Whistler has a twin.
At its last meeting of 1998 Whistler councillors approved a sister city relationship with the Japanese town of Karuizawa.
The gateway to the Nagano prefecture, Karuizawa is a resort town of 16,000 which hosted curling during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and equestrian events during the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. It is the only town in the world to host events for both the Summer and Winter Games.
Fostering relationships with other nations was one of the goals of the Nagano Olympics. Karuizawa representatives initiated the sister city relationship with Whistler on the recommendation of the Canadian embassy in Tokyo. Karuizawa’s deputy mayor, two councillors and two tourism department officials visited Whistler in September and met with Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.
Whistler councillors unanimously approved the twin city relationship at their Dec. 21 meeting (Councillor Ted Milner was absent), but Councillor Ken Melamed noted Whistler hasn’t committed to any sister city relationships previously and that is partly because council hasn’t developed a policy on such relationships.
"I’m interested in exploring the possibilities of twinning with a third world city. We should remember we are privileged to live where we do," Melamed said.
O’Reilly agreed but suggested that by twinning with Karuizawa Whistler will begin to understand what the sister city relationship is all about. Additional twin city relationships are possible — O’Reilly met recently with representatives of the German and Austrian consulates, who suggested Kitzbühel or St. Anton, Austria may be interested in twinning with Whistler.
O’Reilly added that Karuizawa previously had a sister city relationship with a South American town but found the distance created difficulties.
Cultural exchanges, mostly in the form of student exchanges, are the mainstay of the sister city program. The program’s objectives include reciprocal mayoral visits to exchange information, artistic and cultural exchanges, student homestays and assistance to students who wish to study in either municipality, support of tourism and economic exchange, and interchange through sporting events and community groups.
Pemberton has a sister city relationship with the Japanese town of Miya.
Karuizawa is about two hours by car from Tokyo and is a popular summer retreat for city dwellers looking to escape the heat. More than half of Karuizawa’s visitors are in the summer, although the town also hosts large festivals in the spring, fall and winter. There is a ski area nearby, but since the Olympics curling has become a major sport. An indoor pool converts to a curling rink in winter.
Karuizawa borders a national park and is surrounded by mountains, including Mount Asama, Japan’s highest active volcano — it last erupted in 1973 — at 2,568 metres. The town’s elevation is 900 metres.