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2020 Year in review

Remember a year we've all been trying to forget

A moment, if you will, for a trip down memory lane—all the way back to the great and distant year of 2019.

I remember it well.

It was around this time, in fact—our annual Year in Review—and after scouring 52 issues of Pique, something just didn’t feel quite right.

“Do you ever get the feeling that you’re living through the calm before the storm?” I wrote in last year’s Year in Review.

“Flipping back through Pique’s pages from the past 12 months, one almost gets a sense of delayed or impending—not doom, necessarily, but drama at the very least.

“Because 2019 was, for want of a better phrase, quite boring.”

I won’t say I’m responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, but… be careful what you wish for?

Let’s just say this to start: 2020 was not boring.

It was in turns tragic and tiring, desperate and devoid of hope, but it also proved our tenacity—our ability to adapt and survive, and in some cases even thrive, in immensely difficult conditions.

It was simultaneously the longest and shortest year of all of our lives; it was unspeakable upheaval and the loss of personal connection; it was dramatic and fluid and constantly changing; it was cripplingly isolating.

But it was never boring, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.

How to truly summarize Whistler’s year that was in 1,000 words or less?

It’s an impossible task, to be frank—the past 12 months carry more twists and turns, emotional weight, grieving families, and personal hardships than one snappy feature article could ever truly capture.

But some day, historians will look back on 2020 in an attempt to empathize with their immediate ancestors; to get a sense of their thoughts and feelings and hardships living amidst a once-in-a-century pandemic.

What follows is my best attempt to summarize the year in as few words as possible, in the interest of saving said future historians valuable research time:

“It was hard; we did our best.”


Whistler

By Braden Dupuis


COVID CATASTROPHE

The year started off normal enough.

The village was busy as ever as the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Games in February, and all was right with the world.

“Then everything stopped,” said Mayor Jack Crompton, in his end-of-year remarks at the Dec. 15 council meeting.

“Public spaces that were teeming with people from around the world sat empty only days later. It was jarring. It was devastating. We were in a completely new territory.”

Whistler Blackcomb ceased operations on March 14, and two days later, the RMOW activated its emergency operations centre.

Municipal facilities shuttered, and residents spent much of the next two months isolating at home, and practicing physical distancing as best they could.

“From the very beginning of our COVID-19 pandemic, I have been amazed by the resilience of our community, and our willingness to pull together and to care for one another,” Crompton said.

“We focused all of our attention on safety, ensuring we are in a preventative position to provide safe experiences for our residents and for those that visit us, and I’m proud of our community and all that’s been done since March 16.”

The pandemic, of course, led to some drastic changes to operations at municipal hall.

All casual and auxiliary staff were laid off in March, and key RMOW staff were diverted to help with the Whistler Food Bank, which was relocated from its usual Nesters Road base to the Whistler Conference Centre due to unprecedented demand.

Funds for community groups were initially refocused solely on the social services that needed them most, before being re-expanded to include other sport and community groups.

A proposed 2.8-per-cent tax increase went forward in May, though project spending was cut by $12.7 million in light of COVID.

The summer offered some slight reprieve from pandemic angst, as the resort saw low case numbers and began welcoming visitors back in May.

Whistler Blackcomb reopened on June 29, and by August, Whistler’s parks and lakes were at or near full capacity.

In October, B.C. voters elected an NDP majority after a snap election, while Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy was narrowly re-elected in the Sea to Sky, defeating Green Party challenger Jeremy Valeriote by just 60 votes once a recount settled the close call.

AT MUNICIPAL HALL

For as strange a year as it was, there didn’t appear to be much slow-down at municipal hall in the grand scheme of things.

New chief administrative officer Virginia Cullen started with the RMOW in March (as outgoing CAO Mike Furey retired), and managed to help accomplish some high-priority, non-COVD-related agenda items—even as council meetings went virtual on April 7, and have yet to return to the Maury Young Arts Centre.

Whistler’s Official Community Plan was officially adopted on June 23, followed by the signing of a framework agreement with local First Nations.

