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‘Neither one is going to suck’: Whistler weighing Canada Day options

To parade or not to parade in Whistler Village on Canada Day?
Performers pose for photos on Whistler's Village Stroll on Canada Day 2023.

Those hoping for the return of Whistler’s fan-favourite, traditional Canada Day parade in 2024 could be disappointed.

At the April 23 committee of the whole meeting, Whistler’s elected officials heard a presentation on planned Canada Day concepts for 2024—which bear a striking similarity to last year’s Canada Day.

In that iteration, the traditional, float-heavy parade down the pedestrian Village Stroll was replaced with an all-day, go-at-your-own-pace “People’s Parade,” featuring interactive stations and animation throughout the village.

According to village animation and events manager Bob Andrea, staff’s proposal is both a matter of spreading out animation throughout the day and avoiding the tricky logistics that come with hosting an actual parade.

Doing so requires multiple staging areas, more staffing, enhanced security, and multiple levels of coordination, he said.

“We just think [this concept] maximizes the available resources, it lengthens the duration of entertainment,” Andrea said, noting they would essentially be replacing the one-off parade with “five hours of activity and fun and entertainment throughout the entire Village.

“Rather than having people coming into the village for one show, so to speak, and then potentially leaving, they’re encouraged—families, local community members, come on out, bring your family, bring your grandparents, explore the whole village, shop … so we’re still trying to support the businesses as well. That’s where we’re coming from.”

Staff are currently conducting outreach with a wide range of community organizations about how they can take part, Andrea added.

But council voiced concern over the lack of a traditional parade, with some at the table wondering how to better incorporate locals into the celebrations.

Councillor Ralph Forsyth noted Whistler only had a Canada Day parade in the first place because the local Chamber of Commerce, envious of a parade up the road in Pemberton, took the initiative to launch it.

When the Chamber no longer wanted to do it, “it made sense for the municipality, especially since we have millions of dollars in RMI funding, to be able to produce an event like this,” he said.

“I know you won’t want to hear this, but the feedback I get from the community is there used to be a community group that ran it and it was awesome, and now the muni runs it and it’s not.

“No offense—I get that it’s great, and the yoga and the stuff, it’s festive, it’s Canada Day, but that’s the consensus in the community. I don’t think I’m alone in that.”

Andrea said the biggest difference from staff’s perspective was being able to spread the animation throughout the entire day, leading from the pancake breakfast right through to the Summer Concert Series kickoff in Olympic Plaza.

“Both options are… neither one is going to suck, that’s for sure,” he said.

“We would never do that. We always want to make Whistler proud, we just feel like we achieve more of our goals with the option we’ve presented.

“No one has cancelled Canada Day,” he added. “It’s still on, and tons of people came out last year and the year before … I understand the traditionalist view and pining for the past, and remembering what it was like—but we’re also looking to the future and new generations.”

Coun. Cathy Jewett said she, too, loved the parade, and participated in many forms herself, but she also appreciated the change in how we think about Canada Day following the discovery of human remains at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Chief administrative officer Ginny Cullen said there are some “important discussions” to have with the leadership of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations if Whistler is to plan a Canada Day parade.

“[I]f we are going to move in that direction, I would say that that would be a really important conversation to have at the political level,” she said.

Following the discussion, council moved to have the Canada Day programming options brought to an upcoming regular council meeting for further consideration.