Wilhelm Morden Family
It’s not every 21st century town that can claim its first woman mayor was also an early squatter. But then, Whistler isn’t every town.
When Ted Morden and Nancy Wilhelm first came to Whistler in the summer of 1973, it wasn’t even Whistler; it was still Alta Lake.
Ted came first. Wanderlust and some high school friends working in the bush in BC inspired a ‘fear and loathing’ road trip, taking him from Ontario, across the US, up the west coast and, finally, to the place where the road ran out: Alta Lake.
Nancy followed her high school sweetheart later in the summer, after Ted had decided to stick around for the ski season. Joining him in August, it didn’t take long for her to decide that sounded like a pretty good idea. So, two days before she was scheduled to start university somewhere back east, she ditched that plan and decided to stay. She was 18; he was 19. Their parents were no doubt thrilled.
Whistler’s tight housing market today wasn’t really very different then. After two years doing the housing shuffle — and being “moved out” by their landlord while they were back in Ontario for Christmas — they built a cabin along Crabapple Creek just below today’s multi-million dollar homes in Sunridge.
That the land was privately owned seemed inconsequential. After all, nothing was being done with it; it was just sitting there. It was, as Nancy reminisces, “… absolutely nuts. We were going to live in the middle of the bush with no hydro, no toilet, no shower.” Oh, and bears for their closest neighbours. Neighbours who continually wanted to ‘borrow’ some of their food.
But then, as now, there was community. There was a real sense of vitality. The nascent town of 600 was largely populated by people under 30. “People like us! There were dances at Mt. Whistler lodge, movies at L’ Après, parties everywhere. No one was really sure what the future was going to hold but everyone was full of life and able to do whatever it took to stay. We all knew something remarkable was going to happen.”
In Ted’s case, whatever included building the cabin, logging and, eventually selling real estate. Nancy took a more unconventional approach. She attended university — studying by lamp light — went on to law school, became a lawyer and immersed herself in local politics and community building.
They witnessed, and in no small way contributed to, that small town of 600 turning into the international resort destination it is today. In addition to adding to the population with the births of their two daughters — Sarah and Jessie — Ted coached sports and actively volunteered with Big Brothers and Sisters and the recent Whistler Refugee Response that sponsored Syrian refugees.
Nancy helped shape the community with multiple stints as an elected councillor and two terms as mayor. Among the achievements she holds most dear are, preserving the Emerald Forest from development, helping to found the Community Foundation of Whistler — now the Whistler Community Foundation — and smoothing the way for the establishment of the Audain Art Museum.
Community service is a family affair. Sarah and Jessie are continuing the tradition, actively volunteering with Whistler Community Services Society, Whistler Animals Galore, Big Brothers and Sisters and the Whistler Refugee Response. “It goes back to our upbringing,” Nancy said. “You didn’t just have a career. You did other things to promote the life of the community. We figured if we were going to live in a place of such beauty we were going to do what we could to make it a better place.”
Wanderlust, love, chance, determination, community, a spectacular natural environment, opportunity and hard work have been the hallmarks of both the Wilhelm-Morden family and Whistler’s unique, contemporary history. There aren’t many — any — places left in the world where a couple who hadn’t yet made it into their 20s could be considered pioneers and, in a very real sense, founders.
But then, there aren’t any places quite like Whistler.