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A look back at Whistler's schools

The community of Whistler has undergone many changes in the last 100 or so years, and nowhere is this more evident than in our elementary schools.
class pic Whistler's student population has grown since this first Alta Lake School student body photo taken in 1933. Jardine Collection

The community of Whistler has undergone many changes in the last 100 or so years, and nowhere is this more evident than in our elementary schools.

When the first non-Indigenous settlers began to make their homes around Alta and Green lakes in the early 20th century, there was no school—no infrastructure at all, in fact.

The first school was built as a community effort in the 1930s. Over $300 was raised from the small collection of residents; impressive at a time when a litre of milk cost $0.10. This school was fairly barebones. It was warmed by an iron stove and had a nearby creek as a water source and gas lamps for light.

Ten students had to attend in order for the school to be funded by the government. Only nine were available at the time, so one boy, Jack Jardine, was persuaded to come for a half-day every week.

The school would close in 1946, reopen in 1951, close in 1962, reopen in 1964 and close for good in 1970 as families moved in and out and the number of children fluctuated. One teacher, Mel Carrico, was even hired on the condition that his four children attend the school.

As the permanent population grew following the opening of Whistler Mountain, the school was able to stop its constant reopening and closing. In 1976, a new school named Myrtle Philip School was built at today's location of the Delta Village Suites.

Though it opened with only 57 students, the students soon began to outgrow the school and an addition and then eight portables were added. In 1992, the students were moved to the new Myrtle Philip Community School at its current location on Lorimer Road.

Whistler was now faced with a constantly growing student population. In 1999, Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half the school's population.

But portables are often too hot or too cold, and have no water supply (especially noticeable when walking out to the washroom in a blizzard). Grade 7 students had been moved to Whistler Secondary when it opened in 1996 and soon the high school was in need of portable, too.

It was decided that a second elementary school was needed and in 2001, the school board began to draw catchment boundaries for the two schools.

This resulted in some conflict. The new school needed half the youth of Whistler to attend, but not everyone had easy access to Spring Creek and there were worries about longer commutes and more cars on the road. Boundaries were eventually decided and building could commence.

This wasn't as simple as it sounds. The school was initially slated to open in September 2001, but this was pushed back multiple times—first to September 2002, then January 2003, then again to November 2003, then finally January 2004 as funding was secured and construction completed.

The wait was worth it. The new school boasted new science and art rooms, a computer lab, a well-stocked library and, after a few years, a French Immersion program.

Finding 10 children to attend school in Whistler is no longer a problem. Students now attend four elementary schools: Myrtle Philip, Spring Creek, École La Passerelle and the Whistler Waldorf School. Even now, discussions are beginning again about the possibility of a new school. From the days of one-room schoolhouses to multiple school buildings, education in Whistler has certainly changed, though it remains an important part of community life.

Olivia Brocklehurst is the summer programs coordinator at the Whistler Museum.