Whistler remembers Andrée Janyk 

'She was such a force in this community, and she did it with so much heart'

PHOTO BY SHEA MACNEIL/COASTPHOTO.COM - TOUCHING TRIBUTE There has been an outpouring of admiration for local volunteer and Coun. Andrée Janyk since the news of her passing on June 16.
  • Photo by Shea MacNeil/Coastphoto.com
  • TOUCHING TRIBUTE There has been an outpouring of admiration for local volunteer and Coun. Andrée Janyk since the news of her passing on June 16.

At the height of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Andrée Janyk was a much sought-after commentator on national broadcasts of the Games in Whistler. The matriarch of Canada's "first family of skiing," Janyk delighted media for the same reasons she was so beloved in the community she called home: her straightforward candidness, her unbridled enthusiasm for sport, and, above all else, the profound love she had for her family.

"You've got to add to the list of her contributions and what she really cared about, what she was passionate about, and that was her family," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who has sat on council with Janyk for the past six years. "She was so proud of her children, and then when she had grandchildren, she was just over the moon."

The community is mourning the loss of one of its most cherished residents this week after Janyk lost a two-year battle with cancer on Friday, June 16. She is survived by her husband Bill and three adult children.

Olympic alpine skier Britt (Janyk) Tilston said what has stood out most from her mother's life was her "amazing ability to encourage and empower" young people, something that's been reinforced by the outpouring of support the family has received in the difficult days since her passing.

"I'm so proud to call her my mother. She was such a force in this community, and she did it with so much heart."

There was a sombre start to Tuesday's council meeting, a small vase of pink and yellow flowers at the council table next to Janyk's nameplate.

"We mourn her passing," said a distraught Wilhelm-Morden before introducing a slideshow presentation, put together by municipal staff, highlighting Janyk in her role as a Whistler councillor.

Each councillor spoke about their colleague and friend, telling personal stories about Janyk's dedication to the community.

"For the last six years she loved being at this table," said the mayor.

That heart was on full display in whatever Janyk put her mind to, whether it was the sport of skiing she took up as a toddler, as founder of the Blackcomb Ski Club and Whistler Youth Soccer Club (WYSC), or as a tireless volunteer for a host of local causes.

"She was totally committed. You have probably heard that elsewhere," recalled Murray Wood, who worked with Janyk for years as part of the volunteer ski-race worker organization, the Weasel Workers. "Andrée had the tendency to jump into a lot of things with both feet."

With a degree in kinesiology from Simon Fraser and a master's from the University of Brussels, Janyk's career path went in a number of directions, from presenting scientific papers in Europe, to leading the first Fitness Leadership Certificate program at Capilano University and serving on the national First Summit on Fitness Committee in the 1980s. It was around that time she started a food co-op that was active for a decade and a half, raising awareness of the benefits of eating organically.

But beyond her family, it was Janyk's dedication to the young people of the community that seemed to drive her above all else. She helped grow soccer in the community as the WYSC's first president, and used her contacts in the Lower Mainland to bring in elite coaches to train members. In later years, she stayed involved with the club, running refereeing clinics and suiting up to call games herself. She was always known as "a beacon of fairness" on the pitch and never missed a teachable moment — even in the middle of games.

"All I can say is that everything she did was for the kids," said longtime friend Bob Calladine, who launched the WYSC with Janyk in 1996.

The 2010 Whistler Citizen of the Year, Janyk spoke to Pique following the awards about the joy she took in helping grow youth sports in Whistler.

"One of my favourite things was starting the soccer club and giving the kids in this town a chance to play a great game," she said. "I love refereeing soccer, I love anything that makes children's faces light up. It gives me nothing but the great bound of joy."

A school trustee for 12 years, Janyk also played a pivotal role in moving towards a student-centred learning model when School District 48 was reorganizing in the late-2000s.

"Inevitably, she brought an enthusiasm and a care for our students. But apart from that, she was firm about when we needed to have a purpose, and was part of the inspiration for actually establishing an education plan," said Chris Vernon-Jarvis, who served on the district board with Janyk. "Andrée knew, if you're going to (reorganize the district), then you need to plan it around what you want education to look like.

"This is a very brave and radical change, and Andrée was a leader of that."

Eventually, Janyk turned to local politics, sweeping into office in 2011 as part of a complete council turnover before she was re-elected for a second term three years ago. As a new councillor, she pushed for the creation of the Recreation and Leisure Advisory Committee and served as council's first ever appointee to the group. But Janyk's political contributions stretched far beyond her passion projects, tackling any responsibility she was given with gusto.

"Her love of sport was first and foremost, but when I asked her in 2011 if she would go on the public art committee, for example, she did. And she attacked the work of that group with the same passion she did with youth soccer," remembered Wilhelm-Morden. "She just was such an energetic person, so focused and consumed with her love for the community."

The mayor said that work would get underway next month to hold a by-election in order to fill Janyk's vacant seat, expected sometime in the fall. The municipality will also hold a celebration of life, with details to come. In the meantime, the family is requesting that any donations be made in Janyk's name to the Community Foundation of Whistler.

—with files from Alison Taylor

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