2010 Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony
Site Development Plan
Whistler Half Marathon
Great Lawn Hanging Out
Olympic Plaza Official Opening
Sam Roberts Official Opening
Rings for Everyone
Olympic Lightning Figure & Inclusive Playground
Family Fun Inclusive Playground
Weather Protected Activities
Skating With Ice Princesses
Iconic Photo Opportunity
Whistler Olympic Plaza
Whistler Olympic Plaza is in the heart of Whistler Village. A destination in and of itself, Olympic Plaza provides a permanent outdoor venue for recreation, community celebrations, arts and culture. The long-standing intention for this space to be a vital community focal point in the Village was made real during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The transformation of the 4-acre, municipally-owned site has created a tangible legacy for public enjoyment in all seasons. At the north end of the Village stroll, visitors will discover:
- A Great Lawn surrounded by stone seat stairs and terraces (3,100 m2)
- An open-air performance pavilion with covered seating for up to 600 and seasonal ice skating in winter
- Flexible outdoor concert spaces ideal for festivals (total audience capacity for up to 8,000) connected to the pedestrian Village Stroll with integrated “plug and play” infrastructure
- An inclusive playground for children, themed: “Nature Play, Play with Nature”, complete with a wooden play and tree house structures, multi-sensory wall, rope climber, swings and slides
- Public art commemorating the Games: artifacts such as the Olympic Rings, Paralympic Agitos and Games Cauldron mark Olympic Plaza entry points
- Restored natural landscape edge allowing an extension of the forest environment into Olympic Plaza and Whistler Village
- Tremendous views of the surrounding mountains.
Reminders of those amazing 27 days and nights in 2010 are an important part of the Olympic Plaza design, reflecting the three pillars of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games: sport, environment, and culture.
Whistler Olympic Plaza is a place for people. It embodies the Whistler Spirit of being connected and outside. At first glance, it looks like a park with an accessible playground and a Great Lawn that’s perfect for tossing a Frisbee or soaking up the sun in the Rotary Club of Whistler’s Adirondack chairs. Look closer, and find a state-of-the-art outdoor performance facility oriented to a dramatic mountain backdrop. Whistler Olympic Plaza offers a flexible platform for community programming of all kinds. It invites people to linger and welcomes the possibility of impromptu gatherings.
Olympic Plaza has played host to world-class athletes, performers, festivals and events large and small, all the while supporting everyday interactions and exchanges between visitors and locals alike. In winter, you can grab your skates and enjoy the seasonal ice surface under the open-air pavilion. Whistler Olympic Plaza’s inclusive playground— a bonafide kid magnet—meets the diverse needs of children, including those with disabilities. It allows them to play side-by-side with their siblings, friends, families, and caregivers while enjoying fun, sensory and therapeutic experiences, and exploring unique wood structures built by B.C. artisans. Olympic Plaza is open to all and is barrier-free with accessible ramps, washroom facilities, and play structures as well as accessible paths leading to adjacent public parking and local transit.
Viva la Plaza! In short order, Whistler Olympic Plaza has become a remarkable cultural and recreational destination. Evident by the way it has been fully embraced by the community, Olympic Plaza’s immediate social success hints that it satisfies a need in the local village experience. By design, Olympic Plaza promotes gathering and fosters interaction. The combination of large and small landscape areas, formal and informal terraces, the roofed Pavilion and adjacent open spaces for all types of events, places for play, spontaneous shared activities, relaxing and people watching—all contribute to its inherent sociability. Its comfortable scale and amenities invite people to stop and linger; rows of colourful Adirondack chairs, boulders and basalt slabs for sitting, a family fireplace provide respite for groups to gather or spend time reliving the Games. Olympic Plaza serves the whole community, and has a vitality and authenticity that comes from local involvement and patriation.
Olympic Plaza is a flexible venue and has a life throughout all seasons. It supports an expanded range of programs so local arts, culture and heritage organizations, creators and contributors can showcase and grow their talents. The Pavilion provides weather protection for programming certainty and four-season use. Flexibility and creative use of the space is possible by ‘scaling’ up or down; the lawn can be used for extended audience seating, while an intimate setting can also be achieved within. Flexible rigging points, along with lighting and audio plus back of house dressing and support rooms, storage, service access, and washroom facilities facilitate its use.
