Whistlerites are used to hearing about the resort's unprecedented growth and its ripple effects throughout the community. Now, we have the data to back that up, thanks to Statistics Canada's latest census data.
The 2016 census showed Whistler's population has mushroomed to 11,854, a 20.7-per-cent increase from six years ago, when the resort's population hovered just below 10,000.
"It confirms the reflection of our booming economy, it shows that Whistler continues to be a desirable place to live, and, from those perspectives, it's not surprising," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
Whistler easily eclipsed the national growth rate of five per cent, with Canada's population rising above 35 million for the first time. It also more than tripled the 6.2-per-cent growth Whistler experienced between the 2006 and 2011 censuses. Compared to towns of similar size, with populations between 9,000 and 12,000, Whistler ranked as the fastest-growing community in B.C., and No. 4 in all of Canada. Among the top populations increasing at a rapid rate, Statistics Canada analyst Dr. Stacey Hallman said Whistler stood out.
"The top three were either in a census metropolitan area or near a larger city, so we're considering those to be related to urban spread," she noted. "The growth in Whistler is something a bit different."
Elsewhere in the Sea to Sky, Pemberton's population rose nearly six per cent, to 2,574, while the growth rate in Squamish hit the double digits, rising 13.8 per cent to 19,893.
StatsCan's preliminary results, released last week, also tallied the number of private dwellings in the resort, 10,507, which was up 14 per cent from 2011. The total number of private dwellings occupied by usual residents was recorded as 4,612, up from 3,900 in the previous census.
Whistler's lightspeed growth has been on the minds of residents and officials for some time now, and there's no need to point out the strains it has had on the resort's housing stock and labour pool. With a housing task force in place, and the municipality's recently launched Home Run initiative matching businesses with property owners to secure employee housing, Wilhelm-Morden is confident the challenges are being tackled head on.
"I'm satisfied with the work being done so far and I think these are issues we can grapple to the ground," she said.
But the mayor did say the question of how much is too much growth is never far from the minds of local officials.
"The Economic Partnership Initiative, having updated its statistical information, is now grappling with that question," she pointed out. "It is a matter of balance, and I'm very interested to hear what the community, broadly, has to say, not just business owners, but permanent residents and guests, about the level of activity here."
Wilhelm-Morden also acknowledged the strain Whistler's continued popularity with guests and residents alike places on the resort's infrastructure.
"That's where things like the (Municipal Regional District Tax) and the extra one per cent we will be receiving from it, and the continuation of the (Resort Municipality Initiative) program are critical because a little town of (12,000) servicing 3 million visitors is a challenge. Those two programs assist us a great deal," she said.
But the impacts of growth on a community can be less tangible, too, explained Dr. Richard Carpiano, professor of sociology at UBC.
"In essence, that kind of growth can be a very good thing, but it can be very concerning to longer-term residents who for years have been accustomed to a particular sort of culture, a particular sort of pace of life of which a higher density of people is going to begin to transform the community they once knew into something different," he explained.
Statistics Canada will roll out additional findings from the 2016 census in the coming months, including specific data on demographic makeup, income and housing that Carpiano said will be essential for community planners looking ahead to the future of Whistler.
"It will be interesting to see who the people are that are coming here," he said. "Are they similar to the people already there, so we're seeing like attracting like? Or is this the fundamental transformation of a community?"
The full census can be viewed at www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/index-eng.cfm.
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