Celebrating community 

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  • File photo

Recently in the Whistler Facebook group, someone asked a question along the lines of "what defines a local?"

The question spurned a lengthy, opinionated and now-deleted thread.

One other member of the group helpfully posted the dictionary definition of the noun, "a person who lives in the particular small area that you are talking about."

But does that apply in a resort town with as unique a population as Whistler's? I don't purport to have the right answer to the original post's question, or an answer at all really. What I do think is that people can feel connected to this incredible town in an infinite number of ways, one of which is through the town's close-knit community.

That community is something I think can often get lost in the glitz and glamour of being a world-class ski resort and the revolving door of visitors and seasonal staff (who undoubtedly enable this town to thrive).

I admittedly didn't know what I was getting myself into when I moved to Whistler for a job and a change of pace—I had never even been to B.C. I knew people liked to ski and hike, and the landscape was stunning; I knew it had a reputation as a party town, and I had heard that there were a lot of Australians here—all pre-conceived notions that may or may not have come from an MTV reality show and an Instagram location search or two.

While those pre-conceived notions turned out to be at least partly true, what I hadn't banked on finding was such a deep-rooted sense of community—easily the strongest of anywhere I've lived. People are so passionate about this town they call home—passionate enough that the title of 'local' becomes a badge of honour that's debated on a public forum.

I often say how thankful I am that working for the local paper has allowed me to see behind the curtain of that "glamour," if you will. Since the day I moved here, I've had a front-row seat to the community side of Whistler, whether that's writing about the work of local non-profits or the municipality, about youth sports or high-school art shows or a new startup—the side that isn't often featured in tourism ads or Instagram posts.

Last week, that meant writing about a longtime local who had recently passed away. His name was Alain Goebl, although he was better known around town as "Mr. Coffee," for his habit of spending hours upon hours drinking coffee at local cafés.

I spoke to Joan Richoz, Goebl's landlord and friend since he moved to the resort in 1981. Richoz, herself a founding member of the community, told me story upon story about how deeply this quiet, quirky man resonated with his fellow Whistlerites, and how wholeheartedly they rallied to help him out throughout his three decades in town.

When the story was posted to Pique's Facebook page, it received far more attention than a typical post, with locals flooding the comment section to recount their own memories of Goebl.

I've seen towns and cities rally around community figures before. But those well-known "community figures" often tend to be professional athletes, politicians, media personalities, or public figures of some kind.

In a small town like Whistler, that's not always the case. While our athletes, politicians and volunteers undoubtedly play an important role, here, a community figure could just be a kind, easily recognizable man who likes to sit and drink coffee, who might stand out a little from his neighbours. His actions may have been simple, but his impact was far-reaching.

Hearing these stories served as a reminder of why I've fallen in love with Whistler. Sure, the mountains are great, and the village is fun, but it's the people and sense of community that have made me so happy to be here.

So then what makes someone a local, after all?

I don't think there's one all-encompassing answer to that. I think too many people feel connected to this place for too many reasons, and in too many different time spans, to nail it down. But I'd hazard to say that those that really know and appreciate this community—those are the people who can definitely call themselves locals. And that's who makes this town so great.

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