The OCP had been in limbo since 2014, and the update has been actively in the works since 2017.

Major strides were made on Phase 2 of Cheakamus Crossing, with funding and development plans now in place to start construction on two apartment buildings (followed by much more in the years to come), as well as other housing projects from private developers—each with varying degrees of public opposition.

The RMOW also purchased a property in Emerald to restore access to the popular recreation assets behind the neighbourhood, began the process of renaming the controversial Squaw Valley Crescent in Creekside, introduced a new Climate Action Big Moves Strategy, and voted to change its asphalt procurement policy (among other things… All of this to say that it has been a very busy year).

In December, council reversed course on a planned 4.89-per-cent tax increase in favour of a 1.08-per-cent increase—a move that will have tax implications down the road.

“It’s been a long year with many challenges, and there will be more to come,” Crompton said.

“Through all of this, I’ve been amazed by Whistlerites. We’ve cared for family over Zoom, we’ve learned to share and show warmth from behind a mask and through Plexiglas. I’m proud of this community, and I’m proud to be a part of this community.”


Crime

By Brandon Barrett

When COVID-19 effectively brought the global economy to a screeching halt in March, practically every industry had to reimagine how it was going to operate in the new pandemic landscape. But for first responders like the Whistler RCMP, without the luxury of time, figuring out how to continue protecting and serving the community at the height of an all-encompassing health crisis took on an added urgency.

“I can honestly say, in 20 years of policing, I never thought I would be enforcing the Quarantine Act and provincial health orders, and the fact that we did that, essentially, overnight—and we’re still in it,” said Whistler and Pemberton RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Hayes. “It needed to be created, developed and implemented instantaneously.”

Like it did with almost every facet of our lives, the pandemic also shifted criminal patterns. For the first few months, as Whistler’s tourist engine slowed to a virtual crawl, the most common crimes dotting the police blotter here—property theft, impaired driving and other alcohol-related offences—followed suit.

“We’ve seen a shift. Of course, in the beginning, everything slowed right down as everyone tried to figure out what their next steps were,” Hayes noted. “The fact that we don’t have a whole lot of alcohol-related issues on the stroll that we may have seen pre-COVID, but we are now seeing those issues manifest themselves in private homes or in the community. People are still doing those types of things; they’re just not doing them on the Village Stroll. So it shifts our focus, but it doesn’t really change the crime.”

South of the border, the dawn of the pandemic coincided with a wave of protests sparked by the police killing, in May, of Black man George Floyd, pushing the conversation around police treatment of Indigenous and racialized communities to the forefront in Canada as well. In Whistler, a group of Pemberton teens organized a rally at Olympic Plaza in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and victims of police brutality everywhere. Just weeks later, local First Nations activist Linda Epp teamed with organizer Steve Andrews to hold a vigil marking National Indigenous People Day that honoured the Indigenous Canadians who had died in police incidents so far in 2020.

Much of the conversation in Canada has centred around the role police play in mental-health calls, with scores of advocates calling for a broader program that would pair RCMP officers with mental-health experts on relevant calls. It’s a move both outgoing Insp. Kara Triance and Hayes are in favour of.

“Do I think police can handle every single situation? No. Can we maintain a situation as safe so that the appropriate professionals can do the work they need to do? I think that’s our role, a positive role we can play. I’ve seen it work,” Hayes said.

While Hayes wouldn’t comment on the case while it’s still being investigated by B.C.’s police watchdog, you can’t discuss use of force without mentioning the March death of Whistler business owner Jason Koehler. The owner of smoking accessories shop 2 Guys with Pipes, Koehler was at Stonesedge Restaurant in the village on the morning of March 8 when police were called regarding a disturbance. Attending officers used pepper spray, batons and a taser to subdue Koehler, who police said was intoxicated at the time. Koehler went into medical distress before CPR was administered and paramedics were called.

A civil claim filed in June by Koehler’s mother alleges that the four attending officers used “extreme and excessive force” and only “limited efforts to de-escalating the situation” in the arrest.

