Chester Johnson played critical role in Whistler's early days 

Businessman's career was forged in timber industry


A memorial service for Chester Johnson, one of only a handful of people to receive the title Freeman of Whistler, will be held this afternoon in West Vancouver.

Johnson passed away March 29 at the age of 84.

A businessman whose career was forged in British Columbia's timber industry, he served the province in numerous capacities over his career, including guiding the fledgling Whistler resort out of the recession of 1981-82.

Johnson was appointed chair of the Whistler Land Company in 1983 by Premier Bill Bennett. The Crown corporation took over all the assets and liabilities of the municipality's Whistler Village Land Company when interest rates were above 20 per cent, land wasn't selling and WVLC couldn't pay its debts.

Johnson decided to turn the unfinished Whistler Resort Centre from an ice rink into a conference centre, using money borrowed from the province. Just as importantly, he stuck to the plan for Whistler Village when there was pressure to scrap it and sell the land to the highest bidder. Those decisions helped Whistler turn the corner and become an international resort.

Johnson went on to head B.C. Hydro, chair the Vancouver Airport Authority and serve as a director on many other boards, including Expo 86, Scott Paper, Doman Industries, GWIL Industries and the original Vancouver 2010 bid group. He was a member of the Economic Council of Canada from 1987 to 1992.

Before his involvement in Whistler Johnson led Whonnock Industries and West Fraser Timber. He also co-founded Casabello Wineries and Fibreco Export Inc.

Recognition of Johnson's contributions included the Order of Canada, Canada 125 Medal, Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal, the Order of British Columbia, Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C. and Inductee of the Business Laureates British Columbia Hall of Fame.

In a statement released Tuesday Premier Gordon Campbell said: "Chester was a true builder of the British Columbia we know today. His contributions working in both the public and private sectors have made our province a better place to live and were significant factors in the success of B.C."

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 8 at St. David's United Church, 1525 Taylor Way, West Vancouver followed by a reception to celebrate a life well lived. In lieu of flowers, donations to The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada would be appreciated.



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