonald wasn't the only person interested in the potential of Garibaldi. A developer had built water and sewer services for a subdivision he proposed for the area. But the Department of Highways started getting calls from people worried about the collapse of the Barrier and the project was turned down. A judge in the ensuing court case ruled that the expected frequency of landslides in the area was too high, which put an end to any development plans for Garibaldi.

Frank Patton was one of three co-authors of the Report of the Garibaldi Study Group, which was struck to determine the stability of the Barrier. Patton and co-author Alan Williams, MLA for West Vancouver Howe Sound, were concerned with digging up all the relevant facts and interpreting them as best they could.

"Our objective was to make the report understandable to the residents," Patton recalls.

The threat of the Barrier collapsing and sending a rock avalanche down Rubble Creek seemed star crossed with the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the massive debris torrent that followed.

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