Another major case that remains before the courts involves Whistler man Roger Molinaro, 50, who was arrested in June on two counts of sexual interference under the age of 16, one count of sexual interference under the age of 14, two counts of sexual assault under the age of 16, one count of invitation to sexual touching under the age of 16 and one count of invitation to sexual touching under the age of 14. Investigators said the alleged incidents occurred between 2007 and 2018, and this summer sought out additional potential victims. Pemberton RCMP launched the investigation in March after allegations came to light of historical child sexual assault involving Molinaro, a long-time resident of both Pemberton and Whistler.

This year also marks two significant personnel changes at the RCMP. This fall, Triance left her role as Officer in Charge for the Sea to Sky after four years to return to her roots in Kelowna, where she now serves as the Central Okanagan’s new RCMP commander. Meawhile, Hayes wraps up his posting as head of Whistler and Pemberton RCMP a year early to head back to the Lower Mainland, where he will serve in a provincial role the RCMP’s Divisional Duty Officer program. No full-time replacements have yet been named to fill their respective positions.


Sports

By Megan Lalonde

The year in sports began like any other: Whistler athletes predictably dominating in their respective disciplines and standing atop podiums around the world, from the youth Olympics to the X Games.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic clamoured its way into North America.

Whistler Blackcomb shut down in mid-March, along with nearly every event that was scheduled for the foreseeable future, including the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler Cup and Whistler Half Marathon. Even as restrictions eased slightly when temperatures rose, the events that did return did so virtually.

Amid widespread rallies protesting systematic racism, the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement also rightly prompted many organizations and industries to consider what more can be done to encourage diversity in their sports.

But despite the unprecedented circumstances that defined 2020, we all know nothing can keep Whistlerites from the great outdoors. The mountain reopened with new protocols, as did Whistler Olympic Park, while trail use in the corridor spiked throughout the summer. While we can’t predict exactly what 2021 has in store for sports, what is clear is just how lucky Whistler is to have the backyard it does.

Pique caught up with a few of the movers and shakers in the Whistler sports world to hear about how they adapted to a year unlike any other.


2020: The year the outdoor industry woke up

As a pro mountain biker, humanitarian, engineer, anti-racism educator and a diversity, inclusion and equity (DEI) consultant, Sea to Sky resident Anita Naidu has a hand in more than a few different industries.

As you might expect, COVID-19 had some level of impact on all of them.

The effects ranged from dampened incitement to train after Crankworx Whistler was cancelled—“motivation after age 30 to try bike tricks with major consequences is at times waning… so an event to keep you inspired is necessary,” she explained with a laugh—to cancelled speaking engagements. She was featured in a film selected for the Banff Mountain Film Festival, but was hugely disappointed after learning she couldn’t present it to a live audience on the big screen. She was unable to host any international bike clinics, while any humanitarian projects “came to a sharp halt” after borders began closing.

It’s a good thing Naidu, who calls herself a natural optimist, tends to view foiled plans as further opportunities.

Instead of those aforementioned plans, she told Pique in an email, Naidu helped deliver artificial-intelligence technology in response to COVID-19, in the form of wearable wristbands that alert its wearer when they’re getting to close to another and help with contact tracing, called Corona Shield.

The wristbands came in handy during the physically-distant “Bike Fest Series” mountain bike clinics and anti-racism training sessions she was still able to hold here in Canada. The demand for those training sessions has also been higher than ever, since the death of George Floyd sparked a continent-wide reckoning when it comes to systematic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The single most vital concept I’ve been reinforcing to all my DEI clients is that we are in the middle of a civil rights movement, not an opportunity to capitalize on our struggle,” wrote Naidu, who is of Indian descent. “As this message sinks in, the most permanent shift in the mountain bike industry will be advancing from performative allyship to genuine allyship towards marginalized communities.”

Performative allyship, as Naidu explained, includes treating diversity as a trend—for example, a corporation “pumping out multiethnic photoshoots without changing the internal culture of an organization,” or “claiming solidarity without doing the very deep, complex personal work required to unlearn racism.”

