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Museum Musings: Looking back at Whistler’s Annual Chili Cook-off

'By the end of the day, the first Annual Chili Cook-off raised almost $1,000 for the Whistler Health Planning Society'
The “Medics” team at the Annual Chili Cook-off in 1984.

There are many different ways to fundraise, whether asking for donations, applying for grants, or hosting events. Though some of Whistler’s fundraiser events have continued for decades, others lasted only a few years, such as the Annual Chili Cook-off hosted by the Whistler Resort Association (WRA; today known as Tourism Whistler) and the Whistler Health Planning Society.

The Society formed in 1982 to fundraise for a dedicated medical facility in Whistler. The Whistler Medical Centre opened in a double-wide trailer in September 1982, but the Society continued to fundraise for a larger permanent facility and more equipment. Its Annual Chili Cook-off took place as part of a larger program of events over the first weekend of July in the early 1980s.

The First Annual Chili Cook-off was held in Village Square on July 3, 1983. Teams were given five hours to cook enough chili to feed all the judges and some spectators. According to the Whistler Question, there were a lot of theories floating around Village Square about what made a good chili and how to win, including “bacon fat gives flavour,” “cubed beef is the meat to use,” and “beer is the secret ingredient.” The real answer, however, was probably to try to appeal to the six “celebrity” judges: Whistler Mayor Mark Angus, Monica Hayes of Westin Bayshores, Glen Tolling of Molson, restaurateur Umberto Menghi, summer ski coach Toni Sailer, and John Creelman.

According to Ted Nebbeling, head cook of the “Gourmez” team that took first place, the real secret was to surprise the judges by using 60 different spices. Nebbeling and teammates Susan Howard, Val Lang and Wendy Meredith were awarded a spot at the Canadian Chili Championship taking place at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver later that summer.

Chili cooking wasn’t the only activity on offer in Village Square. There were also games for spectators such as apple-bobbing, a fishing pond and a seed-spitting contest. By the end of the day, the first Annual Chili Cook-off raised almost $1,000 for the Whistler Health Planning Society.

The Annual Chili Cook-off was back in July 1984 to raise $700 for the purchase of medical equipment. The judging panel featured six Vancouver broadcasters, returning judges Angus and Sailer, and Canadian Chili Championship organizer Mike Murphy. Six teams competed with varying levels of skill. Angus described one entry as “like a spaghetti sauce” and another as resembling “a famous brand name of cat food.” The “Gambling Gourmez” won for the second year in a row, and went on to compete again at the Canadian Chili Championship.

There was also a prize for “best showmanship,” which went to the “Medics” team. Teams competed in costume and with props, each trying to outdo the other. As a fundraiser for the Whistler Medical Centre, the Medics fully embraced the cause and featured surgical gear, patients, and a puppet while creating their chili.

By the summer of 1985, the Whistler Health Planning Society had restructured as the Whistler Health Care Society and was continuing to fundraise for its 1986 move into the Municipal Hall basement. The third Annual Chili Cook-off raised $600 towards this goal, despite moving from Village Square to Myrtle Philip Community School. The event had a Gold Rush theme and featured can-can dancers, the Sweet Adeline Quartet, and gold-panning demonstrations. It appears this was the last Annual Chili Cook-off, as we can’t find any record of one in July 1986. However, the Whistler Health Care Society and now the Whistler Health Care Foundation continue to fundraise for health services in Whistler today.