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Fork in the Road: Thinking thanks on a Whistler Thanksgiving

From front-deskers to front-end servers, resort workers everywhere give us plenty to feel grateful for
Thanksgiving Turkey GETTY IMAGES
Be graceful, grateful, and kind as you enjoy your Whistler Thanksgiving, however you spend it.

Marine Lamotte, who runs the front desk at Nita Lake Lodge, is getting lucky in the best sense this Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, good friends, who also happen to share the same house and are so close to her and her husband they all consider themselves family—a small but caring family—will be making a classic Thanksgiving dinner for the four of them to enjoy this holiday Monday.

Yes, like so many people who keep the wheels turning in resort towns like Whistler, whatever holiday it is, Marine has to work that day. So having good friends close by who are also good chefs is a blessing in more ways than one.

Meanwhile, by the time this appears in pixels and in print, Karen Bowen will have had her Thanksgiving dinner more than a week ago.

Since 2012, Karen has worked at Whistler Golf Club, where she’s now the sales coordinator responsible for group bookings. Because she and her husband have Tuesdays and Wednesdays off as their “weekends,” last Tuesday they made themselves a Thanksgiving dinner using the old “divide and conquer” approach: She makes some of the dishes, he does the others.

It was the “complete shebang”—mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, pumpkin pie and even pumpkin beer. The only twist? Since there was just the two of them, it was roast chicken instead of a turkey. Still, a meal to make memories and all the more special because they made it their own.

If you know Whistler—or any resort town—you know that big, culturally resonant holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter have to be pretty much overlooked and reinvented by all the key workers who keep the resort going while everyone else gets to get out and play. And stuff themselves.

The retail workers running the legendary Turkey Sales for ski and sports gear, happening this year throughout the village and Creekside. The bussers and servers and chefs cooking up a storm and delivering all that food and drink. The baristas. The bakers. The brewmasters. The grocery and liquor store workers. The guys and gals who pick up all the rubbish and trash that gets knocked around, and sweep the front entryways before it’s time for the next day’s onslaught. The front-end service staff at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the museum, the Audain Art Museum, the tourist info centres, tirelessly answering question after question, all the while keeping their cool and cheerful smiles.

That “overlooking”—you know, kind of forgetting or pretending it’s really not important it’s a holiday and time to get together with loved ones even though just about everyone else in your cultural circle is doing so. And that “reinventing”—you know, figuring out just how you might reinterpret the traditional traditions and make the day feel special, fulfilling or pleasurable, even if it’s not The Real Day your Thanksgiving is happening on. Both of these strategies can go double for managers and supervisors like Marie, who often have to buck up and fill in for staff members so they get to enjoy the holiday.

Of course, it also goes double, triple, even quadruple, for front-line workers—all the police officers, doctors, nurses, firefighters and more who keep us safe and healthy 24/7. That includes paramedics, like Jean-Marc Savoie (who’s also an excellent ice climber, BTW).

At press time, Jean-Marc doesn’t know if he’s working Thanksgiving weekend. But at any time he could be one of six paramedics on duty at Whistler’s ambulance station on Lorimer Road, ready to help and transport patients to the hospital or clinic from mountain slopes or the highway, or wherever it is they’ve found themselves in health- or life-threatening situations.

Since he started full time in Whistler just last Christmas, he’s not sure how Thanksgiving might shape up at work if that’s where he ends up this year. But given the Whistler station doesn’t have a stove, maybe somebody will bring them over a turkey dinner. Hint, hint. (That’s me hinting, not Jean-Marc!) Or maybe they’ll check in with the fire department to see if they’re doing a Thanksgiving shebang at the hall.

Otherwise, Jean-Marc is more familiar with traditions at North Vancouver and Vancouver ambulance stations, where he worked for 15 years before Whistler. At Lower Mainland stations—especially the biggest ones at Surrey Memorial Hospital and the Downtown Eastside—paramedics lucky enough to have Thanksgiving Day off often come in to the station to cook a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner for those who have to work.

All this to remind you that at the heart of any Thanksgiving lies the simple idea of gratitude.

Maybe we all had a rethink about expressing our gratitude socially, publicly, at the start of the pandemic. But there’re plenty of reasons to keep that gratitude going, especially in places like Whistler.   

The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories explains that the words “grace,” “grateful,” “gratitude” and even “gratuity” all come from the same root: the Latin gratus meaning “pleasing” or “thankful.” “Thanks” comes from the Old English thancas, the plural of thanc, which meant “kindly thought or gratitude.” Surprisingly, it’s related to the English word “think.”

Gratis, by the way, is a contraction of the Latin gratiis, meaning “as a kindness,” from gratia meaning “grace” or “kindness,” echoed in the Spanish gracias—all of it flowing from the same wellspring of pleasing or being pleased; receiving or bestowing kindness; thanking or being thanked.

So be graceful, and grateful, and kind as you enjoy your Whistler Thanksgiving, however you spend it. “Think thanks,” as the Old English might express it, and maybe even say it out loud to a worker or two you cross paths with. They’re worth it.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who wonders if someone at Whistler has a stove they could donate to the ambulance station.