She added, “Nobody becomes anti-racist in a media cycle. I think what the bike industry is learning in 2020 is that they must adopt the attitude of ‘How can we elevate these communities?’ rather than, ‘How can we gain profit from these communities/applause from others?’”

The outdoor industry as a whole “is getting a master class in the difference between ‘woke washing’ for social media applause and racial justice,” said Naidu. “It’s about generating meaning not generating hype. This movement is not about ‘feeling good for helping [people]’ …this is about changing a universal system of racial unfairness.”


X Game gold medallist Darcy Sharpe’s guide to staying stress-free during a pandemic

You could say Darcy Sharpe’s year was off to a pretty decent start.

In January, the 24-year-old Whistler local took home his first-ever X Games gold after stomping his final run in the men’s snowboard slopestyle event in Aspen.

Sharpe, a Comox native, followed that up with a silver medal in the X Games rail jam. In February, he finished ninth in slopestyle at the Dew Tour at Copper Mountain and fourth at the Burton U.S. Open at Vail, before heading over to Oslo, where he won big air bronze at the X Games Norway in March.

It would be understandable if going from riding that high to locking down, with all foreseeable contests cancelled, might be cause for a little doom-and-gloom. But ask Sharpe about it, and you’ll quickly find out that wasn’t exactly the case.

When the rest of the snowboard season was effectively cancelled, “I just shut down my expectations of being an athlete and just kind of lived a normal life—I didn’t really stress,” Sharpe explained. “I just tried to maintain being happy.”

The mountain shutting down and not being able to snowboard for a few months “sucked,” Sharpe admitted, but other than that, living an outdoor lifestyle meant the pandemic didn’t really affect his or his friends’ day-to-day too badly. It was relatively easy to look on the bright side when travel restrictions meant Sharpe was able to spend more time at home in Whistler, “just being more of a local,” more time getting familiar with the waves in Ucluelet and more time on his skateboard than he would in a typical summer.

“I never had been usually able to skateboard because I would be scared of getting hurt,” he explained. “Because it’s always like, ‘Oh, I snowboard in a couple months.’ But knowing that I had so much time off, skating was sick.”

Also key to maintaining this low-stress, easy-going approach has been living by a two-week policy, Sharpe explained.

“That was the biggest strategy, not to plan more than two weeks ahead. And I still think that’s a good plan to follow to just keep yourself in the least amount of stress,” he said. “Because thinking about, ‘We’ve got to go to this contest next month, are we going to be able to do that?’ or ‘This training, is it going to even happen?’ All that stuff, it’s like, there’s really no point in thinking about any of it, because it’s just going to be what it is.”

So what, then, is Sharpe’s main takeaway from 2020, through all of his successes and adaptations? “If you want something and you make the changes to set yourself as best as possible to get it, you can get it,” he said. “Whether that’s just finding your happiness or your stoke or accomplishments.”

And his plans for 2021?

“Like I said, I don’t look more than two weeks ahead.”


Amidst lockdowns and restrictions, Whistler Sport Legacies CEO Roger Soane is grateful for what he’s got

Despite a difficult year marked by an empty Whistler Athlete’s Centre, cancelled events at the Whistler Sliding Centre—including the FIL Luge World Championships—and having to shut down Whistler Olympic Park’s cross-country ski trails, Roger Soane doesn’t hesitate when asked what he’s looking forward to most in 2021.

“One of my big goals, working for a sport organization, is to ensure that kids are always kept active and they have the ability to recreate, to compete, to find an activity that they can excel at, or even enjoy, and I think that’s been taken away from the kids to a certain degree this year,” said the president and CEO of Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL), the not-for-profit organization responsible for operating Whistler’s trio of 2010 Olympic legacy venues.

“That, to me, is one of the things I’m looking forward to, is that we can start putting on programs for kids.”

It’s not just individuals and athletes who have experienced hardship throughout the past 10 months.

