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Pique's 2021 Year in Review

Year in Review

Whistler

By Braden Dupuis

Full disclosure: I threw the first draft of this introductory blurb into the garbage.

Written, as it was, during a furious surge of Omicron infections, and the reappearance of old restrictions designed to once again “flatten the curve,” my first attempt amounted to little more than cynical hopelessness.

And we’ve got no room left for that right now, I’m afraid. Or at least I don’t.

It was a year of highs and lows, ebbs and flows, progress and regression. Good times and bad weather. Maybe it’s enough to leave it at that. 

While 2021 may be ending on a down note, I’m taking solace in the knowledge that better days must surely lie ahead, and being grateful for my surroundings—I’m choosing optimism and hope over the alternative, and something about that is oddly comforting.

So read on for a recap of the headlines and moments that defined Whistler’s 2021, and maybe by this time next year the optimism will come a little easier.

One can hope, at least.

A BRIEF RETURN TO NORMALCY

According to Pique readers, the biggest news story of 2021 was Whistler’s ongoing labour shortage, which almost feels like a throwback to simpler times.

But while a shortage of workers may be a perennial problem for local businesses, this year the problem was pervasive, leaving no sector or profession untouched—and likely leaving millions in untapped revenue on the table.

As visitors returned en masse to the resort in the summer, local businesses were left scrambling to keep up with demand, many opting for reduced hours or other creative solutions just to keep pace.

The shortage is made worse by pandemic restrictions at the borders and lagging immigration—not to mention a severe lack of housing availability and wages that can’t keep up with inflation—and isn’t likely to improve before the end of winter.

Will 2022 offer any relief?

If recent trends are any indication, visitation to the resort isn’t about to slow down either way.

Whistler’s parks were busier than ever before in 2021, with visitation up a whopping 77 per cent over 2019, according to the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

The new 2021 Summer Experience Plan aimed to curb some of the issues of the rapid increase—and introduced measures like pay parking at some local parks, which turned out to be the most controversial council decision of 2021, according to Pique readers.

Despite the pushback, pay parking isn’t going anywhere in 2022.

AT MUNICIPAL HALL

In late April, RMOW services were taken out at the knees when cyber criminals launched a ransomware attack on municipal servers.

The criminals claimed to have accessed more than 800 gigabytes of RMOW data, later leaking about 82 GB on the dark web while claiming they sold the rest.

In the meantime, Whistler’s municipal hall was left reeling, unable to rely on basic tools such as email communication or digital file processing as its entire network had to be rebuilt from the ground up.

In May, the RMOW sued Pique Newsmagazine for its coverage of the attack, seeking an injunction that would have dictated what details the paper could publish about the incident, citing the need to protect staff privacy. The injunction was denied in court and the RMOW walked away from the lawsuit two months later.

In September, Pique was nominated for a prestigious Jack Webster award for its coverage.

The ransomware attack was voted as the second biggest news story of 2021 by Pique readers, while the RMOW’s lawsuit against Pique was readers’ second least-favourite decision by council.

Despite the disruption—from both the cyber attack and the ongoing pandemic—much was accomplished at municipal hall in 2021.

New housing projects in Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2 moved forward, with more to come in 2022 and beyond, while an enhanced rezoning process was initiated for a key undeveloped parcel north of Whistler Village.

The rezoning for the Northlands, owned by developer Beedie Whistler Holdings, Ltd., began in March and carried on through much of 2021, with public engagement taking place through an open house and related surveys, as well as presentations to council.

Municipal staff continues to work with the applicant, and proposed designs for the property are expected to be presented in the new year.

In November, municipal staff presented a proposed 6.72-per-cent tax increase, positing that “smaller-than-necessary” tax increases in recent years have left municipal reserves underfunded.

“This is not the sort of problem that can be solved in a single year—2022, however, marks an important beginning in the sense of those reserve contributions,” said director of finance Carlee Price at the Dec. 21 council meeting. “Delaying the first step on this journey is dangerous to the long-term fiscal health of
the organization.”

Council will consider related tax bylaws at its first meeting of 2022 on Jan. 11.

ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS

If cyber attacks and marathon pandemics weren’t enough, Mother Nature made sure 2021 didn’t save any room
for boredom.

In late June and early July, a blistering heat dome descended on British Columbia, bringing temperatures broiling to above 40 Celsius.

According to the provincial coroners’ service, 595 deaths between June 18 and Aug. 12 were related to the extreme heat, and 231 people died from the heat on a single day (June 29).

Just days after notching the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada—49.6 C—much of the town of Lytton burned to the ground in a wildfire that also claimed two lives.

It was just one of 1,600 wildfires that burned across the province in 2021, covering 8,700 square kilometres of land—the third worst wildfire season on record.

Thankfully, no fires ignited near Whistler, and the resort largely avoided the heavy smoke that blanketed much of the province for weeks (knocking on all the wood here).

Meanwhile, work on wildfire mitigation remained top of mind for Whistler in 2021.

“There’s a lot of awareness about the potential, but there’s not a lot of understanding. So that’s our responsibility,” said FireSmart coordinator Scott Rogers in a presentation to council on Nov. 2.

“It’s hard to not understand that wildfire is the threat when you see the news, and Lytton burns down, and we hit 40 degrees here in Whistler, and the forest is bone dry in April.”

From one extreme to another, bone-dry conditions turned to record flooding in the province in November, washing away critical roads and highways, triggering deadly mudslides and killing hundreds of thousands of animals.

Again, Whistler was spared from any devastating environmental impacts during the floods (and again, knocking on all the wood).

It’s impossible to say what’s in store for 2022, but if we could limit it to just one State of Emergency—or none, if at all possible—that would be great. 

Crime

By Brandon Barrett

Even the most deep-rooted public institutions aren’t immune to disruption.

For the RCMP—Canada’s 101-year-old federal policing agency—the past year has been one of tumult, marked as it was by the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, revelations of the role it played and continues to play in the marginalization and mistreatment of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and serious concerns around the heavy-handed tactics it employed towards protestors and journalists at Fairy Creek, the site of Canada’s largest ever act of civil disobedience. 

It was another year of upheaval for Whistler’s local RCMP as well, beginning with the departure of the Whistler and Pemberton detachments’ commander and the arrival this spring of the Sea to Sky’s new Officer-in-Charge Insp. Robert Dykstra. 

Of course, Mounties also had to contend with ever-changing health restrictions, issuing close to $70,000 in COVID-19-related fines between the tail end of last year and March 2021, while still balancing the health and safety of its already strained staff, exemplified in the decision, in April, not to break up a 30-person house party in Creekside while local officers awaited the first dose of vaccine to kick in.  

Nevertheless, there was no shortage of notable developments in the world of crime and policing, even as crime stats were mostly on a downswing heading into the year, with a handful of landmark court cases reaching conclusion and a number of major crimes in the headlines that would turn heads in almost any community, let alone a ski town of 14,000. 

With that, here’s a rundown of the year that was in crime and policing. 

Sea to Sky welcomes new top cop     

It was just days into the year that the resort found out that the RCMP’s North Zone commander, Staff Sgt. Paul Hayes, would be leaving the post after three years for a provincial policing role in the Lower Mainland. 

While his full-time replacement has yet to be announced, the Sea to Sky welcomed its newest top cop, Officer-in-Charge Insp. Robert Dykstra, in the spring. The 48-year-old’s winding career path has taken him from the orderly government buildings of Canada’s capital to the streets of Antigonish doing frontline policing before moving with his wife to the far north of Nunavut, where he spent the past seven years. 

Replacing former Insp. Kara Triance, Dykstra took over at a time of major reckoning for the role police play and have played in Canadian society. 

“I think what is expected of police officers today is different than 15, 20 years ago. We need to be engaged in that conversation,” he said in a June interview. “Society has to change, and I think we have to be at the forefront of that. We shouldn’t be hanging back and waiting for society to change and then the police organization changes. I think we need to be at the front of that because people look to us as a behaviour benchmark.” 

Pemberton RCMP closed investigation into racist incident before talking to Indigenous woman who filed report 

It wasn’t long after Dykstra took over that the local RCMP’s handling of an alleged racist incident in Pemberton came under the microscope. 

