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Pat Carleton’s legacy is ‘Whistler’

Retired coffee salesman, turned mayor of Whistler, passes away

As the first mayor of Whistler Pat Carleton began his term in office with little more than a wooden gavel and a piece of paper declaring Whistler a special resort municipality.

There were no buildings to speak of, no bylaws, no sewer system, no village, no skiing on Blackcomb Mountain. But there was a lot of hope and a vision for the future. Carleton wasn’t a politician. He was a coffee salesman by trade but he wanted to have a hand in shaping this brand new resort, which had become his retirement home.

"He had a love of the area and wanted to see it develop properly," said son Gordon Carleton. "It was a very special place for him."

Pat Carleton, who was Whistler’s mayor from 1975 to 1982, died in Chilliwack early Monday morning. He was 84.

William Patrick Carleton was born in Langley in 1920. As a young boy he played the trombone in the youth band of the Salvation Army and later as a band member in the Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Air Force auxiliaries. His future did not lie in the music business and Carleton found his path as a salesman, particularly in the coffee industry.

He was married in 1941 and had two children.

Then, almost 50 years ago, Carleton and his family began coming to Whistler. The beauty of the area and the plentiful fishing soon took hold of his heart and by 1960 he had bought a cabin at the end of Old Gravel Road on Alpha Lake. The family would brave the four or five hour Jeep ride from Vancouver for weekend visits and a few weeklong holidays during the summer.

And there were even some winter jaunts via the train where the conductor would make a special stop right in front of the family’s cabin to drop them off, sometimes into three of four feet of snow.

Of course, it helped having a neighbour who was also a train conductor, said Gordon.

By the time he was 52 Carleton decided to retire to his cabin in Whistler with his wife Kay. It was 1971. Carleton got involved in the local community, most notably in the Alta Lake Ratepayers Association and then later as president of the Chamber of Commerce.

But change was coming Whistler’s way.

In the spring of 1975 the provincial government introduced a special statute in the legislature known as the Resort Municipality of Whistler Act. The province was bent on turning what was a weekend ski hill into a ski resort and Whistler had to elect a mayor and council.

That summer Carleton won the mayor’s race and found himself head of a five member council, charged with getting a new Whistler off the ground. It would take years of guts, determination and sheer willpower to make it work.

"I think Pat Carleton’s legacy… is Whistler – the way it is today," said one of those first aldermen John Hetherington. "An awful lot of planning that went into the municipality was done in those first four years and most of what goes on today was planned out in those days."

Unlike the vast majority of people settling in Whistler in the ’70s, Carleton wasn’t a skier. The fact that the mayor of Whistler didn’t own a pair of skis and was leading the charge to create a ski resort actually worked in his favour, according to Al Raine, who was another one of the aldermen on Carleton’s council.

"I think that was one of the reasons there was good public confidence about his leadership and where the community was going in those days, because lots of skiers had different ideas… and Pat was kind of a neutral person," he said. "He could listen to all the discussions… and people had confidence and trust because he (didn’t) have any built in bias."

What Carleton lacked in ski knowledge, he made up for in business experience and just plain common sense.

"We were all kind of thrown together in the early days," recalled Raine. "There was lots of turmoil and issues that today seem almost laughable but they were very important days. In those days we could have gone in many, many different directions and the first council, I think, all shared the same general vision. It was just a question of how to get there and kind of massaging the vision a little bit."

That first council put together a land use plan for Whistler, which saw the site of the town’s garbage dump as the future village, nestled between Whistler Mountain and the soon to be developed Blackcomb Mountain.

There was a lot of opposition to the plan from large property owners in the area who wanted their own parcels of land developed. Ultimately the province would have the final say. Carleton, along with fellow aldermen Garry Watson and Al Raine, went to Victoria to get the approval, ready to resign should the province not come through on the deal.

Raine said those pieces of paper with the resignations were probably in Carleton’s hands, crushed to bits by his legendary firm grip, as they awaited the provincial decision.

"(Carleton) had the strongest handshake of anybody I’ve ever met," said Raine. "As a character he was as firm and strong as his handshake."

As fate would have it, the province listened to Whistler’s first council. And the rest, as they say, is history.

There is only one word to describe Carleton’s legacy Raine added – simply "Whistler."

Though many will remember him for his political life, daughter Patricia said he wasn’t a typical politician.

He was just a "smooth Irishman" and a "wonderful man."

Pat Carleton is survived by his wife Kay, his son Gordon, his daughter Patricia, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be held at the Woodlawn Funeral Home at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 6. The funeral home is located at 45865 Hocking Avenue in Chilliwack. For information call 604-793-4555.