Why Whistler? A question that Whistler locals get asked all the time. And, although there are a variety of responses to this question, you can be sure they’ll answer with passion, pride and a fun story.

What is it about these mountains that draw people to them and then won’t let them go? How does the balance of work and lifestyle work here? What gets under people’s skin and embeds itself so deep that Whistler becomes part of their soul?

We ask a variety of Whistler locals Why Whistler? In Video 8, we chat with Allan Crawford, founder and co-owner of Canadian Wilderness Adventures. We talk about dumpster diving, fun-led business plans and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Where Are You From and Why Did You Come To Whistler?

I was in my fourth year at university (1993), not very many people went to university from the town I’m from; it’s a very small, English, farming town in Quebec, most people go straight to work or work on their family’s farm. I ended up going to school because my mother talked me into it. She told me – go to university it will be the best time of your life. So I did. Then as I was finishing university, I remembered what she’d said and thought, does that mean the rest of life is downhill? What a dilemma. I called my uncle, because he’s always good at solving dilemmas, and he said to move to Whistler, the fun will keep going. So I did, and he was right!

I’ve travelled around the world, to at least 31 countries, looking for somewhere better and I haven’t found it.

What Kept You in Whistler?

I think I’m a bit different than most people. A lot of people came here to get away from the big city, they wanted this little town and might have gotten a bit frustrated as the town grew. But, fortunately for me, I came from a town of 600 people and I liked the growth because I actually came here for the size of the place, and the bigger it gets the better it gets.

More people, more fun, more stories, more opportunities, more arts, more guests to come on our tours, allowing us more opportunities to build here.

Where I’m from is beautiful, but everything was declining, the only busy place was the funeral parlour. I come out here and it’s booming, growing, it’s excitement and thrill – it’s amazing here. We get more diverse people here as we grow. We used to just get the jocks, they’d ski and then go get drunk at the bar, that was about the extent of it. Now, we have an artist community and positive people from all over the world, choosing to be here and adding to the community. Vibrant people with all kinds of backgrounds are being drawn here, it’s like a huge vortex sucking people in – I can’t get enough of it.

How Has Whistler Changed or Influenced You?

Whistler’s given me the opportunity to grow. When I first got to Whistler, I couldn’t believe it existed. One of the first jobs I got, when I arrived in the fall, was in lift maintenance. They gave me an ATV and told me to head up the mountain. Next, they had me climbing the towers and I was like, you’re letting me do this? People would pay to do this. I’d grown up in my father’s machine shop, truckers and farmers, solid people around me all my life, and now I’m looking out this door of the alpine shop and what I see is like something you’d see on TV. When we started our business we then worked with the people who we saw on TV. I’m teaching Arnold Schwarzenegger how to drive our snowcat. It was like being inside the TV – I was living it. Unbelievable.

When you’re from a very small community, you’re pegged straight away. What’s your dad’s last name? You’re judged instantly. You’re Protestant, not Catholic? English? French? Not one of us. You come to Whistler and every religion is here. At home these things hold you back, people fight over it. In Whistler, people couldn’t care less about what life you were born into – you’re with us now, let’s go. It opens you up; lets you have freedom.

There’s such a great economy here, literally, you could do anything and it will work here. People will back you, there’s a vibrant influx of international dollars to make anything you want to do happen. And that’s what I did. I did anything I could think of.

What’s It Like Being an Entrepreneur in Whistler?

You suggest an idea and people are right behind you, they want to help and be part of it.

I got into mountain biking, doing about three big rides a week and doing the Loonie Races. I got my cardio to a place where I could go from the bottom right to the top of Whistler Mountain without stopping. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. One evening, we were coming down Khyber and I fell, caught my leg in a tree, split my pelvic bone open and it was a nightmare to get out of there. I was stuck for the rest of the summer, six weeks in bed and they told me that if it didn’t heal well I’d have problems for the rest of my life.

My friend Randy, who lives here and has worked here since day one, brought me a notepad and I started writing down any ideas I could dream of to submit to the government as I’d heard they often cut back a lot of your ideas. But lo and behold they accepted everything and I have about ten lives worth of opportunities to get done here and I’m just trying to get to it all!

What Do You Offer at Canadian Wilderness Adventures?

We offer everything I found that I wanted to do. I found a way to take any inkling of a passion, a spark and turn it into business, so I could be working and playing at the same time – that’s been the focus of my life.

