September 08, 1995 Features & Images » Feature Story

feature 236 

The Resort Municipality of Whistler may be a political creation but it was people who literally built the community. The construction industry has been a major part of Whistler since the 1960s. And anyone who's been around Whistler for more than 10 years has likely had some experience, directly or indirectly, in the construction trades. Names like Callaghan Concrete, Hermon, Bunbury & Oke, Coastal Mountain Excavations, Wedgemont Contracting, Alpine Electric and Currie Brothers Enterprises have been around for years. Some were involved in building the New Town Centre, as the Whistler Village was called when construction began in the spring of 1979, but many were not. The construction of the village was a far bigger project than anything previously built in Whistler. A crew of 1,200 worked on the site, in a town with a year-round population of roughly 600. Most of the major construction work in the village was done by companies from Vancouver. Some locals were hired, but most of the workers were brought in and lived in a trailer camp on the site that is now the Whistler Village Centre. Since most of the Vancouver construction companies were union, there were problems using local, non-union subcontractors. Conflicts over whether the site was open or closed flared up from time to time and occasionally a back hoe was used to block access to the site. Several local subcontractors started second, unionized companies in order to get work on the village site. But many of the smaller general contractors didn't work in the village when it was first being built. They survived building residential housing, until the recession of the early ’80s ground nearly all building to a halt and Whistler's future as a resort became questionable. When the economy — and interest in Whistler — picked up again the building resumed. The large construction firms returned to the village, as did some of the local subcontractors, but many of the local building trades went back to building housing for the people of Whistler. The number of construction-industry workers in Whistler has continued to grow over the years but now, as Whistler approaches buildout, there is some question about what Whistler's builders will be doing five years from now. There may always be jobs in residential construction and renovation, but as Whistler's growth curve finally flattens out many of the people who built Whistler will have moved on to other places.

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