Florence Petersen's passing 'end of an era' 

Co-Founder of Whistler Museum and link to the resort's earliest days dies at age 83

click to enlarge Whistler's loss Florence Petersen spent decades chronicling the early history of the resort.
  • Whistler's loss Florence Petersen spent decades chronicling the early history of the resort.

Whistler has lost a "treasure trove of memories" in the passing of Florence Petersen.

The much-loved historian, founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives, was the town's caretaker of its past. And now, like the people and stories she so carefully preserved, Petersen too has quietly slipped into the annals of Whistler's history.

She passed away around 6 p.m. on Tuesday at her home on Alta Lake. She was 83 years old.

"It was always just such a breath of fresh air to spend some time with her because of her optimism," said an emotional Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, of the ever- cheerful and charming Petersen.

The mayor said she was so pleased to nominate Petersen for the Freedom of the Municipality award this spring — the top honour in the municipality, and bestowed on less than a dozen people in Whistler.

"I'm so glad that we did that when we did," said Wilhelm-Morden of June's ceremony. "I know that it meant a lot to her, and to (her husband) Andy, that she receive that award."

Former Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Norm McPhail was painting his house in Nanaimo, where he is superintendent, when he got the call.

He dropped everything at once and came to Whistler.

"They're kind of like my adopted parents," said McPhail, from the Petersen home where he is helping Andy.

Andy Petersen was a jail guard at the Whistler detachment when McPhail was first stationed here in 1988.

He said the Petersen's home was a home-away-from-home for many lonely RCMP officers stationed far from their own families.

"It was a place to come for a dinner, a place to come to find home," said McPhail.

The Petersens, who didn't have children of their own, "are like bedrock in Whistler," he said.

Today, McPhail was making phone calls to his colleagues across the country to share the news.

And there were phone calls close to home, too, where the news rippled quickly through the community.

"She was right at the core of things always," said friend Garry Watson, adding the Petersen was always doing kind things for others such as setting him up for a provincial award.

"She was so considerate of others."

Petersen first came to Whistler in the 50s, one of five girls who bought a lakeside cottage for $1,500. It was called "Witsend."

The girls made the most of it. Petersen was a teacher in Burnaby and spent the summers on Alta Lake as well as many weekends over the school year.

She met Andy Petersen and fell in love.

Andy moved up to Whistler full time in the late 1960's and Florence continued the commute until she retired in 1983.

In her retirement she became a force for good in Whistler, involved in many aspects of community life. She was, for example, a marriage commissioner, setting the tone for more than 1,000 weddings in the resort.

But it was most notably her role as one of the founders of the Whistler Museum & Archives that Petersen is most recognized for in Whistler.

The museum's president John Hetherington said Petersen's passing is the end of an era. He summed up what so many in Whistler were feeling this week.

"We're going to miss her."

Petersen's new book First Tracks is set to be released in the coming months.


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