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TEDxWhistler brings ‘intellectual Olympics’ back to the resort

More than a decade since its last Whistler event, TEDx brings 10 speakers from the Sea to Sky and beyond
E-Arts2 TEDx Whistler
TEDxWhistler will be broadcast from the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 12.

The last time TEDx—the grassroots, localized offshoot of the globally recognized TED Conference—was in Whistler, it was in the middle of the 2010 Winter Olympics, when our little ski town must have felt like the absolute centre of the universe. 

More than a decade later, TEDx is set to return, and after a year and a half of a life-altering pandemic, it’s fair to say there aren’t quite as many eyes on the resort community—but that same spirit of excellence and innovation that drew the world here is still going strong. 

“We wanted to do the intellectual Olympics, if you will,” said TEDxWhistler executive producer Anoop Virk. “Whistler has always been [a place] that’s revered on the global stage as the best of the best.” 

Set for Sunday, Sept. 12 from noon to 5 p.m., the virtual event will be broadcast from the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and will feature a mix of pre-recorded talks, live hosted by local free-skiing legend and environmental activist Mike Douglas, and live performances by the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. 

The speaker lineup is split between local and Canadian figures. On the Sea to Sky side is Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton; Whistler doctor and healthcare advocate Karin Kausky; Lil’wat Nation Cultural Chief and artist Kúkwpi7 Gélpcal R.A. Joseph; Squamish Nation Hereditary Chief, wool weaver, and curator Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George; and Whistler first responder and ER physician Dr. Renata Lewis. 

“These sorts of events come together and there’s such a myriad of amazing and interesting topics, and I think that’s an example of the coming together of the minds that’s really driving the intellectual capital locally that we have,” said Lewis.

The other speakers are Mr. Morgan, president of OVO Sound, the taste-making Toronto record label representing artists such as Drake, Majid Jordan and Dvsn; award-winning actor, writer, director, producer and voiceover artist Omari Newton, who has appeared in TV series such as Blue Mountain State, Continuum and lent his voice to the Black Panther in multiple Marvel animated projects; lawyer, writer, educator and life coach Claire Yeung, the author of The Eighty Year Rule; skeleton athlete and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Jon Montgomery, who went on to co-host the Junos, appear on Oprah, and, since 2013, host The Amazing Race Canada; and author, philanthropist, designer and former host of HGTV’s Love it Or List It Vancouver Jillian Harris. 

Virk consulted with numerous local figures and organizations to come up with the lineup, which she said was centred around the idea of representation. 

“We really wanted it to be a community initiative,” she said. 

All the speakers took on the theme of “Legacy,” and for local physician Kausky, that meant reflecting on the entirely unexpected legacy of one of the more challenging periods in Whistler’s history. 

“If you can remember back to a year and a half ago, it was a little bit daunting, a little bit scary, if I’m honest, to see everybody that was COVID-positive,” she said. 

In order to minimize patients’ potential exposure at the clinic, detailed personal histories were taken over the phone in advance of their appointment, and through that it became clear the community’s health and well-being wasn’t only impacted by their medical symptoms.   

“It turned out that by taking these detailed histories over the phone, we figured out there were tons of people that couldn’t pay their rent, didn’t have groceries or were struggling with accommodation,” Kausky said. 

Soon enough, you had physicians collaborating with social workers and non-profits like the Whistler Community Services Society to connect people to a range of resources. It’s also helped push one of Kausky’s dreams to establish a community health centre in Whistler closer to reality. 

“This COVID response was run by primary care in Whistler but really the secret sauce was the completely inadvertent trial of social prescription,” she said. “In the midst of one of the greatest medical challenges we’ve faced as a society, it turns out one of the really powerful solutions is addressing social inequity in our community.” 

Tickets for the TEDx broadcast are $49.95, available at tedxwhistler.com. Ticket sales close on Thursday, Sept. 9.