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Book Browsing in Whistler, BC

abstract:Whistler, British Columbia is a full-season destination resort offering unparalleled skiing and snowboarding in the winter—and opportunities for aprés reading. BookBuffet's Paula Shackleton spent her holiday doing both.


January 20, 2004

Historic Preamble

1911: Myrtle and Alex Philips take the three day journey to Whistler: a steamer ship from Vancouver to Squamish, overnight in Brackendale, and a two-day horse trek to Whistler. They fall in love with the place.


1914: The Philips establish Rainbow Lodge on Alta Lake, Whistler. The Great Pacific Eastern Railway (now BC Rail) is built to Alta Lake and links the valley to the outside world. Whistler becomes a base for logging and mining. Myrtle and Alex's Rainbow Lodge is the most popular resort destination west of Banff and Jasper. Guests hike up the mountain on foot to enjoy a solitary mad-shoosh down the snowy slopes…


Whistler Today

There’s been a lot of water down the River of Golden Dreams (popular canoe stream in Whistler linking Alta Lake to Green Lake) since the Phillips arrived. Whistler has grown into an international resort and is scheduled to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. Where else boasts one mile of continuous down-the-fall-line runs with the largest terrain in North America? But when the coast mountain weather gets socked-in (visibility of pea soup), or your legs have given-up (one too many peak-to-valley runs), it’s time to curl up with a good book and watch the snowfalling (and feel those actin myosin filaments recharge). I stopped in at Arm Chair Books—the only bookstore in the village for the last 21 years—to ask manager Dan Ellis about business.


Serving Residents & Tourists

The current Whistler resident population of 10,000 has doubled in under 10 years and plays host to 2 million visitors annually. Residents live and work in a perennial playground. “It’s a physically active community,” Dan Ellis reports. “There aren’t as many book groups in Whistler as you might think—people are out doing.”  I guess that’s why the library is still in a trailer in the village parking lot amidst designer shops and world-class restaurants.


Reading Interests

Armchair Books strives to meet both resident and tourist interests with a stock of popular current fiction titles, a small classics section, and a sprinkling of other genres. But here’s a bit of irony: Ellis' most popular sellers are travel books to other places. I can understand that. Once you’ve conquered the nearby mountains, rivers and lakes, the call to other remote and pristine places takes hold. From the Gulf Islands and the Stikine River to the Queen Charlottes, there’s plenty to explore in 'Supernatural' BC.


Technical books on all manner of sports sell well here: mountain climbing and biking, river kayaking, back-country touring, and wilderness survival. Complement that with geological survey or topographical maps and books identifying the local wildlife, flora, and fauna and you see why most residents possess a surprising knowledge of the natural world around them. (You'll find the cabins of locals and long-time visitors stocked with books such as BC Recreation Outdoor Atlas, Sea to Sky Country, Audubon Mammals, Audubon Birds of North America, BC Trees & Wildflowers, History of Pemberton,  and ALS Survival.)


Coffee Table Books

Visitors love the big beautiful picture books of Whistler and British Columbia, including:


Whistler (Whitecap Books Vancouver/Toronto) All the shots you wish you had on your Canon G3 you can now have on your coffee table.

Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (Lone Pine Publishing) Still the definitive resource for area hiking with photos and detailed descriptions as well as identification of historic native medicinal plants.

Looking At Totem Poles (University Washington Press) "This newest book on Northwest Coast art by a widely published author in the field." Library Journal


Raven Steals The Light (University of Washington Press) Presents ten of the most well known native folk tales with art by BC's most famous artist and carver.


Northwest Coast Indian Art  (University of Washington Press) "[A] very beautiful book and... important contribution to the fields of art and anthropology. Distinguished by the author's sensitive yet scientific approach." The Beaver


Fiction and Non-Fiction

Here's just smattering of fiction and non-fiction to introduce you to the literature and lore of Canada.



Journey Prize Stories: Short Fiction From The Best Of Canada's New Writers (McClelland & Stewart) "...The Journey has become a proving ground for new, Canadian writers."   


Blade of Grass (Ecco)"Part historical fiction, part war-survivor story, this beautiful first novel is above all an intimate drama of two young South African women who cross apartheid barriers in their search for home." Booklist


Romantic (Metropolitan Books) "From the author of The White Bone, a piercing novel of passionate attachment and of the fear and freedom of letting go." Amazon


Crow Lake (Dell Publishing) "Four children living in northern Ontario struggle to stay together after their parents die in an auto accident in Lawson's fascinating debut, a compelling and lovely study of sibling rivalry and family dynamics in which the land literally becomes a character." Publisher's Weekly


Hey Nostradamus! (Bloomsbury USA) "Considering some of his past subjects—slackers, dot-commers, Hollywood producers—a Columbine-like high school massacre seems like unusual territory for the usually glib Douglas Coupland." Amazon


Distance: A Novel (Scribner) "The Distance is a wonderfully atmospheric noir tale of murder and passion set in colorful, corrupt, post-war San Francisco.[It]combines two cultural elements which are now fading memories: professional boxing and the great newspapers." Amazon


Gestures(David R. Godine) " a lovely hybrid beast, a political thriller that's also a delicately ironic revival of the grandiose, half-nostalgic style favoured by Mann, Musil, and Proust." Amazon



How To Be A Canadian (Douglas & McIntyre) Ever wonder what makes Canadians (Bill Murray, Mike Myers, et al) so funny? 



The Secret Voyage Of Sir Francis Drake (Walker & Co.) Maritime historian Bawlf, uncovers new information about Drake's secret voyage—the exploration of the Pacific Northwest—undertaken in hopes of finding the fabled Northwest Passage to eastern trade routes.



Wondrous Strange: The Life And Art Of Glenn Gould (Oxford University Press) Vividly recaptures the life of this most celebrated Canadian pianist whose recording of the Brandenburg Concertos is on the spaceship Voyager.


Local Stars

I’m not aware of any notable writers who live permanently in Whistler, but there are an increasing number of celebrities who show up. (I rode the chair lift behind Cameron Diaz looking alarmingly good in a snowboard outfit. Seal is a regular, and both Bryan Adams and Sara McLaughlin reportedly just bought five acres each on the west side of Alta Lake.Whistler is definitely becoming “Aspen North”. Better call the real estate agent now before the run-up to 2010.)


I won’t bore you with my tale-of-woe truck debacle, but hitch-hiking down from Whistler to the auto dealership in nearby Squamish I met someone I would consider to be a "real" star. Tamara is a First Nations (Mt. Currie Band) 6th grade school teacher working at her old alma mater in Pemberton. We spoke about her teaching experiences and goals for her students. She motivates children to read by selecting books by First Nations writers as well as books with themes she feels they will relate to. I was very impressed with her passion and enthusiasm.


BookBuffet would like to help Tamara achieve her goals.We ask anyone intrigued by this story to contact us. She needs two more computers, software, and of course, books. If there are any publishers, businesses, or individuals who can help, please write to us at with the subject line Mt. Currie Band, Pemberton School Project.


Until the Next Trip

All good holidays must come to an end, and this one did.  But my legs feel as fit, I was able to spend time with family and friends, and enjoy the beauty and activities of this magical winter playground.  Oh, and I finished three great books besides! 



Also of interest:

By Paula Shackleton



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