Olympic Plaza is integrated within its surrounding Whistler Village, creating a northern anchor and natural extension of the pedestrian Village Stroll. Olympic Plaza boasts fantastic solar orientation and some of the most dramatic mountain views in the Village; an enhanced forested edge preserves the connection of a ‘Village in the Forest’. The recognizable Olympic Rings, Paralympic Agitos, and flags can be seen from afar, and their thoughtful orientation and distribution within Olympic Plaza draw people in for a closer look. Its image and form symbolize the life and spirit of Whistler, celebrating the realization of the community dream to host the Winter Games and tells Whistler’s story of how it all came to be.
This public space had long been conceived as an important place in Whistler, and many have had a hand in realizing its potential. Pivotal to the creation of Whistler Olympic Plaza was the commitment to a comprehensive community engagement process to forge a vision and a community-supported plan, as well as successful cross-collaborations and multi-stakeholder partnerships.
The site was originally granted to the Municipality by the Province of BC for public use as part of the 1990 Master Plan for the expansion of Whistler Village. Visionary Whistler Village designer Eldon Beck (FASLA) developed the Master Plan that designated this site as a focal point for social interaction in Whistler Village where all populations would meet and mix. The original concept envisioned a recreation facility with an ice arena, swimming pool, and outdoor market. In the mid-1990s, the Municipal Parks Department championed the strategic purchase of additional adjacent land to increase the site size and financially support the development and operation of intended public amenities. However, this facility was later constructed outside of the Village to better serve the local community.
The catalyst for the development of Whistler Olympic Plaza was the successful bid for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The organizing committee towards the construction of a new ice arena to host the Paralympic Sledge Hockey event committed funding of $20 million. Local business interests, and hockey and skating groups campaigned to seize this opportunity, leading the municipality to undertake a comprehensive community engagement and master planning process to update plans for development of this site. Municipal staff worked closely with a Council-appointed Task Force chaired by former Mayor and respected community member Drew Meredith, and with representatives from Council, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Whistler (Whistler’s marketing organization), Whistler Blackcomb, and local recreation, arts and cultural organizations. The Task Force became the voice of the community and provided passion, ideas, and critical evaluation throughout the project and over a series of site development concepts and funding opportunities. Ultimately, Council chose to forgo the sledge hockey facility due to financial considerations, but supported a post-Games legacy master plan for this site that was championed by the Task Force and supported by the broader community.
The development of Whistler Olympic Plaza could not have been realized without the support of Whistler’s senior government partners. Capital funding for the construction of the $13.67 million Whistler Olympic Plaza includes $5 million from the Government of Canada, $4.2 million from VANOC, $4.02 million from the Province of British Columbia through the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI), and $450,000 from private and charitable organizations. RMI funding from the Province has also made possible several projects related to Whistler Olympic Plaza: performance infrastructure ($400,000), and programming and site enhancements for the festivals, events and animation program ($2.92 million), which the RMOW launched this summer including concerts in the plaza and village animation. A further $240,000 was contributed to operational enhancements for the festivals programming. The individual key to these partnerships was Jim Godfrey, Whistler’s former Chief Administrative Officer and Whistler’s Executive Director for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Whistler Olympic Plaza’s innovative playground, designed in part by Shane’s Inspiration, a leader in the field of inclusive play, was funded through a partnership of the Province of British Columbia, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Canada, 2010 Legacies Now and the Let’s Play Project—a joint initiative of the Rick Hansen Foundation and the Province of British Columbia.
Whistler Olympic Plaza is part of Whistler’s social fabric. It is a new focal point for local arts, culture and heritage, and a cornerstone for Whistler as it continues to evolve as a resort community. Olympic Plaza has brought new energy and vibrancy to the Village, establishing its very own distinct identity that compliments the other Village squares and plazas. Olympic Plaza is softer, greener and less commercial in nature; it is a family-oriented amenity welcoming Whistler residents and visitors alike, and expands and diversifies the local tourism offering.
