When I was a kid growing up in the little ski town of Whistler in the 1970s, there was a T-shirt that said “Paris, New York, Tokyo, Whistler.” It was funny because at the time the town was a ragtag collection of 500 or so colourful and eccentric characters who’d escaped a more normal existence in the “real” world to hide out in the Coast Mountains of western Canada. A good many of them lived for free in squatters cabins in the woods. The guy who created all the best T-shirts in town was named “T-Shirt Al” Davis. Al lived in his white bread truck churning out silk-screened garments that captured the tenor of the times: University of Whistler: Faculty of Mogulology; and UIC Ski Team (acronym for the highly-appreciated Unemployment Insurance Commission). With his long white hair and bushy mustache Al was the elder statesman of the young hippy ski bums. He occasionally worked as a liftie, windsurfed on Alta Lake clad in nothing but his Vuarnets, partied at the Boot, a favourite local watering hole, and cleared the first patch of land for what later became Easy Street. Thirty-five years later, the Olympic Games finally arrived in a town that had attempted to lure them for half a century. The multi-national mega-project touched down in February on the newly laid pavement and unleashed its highly choreographed five-ring circus. The surveillance helicopters and balloon platforms kept the surrounding airspace secure while the fibre-optic satellite feeds sent highly-marketable images around the globe: snow-covered coastal peaks, high-tech ski jumps and bobsleigh courses, toned athletes, and awards ceremonies brimming over with patriotic cheers and tears. But where in those images was the place I remembered? Where was the likes of T-Shirt Al, or at least the younger generations who’d inherited that same burning desire to abandon Main Street and eke out an existence playing in the western woods? If you looked closely at the footage you could spot them, in among the throngs, drinking over-priced beer on the patios, whooping at the crazed marching bands, dancing to Devo and The Roots, sending their own roots deeper into a longstanding tradition of celebrating life in the Coast Mountains. They’d been training for decades. Culture is local, its strength measured by how well it can withstand the global forces that threaten to uproot it. T-shirt Al passed away a couple of years ago. But those old T-shirts that captured the character of the place so well? They still fit just right.
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