For WSL, the ability, or lack thereof, to generate revenue across its three popular, and normally bustling sites, has undoubtedly proved challenging during varying levels of lockdown. For example, Canada’s high-performance athletes were able to train at the Whistler Sliding Centre, while WSL opted to shut down its public sliding programs, for the time being. Amidst those challenges, Soane emphasized just how grateful he is to live where he does, for numerous reasons.

For one, the fact that the federal government’s wage subsidy was available to help WSL help bridge the gap. “I feel very fortunate to be living in Canada and having a government that recognizes that keeping people employed is important at this point,” he said.

From a more personal point of view, “We’re so lucky that the majority of our activities in the Sea to Sky corridor are outside … and I think that has been the saving grace,” Soane added.

“I think for the most part, people in the Sea to Sky corridor appreciate what we have, and following the regulations and restrictions is not too much of a hardship.”

To that end, Soane expects “that pent up demand will be there for people to travel,” as more people start getting vaccinated, borders begin opening and restrictions begin easing.

But for now, with far fewer numbers of tourists than usual, Soane is offering his thanks to the Sea to Sky community for its continued support of WSL’s venues, particularly Whistler Olympic Park and its Nordic trails.

“We’ve seen such an uptake in people visiting and buying seasons passes,” he said. “Hopefully they get to enjoy the Park and enjoy a new activity, that is one that is easily socially distanced, and you don’t have to line up for.”


Arts & Culture

By Alyssa Noel

If nothing else, 2020 showed us the value arts and culture adds to our lives.

Concerts stopped, art galleries were shuttered, and movies even paused production for a time. But after the initial panic of the first wave in the spring, Whistler’s arts organizations got to work and figured out unique ways to bring culture into our lives.

Pique caught up with some of the people at the helm of these groups to talk about hard decisions, adjusting expectations, and making things happen—even if they looked much different than usual.


Curtis Collins, director and chief curator at the Audain Art Museum

Let’s start on a positive note since it was such a challenging year. What the Audain’s highlight of 2020? 

Collins: For 2020, I think it would’ve been launching the Rebecca Belmore exhibit [Reservoir]. Both in terms of the fact that we’re hosting an internationally recognized artist, and she made an exhibit that was very much tailored to our spaces, including new works she created for this location in Whistler, as well as the North American premiere of the Body of Water piece.

Arts organizations made some remarkable pivots to keep art in our lives this year. Looking back, how do you reflect on your team’s efforts? 

CC: At a very practical level, it brought us close together. In a time of crisis, we needed to pull together as a team and we did that very effectively in terms of reimagining the museum and the necessity of ensuring the viewer experiences align with the health order. That, I think, was clearly our largest pivot. As the year winds down, we’re all very appreciative of each other’s work.

What was the most successful event? 

CC: It wasn’t an event per se as a number of new initiatives. The two things that come immediately to mind would be the TNT [Tuesday Night Talk] series. It’s not so much as event, but it came about as a result of having to be creative and think of virtual initiatives. And as a result of that, Season 2 is starting in January. Another event we did was the Alta + Audain Fine Dining Art Experience. That was a new use of the building, a new partnership and a new way to take people through the museum in a much more intimate fashion. That guided us in terms of things we’re thinking about moving forward.

With the TNT, we’re building this excellent record of artists discussing specific works in the collection. That will be a lasting record for us. The TNT launches its second season on Jan. 5.


Heather Paul, executive director of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

What was the SLCC’s highlight of 2020?

Paul: With the loss of our international guests, plus the many group weddings, corporate events and chartered travel groups we host, there was the gift of time. Time to slow down and focus on our mission. Time to make culture our priority. Time to create regalia, study ancient medicines of the land while in isolation, craft new drums and sing each other through the difficult days. 

Finally, wrapping up 2020 with an unprecedented agreement between the Cultural Centre and the SLCC, opening our doors with free admission from Dec. 20 to Jan. 24.

What was the biggest challenge?

HP: Surviving, and reopening. I would have said the incidents of racism that have happened since reopening, but I have learnt something that stays with me everyday: This is not an unexpected challenge for our Indigenous staff. It is a reality that doesn’t surprise them, and they are much too experienced in managing it calmly and with compassion. 