In late May, 43-year-old Ts’kw’waylaxw First Nations woman Tara Aleck (Nyce) was holding a vigil outside her Pemberton home in light of the news just weeks before that the remains of 215 children had been found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, where both of Aleck’s parents attended. 

With an abalone shell, sage for smudging, and a small, stuffed teddy bear by her side, Aleck was in deep prayer when she said she was interrupted by the sounds of “hysterical laughter” coming from a black truck passing by. Then, after dropping off a passenger a few doors down, Aleck said the driver slowly reversed the truck, stopping in front of her home, where the occupants continued laughing, “taunting me and calling me a Squaw, calling me a chug.”

“It was so degrading,” she noted at the time. “I’m still dumbfounded by it.”

Despite promises to follow up and take her testimony, Aleck said the investigating officer never turned up. She then enlisted the help of the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, which contacted the RCMP on her behalf. Although the RCMP said “multiple attempts” were made to reach Aleck, she said she never received a call, text or message, and no officer ever visited her home. 

Police later confirmed to Pique that the file was closed without obtaining a statement from Aleck, although two suspects were visited by an attending officer. Dykstra and acting Whistler-Pemberton zone commander Sgt. Sascha Banks contacted Aleck after learning of the incident via social media, and committed to a full review of the investigation and complaint itself. 

There’s so far been no public news of the review, and Aleck did not respond to a request for more information in late summer. 

Sea to Sky RCMP outlines ambitious three-year strategic plan 

In September, Whistler officials got their first look at the Sea to Sky RCMP’s three-year strategic plan, an ambitious, far-reaching vision informed in part by local stakeholders, crime analysis trends, and a public survey that garnered close to 1,000 responses. 

Bolstered by five key pillars—enhanced public safety; accountability and good governance; organizational excellence; community engagement and collaborative partnerships; and innovation and engaging change—the plan reveals several major new initiatives in the works, including the development of a liaison position in the next three years that would designate a specific officer to work alongside a certified mental health worker in crisis response. 

Police also discussed putting greater emphasis on a restorative justice that would focus on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large that, in B.C., is set up and run by third-party agencies. 

Another initiative in the works is a program intended to keep known gang members out of Whistler bars and restaurants, done in conjunction with the RMOW and the resort’s largest hospitality firm, Gibbons Group. The inadmissible bar patron initiative would be modelled in part off of similar programs in Vancouver and Surrey, and would see police working with participating venues to identify gang members and remove them from the premises, a response to the rising tide of brazen gang violence seen last year in the Lower Mainland. 

Man fatally stabbed in alleged dispute over taxi 

Tragedy rocked the resort in August after a young man was fatally stabbed in what friends said was a dispute over a taxicab in the village. 

Twenty-six-year-old Henry Stanley Garcia Molina was reportedly stabbed multiple times Aug. 14 “in an altercation while trying to taxi home to our hotel in Whistler,” according to a GoFundMe campaign launched by a friend for Garcia Molina’s family. 

Investigators said the incident is believed to be an isolated one and is not connected to the ongoing gang conflict in the Lower Mainland. 

There have been no arrests connected to the stabbing. Garcia Molina’s family went public this summer urging anyone with information on the homicide to come forward.  

Whistler woman fined $60K in landmark bear-feeding case 

In a landmark case believed to be the largest fine ever imposed under B.C’s Wildlife Act, in September a Whistler woman was fined a combined $60,000 for feeding bears from her backyard. 

The investigation was launched in July 2018 after the Conservation Officer Service (COS) was tipped off to residents deliberately feeding a family of black bears from the backyard of their Kadenwood home, which led to the killing of a sow and two cubs the agency said displayed “very troubling” behaviour on the scene. 

According to the court proceedings, local adventure school teacher Zuzana Stevikova noticed the bears “looked skinny” and, by feeding them, believed she was preventing the public from calling the COS, which she thought would ultimately lead to their deaths. 

Stevikova reportedly purchased up to 10 cases of apples, 50 pounds of carrots and 15 dozen eggs on a weekly basis to feed the bears. She had reportedly been leaving the attractants out over a period of roughly three months and witnesses overheard her calling the bears by name. 