Olympic Plaza holds a special place in Whistler’s collective memory and Games experience. It shined as the best athletes in the world stepped up to the podium at the Victory Ceremonies and witnessed the Paralympic Closing Ceremony concluding Whistler’s role as Host Mountain Resort. Plaza recognition elements and icons like the Olympic Rings and Paralympic Agitos keep the memories alive—commemorating all the athletes, partners and contributions of the wider community. Olympic Plaza celebrates the gold medal ‘highs’—and quietly honours lost Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili with a permanent memorial.
Olympic Plaza also plays a part in a larger Cultural Journey. The Four Host First Nations’ essential participation in the Games is recognized though legacy art installations such as Coast Salish sculptor Susan Pointe’s “A Timeless Circle”, a bronze with 86 First Nations carved faces each representing the different nations represented in Whistler during the Games. An Olympic Lightning Figure now stands sentinel over Olympic Plaza, carved by Squamish master carver Ray Natraoro (Sesiyam) and Lil’wat carver Delmar Williams (Banksht) and blessed on National Aboriginal Day June 21, 2011. The figure was created to honour the Olympic legacy, the families of the area, and the legend of lightning snakes, which brought skills and tools to the Squamish and Lil'wat people to allow them to flourish here in their traditional territory.
Longer-term development potential on the Olympic Plaza site is envisioned to reinforce its role as Whistler’s cultural epicentre, with space for local artisans, a public gallery, new home for the Whistler Museum and classrooms to support higher education learning opportunities.
Planners were instrumental in creating opportunities for an engaged community and a deliberate process to define a master plan for the last remaining undeveloped site in Whistler Village — one that would result in the greatest benefit to the resort community, as determined by the community. This engagement created the vision and evaluative framework that has steered the program of uses, character, design, construction and now management and operation of Whistler Olympic Plaza. The process reinforced the community’s sense of ownership over the space; the result is a public space that is embraced and enjoyed by community members and Whistler’s visitors — a public space that is the source of great community pride.
This project experienced many twists and turns over a six-year period, starting with the $20 million opportunity to build a new ice arena on this site to host the sledge hockey event for the Paralympic Winter Games. Municipal planners lead the process to explore this opportunity and reframed the project approach from a facility-driven exercise, to a multi-phased engagement aimed at creating a community-supported master plan for the site. A Task Force was created to work alongside a team of Municipal staff and design professionals. Task Force members represented the broad spectrum of community interests; they were trusted and people whom the community could identify with, creating confidence and championing the process. The team enlisted the services of Eldon Beck (FASLA) who is credited as the father of Whistler Village design, and a man of great vision, wisdom, and credibility.
Planners designed and facilitated a community workshop where 250-plus community members contributed their passion and ideas discussing and documenting how they believed the site should serve the community – its uses, physical and social character, and key measures of success. The community became invested in the process and deliberated possibilities for the site. As a result, great clarity was achieved by highlighting commonly held community values, hopes and aspirations for the site.
This was the foundation for the work of the design teams — comprised of allied professionals including planners, urban designers, landscape architects, engineers, business case consultants, retail and development consultants, event producers, ice specialists, and acoustic specialists. The Municipality’s team of professionals (CIP, AICP, CSLA, and AIBC) directed the Master Plan development (led by the Manager of Resort Planning) as well as detailed site development planning and project construction (led by the Manager of Resort Parks and Open Space Planning). Planners were also responsible for preparing the Federal Government Cultural Spaces Canada Live Site grant application, the CEAA approval, development permit approvals, and were the champions for securing the Olympic Rings as an iconic feature of the site.
Throughout the creation of a series of different development concepts based on evolving funding opportunities, the community engagement process provided continued support and carried forward the essential parameters for the final site plan. Here Eldon Beck captures the value of the process for Whistler Olympic Plaza:
“In my past professional life I have often had serious doubts about the workability of a public involvement process. Too often it has been a technique to create a semblance of public acceptance even though the final product had little to do with the public comments. However, the arena public forum process has had real strength. Our ability to demonstrate that the concept has truly evolved from public comments was the force behind the Council approval.”