I saw this guy selling two trailers of canoes and I felt like going canoeing, so I bought the two trailers. My favourite place to canoe is the River of Golden Dreams, so we started trips down the river. When we first started snowmobiling it’s because I’d seen a whole row of snowmobiles at Blackcomb that they were selling and I wanted them, so we started doing snowmobile rides. Anything that seems fun, it seems to be that if you offer it, other people will find it fun as well. As I grow out of one idea I add new ideas, so whatever the passion of the year is those become our tours.

How Did You End up in the Callaghan Valley?

This location has quite the story to it. We were originally a little further south on Highway 99, but when they were putting the bids in for the Olympics they wanted us to move here. It was a lot of work to uproot ourselves, but in the end, it gave me a blank slate to create new trails that were specific to the products we’re offering. For example, if you’re building a trail for sleigh rides, you want it nice and tight to make it romantic and quaint, but not too steep as the horses have to pull people up it. But for dogsledding, because they’re six or eight pairs of dogs on a long lead line to the sleigh, if you make the trails too tight you’ll end up in the trees. This place had old logging and mining roads, which we linked together, but it was a fresh start.

I was reading David Suzuki books at the time, so I was getting a deeper appreciation for nature. I chose this particular spot because it’s surrounded by old-growth, but where we’ve put our infrastructure was previously logged, so we’re doing minimal damage to the areas we venture into. Knowing that infrastructure needs septic fields, roadways and gravel and everything, we chose this spot because it was previously disturbed.

Do You Have Any Ideas Brewing Right Now?

The river next to us is this tight, little river which I have a plan to do whitewater rafting on. One of the waterfalls is spectacular, it’s shaped like a horseshoe so we call it Horseshoe Falls. Then there’s another place we’ve named Gun Barrel Rapids, I’m hoping to one day offer Cowboy Rafting, where you ride a horse to the put-in, so you get that fun experience of going through the old-growth forest on the horses, and then you come down through this tight little river on small little boats so you get this wild ride. Maybe at the end, we’ll have mechanical bull riding in the barn, some après, those are just dreams.

What Do You Love Most About What You Do?

The people. People become your life. One guy, for example, is Dennis, he’s been here for about 25 years now and he keeps everything mechanically sound. Somebody asked him what his favourite part of the company was and why he’s stayed so long, and I think I’ve adopted his philosophy – you just never know what’s going to happen next.

You can be here and the phone rings and it’s Disney on the phone – we need your barn, we’re going to turn it into a reindeer home for a Christmas movie. Then the next day it’s a call from Porsche saying they have new 4X4 cars and they want a race track building, so we do that in the mountains at an old, abandoned gold mine. I joked that they should leave the cars behind – they left ten and now we do tours in Porsches. This town is magic. What’s gonna happen next?

Can You Tell Us About Your Treasure Hunting Hobby?

I’m sorry I was late for this interview because I had to go to the dumpster, I’m a bit of a dumpster diver. There are so many wealthy people in this neighbourhood buying new things, so they throw the old things into the dumpster and that’s my art. I go there and I salvage things. I can immediately see what can be done with these great materials. Just this morning someone had thrown away a trampoline, it’s got nice curves, good metal, all the fittings and bolts, and I thought – that would make a good railing. I picked up a wine barrel too. I want to build this zipline with a crow’s nest and a ship theme, and this could work so I’ll put it in my inventory.

As things come I’ll grab them. But in this town it’s not just the little things, we’ve torn down a complete lodge that was being renovated with full boilers, full commercial kitchens. We’ve torn down famous houses, like the old Rob Boyd house. Now, the value of land here is so expensive nobody can store anything and time is money in this town, I’ve got trucks and trailers for the snowmobiles I’ve got loaders and excavators from building our facilities, I get a call and I get there immediately – it can be midnight. I want to build a spectacular resort out of recycled materials because that’s what Whistler wants. Whistler wants to be sustainable and people now have incentives to keep the stuff out of the dumpsters. They started the Re-Build-It Centre a bunch of years ago, and I think I was the one who suggested the name, and that’s my next stop after the dumpster every day. I go treasure hunting daily – I’m a treasure hunter.

What Are Your Thoughts on Waste and Sustainability?

I think, instead of paying someone to make your waste acceptable, it’s better to do something about it. So, if I can literally pull something out of the dumpster my guests can use, like people are choosing to use our structures, which we build out of waste, having their photoshoots, movies, weddings, their most special day of the year, in front of our waste.

Luckily, I grew up in a welding shop and if you needed something you made it. Every day I try to gather more tools and more materials and turn them into creations that will entertain our guests, whether it’s their special day of the year, daily tour, or the highlight of their holiday. I’m playing all day long. It’s creation. Art.