Charges against Stevikova’s spouse and co-accused, Oliver Dugan, were ultimately dropped. 

Roger Molinaro found guilty in child sexual assault case 

In November, longtime Whistler and Pemberton resident Roger Molinaro was found guilty in Pemberton Provincial Court of sexually assaulting two minors, both family friends, over a period of years, closing the chapter on a harrowing case that rippled throughout the small town. 

Molinaro, 51, was arrested in April 2020 after police launched an investigation upon receiving information regarding historical allegations of child sexual assault. The incidents took place between 2007 and 2018, according to the RCMP, and involved two minors with close ties to the Molinaro family and who often spent time at their Pemberton home, including for sleepovers. 

In her decision, Judge Patricia Janzen said she found the testimony of both complainants to be “very credible” and consistent with the memory of children recalling traumatic events, while she described Molinaro’s testimony as implausible, focused primarily on discrediting the two key witnesses. 

Janzen said Molinaro, “in his zeal to deny everything that could render the allegations of the complainants even possible,” often testified “in absolute terms and was unprepared to admit what was both clearly possible and unlikely to be specifically remembered by him one way or the other many years later.” She cited the examples of Molinaro claiming he had only ever been alone in his home with either complainant on one occasion, or that he had “never, ever” been the sole babysitter of children other than his own, even for a short period.

“He rarely if ever acknowledged anything that could be seen as contrary to his interests,” Janzen said. 

Molinaro now faces sentencing on seven counts: sexual interference of a person under 14; invitation to sexual touching under 14; invitation to sexual touching under 16; two counts of sexual interference of a person under 16; and two counts of sexual assault.

His sentencing is set for April 22. 

Sports

By Harrison Brooks

Let the games begin (again) 

You could compare 2020 to pulling an e-brake in the middle of the highway. Everything came screeching to a halt: restaurants were closed, everyone was shuttered inside their homes for long stretches of time, and sporting events, from grassroots right up to the professional leagues, were cancelled.

But in 2021, we were able to release that brake and get the car back on the highway. Some quickly went from 0 to 60 and picked up right where they left off, while others had to start off in first gear and ease themselves back into highway speeds as the pandemic continues to linger to this day.

But no matter the speed at which things recovered, if 2020 was the year everything stopped, 2021 was the year of the comeback.  

While some sports, like both regular golf and disc golf, stayed popular this year after a boom in 2020 with so many looking to get outside and active, Whistler also saw rec sports return in 2021. 

Slo Pitch returned with a full season, the various rugby clubs got back to both game action and hosting public drop-ins, and the local hockey league fired back up in the fall.

But the most exciting thing to return, at least to Whistler’s very running-centric population, was its slate of annual races. 

Whistler welcomed back many of the local favourites, including the Whistler X Triathlon, the Comfortably Numb Trail Race, the Whistler Marathon, the Back Forty and the Brandywine Boogie, among many others.

And at the heart of all these well-loved events was Whistler’s vast network of trails that are maintained by the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA). 

Over the first year of the pandemic, WORCA saw its membership drop by nearly 200 people while the RMOW cut back the organization’s funding by $80,000. That proved to be a huge blow as the trail network became one of the few places of solace for people looking to break up the monotony of pandemic life. 

Thankfully, with trail usage quadrupling, the RMOW decided to increase WORCA’s funding to $200,000 in 2021, keeping one of the jewels of the Whistler Valley alive and well in 2021 and hopefully for years to come as well.

The Rise of Whistler’s skate scene

While 2021 represented the return to at least some degree of normalcy for many of the popular sports around Whistler, when it comes to the town’s skateboard scene, 2021 really represents the real beginning of it all. 

Now, of course, in a town like Whistler, where board sports are king, skateboarding was always going to have a decent-sized following. But this year that following turned into a thriving community, and the sport so long associated with counterculture is today fully enmeshed into the resort’s sporting culture.  

According to Harrison Gray, founder of the Whistler Skateboard Club (WSC), that shift in the perception and culture of skateboarding in Whistler all started in early spring when the town was facing the sudden closure of Whistler Blackcomb for the second year in a row.