How do you reflect on your team’s efforts?

HP: The team has been nimble in the face of ever-changing provincial guidelines, creating takeout and delivery dinner programs, improving our online shopping experience, and designing safe Cultural tours—including virtual Zoom tours for B.C. classrooms! We also took the time to create a public virtual experience. Staff worked way outside their job description to make magic happen at the centre, taking part in increased cleaning protocols, jumping into cars to deliver gifts and meals to customers in isolation, making budgets laid bare work for them. Whatever it took. 

What are your hopes for 2021?

HP: Standing room only at the SLCC by the end of the year. That everyone in Whistler knows the name of an SLCC Ambassador, the people who come travel up to four hours every day to share their knowledge and culture with us. That we all end 2021 together, hugging, shaking hands, high-fives, singing and dancing, celebrating what’s over and the gifts that this crisis may have given us.


Stephen Vogler, founder and artistic director of The Point Artist-Run Centre

What was The Point’s highlight of 2020? 

Vogler: The Flag Stop Theatre and Arts Festival. It was a big question whether we’d be able to do that or not. I was really pleased we were able to pull that off and do all the changes that were necessary to make it safe and happen.

Because there were so many restrictions and things completely cancelled, people were really thrilled to be able to come to an outdoor event and be safely distanced and enjoy some theatre and music.

What was the biggest lesson you learned?

SV: [This year you had] to plan further ahead. You had to be very organized with safety protocols and plans and the revamping of things we’d done similarly for so many years.

That was important for me. And the move towards livestreaming as well—with Tim Smith and Rajan Das. We did the Flag Stop Festival and streamed it two nights. Then we worked with the Writers Festival in October and we pre-recorded from The Point with the Literary Cabaret. It was really complicated.

We did another livstream—a fundraiser. We had some problems with that. We learned a lot. We ran into glitches here and there, but it was exciting to get out to a wider audience. That’s something we’ll keep doing. We’re applying for some grants to get upgraded technology and stuff like that.

What are your hopes for 2020?

SV: It’ll be nice to get back to more usual programing with events, but we’ll approach it with flexible planning for whatever the conditions are—and keep expanding our ability to go digital. That’s something we can carry onto the future when this pandemic is done and gone.

We are planning the winter carnival. We’ll see what restrictions are by mid-February, but it’s largely outdoor things. We’ll wait and see.\


Pemberton

By Dan Falloon

As the years go on, the more likely they are to run together.

But with such a distinct before-and-after marker of COVID-19 precautions and restrictions coming down in mid-March, loosening and tightening over the months, it can be difficult to remember that 2020 included about 10 weeks of the Before Times.

That goes for Village of Pemberton (VOP) Mayor Mike Richman, too.

All told, Richman was glad with how the community navigated a trying 2020.

“From a COVID perspective, I’ve got to say again that I am exceptionally pleased with how well our community has responded and continues to respond,” Richman said in early December. “It shows the community fabric that we have here, how strong that is, and people continue to support each other.

“I’ve never been more proud or happy or grateful to live in Pemberton than I was this past year, not just because of the access to the outdoors, but because of the way the community responded.”

Pemberton saw its first COVID cases early, with public exposures at a March 10 council meeting and at an open house on March 11.

In terms of its response, the Village followed suit with other communities in shutting down everything from its indoor spaces, requiring that employees work remotely, to playgrounds and parks. As knowledge of how the virus is transmitted came to light, and there was more discovered about which activities could be done safely, the municipality started to reopen those public spaces.

COVID hit as the VOP was planning its annual budget, and shifted from a five- to a zero-per-cent increase. Council meetings are still held via Zoom and, owing to the small footprint of the council chambers and lack of other viable options, it seems likely to continue that way well into 2021.

One unique part of the Village’s pandemic response was Richman’s creation, in May, of the Mayor’s Task Force for COVID-19 Response and Recovery, including representatives from the business, tourism, community support, and mental health sectors, as well as community members at large. The task force has met five times, most recently in September. Group members have formed subcommittees and are working in smaller groups to tackle current and pressing issues as well as exploring big ideas for the Village’s future in terms of economic and social wellbeing.

