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Museum Musings: Whistler’s first council

Whistler’s first municipal council was faced with the daunting task of building a resort in the ski area
Whistler’s first council: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce, Pat Carleton, John Hetherington and Garry Watson.

When Whistler’s first municipal council was sworn into office on Sept. 6, 1975, the four councillors (Garry Watson, John Hetherington, Bob Bishop and Al Raine) and Mayor Pat Carleton were faced with the daunting task of building a resort in the ski area. As the first council of the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), however, they first had to hire some municipal employees. Over the past few years, the museum has sat down with two of the earliest employees of the RMOW, Geoff Pearce and Kris Shoup, and heard about their experiences.

According to both Pearce and Shoup, the first position to be filled at the RMOW was that of building inspector. Jim Murray, who had previously been an inspector for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, was the first hire of the new council. He was soon followed by Pearce, who began as municipal clerk.

Pearce moved to Whistler in February 1976, though he had already been called in to take minutes at a zoning bylaw meeting in December 1975 to get a feeling for Whistler. He had heard about the job from his boss in Squamish, where he was working as the municipal clerk, who told him he should apply. Upon his arrival in Whistler, he found it was pretty bare from logging but looked like it had “great potential.”

The workplace of the RMOW moved around quite a bit in the first few years. That first meeting Pearce attended took place at the gondola base in either L’Apres or the cafeteria, and he remembered attending council meetings in Carleton’s garage and the Mount Whistler Lodge.  Offices were set up in a trailer next to the liquor store (also located in a trailer at the time), and for a while RMOW staff worked out of the lunchroom of the first Myrtle Philip School, not far from the current location of Municipal Hall.

For his first few years as municipal clerk, Pearce also functioned as the treasurer and collector of taxes. Outside of the RMOW, he worked as the approving officer for the area and was a volunteer firefighter as well. In 1980, Pearce was promoted to administrator, a position he held until 1985.

From bringing together private water systems, to building a sewer system, to planning and constructing the town centre, Pearce remembered staff and council “worked really hard,” including working through the winter holidays of 1978-79. The development proposals for Phase 1 of the Town Centre were due Dec. 22, 1978, and council, Sutcliffe, Moodie & Griggs (the project-management firm leading the town centre project), and staff spent the next few weeks evaluating the proposals in order to announce the winners in early January 1979.

According to Pearce, when he began working for the RMOW in 1976, the population of Whistler was about 530 people, which meant you got to know most people quite well, especially those you worked with. He was invited to the Carletons’ house for coffee with Pat and his wife Kay and, as part of his job was to personally deliver the council envelopes on Friday night to the councillors’ homes, he would often leave either John Hetherington or Franz Carpay (elected to Whistler’s second council) to last so he could sit down and have a beer. In between committee meetings and council meetings, the group would go out for dinner together, rotating through the various restaurants in the area.

Pearce left Whistler for Smithers in 1985, though he returned for a year before moving to Victoria. As recently as 2019, however, he still received calls looking for background knowledge on the RMOW’s early years. Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the experiences of Kris Shoup, the fourth employee of the RMOW.