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Whistler Citizen of the Year awarded to both Pat Montani and Keith Reynolds

See all the results from the 2019 Whistler Excellence Awards
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Playground Builders' Keith Reynolds stands at the podium accepting his Citizen of the Year Award, alongside fellow winner Pat Montani, to his left. Photo by Karl Partington

In a rarity for the Whistler Excellence Awards, two individuals will share Citizen of the Year honours in 2019: Pat Montani and Keith Reynolds.

The organizations that both men founded share distinct similarities: Montani, who launched Bicycles for Humanity with his wife Brenda, and Reynolds, founder of Playground Builders, both provide a sense of hope to populations that need them most, and both have seen their impact spread worldwide.

Bicycles for Humanity now counts 15 chapters worldwide and has collected and transported more than 180,000 bikes to the developing world, while Playground Builders has constructed 240 playgrounds in war-torn countries across the Middle East.

But the pair’s connection goes beyond the professional.

“Keith and I go way back,” said Montani in his acceptance speech to the assembled crowd of 450 at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. “We’ve been friends for a long time and we’ve had countless discussions about being grassroots and plugging along, just trying to make a difference.”

Reynolds, not one to court the limelight, has mostly kept a low profile as the head of Playground Builders, a concept that was first sparked by his travels as a backpacker through occupied Palestine more than 30 years ago.

“I am not really comfortable up here—I’m a lot more comfortable in Kabul or even Baghdad,” Reynolds said in his speech. “We’ve constructed 240 playgrounds in some of the worst areas in the world. We have impacted over a million children in some of the worst places in the world. And we live in this wonderful playground called Whistler. We import play; now we are exporting play.”

Although married couples have shared the Citizen of the Year Award in the past, this is the first time Whistler’s longest running award will go to two separate individuals. Both Reynolds and Montani will now enjoy a year of free parking, courtesy of the RMOW, along with the honour of being celebrated by the place they call home.

“It is such an honour to be recognized by a community that I love and have been a part of for 30 years,” Montani said.

Dave Clark, founder of the Whistler Half Marathon and dedicated youth sports coach who has helped raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight cancer and Crohn’s and colitis, was the other nominee for Citizen of the Year.

Pique publisher Sarah Strother, who also serves as president of Whistler Publishing and sits on the board of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, was named Business Person of the Year.

“Aside from reading (G.D. Maxwell’s “Maxed Out”) column every week to make sure we don’t get sued, my job as publisher is to ensure the business of Pique runs well,” Strother joked at the ceremony. “Really, what we care about is telling the news and telling Whistler’s story. It matters to me and it matters to us at Pique as well. This is our home.”

Business consultant James Kirkwood and Creekside Market owners Jerry and Sana Marsh were also nominated.

In the returning Above & Beyond category, presented to an individual who has made a major contribution to the community, Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher won out over Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) director Jackie Dickinson, and Terry Clark, director of operations for Gibbons Whistler.

An emotional Fisher thanked her husband and daughter, her team at Tourism Whistler and the wider community in her acceptance speech.

“Our job here is to maintain an incredible balance when we look to how we preserve this beautiful resort,” she said.

Pangea Pod Hotel, Canada’s first boutique pod hotel, was handed the Innovative Business of the Year Award, over mountain-bike accessory production company RideWrap and Alpine Riding, which offers North America’s first A-Ride tours.

“For us, innovation is all about people,” said hotel owner Russell Kling. “I think the biggest thanks of the night goes to my incredible team behind me.

“I’m not easy on myself and I’m sure as hell not easy on them, but everything you see walking into Pangea is a testament to their dedication.”

The Sustainability in Action Business Award, handed to a business that has demonstrated “considerable positive impact in advancing sustainability,” was given to private composting facility Sea to Sky Soils.

“I’ll dedicate this award to our employees, the boys from Mount Currie who work tirelessly to transform this place into a resource,” said owner-operator Jaye-Jay Berggren. “I can’t thank them enough for that.” Organic café Naked Sprout and Innovation Building Group were also nominated.

The Whistler Champion of Arts & Culture Award went to local theatre producer, educator, and children’s entertainer Ira Pettle, who won over Cheximiya Allison Burns Joseph, Indigenous weaver and Cultural Diversity Leader at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, and award-winning artist, curator and event manager Andrea Mueller.

“It’s interesting because I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what I’m doing here,” said Pettle. “There’s just a really good scene happening here and I’m excited for what’s coming.”

Fairmont Chateau Whistler Executive Chef Isabel Chung took home the Rising Star of the Year Award, given to a business leader 39 and under who has given back to the community and demonstrated success at a young age. Along with leading the Fairmont’s culinary team, Chung spearheaded the ELLEvate TogetHER dinner as a way to bring together female leaders in support of the Canadian Cancer Society and regularly donates her time to the WCSS’s weekly food-bank lunches.

“My director of public relations isn’t here tonight,” Chung joked. “I was up against some incredible people, but at the end of the day it’s about our community. Everyone allows you to be successful, our resources, our hotel, my team … and to be able to work with WCSS is one of my passions to ensure food security.”

Court Larabee, Whistler Blackcomb's inaugural Indigenous relations specialist and vice-president of the Sea to Sky chapter of the First Nations Snowboard Team, was also nominated alongside Jeanette Bruce, the Whistler Public Library’s programming director as well as a local choir leader.

Forged Axe Throwing took home the honour for Whistler Experience Service-Small Business, which is based on secret shopper scores. They beat out Escape Route and Peaked Pies.

In the Whistler Experience Service category for large businesses, Mongolie Grill tied with The Beacon Pub & Eatery. It’s the second time Mongolie Grill has won the award, while the Beacon’s sister restaurant, Basalt Wine & Salumeria, won last year.

The Whistler Excellence Awards are produced annually by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. Nominations for the 2020 award are already open, at whistlerchamber.com.