“We pulled together a broad representation of our community to try to address concerns. It’s been challenging, because it’s a broad group, getting together,” he said.

The task force, Richman explained, has managed to push ahead with some activities, such as garnering public feedback regarding what residents need now and envision for the future.

As well, the process has boosted the Village’s connections with organizations such as WorkBC, and Richman noted that another significant undertaking is to create a virtual community hub helping residents plug into various opportunities, “anything from mental health support to financial services to information on government plans and subsidies.”

“This virtual hub will bring together all those services, all that information, ability for people to connect, and offer each other services,” he added.

The task force’s work has already seeped into other areas of the Village’s operations, with the connections with such organizations as WorkBC bearing fruit as the municipality learns of opportunities such as subsidized early childhood educator training, which is one tool that can help tackle the shortage of spaces.

It’s one example of how the pandemic has altered the VOP’s relationships with other groups.

“The way local government works with other levels of government has completely changed, as has the way we work with our health authority. But especially our relationships locally, with First Nations, with our neighbouring communities, to work for the betterment for all of our communities,” he said.

Even as the pandemic shifted priorities, the VOP continued on with much regularly scheduled programming, including updating its Community Amenity Contributions Policy, working to secure more housing, updating its development procedure bylaws, building relationship with local stakeholders such as Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Area C, the Pemberton Valley Dyking District and Lil’wat Nation on the Pemberton Valley Emergency Management Committee, re-channelling One Mile Lake’s intake and responding to a blockage at the wastewater treatment plant. Richman added that the VOP is in the final administrative stages of establishing the Spel’kúmtn Community Forest in partnership with Lil’wat Nation.

“We’ve made improvements within the budget. We kept a zero-per-cent increase on last year’s budget and managed to complete some really key infrastructure projects,” he said.

Looking ahead to 2021, Richman is eager for the Official Community Plan update, as well as working with Sea to Sky Community Services on affordable housing and chipping away at more childcare spaces and workers to help sustain them.

Richman noted that, heading into the third year of their four-year term, council is getting set for some big things.

Meanwhile, Lil’wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson went through the ups and downs for their community.

In response to COVID, Nelson said the Nation’s top priority was ensuring the safety of all its workers. Though he said there was some non-compliance initially, the Nation only saw its first COVID-19 case in mid-December. (As of Jan. 5, after this interview was conducted, Mount Currie had seen 46 cases, with 11 of them considered active.)

“We had a slow adjustment to it because like everything, until we had the direct information, it was hard to adjust,” he said. “It’s been taken more seriously as it’s gone on.

“We’re a bit more comfortable with it, but the threat is still there.”

The Nation is also mourning the loss of father-and-son Peter Oleski and River Leo, who had gone mushroom picking on Oct. 22 and did not return. They were found deceased near the McKenzie River on Oct. 29.

Nelson said the wounds were still raw and supporting the pair’s family and friends was still top of mind.

“Right now, we’re in the grieving and loss process,” he said. “It brought the community closer together.”

In response to the pair’s deaths, Lil’wat had requests from the community and the family to form a Lil’wat search-and-rescue organization and has started working with the Whistler and Pemberton organizations to make that a reality.

“We’re collecting likeminded people who want to be involved,” Nelson said.

In terms of 2020 accomplishments, Nelson cited the opening of two new buildings in the Health and Healing centre and the elders’ complex. The Nation is also working with the provincial government on land-use management strategies for the Meager Creek and Keyhole hot springs areas.

Looking ahead to the New Year, Lil’wat will continue to explore new opportunities presented by Whistler’s Official Community Plan and the memorandum of understanding signed by the Nation, Squamish Nation and Whistler Blackcomb.

Nelson is also looking forward to developments in the Pemberton Benchlands and Whistler’s Function Junction progressing in 2021.

“We’re looking for bigger and better things for the coming New Year without COVID restricting a lot of this,” he said.