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Charlie Doyle: The art of staying true to yourself

He’ll never change. Artist, athlete, iconoclast, rebel — Charlie Doyle is the stuff that Whistler dreams are made of. Actually, that’s not quite true. With Doyle, it’s more reality than dreams.
Charlie Doyle

He’ll never change. Artist, athlete, iconoclast, rebel — Charlie Doyle is the stuff that Whistler dreams are made of. Actually, that’s not quite true. With Doyle, it’s more reality than dreams. Why? Because ever since he made this valley his home, the 59-year-old Doyle has rarely hesitated to roll up his sleeves when there’s been heavy lifting to be done in the community. Indeed, although he’d probably be the first to dismiss it, Charlie is fast becoming an icon in this great unfolding dramedy we call The Whistler Story .

But it’s not like he’s gotten rich from it or anything. A man of modest needs, Doyle still lives with his family on the hillside lot he bought on Easy Street nearly three decades ago. Owns a small — if very tasteful — sign-making company that he runs out of his home there. Not so exceptional so far, is it? Which is what makes him such an interesting character. For take an archival snapshot of any period in Whistler’s history since 1972, and there he’ll be, just like the eponymous Waldo. But unlike the cartoon fly-on-the-wall character, Doyle will usually be right in the thick of it.

Hippy squats in the 1970s? There’s a photo of a bearded, long-haired Doyle presenting squatters’ demands to the Land Office of the provincial government in a successful stand-off with local politicians. Resident housing in the 1980s? Look: there’s Charlie again, part of the small Whistler group forging new solutions for locals’ housing needs at Tapley’s Farm. Mountain tourism in the ’90s? Wouldn’t you know it — there’s Doyle once more, a founding (and still-active) member of WORCA, the valley’s groundbreaking mountain bike association. How about Whistler’s Olympic hopes in 2000? OK. You got me there. But wasn’t it Charlie’s son Eryn who created all that media fuss with his “I’m Packing The Bud” bumper sticker spoof of VANOC’s oh-so-earnest “I’m Backing The Bid” version?

But I digress…

Charlie Doyle is a Whistler legend. No question. And his contributions to this community are legion. Mostly however, his contributions have remained below the mainstream radar. Why? Because he represents a tribe of Whistler residents who would still rather enjoy their mountain lifestyle than make oodles of money from it. And in this era of “excess is success”, that point-of-view is hardly the dominant one among Whistler power brokers.

But be careful what you wish for, warns Doyle. For that “excess is success” model is leading the community down a potentially dangerous path. “There seems to be a belief among certain Whistlerites that you can build yourself out of your problems,” he explains. “But that’s just not the case. Just look at us. We’ve created this ever-hungry monster that needs to be fed all the time - at the expense of a way of life that drew most of us here in the first place. I mean, does the machine feed us or are we doomed to keeping the machine fed?”

He sighs. “When is enough really enough? If we’re not careful, if we continue to put stuff in here at the rate we have, we’re going to paint ourselves into a corner. My guess is that someday, perhaps during our next inevitable downturn, we’ll be pressured into accepting gambling or whatever the saviour of the day happens to be. You know, gotta keep that machine fed…”

He stops speaking. Takes a deep breath. “Do we want to go there?”

Doyle has never been afraid to challenge the status quo. But you’d never know it to see him. Slight of stature and quiet of voice — calm, collected and rarely rattled — he looks more like a teacher than a rebel. The reality, however, is quite different. For Doyle has always been willing to fight for his principles — no matter where mainstream Whistler was going at the time. And his win/loss record is impressive, whether advocating for his fellow squatters or lobbying for mountain bikers’ rights with B.C. Parks.

Ever heard of The Answer? Created by a quartet of hippies in a squatters’ shack on the banks of the Cheakamus River in 1977, the underground magazine was a tongue-in-cheek response to The Question’s straightlaced and un-artistic voice (or so thought the new mag’s staff).

Sassy, cheeky, irreverent, ironic, impolite, courageous, irresponsible, outrageous — call it what you will, The Answer perfectly reflected the ideals and aspirations of the growing hordes of young adventure-junkies who were then migrating to the Whistler Valley. And it had Charlie’s imprints all over it.