Early in March, a bunch of the park regulars came together to start digging the snow out of the Whistler Skate Park in preparation for the upcoming season. Then in mid-March when the hill closed, attention shifted from the mountain to the skatepark. The RMOW even supplied a bobcat to help clear the snow and get the park up and running as quickly as possible.

“That was a good start to a season because everyone sort of got excited and rallied together to earn the skatepark,” says Gray. “From there, the season started to flow and that’s when the idea of Whistler Skateboard Club was really starting to build roots. And that’s when Sam and I launched [the club].”

With the WSC jumping on to the scene with their kids camps coached by local teen athletes, including Truth Smith, among others, as well as all-girl crew The Real Wild Kittens, run by Juliette and Amalia Pelchat, heading into its second year of offering skateboard lessons to the community’s young girls, the skate park slowly transformed into a more inclusive and welcoming space, filled with people of all ages and skill levels skating and enjoying the park together.

“It’s amazing how supportive and just how these two young girls have sort of been able to foster the environment of community and safety, by women for women,” says Gray. “So that was awesome. And of course, we paired with them and to see the growth that we’re able to do together was pretty spectacular. And to see what those ladies were able to grow over the past few years, and how much is coming to fruition and how many new people came out from all different age groups, that was pretty spectacular too.”

From there, the community and the scene continued to grow in a myriad of ways, whether it was local filmer Alex Bielawski creating a Whistler Skate Park report every few weeks featuring local skaters, Team Canada skateboarder Adam Hopkins coming out to work with the kids at the camps, or the crew at the WSC building a rock pool in Fitzsimmons Creek where people could hang out and beat the heat on the hot summer days or ice a rolled ankle in the glacial water.

 Capping off the momentous year for Whistler’s skate scene was the first annual Mayhem in the Mountains skateboard competition—and mayhem it was.

“It took a few weeks off my life there but it was amazing,” says Gray of the approximately five rain delays and constant improvisation it required to not only give everyone a chance to ride but also keep people engaged through hours of delays.  

Despite having an extremely high talent level throughout the competition that included multiple Team Canada skaters like Hopkins and Maddy Balt, the highlight of the entire day was watching Smith put down an absolutely electric run to start off the Men’s Pro category in front of the hometown crowd.

“You could feel the excitement in the air and how it just got everyone charged up, especially after the rain delays just to see the culmination of his progression. To see that all sort of flow into one 45-second run and that everything worked out was pretty special for sure,” says Gray.

“Everyone at the skatepark was dead silent the whole time and were sort of biting their nails, and when he nailed the whole thing and the skatepark erupted for the hometown kid, that was a pretty special little moment there and then also to see him standing on the podium taking some of the money home as well.”

Gray says the WSC plans to keep this momentum going into 2022 and hopes to add even more programs to the slate, possibly including an adult social session where people can come skate, meet new people, win some prizes and help continue to foster that inclusive skate community that Gray loves to see at the park.

Arts & Culture

By Megan Lalonde

This year was supposed to be a better one for the arts community. With vaccines rolling out, restrictions were expected to loosen and gigs were expected to ramp back up, especially as another ski season kicked off. 

And while there were stretches of normalcy throughout the year, 2021 is ending much like the way it started: Spiking COVID-19 case counts—propelled by a new variant, this time around—new restrictions and capacity slashes; and bars and nightclubs shut down. 

But despite the somewhat melancholy end to this trip around the sun, 2021 was, in fact, a year where things got better. Live music returned to patios and bars, and in-person audiences returned to film screenings and live performances. Whistler’s artists settled into the second year of a pandemic, and put their creativity to good use, dreaming up new and innovative ways to keep the community entertained.

TRYING SOMETHING NEW

That was the case for the Whistler Writers Festival, when founder Stella Harvey took on the challenge of hosting the annual literary event in a hybrid format for the first time to mark its milestone 20th anniversary. 

After going fully virtual in 2020, the 2021 event featured some in-person moderators, panels, authors and audiences, while more attendees—many from far-flung locations around the world—joined online. Having a virtual option allowed festival organizers to ensure accessibility remained at its core, says Harvey, by opening events up to a wider audience. 

