Amy McPherson visits Whistler outside ski season and discovers a town rich in heritage and art. Welcome to summer in Whistler.
Standing by the totem pole depicting the strength of the Thunderbird atop a Bear Dancer, I listened to a Cultural Ambassador of the Lil’wat Nation welcome us with a song. His solid voice sings of the Thunderbird and the power of the mountains, which is a prelude to the history and culture of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations we were about to discover in the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.
Long before Whistler is the Whistler today, this is the crossroads of the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. There were no permanent settlements of the First Nations people here, as the two lakes (Alta and Green Lakes) of Whistler were considered bad blood, however, this is the point where the Squamish and Lil’wat people used as a trade point.
Just south of where Whistler is a place called Spo7ez, a shared territory used by both Nations as a hunting and foraging area. Stories tell of a time when the people of the two Nations began to quarrel and show disrespect to each other’s share of the land, the Thunderbird decided to settle the dispute by using the force of his wings to erupt a volcano, causing a great rockslide that buried Spo7ez alive. Survivors of the two nations went home to tell this story and to remind each other they must live harmoniously and work together in the future.
The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre opened in 2008, as the first of its kind in Canada, and is a partnership between the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations to share their culture and heritage with the world. A guided tour by a representative from both the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations that begins with a welcome song is the best way to learn about the culture and history, many will share stories of their ancestors as well as many of the beliefs they still live by. I learn the elders used to go deep into the mountains to heal. So, I take a hike up Blackcomb Mountain to experience this spirit of nature.
A hotspot for skiers and snowboarders, Whistler is a word that conjures up images of white powdered snow and luxury chalets. It wasn’t until the first bid to host the 1968 Winter Olympic games in Whistler did construction of Whistler as a winter resort began. This premium winter destination of British Columbia in Canada, just a short trip from Vancouver, actually began life as a summer fishing lodge in 1915, when Alex and Myrtle Philip first opened the doors of Rainbow Lodge. Words spread, and summer in Whistler grew into a place popular for fishing and hiking, while at the same time, becoming a base for logging and mining.
Summer in Whistler on the trails of the Blackcomb is glorious. Without snow, the landscape is covered by lush deep hazy green of the fir and hemlock trees. I take the Gondola up the slopes and followed a well-trodden path down. Surrounded by the energy of the mountain and the scenic views towards Alta Lake and Green Lake, I can see how Whistler became a popular hiking destination.
Back down near Whistler town, we canoed across Green Lake, the largest and most northerly lake of the Whistler area, where the mountains surrounded us and predatory birds circled above our heads. Apparently, Whistler was known as Alta Lake until the European settlers start calling the area “Whistler” after the whistle sound made by the marmots. I couldn’t hear any marmots today, but in this quieter part of the area and we could hear birdcalls in the distance, and to our pleasant surprise, an osprey made a splash as it dived for fish in the lake.
Dragging our canoes onshore, our hike took us in and around Parkhurst Ghost Town in the wilderness around Green Lake. This former logging community has left derelict houses, wagons and appliances around when the logging operation ceased in the 60s, and a walk through these woods is like walking through this part of history, where each artefact find tells a story.
Back in town, I pay a visit to Audain Art Museum to view some of the indigenous artworks being exhibited. First opened in 2016, the aim is to place focus on the art of the province’s most celebrated artists. The architecture of the museum is a delight in itself, with wooden panels paying homage to the natural environment that surrounds it.
Outside ski season, Summer in Whistler is a truly cultural and outdoor destination well worth a visit.
Tell Me More About Summer in Whistler.
Visit Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre for seasonal exhibition information and tickets.
Visit the excellent Audain Art Museum for traditional and modern works by regional artists in both permanent and temporary exhibition spaces.
Learn more about Whistler’s history at the Whistler Museum.
For further information and touring inspirations, visit Whistler Tourism.
British Airways has direct flights from London to Vancouver. Flight duration is around 9 hours and 35 minutes.
Various car hire companies have counters at Vancouver Airport for self-drive holidays.
The Four Seasons Resort in Whistler provides a luxury experience in the heart of Whistler village. Large comfortable rooms in a chalet-style building create an authentic mountain environment for both winter and summer seasons.
Rooms start around CA$550 per room per night, room only.