December 18, 2009 Features & Images » Feature Story

Ghosts of Christmases Past 

Long-time Whistlerites remember


Twinkling lights, roast pheasant, Christmas carols...blackouts? Whether you spent your Whistler Christmases in the 1960s and 1970s knee-deep in fresh powder or up to your elbows in dirty dishes, there was never a dull moment in those early days...

Gina Monahan remembers Christmas in the fledgling years of the resort's history.

"We used to go up on Boxing Day but there were some years we spent actual Christmas Day in Whistler," she recalls.

Upon arrival at their Creekside condo, her father (Whistler Mountain founder Franz Wilhelmsen) put up blue Christmas lights on the balcony railing and would hoist the flag up the pole.

"Dad always insisted on the flag being up," Monahan remembers. "He wanted people to know when he was in residence.

"We would have pheasant for dinner that Dad shot a few weeks prior in Pitt Meadows with a couple of friends," Monahan continues. "Then the bird would have a few weeks to hang and would be ready for Christmas dinner. We would eat lingonberries with it, which is a Scandinavian specialty, like a really deluxe cranberry sauce. Mum would make oyster stew to start the meal and would make a delicious gravy for the bird. She never gave me the recipe but it called for Norwegian goat cheese."


Ornulf Johnsen arrived in Whistler in 1965 and was at the resort for its very first Christmas. "It was a bit lonely," he recalls. "At that time there wasn't an established community so there was no one organizing big Christmas events or parties. We were lost people. Everyone was on their own."

There weren't many places to go either.

"There was the Cheakamus Inn, the Highland Lodge and the cafeteria at the bottom of Whistler Creek," says Johnsen.

Considering Whistler Mountain didn't officially open until February 1966 it is not surprising that many people on Christmas Day in 1965 were at loose ends. The mountain, already operating, was not even open for skiing.

"It was traditional for mountain resorts to be closed on Christmas Day," Johnsen recalls, although the mountain did open for Christmas Day in later years. Furthermore, most of the skiers were Vancouver people who wanted to open their presents in their city homes and drive up to Whistler on Boxing Day or the 27 th . Dec. 27 is still typically the busiest day of the season for the resort, 44 years later.

It wasn't all bad in the old days. Johnsen does remember "lots of sauna" on Christmas Day 1965, followed by making snow angels outside in sauna gear. There was no shortage of snow that year.

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