One of former Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden’s goals during her time in office was to transform the culture around Whistler’s May long weekend, which had for years been a magnet for underage drinking, gang activity, and even the occasional outburst of violence. Now, her daughter, Councillor Jessie Morden, gets to carry on that work, and she’s proud of how the resort community has reclaimed the once-notorious holiday.
“Working with the different partners and with the May Long Weekend Committee, we’ve done a good job shifting the environment in Whistler so that May long weekend, and also the summer, is a more family-friendly atmosphere,” she said.
Formed in 2014, the May Long Weekend Committee is made up of representatives from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, bylaw, the RCMP, as well as the local retail, hotel, bar and restaurant sectors, who, these days, meet once a year to provide guidance to RMOW staff and elected officials on ways to enhance the visitor experience during the holiday weekend.
Nearly a decade later and the consensus is the committee has largely accomplished its goal, through a variety of efforts that have included gearing
weekend programming to a more family-centric audience, first through the Great Outdoors Festival and then the Whistler Children’s Festival; enhancing local police presence; and some hotels placing age limits on room bookings.
“We understand that in past May long weekends, there have been incidents, but in the past two years now we’ve had the [Whistler] Children’s Festival on that weekend, so between that and collaborating between the business sector and community partners, that’s resulted in less incidents of illegal behaviour,” said Morden, council’s appointee to the May Long Weekend Committee. “We’ve also seen a noticeable shift in the demographic on that weekend.”
Saad Hasan, former chair of the Hotel Association of Whistler, said members routinely encourage longer lengths of stay over the holiday, which he said tends to bring in a more family-oriented guest.
“We don’t encourage booking overnight stays at the last minute and then leaving,” he said. “We like to have people staying over the weekend if possible, which is good for families as well in terms of the family activities.”
Cpl. Nate Miller with the RCMP confirmed there would be, as in years past, additional police in and around the village and on the roads over the weekend. That will include bike patrols throughout Whistler Village on Saturday and Sunday, and the RCMP’s Integrated Road Safety Unit, which will be around Whistler and Pemberton, and stretching all the way to Lillooet, Miller said.
Although combined efforts have mostly kept gang activity to a minimum in the resort over the holiday weekend compares to years past, last July’s brazen gang shooting in Whistler Village that left two dead remains top of mind for local law enforcement.
Miller said that members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C., the province’s anti-gang unit, would be in Whistler as well over the holiday, but noted that investigators have “no information to indicate there is going to be any conflict or problems—it is really just a preventative thing to use a resource that is available to us.”
In 2021, Whistler RCMP announced plans to develop an inadmissible bar patron program that would team local police with participating restaurant, bar and club venues to identify known gang members and remove them from the premises. The initiative is modelled off similar programs in Vancouver and Surrey, which, while being largely applauded by participating venues, have drawn criticism from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner for the wide level of discretion they give officers in banning patrons, as well as for a lack of concrete data on their effectiveness.
Miller said the Whistler program has yet to get off the ground, as the local detachment focuses on rolling out its new community response unit (CRU), a team of specially trained officers working with local partners such as the Gibbons Group to focus on specific areas of crime, a model already in place in the Lower Mainland.
“The difference between a frontline police officer and that of a CRU team is the CRU team can focus on an area without needing to respond to calls for service,” RCMP North Zone Commander, Staff Sgt. Sascha Banks, told Pique last summer. “In Whistler this team would be a community police model mixed with a targeted team enforcement for property crime, violent crime … and the gang enforcement initiatives.”
Transit is free over the May long weekend, “making it convenient to get around and mitigating the traffic issue,” explained Morden.
The Whistler Children’s Festival runs from May 19 to 21 as well as May 27 and 28. Learn more at whistlerchildrensfestival.com.