“When everybody’s in person, I have to limit the workshops to 30 people,” she explains. “But this year, we had workshops that had 50 people online, as well as five or 10 people in person.”

A benefit of the hybrid model was that “it kind of felt like everybody was in the room,” Harvey adds. “It worked really well.” 

In a way, presenting its events and workshops online over the past two years brought the Writers Fest back to its roots—to Harvey’s living room, to be more exact, where festival operations were headquartered this year. “I just cannot say enough about both [festival manager] Rebecca Wood Barrett and the tech team and the volunteers who kept me upright,” she says. 

The hybrid format has also allowed the festival to launch an ongoing fundraiser where those interested can make a small donation to access footage from this year’s workshops and events, with money raised going to help fund next year’s event. 

While some of the festival’s offerings, like its publishing workshops, for instance, have long been popular, the Writers Fest as a whole proved to be even more beneficial in a year where more free time spent at home and the general stress of living through a pandemic prompted some people to pick up a new hobby. 

Harvey says she’s heard from many people looking for her advice or help with new writing projects, and has been in touch with numerous bookstore owners who say they’re having trouble keeping up with the rising demand since the pandemic struck. 

To anyone looking to connect with their inner writer, Harvey recommends “just writing something down and seeing whether there’s a story that needs to be told,” she adds. 

Or, take a page out of Harvey’s book, call a friend, and start a writing group. After all, “You build your own community,” she says, “so figure out what you need and build it.”

That’s partly why Harvey guarantees the festival’s commitment to continue showcasing local talent on the same stage as internationally renowned artists—whether that Writers Fest stage is virtual, hybrid, at the Fairmont or around a coffee table. 

“You don’t succeed alone,” says Harvey. “You’ve got to have a community to support you. I mean, a lot of people who come to the festival still, came to my living room 20 years ago.”

SUPPORTING LOCAL 

For Whistler musician Monty Biggins, it was reconnecting with that local support system that made 2021 a year to remember. 

“Whistler’s always been a place where you go and play music, and people aren’t necessarily there for you. You’re hired to be the ambience. You go through a lot of moments where it’s sort of a passive audience—it’s not that they’re not liking it, it’s that they’re there to hang out with their buddies … and do their thing,” says Biggins, who has been playing his brand of jazzy-blues-rock in bars and lounges around the resort for more than a decade.

“But I’ve noticed now that every time I perform, eyes are more engaged on what I’m doing and people are definitely feeling it differently, to the point where I’m having more people come talk to me after my set and express that something about it touched them.” 

After COVID-19 restrictions banning live music loosened, “For me, I think it’s just a sign of our times and the fact that we haven’t been able to engage in these moments with people, that the public is craving.”

Over the past 12 months, Biggins has frequented venues like Alpine Café, the Whistler Racket Club on Farmers’ Market Fridays and Sundays, plus Tuesday jam nights—one spot that “really hit it off last year,” he says—in addition to the Crystal Lounge, and open mic nights at RMU. All “have been so supportive of musicians in town,” explains Biggins. 

After logging about 50 or 60 gigs in 2020—he typically averages about 200 performances a year—“this last year, I probably hit around 100 to 115, somewhere around there, so I definitely saw an increase in opportunity.” 

That’s not to say 2021 was without its fair share of adjustments, which included Biggins taking on a new job as a retail manager to help make up for those lost gigs. 

But the extra, unexpected free time also meant Biggins was able to add more than four-dozen new songs to his set, a luxury that wasn’t always possible when running from gig-to-gig. He’s also working with a new “modern blues-rock” band, Cold Smoke, that’s fronted by Peter Lalor of the Racketeers. 

Despite the challenges faced by Whistler’s musicians since the pandemic began, Biggins had encouraging words for anyone looking to break into the resort’s live music scene. 

“It’s somewhere where if a musical person really wants to get out there a lot and have an opportunity to step into something that they can even call a career, that does exist in this town,” he says. “You have to be creative about it, but it does exist and it’s a beautiful place to do it. And I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to do that here this long.” 