Take our barn, for example, the timbers were destined to be a bridge, but the project was abandoned, so I acquired them. The roof trusses came from a temporary building that was used during the Olympics, I got those for free. Some of the windows I bought used, they were meant to go into my house, but I came to work one day and they had appeared in the barn. One of the guys decided they fit there perfectly and I didn’t take them out because they fit there perfectly! The doors are reused cedar from the Creekside grocery store, the other windows came from three different houses on Blueberry Hill, which used to be the fanciest place in town, so those are some fancy windows in there!

Are There Any Parts of the Base That You’re Particularly Fond Of?

I don’t know if it’s my favourite, but the caboose gets the most attention, it has some kind of magic vibe to it. At the time, I was only allowed temporary buildings so your typical solution would be a trailer or shipping container, but they kind of lack character so this caboose I got for $2,500. The doors had been stolen and the windows smashed, oh, and it had been in a train accident.

That caboose is a big hit. I’ve had to drag billionaires out of there because they’re having so much fun at events we have, they love it there, they feel comfortable, it’s so unique and different – it works. We’ve had all kinds of events there, we had one guy zip line into his wedding from the roof of the building across the way. It’s just a real freedom place. It doesn’t fit any categories, so nobody has any expectations. The nearest neighbours are 12 miles away, except for the dogs you can hear barking in the background.

What is Canadian Wilderness Adventures?

We’re entertainers. Our goal, our purpose here on earth is to entertain people. People go about their day, they could be curing cancer or teaching kids, driving trucks to deliver our food, cleaning buildings during a pandemic to keep us safe and alive – everybody has a purpose, and ours is recreation.

A mentor of mine said to me that if you break the word recreation down it’s re and creation. People come up this highway to be rejuvenated, they will often come on one of our tours and we’re usually just a piece of the holiday, but often people call us the highlight. That’s what keeps us going on those rainy, cold, windy, wild times. You get instant feedback, instant gratification, people leave happy, recharged, full of energy – it’s brilliant.

What Gives Whistler Its Heart and Soul?

Obviously the people. For all the people who think it’s gotten big, it’s still really very tiny. You have any kind of issue and people are right in there, it’s a strong, strong community.

What Makes You Proud to Call Whistler Home?

I was in Guatemala one time and I’m in some little restaurant grabbing food and on the TV, in this rustic, backpacker place, Whistler came up on the TV. Not only that, but it was one of our tours. It felt really proud to see that.

How Did You Grow Your Company?

The growth of the company isn’t something I completely understand. We had a staff party at Christmas one year and I think 115 people turned up – how did that happen? If I was a kid in today’s world I’d probably be classed as ADD and put on Ritalin. I’m probably working on a hundred projects at one time. I just go to the next interest. Some things I start keep going and some finish. I look around and wonder how we got here.

People always say we’re like a big family because we loved working together so much. You work so many hours, you become friends and when you go on a holiday you call it a staff trip. We go on these big, three-day trips, rent RVs, go surfing, throw wild parties. Anyone who’s had frustrations with a co-worker they’ve bonded back together over those three days. We’ve had so many people meet their spouses at work, they have children, they feel so attached to the company. No one really quits, they just move on, they often come back again, everyone is still part of the team. They share homes, they share cars, they start their own businesses together. We respect each other, realize we all have our own needs, we try to make room for everybody to grow.

Part of the thrill of this town is watching the changes, the different people that come here, the things people do, the homes people build. Just take a drive up some of these divisions on the side of the mountains; people are building palaces. You could get a job as a carpenter and work on one for five years straight without a day off to make money and get ahead, or you could get a new job the next day in something completely different. There’s just endless opportunity here.

Inspired to come on an adventure in Whistler? Chat to one of the locally-based team members at Whistler.com to see what’s happening during your visit. Canadian Wilderness Adventures offer ATV, Off-Road Buggy, 4 x4 Sightseeing, E-bikes, Canoe, Forest Bathing and Salmon Bake Mountain Top Dining in the summer, and in the winter Snowmobiling,  Snowshoeing, Snowcat, Fondue, Yukon Breakfast and Steak Night Dining, Dog Sled and Campfire Cookouts. 

Follow GoWhistler on social media to get the next installment of Why Whistler?. To meet more Whistler locals, take a look at the rest of the video series, we’re adding more as we go!

Ross Reid is our talented videographer on this project. To see more of his work visit his website.


You can often find Dee exploring all Whistler has to offer with her three-kid tribe in tow. Originally from the UK, Dee enjoys balancing out high-thrills adventures with down-time basking in the beauty of the wonderful place she now calls home.