The Answer was always more a hobby than a business,” maintains Doyle. “None of us involved in the magazine had the publishing skills — or the desire — to turn it into a career.” He laughs. “Besides, the group was really quite volatile — artsy types, you know. There was always this kind of love/hate thing going on. We loved what the magazine stood for. We loved having the voice. We loved the press freebies. But we hated the amount of work and energy it took to put the thing together.”

And while that ambivalence surely created monstrous fiscal imbalances, it created a tone for the magazine that even today remains relevant. The Answer was “post-modern” long before that term came into common usage. And it was funny. Really funny…

Like Speedie & Spence’s infamous Toad Hall poster, The Answer soon became an emblem for Whistler’s burgeoning counterculture scene. It championed all things edgy. “Get high, get nude — and don’t take life so damn seriously!” could have been the magazine’s tagline? “But not everybody supported us — the mountains, for example…”

He chuckles. “I think the thing that scared them the most is that they knew they couldn’t bully us.” He smiles impishly. “I think that’s also why we were popular with our peers.”

Although one of its most famous battles — over a cover picture of a young Rob Boyd riding naked on a motorcycle with an equally nude young woman on the back — happened long past its heyday, The Answer continued to inspire young mountain enthusiasts to think and act differently than city folk.

“With guys like Bob Colebrook, there was a lot of good writing in that magazine,” says Doyle. “In fact, Stephen Vogler told me recently that it was reading The Answer as a teenager that convinced him to become a professional writer…”

Hang on a minute. Let’s back up here a little. Wasn’t it another controversial magazine article that convinced a young Charlie Doyle to settle down at Whistler in the first place?

The year was 1972. Or maybe it was 1973. Whatever. “I’d travelled a bit in Europe,” he recounts. “So I knew what big mountain resorts looked like. But most of my skiing had been done in Ontario. So when a friend of mine suggested we fudge our UIC cards and take a trip west in his MG, I jumped at the chance…”

He smiles. “Alberta didn’t do much for me, but things started to get better the moment we crossed the border into B.C.” Somewhere around Osoyoos, he remembers, Doyle came across an article in a popular newspaper supplement about this place called Whistler. “Except for a few reports, I hadn’t heard much about it before. It wasn’t even listed on any maps,” he says. “But that piece really got me thinking.”

The article, “The Mountain Belongs To The Bums”, appeared in the March 3 rd , 1973 issue of Weekend Magazine. And it caused a furor from sea-to-shining sea! For in its breathless, titillating ‘don’t tell your mom’ prose, it provided a highly stylized view of the hedonistic — and very naughty — lifestyles of such Whistler ski-bumming stars as Al Davis, Rene Paquette and Lyle Fetherstonhaugh. Parents across the country were warned never to let their daughters visit this alpine Gomorrah. “They might disappear and not be heard from till spring,” said Soo Valley denizen, Paul Mathews. Doyle was smitten….

Sometimes things happen for a reason. Sometimes they happen by sheer, blind luck. It was probably a bit of both for Doyle. Fuelled by the promises of endless powder days and an enticingly new mountain town, the young skier immediately set his sites on Whistler.

“So there I was, on my first day here, singling up through the gondola lineup, looking for a trio to join up with,” he says, a smile playing on the edges of his lips. And whom should he find? “Well, I didn’t know it at first,” Charlie admits, “but soon dawned on me. My gondola partners were the exact three characters I’d read about in the Weekend article just a few days before… I was in!”

A man of vast creativity — painter, musician, writer, artisan — Doyle is no stranger to the well-turned phrase. In an article that he wrote in 2000 for the book Whistler – History In the Making , he put forth his rationale for having remained a Whistler resident all these years. “It’s still a big mountain, out west, where you don’t have to ski on the runs,” he wrote. “The magic is still here. If you know what it is… you know what it is. If you don’t… I can’t teach you. It was here then. It’s here now.”

Still feel that way today, I ask him. “Absolutely,” he says. “You just have to look a little harder for the magic now…”