At The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC): 

The Boarder X exhibit launched at the SLCC at the end of April, featuring local and international Indigenous artists who use snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing as ways to show their knowledge of and connection to the land. 

The SLCC hosted thousands within its walls to mark the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in September. 

At the Audain Art Museum: 

The institution’s popular Tuesday Night Talks online series offered the opportunity for the public to learn more about specific works in the museum’s permanent collection, right from the artists who created them.

The museum’s first virtual Illuminate Gala & Auction on April 24 raised a record-breaking $650,000.

The Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures special exhibit, developed and debuted at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, opened in October.

The Three Watchmen, a six-metre-tall cast bronze statue by Haida Chief James Hart, that sits atop a concrete base encircled with a carved aluminum band entitled The Great Flood (Ti A7xa7 St’ak’), by Squamish (Sk_wx_wú7mes) Nation artist Xwalacktun (Rick Harry) and Lil’wat (Lil’wat7úl) Nation artist Levi Nelson (Svpyan), is unveiled along Blackcomb Way in November. 

At the Maury Young Arts Centre: 

Five Sea to Sky music acts who took part in Arts Whistler’s online Hear and Now series had the chance to take their music, performance, promotion, and business skills to the next level with Arts Whistler’s Creative Catalyst program.

Arts Whistler’s We Heart Local Art exhibit featured the work of 24 Sea to Sky artists over six weeks this fall.

After more than a year and a half without any ticketed indoor shows, the Centre once again welcomed ski films like Stoke the Fire and The Stomping Grounds for fall screenings.

Part improv, part stand-up, part sketch comedy series Laugh Out LIVE debuted in December, kick-starting its planned 18-week run. 

Around town: 

In June, Arts Whistler hosted a Fashion Garden Party in honour of Whistler artist and bon vivant Isobel MacLaurin’s 90th birthday.

Whistler band Brother Twang released an album called The World Went Crazy Yesterday.

Pemberton Arts Council’s community ArtHop featured work from close to 30 local artists displayed in local shops.

Industry veteran Angela Heck was appointed executive director of the Whistler Film Festival.

Local artist Dave Petko painted a new large-scale mural that adorns the recently opened washroom facility at Whistler Olympic Plaza. 

Arts Whistler’s Art on the Lake… literally event returned for its second year.

For its 10th year, the Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival for the first time involved three different theatre groups: Whistler’s own Flag Stop Theatre Program, Squamish’s Between Shifts Theatre and Vancouver Stage company Theatre in the Raw to put on a total of seven plays. 

Whistler Film Festival attendees picked the B.C.-shot Drinkwater as their favourite of the year, with the coming-of-age film earning the Audience Award at the event’s 21st annual edition this December. This year’s hybrid festival saw Jeffrey St. Jules’ psychological thriller, Cinema of Sleep, come away with the event’s top prize, the vaunted Borsos Award for Best Canadian Feature. 

Pemberton

By Braden Dupuis

The biggest news story in Pemberton in 2021, as voted by Pique readers in our annual Best of Pemberton readers’ poll, took root in the first two weeks of the new year, when Scotiabank abruptly announced it would close its Pemberton branch.

The announcement sparked an outcry from residents, who launched a petition in hopes that the branch would remain open.

A town hall held via phone in early February offered few answers.

“I was hoping they would provide some rationale,” said N’Quatqua’s Rebecca Barley at the time. “Being a business owner myself and being committed to a board of directors on many levels, I thought there must be some background and justification.

“I’m not asking for intimate, confidential details, but something.”

In June, news that Pemberton’s ambulance station would soon shift to a scheduled on-call model also raised concerns for residents, and it wasn’t long before paramedics began to raise the alarm about the already “dangerous” staffing levels in the corridor.

“The public needs to know that Pemberton is without ambulances overnight for 17 days in the month of July,” one paramedic told Pique in June. 

“For many of those days, crews will be extending themselves to work the 16 hours maximally allowed under labour law to provide as much coverage as possible for the public. We do this because we are the Band-Aids holding together a very broken system.”

