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Museum Musings: Fools rush in

'Headlines designed specifically for April 1 have graced Whistler newspapers since the 1980s'
The front page of the Whistler Question on April 1, 1982.

On April 1, 1982, the front page of the Whistler Question announced “$2 million win donated to community,” accompanied by a photograph of Drew Meredith, the supposed donor. Prank headlines in newspapers are nothing new, ranging from the obviously foolish to the almost believable, and headlines designed specifically for April 1 have graced Whistler newspapers since the 1980s. Some of the articles have been lighthearted, while others have turned out to be prophetic.

According to the Question, Meredith, a Whistler realtor, won $2,304,197.16 on Fools Rush In in the Irish Derby after purchasing the ticket on a dare from Debbie Tiegan. Upon receiving word of his luck, Meredith decided to donate his winnings to the municipality to finish community projects and facilities, such as the construction of municipal hall and the Whistler Health Care Centre. His only stipulation was that it also be used for “a permanent hot-air balloon in the parking lot at the Blackcomb Day Lodge with a MacGregor-Pacific sign on the side.” A ceremony was allegedly planned to take place in Village Square on April 3, where Meredith would hand the cheque over to Mayor Pat Carleton.

The recession of the early 1980s came just as the development of Whistler Village was beginning to boom. Though some properties were completed, work on various lots was halted for a period, including the partially constructed Whistler Resort Centre (today the Whistler Conference Centre). Municipal budgets were reduced, municipal staff took a pay cut, and in July 1982, only 60 per cent of property taxes were paid on time. In this economic climate, a large donation to the municipality would probably have been very welcome.

The April 1 front page also featured two more stories that, especially looking back, don’t seem all that plausible. One claimed the Ministry of Transportation had announced an experimental snow removal system for Highway 99 called Operation SNO (Surface Nuisance Obliteration) that would use solar heating to melt snow off the highway as it fell. A prototype of the system was reportedly installed in Mayor Pat Carleton’s driveway for the 1981-82 winter.

The other story claimed Colorado experts had solved the problem of snow falling off the Whistler Resort Centre roof, which became a public safety concern in March when large slabs of snow began shifting. The proposed solution was to “hyper-energize” the roof by installing a massive fireplace in the middle of the building to heat the roof, though it was still to be determined how the fireplace would be incorporated into the arena floor.

Of the three stories, only that of Meredith’s donation was followed up on in the next edition.  Few people appear to have been upset by the story, though quite a few readers were willing to accept it, despite claiming they would never be so altruistic themselves. According to Meredith, he “thoroughly enjoyed the escapade,” which he had not known about ahead of time, and was getting interesting responses from community members.

In the Question’s “Whistler Answers,” where six people were asked for their response to the story, Jack Cram claimed he initially believed it, because he “thought Drew is the kind of person to do something like that,” and was very busy when he read it, “so it took a while to sink in.”  Ross Tocher thought if it was true, then either Meredith wanted a mountain named after him or he wanted to be mayor (Drew Meredith was eventually elected mayor, but not until 1986).  Some, like Lisa Knight, believed the headline, but then recognized it as a joke as they read the article.  According to Bob Currie, “It was just too much of a coincidence to have a story like that April 1.”