This story was written during Whistler’s 2008 Municipal Election Campaign. Inspired by the local election citizen blog site (votewhistler.com) – which doubled as a beta trial for CM software, it in turn tells a little of the inspiration behind how The Citizens Media began.

Michel does an amazing job at capturing a ‘a little of that something’ that explains why – to those that live here, the Community of Whistler is so special and unique. Thanks Michel!


Alta states: Caroline Smalley

By Michel Beaudry, originally published in Pique News Magazine on Oct 22 2008.
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It’s always fascinating to hear what draws people to Whistler. Whether zealous snoweater or innocent neophyte – whether following a lover or relieving an existential itch – people’s tales never cease to inspire me. Indeed, they make writing Alta States a pleasure.

Why? Because these stories speak to the very essence of Whistler’s identity. Unlike more conventional communities, where generation after generation of accumulated stories have already set the local tone, Whistler’s youthful countenance allows newcomers to come here and create their own vision for the place. And those visions deserve to be shared.

At a time when Whistler is facing some of the biggest challenges it’s had to face since Franz Wilhelmsen and the boys decided to throw up a couple of lifts on London Mountain, it behooves us all to reflect long and hard on how we’d like to see this community evolve over the next few years.

Are we a diverse and healthy community where tourism, education, wellness and the arts provide a nurturing mountain haven for a wide variety of visitors? Or are we just another industrial-resort ‘utility’ serviced by a resident population of hewers of wood and drawers of water?

Stop reading for a moment. Think about these two questions. Think about what made you fall in love with this place. Think again about why you moved here. Was it really to hold down two jobs and worry about lodging and childcare while your taxes were paying for over-priced monuments to self-indulgence? I don’t think so…

And it shouldn’t be that way. So what’s up? Although our vaunted Whistler 2020 document tilts markedly toward the ‘diverse and healthy community’ vision, it seems these days that we are being drawn, willy-nilly, into a far-more industrialized tourism paradigm than any of us ever imagined. And nobody in power right now – not at Intrawest, not at Whistler-Blackcomb, not at the municipal level even – seems to be able (or willing) to do anything about it!

Something is broken at Whistler. And it needs to be fixed soon if we don’t want to become the first resort community in B.C. to follow on the heels of one-industry ghost towns like Tumbler Ridge or Ocean Falls. As I’ve said before, tourism isn’t stupid-proof.

But nothing is going to change in any positive way if people just sit back and let others make those decisions for them. Consider: Canadians across the country just embarrassed themselves by letting a regressive political party grasp power with less than a fifth of the total population’s vote. Fully 40 per cent of us didn’t exercise our right to cast a ballot last week. Can we really afford to let that happen here?

That’s where Caroline Smalley comes in. She has a plan. Well, actually more than a plan. The principal driver behind, a new online venture the 34-year-old launched recently, Smalley is on a crusade to encourage folk to get more involved in the way decisions are made in their communities. “I’ve always been passionate about communicating with people,” says the brand-new – and very proud – Canadian (she became a citizen in May). “It’s all about making connections,” she explains. “When people feel connected to other people, they stop being fearful. And when they stop being fearful, good things happen…”

Describing Smalley as passionate about communicating is like calling Lance Armstrong passionate about cycling. When it comes to citizen-generated media, she’s a true believer. And she’s not afraid to put her beliefs into action. By developing online interactive sites where open discussion is honoured and nurtured, Smalley is convinced that she can help change the way communities, organizations and businesses make decisions. “For a community to be truly connected, it has to begin at the grassroots, the individual,” she explains. “And that can’t happen if the information is only flowing one way…”

One of the principal goals in creating, she continues, is to drive more accountability into the decision-making process. “When you look at the power of citizen-generated, online media – and the shift in consciousness it’s already creating – well, that can be a very effective tool for change,” she maintains. And then she smiles. “At the end of the day, whether private or corporate or governmental, if your organization depends on a conventional hierarchy, accountability is next to impossible.” She pauses. “The whole idea behind the Citizen’s Media model is to create real environments where people can connect and exchange ideas. It’s about authenticity; it’s about individual empowerment.” She suddenly burst out laughing. “And if you get that – wow! It can go huge…”

Given where she lives – and where she wants to continue living – it’s no surprise that her first project (the showcase product if you will) is the all-new online site. Launched this past September, just in time for the 2008 municipal elections, the site offers a smorgasbord of ideas, opinions, concerns, comments, suggestions and diatribes on the state of Whistler’s current fortunes.

And it’s starting to get some traction.

This week, for example, you can follow threads on the merits of developing post-secondary education facilities at Whistler, questions about how Fortress is going to dig itself out of its financial mess and pay Intrawest’s gazillion dollar debt, or ways to address the dire housing issues in the valley. You can read what mayoral candidates Kristi Wells and Brian Walker stand for (but interestingly, nothing from Mr. Ken). And you can wade through the different postings from various candidates for council and school board.

The fun part, of course, is that you’re encouraged to respond. And it doesn’t have to be in writing. You can type a comment or leave a video – throw in some pictures if you want. As long as you post something. On , you see, the content comes from citizen contributors. In other words, it’s only as good as those who participate.

To some entrepreneurs, that might seem a gamble. After all, Whistlerites are not renowned, generally, for their online fervor. But that doesn’t worry Smalley. “Our mission statement is ‘global meritocracy online’,” she says. “This is media for the people by the people. Given the wealth of talented folk in Whistler – and the general feeling of disenfranchisement within the community at this time – we think the site will become relevant very quickly. We’re betting our future on it, in fact.”

Like so many other Whistler residents, Smalley’s journey here is a curious mélange of happenstance, opportunity – and magic. Caroline grew up in England. Seven years ago, she was living in Bristol, owned her own home and worked for an IT firm in sales and marketing. On a whim, she decided to join her parents on their vacation. “It’s not as though I was a great skier or anything,” says the woman who cut her skiing teeth on a ‘dry’ slope in Gloucester. “But I love the freedom of the great outdoors.”

She says she fell for this place immediately. A spell had taken place. “I remember standing on the Fitzsimmons Creek bridge with my mum and dad when it hit me: I knew I was coming back here to live…

“I always dreamed of living in Canada,” she admits. “And in a way, I always knew I would. It’s kind of all tied up in my family history.” She stops speaking. Sighs. “I don’t want to get into the details too much,” she says. “But I had an uncle who disappeared a long time ago. And for many years, the family thought he was living in Canada.” She smiles. “I always thought I’d be the one to go out and find him.”

She never found her uncle — “turns out he was living back in England all the time,” she says. But she did find a new home. Now if she could only afford to live here… “It’s really hard,” she says, her voice breaking for just a moment. Tears are not far away. “I truly love this place,” she declares. “But it’s almost impossible to make ends meet. I see people here who are now in their 50s and 60s. They’ve worked most of their lives in this valley and they still can’t afford to buy a home here.” She pauses. Hits the crux of her unhappiness. “I just don’t want to be in that situation 20 years from now…”

But she perks up quickly. “That’s why this new venture is so exciting,” she says. “The potential for growth is limitless.” A smile appears on her features again. “Besides, the timing couldn’t be better. With Whistler hosting the Games – at a time when the world’s spotlight is shining directly on us – a site like provides the perfect way to celebrate community collaboration, unity and positive change.” She stops speaking. Looks at me to make sure I understand. “Don‘t you think?” she asks.

I agree totally…