June 15, 2007 Features & Images » Feature Story

Growing AWAREness 

From a notice in a newspaper Whistler’s environmental watchdog has evolved into a political powerhouse

By Erica Osburn

It all started with a small ad in the Oct. 27 th 1988 issue of The Whistler Question. “Any Whistler residents interested in starting a recycling program, please call Michele at 932-**** or leave a message.”

Michele Bush’s humble classified ad was the seed of what is now the influential environmental watchdog of Whistler, otherwise known as AWARE.

Frustrated with the lack of green initiatives in Whistler at the time, Bush got the idea to change the status quo during a routine errand. “I was picking up my mail at the old post office — where Gone Bakery is now,” she recalls. “It was a weekend, and there was this huge pile of junk mail at my feet. I thought: what a waste.”

At that moment, a fully loaded logging truck barrelled down the highway. “I was standing up to my ankles in garbage and I remember thinking, they’re just going to cut down more beautiful trees for more junk mail!”

Other community members must have concurred with Bush’s sentiments. “I got lots of phone calls and about 15 people showed up at our first meeting at Citta’s,” Bush says.

Cathy Jewett, a Whistler resident since 1976, was present that night. “I don’t know how much Michele was involved after putting that ad in the paper but she got the impetus going to start the group.”

The first order of business was discussing possible names for the fledgling organization, which did not become a registered non-profit society until 1989.

“There were two name options: WASTE (Whistler Association to Save The Environment) or AWARE (Association of Whistler Residents for the Environment),” Jewett remembers. “We decided to go with AWARE because it was more positive.”

Whistler resident Chris Wilding was also present. “An ad hoc committee was formed at Citta’s. We all said, ‘let’s stop bitching about this and do something about it.’ Bart Imler was the first president. I was the secretary.”

Bush was on the first Board of AWARE as well, but left Whistler a few months later to join her boyfriend in the Ringling Bros. Circus. “Bart (Imler) knew how to put a non-profit together,” she says. “He corralled us into a schedule.”

But Bush had little desire to stick around for the minutiae and planning that had to be done. “That wasn’t my bag at all. I like to start things but I have no patience for that stuff.”

Wilding remembers preparing for the first AWARE fundraiser. “Charlie Doyle created our first logo and we made a banner out of used fabric. I sewed the whole thing by hand,” she remembers.

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