The Whistler Public Library (WPL) opened its doors in the basement of municipal hall in the summer of 1986, less than a year after the Whistler Public Library Association (WPLA) was formed, thanks to the dedicated work of members of the WPLA, community groups, and volunteers. It quickly became a well-used facility within the community and began providing books, storytimes, school presentations, summer reading programs, and in time even a public access computer under the direction of librarian Joan Richoz.
It was widely understood even before the WPL opened in the basement that this would not be a permanent location. The WPLA had been granted a five-year lease of the space in 1986 and Richoz was told that the library should expect to be in the basement for three to five years. A building fund was started by the WPLA in 1989 but by 1991, as the end of their lease approached, the building committee reported that it would probably be another five years before a new building was ready. The library began operating on a month-to-month lease and then received a two-year lease.
The library quickly outgrew its basement location, even after the Whistler Museum and Archives moved out of its part of the space in 1989. In 1990, WPL already had 1,157 registered borrowers, while Squamish had only 704 and Pemberton had 261, and Whistler was continuing to grow. Despite this increase in usership and dedicated fundraising efforts, the library struggled to secure enough funding for operations, sometimes having to dip into its building fund.
The question of where to put the library was met with various proposals, including office space in the newly constructed Marketplace and the high school planned for 1996. The municipality had set aside various sites for community use and in 1992 a lot on Main Street, referred to as Lot 21, was zoned for a library. In October 1992 there was talk of building a municipal cultural centre to house the library, museum and Whistler Arts Council as tenants on Lot 1, but in November the municipality committed funding to build an ice rink at Meadow Park instead. This was also when the idea of moving the library, along with the museum and arts council, into portables on Lot 21 came up.
In July 1994, having added as much shelving as possible to the basement space, the library was presented with three options, all of which were temporary measures involving portables. Staying in the basement was no longer an option, as it was needed for the growing Planning and Parks & Recreation departments, then housed in its own portables next to municipal hall. The library chose to move into the old Canada Post trailers that were to be moved to Lot 21. This move would double the space, shelving, and number of seats and allow the library to continue growing its collections and programs.
In December 1994, after the portables had been moved and refurbished by the municipal Building Department and community members, the library shut down for a week and staff and volunteers moved furniture, books, magazines and more to the new location. The circulation desk, left over from the previous occupants, bore the colours of Canada Post and the new recycled space offered room for a children’s area and reading tables. Now ground level, Richoz told the Whistler Question, “We’ve got windows and a view. It’s just fantastic,” and the first library patron Liz Stamper described it as “absolutely beautiful.”
Unlike at the previous location, the grand opening of the new location occurred a month after WPL welcomed its first borrowers on Main Street. The opening in January 1995 attracted about 150 people, despite a lack of signage and large snowbanks that hid the building, and featured a ribbon cutting and a silent auction to raise money to offset the cost of moving.
Despite the increase in space, this new location was also meant to be a temporary measure. In 1995, staff expected the library to remain in the portables for three to five years.