On Sept. 14, the province changed course, announcing Pemberton was among two dozen communities to receive additional funding for ambulances.

But it remains to be seen if paramedic morale will improve.

“Absolutely it’s a big improvement. It’s conversion of on-call members to full-time, but we’re still having challenges with staffing our ambulances, that secondary ambulance and backfilling, because we’re not getting enough paramedics into the profession,” said union president Troy Clifford in a September interview.

“So is the morale there? No, but I think generally speaking the optimism is that we’re going to get through this, and we need some time, but we need to really make sure that we do everything that we can now to bridge us to get these long-term solutions in place.”

TALKING STRATEGY

Overtourism and increasing numbers of visitors to natural areas continued to be a theme in 2021, as the province and local government officials worked to come up with solutions.

In March, the province released a draft Visitor Use Management Strategy for Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, which has seen an absurd 222-per-cent increase in visitation since 2010.

The rapid rise in visitation has had a negative effect on members of the Lil’wat Nation, on whose traditional territory the park lies.

“We’re so affected in so many ways,” said Lil’wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson. “The actual use of the place, the traditional use, has been ignored or overlooked … It’s a beautiful place, but it does have history too.

“We are part of that history. We’ve been overlooked on the needs of the Nation, as far as traditional use and medicines and plants and spirituality.”

The situation is similar at Keyhole and Meager Creek hot springs, which are also on Lil’wat territory and which had their own Visitor Use Management Strategy released in April.

In July, the Pemberton Area Economic Development Collaborative released its new Regional Economic Development Strategy, which lays out 36 priorities to guide the region’s economy into the future.

The report aims to build economic resilience, encourage environmental stewardship, diversify the local economy and improve the quality of life of locals, among other objectives.

At Pemberton’s municipal hall, affordable housing was a common theme in 2021, as various proposals came forward for council’s consideration. The topic was also highlighted in Official Community Plan (OCP) discussions early in the year.

“The OCP needs an update on all levels. It’s been a number of years and Pemberton has changed a lot over the last few years,” said Mayor Mike Richman. “[It] represents the vision of Pemberton by the locals, by the residents, what their vision of Pemberton is as we continue to grow.”

The Village of Pemberton’s OCP review will continue in 2022.

The push for regional transit was another area of focus, as local leaders in the Sea to Sky continued to make their case to the province for the service.

With municipal elections scheduled for October 2022, governments in the region are hoping to make the project a reality before the end of the current term (though, as with most things in government and policy making, there are no guarantees).

REACHING FOR RECONCILIATION

It was also a year of reckoning for Canada, as horrific discoveries at former residential school sites forced necessary conversations about the country’s brutal historical treatment of First Nations back into the national discussion.

On Sept. 30, Canada recognized the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

“Lil’wat Nation members are working our way out of the Indian Act, and the Indian reserve system. The Lil’wat continue to unravel the trauma inflicted by the former residential school system,” wrote Lil’wat Chief Dean Nelson, in an essay published in Pique.

“The Lil’wat Nation believes in reconciliation but we also believe that there is much work to be done. True reconciliation is multi-faceted and complex. It is not something that will change overnight. It will take participation from everyone in the understanding and process to make the changes that need changing. While this may cause some to become disillusioned or doubtful of the process, it only strengthens our resolve to complete the journey.“ 

In the spirit of pursuing true reconciliation, the Lil’wat were one of four First Nations—along with the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh—that announced in December they planned to explore a bid for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games.

The four nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Vancouver and Resort Municipality of Whistler on Dec. 10 stating their intention to pursue the first ever Indigenous-led Games.

“In reflection, we have been at this place before, with the 2010 Olympics, where we showcased our presence and our cultures, respectively,” Nelson said at the Dec. 10 announcement at the BC Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver.

“The difference between [now and] 2010 was we were an invitee at that time, and today we are a big part of the exploratory group to consider a bid for the 2030 Olympics.”

Politically, the respective Nations have a greater presence and voice on their lands than they did 10 years ago, Nelson said.

“I also feel we are in a better place of inclusion in respect to political advancements since the previous Olympics,” he said.

“I am looking forward to being part of this. I’m looking forward to the future.”