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© 2017 Haley Ritchie

Sea to Sky spillover: Whistler and Vancouver's rapid growth

Three towns, one highway, and the struggle with a housing crisis and public transit.

Considered by many to be the most beautiful highway in the world, Highway 99 connects the main communities of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton.

Tourists visiting from Vancouver might see Whistler as the crowning jewel of the corridor’s tourism. But neighbouring communities are deeply proud of their own assets, and quick to insist on their uniqueness and independence from the world-renowned ski resort.

“We draw a lot of visitors into our area,” says Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman. “Some that have come to Whistler, but many that visit Pemberton come for Pemberton, and drive right through Whistler. It is a very different experience.”

The community’s rolling farmland, with many properties still owned by families who arrived in the 1900s, is hard to compare to the hustle and bustle of Whistler and its revolving door of seasonal workers.

While Whistler’s most iconic hotel resembles a castle, the Pemberton Hotel has the feel of an old Western saloon.

Despite their vast differences, the two communities have been closely linked since the ski resort opened for business in 1966 and brought a completely different industry to the area.

“We are tied to Whistler in so many ways, and the growth in the whole corridor, from Squamish all the way up, impacts us,” Richman says.

Those impacts have brought both positives and challenges with them, according to Richman.

Small businesses in Pemberton’s entrepreneurial community have grown rapidly, and new developments mean a larger tax base to pay for essnetial community services like transit.

At the same time, affordability in the rural community has suffered. For a town boasting a population of 2,436 and a breathtaking three-hour drive to the nearest major airport, it’s not unusual for a one-bedroom apartment to rent for upwards of $1,500 a month.

For locals who increasingly commute and work throughout the entire corridor, the communities are inextricably tied together by the highway and the recent growth of Whistler and the Lower Mainland.

“How do we manage this growth and this development so we don’t lose the character that Pemberton has?” asks Richman. “The character of the community drew so many of us here and that is very, very dear to us. We want to protect that.”

Despite their inherent differences, each community in the corridor is looking for answers to the very same question.

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Read the full story online at The Pique Newsmagazine. Illustration by Jon Parris.