Jehanne Burns and Leslie Anthony
was the chance for a weekend get-a-way spot that spurred Florence Petersen
and four friends to purchase a small cabin at Alta Lake in the mid 1950s. At
the time, the valley was a quaint summer fishing resort with only a handful of
the years following, the town of Alta Lake would transform from these humble
beginnings into the internationally renowned four-season resort of Whistler.
With so much change taking place in the '70s, early pioneer Myrtle Philip and
Cypress Lodge owner Dick Fairhurst confessed to Florence their worry that the
early days would soon be forgotten. Florence eased their fears by promising
them that she would somehow ensure that their stories would be remembered.
to her word, after retiring from school-teaching in 1986, Florence kept her
promise by starting the Whistler Museum and Archives as a charitable non-profit
society, and continues to be the museum’s most popular ambassador.
twenty years later, with Whistler having grown beyond the early trailblazers'
wildest dreams, the Museum is proud to continue to collect, preserve, and tell
the stories of mountain life and the people who live it. Thanks to the seed
planted by Florence, the Whistler Museum has grown to be keeper of over 5,000
artifacts (three dimensional objects) and over 116,000 archival (one
dimensional) documents and photographs. The relics comprising the collection
range from bizarre to compelling: an old fashioned enema kit; Eldon Beck's
original sketches of the village; Rainbow Lodge's guest register; remnants of
the infamous Boot Pub such as old ski boots and photos from the “Boot Wall of
Fame”; Gord (Roxy) Harder's sticker-covered fridge; GODA correspondence from
the 1968 Winter Olympic bid; and photos of Pierre Trudeau with Franz Wilhelmsen
and Jim McConkey, to name a few.
Museum is funded through a variety of sources: 47 per cent municipal; 12 per
cent provincial/federal; 18 per cent special project grants; 16 per cent
education programs, events and admission revenues; seven per cent sales and
services—e.g. photo reproduction and use fees, research requests, and the
museum shop. Despite the multiplicity of funding sources, it adds up to a
fairly thin budget. In February 2008 the Museum closed its exhibits in light of
recent funding cutbacks to focus its energy on specific initiatives.
the closed exhibits the Museum is working on a plan to re-invent and revitalize
itself. This process involves a move to the Museum’s new home in the former
library building. The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has committed to
upgrading the new museum building to look more appealing and the location will
provide the Museum with increased space and street presence. One key initiative
will be relocating the front door to the corner of the building, making it visible
from the street. Martin Pardoe, manager of parks and planning for the RMOW
believes that the move “… is a stepping stone towards a greater Museum presence
that augments the Resort's offerings to the growing cultural tourism market.”
conjunction with the move, the Museum will also be launching a new exhibit as
an initiative set out by the 2010 Strategic Framework. The new extensive
exhibit will cover Whistler’s journey to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic
Winter Games. This remarkable story is currently told nowhere else.
producing this exhibit the hope is to use residents and the community’s own
unique voice to tell Whistler’s story to the world, and share their knowledge
and passion with visitors who are always curious about the critical moments
that shaped the design and rapid development of the resort.
of the over half-century journey include: Whistler’s rise as popular summer
resort in the pioneer times; Garibaldi Olympic Development Association's
initial bid for the 1968 Winter Olympic Games; other unsuccessful bids for
1976, 1980 and 1988; formation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler; the
building of a resort; and the successful bid to host the 2010 Olympic and
Paralympic Winter Games. The resulting exhibit will be a permanent legacy that
can be incorporated into any future facility that the Museum may inhabit after
2010. This legacy is what the Museum is putting first and foremost.
we’ll have the distinction of co-hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter
Games, only 30 short years after the construction began to create this world
class destination resort,” says Mayor Melamed. “How did we get here? Who were
the visionaries and what were their stories? So much has happened in such a
short span of time that we have a very rich and colourful history. This history
that has been documented by the Whistler Museum and Archives Society. They play
a critical role for local residents and visitors alike as caretakers of the
stories, the people, and the natural history of the valley. Through multiple
mediums they share the richness of our past to help us understand the special
character that has made Whistler this place of wonder and inspiration.”
support of this initiative has been forthcoming from two key local foundations.
