Memorializing where we came from 

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - benched The Nicoll family's memorial bench at Lost Lake will be replaced.
  • file photo
  • benched The Nicoll family's memorial bench at Lost Lake will be replaced.

It is not unusual, indeed, it is downright fashionable among some, for locals to say they rarely visit Whistler Village. The loss is theirs. But I can never help wondering whether they'd head for the village more often or less if it was somewhere else — say, Mons.

Sounds preposterous, doesn't it? Whistler Village at Mons, instead of tucked into the cleavage of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.

It didn't seem preposterous in the early 1970s.

I have an enduring grudge against history teachers. I digress, of course, but bear with me. Show of hands: Who likes history? Not many of you, I suspect. That's because history, with rare exceptions, has for decades been taught as a brain-numbing, linear filmstrip of names, dates and events, disparate bits of data with no context to hold them together, no behind-the-scenes drama that gave rise to the importance of those names, dates and events. Memorize this; forget it after the test.

I hated history until my senior year of high school. It may have had something to do with growing up in New Mexico, a state that had absolutely nothing to do with American history according to the textbook writers. I dreaded entering Coach Form's — he coached wrestling — American History class. I waded through the first century of trite names, dates and events: the Pilgrim Parade; founding fathers; the revolution; whatever happened before the Civil War.

But when we got to that war, everything changed. We entered Coach Form's wheelhouse. The struggle to define the union of states was as real and timely to him as the nonsense going on in Vietnam at the time. He opened the door and we all entered the middle of the 19th century... and we stayed there for the rest of the year.

The pedagogy in place at the time instructed teachers to cover the founding of the country through the Second World War. We never finished the Civil War. To this day I'm not sure how it ended. But it was a most fascinating trip and it intrigues me still.

Of the multitude minutiae at Coach Form's fingertips was the story of how the famed governor of the territory of New Mexico, Lew Wallace, wound up in the Land of Enchantment. Lew Wallace is much more famous for having penned Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, in 1880, which was, ironically, the year Charleton Heston, who played Ben Hur in the 1959 film was born... or so it seemed.

Lew Wallace, it turned out, was ignominiously transferred to New Mexico during the Civil War after getting his troops hopelessly lost in a swamp on the way to a crucial pincer manoeuvre during a mildly important battle, a battle the North lost because he never showed up. We spent two days learning about that battle, which largely explains why we never finished the Civil War.

I believe I've digressed long enough. In the early life of the nascent Resort Municipality of Whistler, there was no village, just Creekside. When the village was going to be built, there were strong representations by landowners in Mons that it should be sited there. This seemed preposterous to Al Raine, who was visionary in the eventual development of Blackcomb Mountain. It seemed preposterous to Whistler's first mayor, Pat Carleton. And it seemed shameful to Garry Watson, also a councillor on that first governing board.

Pat, Al and Garry travelled to Victoria for a meeting with the provincial minister of municipal affairs, Hugh Curtis. They backed the plan to develop the current site of Whistler Village. The Mons proponents had already presented a strong case with a very impressive and expensive model of what their village would look like and appealed to the governing Socreds' ideological belief that government shouldn't compete with private enterprise.

The only ace the three had up their sleeve, or actually in their jacket pockets, was their letters of retirement should the minister decide against them. They made their case. They prevailed. One of them remembers the minister, referring to the Mons proposal, as saying he'd never seen such an attempt at bullshit baffles brains.

Why is this footnote to history important? Because everyone who visits and/or lives here sees the village and believes it has always been thus. They don't grasp the drama, the context, the history of events, wrought by people — some of whom are still with us — that created this slice of paradise. And there is scant little in Whistler to inform them of our history.

As befits a town so young, Whistler doesn't have a lot of history. And what it has, it treats indifferently. It's not old enough to learn from its history so it ignores and eats it. Dave Murray? Who was he? Oh, didn't there used to be a Dave Murray Camp? Just called The Camp now. Who needs history? Not WB.

Who were the folks who created, fostered, nurtured this town? Until recently, you've been able to glimpse some of them on memorial benches scattered around parks and on trails. Trevor Roote, for example. Who? He was the guy who had the bright idea of building a walkway alongside the sewer line when it was going in. We call it the Valley Trail.

But look fast. Trevor's bench is doomed. So are the others. Someone in the bowels of muni hall a few years back decided the town's Memorial Bench Program was a good place to save a few bucks, very few. Someone — and we'll never know who; they don't call it Fortress Muni for nothing — with a very flimsy grasp of the meaning of "memorial," someone with no appreciation of history, someone with a latent streak of jackboot cruelty decided "memorial" only meant temporary.

So in 2013, our former council — the spreadsheet council who swept in promising to wrest the Olympic-fuelled budgets of their predecessors to the ground — approved, unanimously of course, a new "tribute" program to replace the Memorial Bench Program. It was supposed to be a bit flexible. It hasn't been, according to those about to lose their memorial. It has been, instead, jackbooted... oh, sorry, I think I already mentioned that.

In an ideological move straight from the Harper era or the Republican Party, council decided the memorial benches should pay their way. As though we don't need benches along the trails, a common, even public good the muni has already not had to pay for.

Asinine doesn't even begin to describe this pigheaded and cruel debacle. Whistler needs more venues where those who helped make this place what it is can be remembered, marvelled at, enjoyed by residents and tourists, who always seem surprised anyone actually lives here. The benches may not put heads in beds but they do humanize our little parfait in the mountains.

It's not too late to undo this travesty.


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