That she was a mountain girl was never in doubt. That her natural inclination for altitude was latent was understandable. Born in the shadow of Turtle Mountain — rising a mighty 245 metres from the prairie, the first day land to emerge after the glaciers receded — near her family home in Boissevain, Manitoba, it admittedly took Marlene several years, decades really, to finally find her forever mountain home in Whistler.
But once she did, she knew immediately this was where she was supposed to be. Finding solace and inspiration in equal measures in the mountains, lakes, trails and, most important of all, people here, she never gave a second thought to the fast-paced life she left behind in Montreal and Toronto. Whistler felt right where those cities felt foreign to a self-described prairie girl.
It took a single ski holiday in the late 1980s to nudge Marlene’s life aspirations off her career path and on track to become a corporate dropout and blissful ski bum. Not that she ever achieved status as a ski bum. Upon finding employment prospects in Whistler challenging — read poorly-paid — she drew on her background in finance and tax to set up shop as a bookkeeper and tax preparer/advisor. For fifteen years her diligence and commitment to her clients — friends she called them — competed with her desire to be skiing during the months of February, March and April.
Shortly after arriving in the early 1990s, Marlene set to work ‘discovering’ the community beneath the resort. Following a passion for books and libraries, she was elected to the library board. With her background, she was naturally slotted into the role of treasurer. Drawing on her knowledge and patience with tax codes, she was instrumental in negotiating the labyrinthine rules to gain the as-yet-not municipal library charitable status.
But all that was secondary. It was the natural beauty of Whistler that spoke to Marlene’s soul. Her days skiing were interrupted by prolonged pauses to simply look around and absorb the life-affirming vistas offered by the mountains she called her playground. On low-altitude days, she lost herself tramping the spiderweb of trails around town with friends and Zippy the Dog, the four-legged love of her life.
The energy of Whistler, fuelled in large part by the exceptional people who choose to live here, aligned with her own energy. The fact Whistler’s history — at least that of the town’s incarnation as a resort — was contemporary with her own gave her a heightened sense of belonging. The pristine environment, clean air, fresh sweet water and delightful snowfall imbued her with a warmth, even on the coldest days.
Which made it all the more cruelly ironic when cancer found a home in her non-smoker’s lungs. Being a tireless traveler and serial adventurer, she spent the time she had left embracing each day, surrounding herself with friends, skiing in her playground and helping her clients. Her last contribution, two days before her death in 2010, was establishing the Marlene Siemens Callanish Society Endowment Fund, administered by the Whistler Community Foundation, to help others find the courage and solace she found in the efforts of the Callanish Society.
Marlene never really cared how she would be remembered — she just wanted to be remembered.