The Community Foundation of Whistler has committed $30,000 to the project,
saying that this “… project provides a unique opportunity to showcase
Whistler’s natural history to both local community members and visitors from
around the world... We have confidence in the Museum’s ability and wanted to
demonstrate our support for their continued good work.”
addition, the American Friends of Whistler (AFOW) have also committed $20,000
stating that they believe “… this new exhibit will be an excellent chance to
celebrate Whistler's unique history and a place for people to gather and be
well as focusing on moving and developing the Museum’s new comprehensive
exhibit the Museum is also focused on providing other museum-related services
including archival photo reproductions and historical research requests. With
2010 quickly approaching the spotlight on Whistler is getting brighter and the
Museum is seeing an increase in information requests. The Museum fields photo
and research requests from media organizations such as the BBC and CBC, law
firms, authors, filmmakers, travel writers and general researchers.
the new exhibit under construction the Museum also strives fulfill its mandate
of celebrating Whistler’s stories by maintaining the Museum’s key programming
initiatives mostly funded by the B.C. Direct Access Gaming Grant and Cultural
Capitals of Canada. Some initiatives include the Museum’s popular Community Now
film project that in the past four years has documented different local
demographics in four short films. Currently, a full-length feature film is
being put together to be premiered in February 2009 as part of Celebration
2010. The goal of the film is to share the stories of the community of Whistler
in 2010 and to preserve them in perpetuity.
programming initiative is the Museum’s “Valley of Dreams” walking tour. 0The
tour looks at Whistler’s history through the lens of “dreamseekers” as a theme
that is woven through the time. From Myrtle Philip to local Olympic and
Paralympic hopefuls, it is the individual dreams of the people of Whistler that
have and will always push Whistler forward. Still in its infancy the Museum is
looking to grow the tour for the summer of 2009 with additional seed money from
the Cultural Capital of Canada in efforts to make it a feature Museum program.
The tour will run daily June, July, and August and is available for private
bookings anytime of the year.
keeping with the Museum’s programming mandate, as this issue hits the stands
the Whistler Museum’s “Feeding the Spirit” event will be kicking off. The event
is born directly of the notion that Museums in modern times can’t rest on their
former Descartes-esque attitude of “we exist therefore we are,” but can also
serve to help meet the needs of the community with the resources they possess.
workers always have a pressing need for food, and the community needs these
people to gain a sense of place. Thus, the Museum will open its exhibits for
the night so that newcomers, locals, visitors and the likes have a chance to
explore the Museum, eat some good food, hang with friends, and possibly win
free groceries just for coming. This will aid seasonal workers in nourishing
both their bellies and minds, let them know the Museum exists, and foster the
understanding that there’s a community in Whistler they can be part of. Come
join us from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 27. Where to find the Museum?
We are located behind the library on Main Street. Just go up the ramp, around
the corner and you’re there.
in a Broader Context
do museums do anyway?” is a commonly asked question. Museums range in purpose
from “education needs and spiritual ones, social and physical needs,
psychological and economic ones—museums are among the most remarkably
flexible organizational types that a modern society has available for its use,”
says Stephen Weil, museum studies professor at the Smithsonian Institute.
to Mike Wallace, Professor of History at John Jay Collage, perhaps the greatest
contribution of a museum is helping people “...develop their historical
sensibilities, strengthening the ability to locate themselves in time and
enhancing their capacity as citizens to be historically informed makers of
British Museum director Neil MacGregor believes that it can perhaps be put more
simply, that Museums accomplish three things: explore history; document the
present; and engage the public through a variety of programming initiatives.
Thus, the Whistler Museum aims to be a cornerstone of the community by
embracing Whistler’s heritage. It’s main purpose is to strengthen community
ties, inspire stewardship of the natural and built environment and achieve
every museum can be a Louvre or a Smithsonian, but these centres of excellence
accrue untold cachet and intellectual riches upon a country, and any such
institution is inevitably the apex of a pyramid of smaller, more specialized,
often seasonal museums that are important for historical reasons.
author Stephen Vogler suggests that “Museums are important because they allow
us to maintain a connection to the past... In a valley that changes so rapidly,
it’s vitally important to see what has gone before, to find patterns of life
that repeat and create a sense of continuity. And of course the museum's also
great for discovering cool retro ski fashions.”
an expression among collectors: One man's garbage is another man’s treasure.
Amusingly, museums exist and need to operate on the notion that the same goes
for generations, countries, and cultures. Museums are the spokes of the global
wagon wheel of knowledge and understanding, for which virtual or half-baked
versions likely wouldn’t suffice; without real spokes, there is no real wheel.
is indeed a magical place which has come to embody many of our own dreams.
People from around the world arrive here intending only to visit and end up
captivated enough to stay and make a life here. What makes people come here to
search for their dreams and why they stay to achieve them is what needs to be
remembered — for all those stories have paved the way for what each of us
now does on a daily basis. Collectively, it’s all these stories —
remarkable tales told nowhere else — that we want to share with the
if we don't preserve and tell our own stories, who will?
can support the Whistler Museum and Archives Society by becoming a member,
making a donation, attending events, supporting fundraising efforts, pointing
visitors in the Museum’s direction and visiting us yourself (once the Museum
launches its new exhibit in
For more information please contact the Museum at 604-932-2019 or visit