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Museum Musings: The library in the basement

Last month, when asked by staff at the Whistler Public Library (WPL) if we had photos that they could share to celebrate their birthday, we noticed that the museum hasn’t written a whole lot about our neighbour, so we thought we’d take a
e-museum musings 28.37 WMA_P202_1986_0026_WQ
Provincial Secretary Grace McCarthy signs the first library card for the new Whistler Public Library with WPLA Chair Heather Hull at the first opening ceremony in July 1986. 

Last month, when asked by staff at the Whistler Public Library (WPL) if we had photos that they could share to celebrate their birthday, we noticed that the museum hasn’t written a whole lot about our neighbour, so we thought we’d take a look back at the early days of the WPL.

After the Keg building was moved to its current location on Blackcomb Way in 1981, most of the building was renovated to become the offices and meeting spaces of municipal hall. It was ready to be occupied by fall 1984, but there was still an unfinished lower level that the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) wasn’t planning to use. A large portion of this level was earmarked for the Whistler Health Care Centre, which had been operating out of portables, and it was proposed that the remaining space could be used for a library.

In December 1985, a petition was started to form the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA), and with 10 signatures the library was on its way to becoming reality. The Whistler Rotary Club (WRC) set up a book depository at the Chef and Baker building in Function Junction to collect donations and in January 1986 the province granted the WPLA legal status and $7,000 for start-up costs. The WPLA was able to have its first official board meeting and set up additional collection spots.

The WPLA shared its early progress at its first public meeting in February. This included fundraising plans, the need for volunteers to collect and sort books, and the results of a questionnaire attempting to determine what the residents of Whistler wanted to see in their library. According to the 100 people who completed the survey, Whistler wanted National Geographic, more non-fiction books than fiction, and a mix of mystery, spy, science fiction and romance novels.

By May 1986, more than 2,000 books had been donated (though not all were in suitable condition) and $47,000 had been raised for the library, including a $10,000 grant from the RMOW and more than $20,000 contributed by local groups such as the WRC and the Alta Lake Community Club. Book donations came from bookstores, Capilano College (texts about the hotel and restaurant trades) and accounting firms (books on bookkeeping, taxes and financial matters). According to librarian Joan Richoz, they hoped to open with 3,000 books on the shelves.

Perhaps the largest fundraiser was Whistler’s Night in April 1986, an auction/dinner/dancing/performance combination which raised more than $15,000. Whistler’s Night was a community affair, as restaurant and hotel staff volunteered to cook and serve a seven-course meal, local groups showed off performances prepared for Expo 86, and the Whistler Fire Rescue Service ran the bar.

On July 28, about 60 people attended an official opening of the library in the basement of municipal hall, which had been finished and furnished by the WRC. The library wasn’t actually quite ready to open to the public, as about half of the collection still needed to be catalogued and shelved, but the Social Credit Party was holding its convention in Whistler that weekend and both Provincial Secretary Grace McCarthy (the minister responsible for libraries) and local MLA John Reynolds were on hand to makes speeches and unveil plaques. After July 28, the library shut down for another month and more than 20 volunteers worked to finish cataloguing and shelving books.

The next opening, and the date celebrated by the WPL as its birthday, was Aug. 27. The collection included 4,600 books that could be borrowed during the 16 hours a week that the library was open. Borrowing privileges were free for children, students, and seniors while adults paid $8 for the year.

The Whistler Public Library began as an idea at the end of 1985 and in one year (with a lot of hard work by the WPLA and help from the community) had created a collection, opened a facility, and registered almost 400 cardholders.