Whistler’s museum is one step closer to getting a much-needed building upgrade thanks to a new deal signed with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).
On Dec. 6, Whistler council approved a 60-year lease agreement that enables the Whistler Museum and Archives Society (WMAS) to initiate a fundraising campaign for the capital required to construct and equip a new museum in its current location.
“We are excited to see the process for building a new museum facility moving forward. The Museum Board of Directors has been working towards this goal since 2014, and seeing real progress is great,” said museum executive director Brad Nichols.
Since 2009, the Whistler museum has been housed in a small (280-square-metre), semi-permanent structure of conjoined trailers located on a portion of Lot 20 at 4333 Main Street, adjacent to Florence Petersen Park and the Whistler Public Library.
Creating a new building has been in the works for almost a decade. First proposed in 2014, the museum’s need for space has only grown over the last few years as archival space hit capacity resulting in many museum items, such as Whistler pioneer Myrtle Philip's Canoe, not being displayed.
WMAS investigated six potential sites for a new building, all of which proved unacceptable to the RMOW or the WMAS, before deciding to stick with its current location. The society hired Murdoch & Company Architecture Planning Ltd. in 2019 to prepare various design options for a new building on Lot 20.
The proposed building will be three times the size of the current building (927 square metres). The two-storey building will include display areas, a foyer, a reception desk, and a gift shop that will also serve as a gathering place for groups and events. Additionally, the building will include the structural ability to add a third story if the museum needs to expand at a future date.
With the expansion, the museum estimates that visitor numbers will double compared to 2019, when 14,410 people visited the exhibits. The expanded gift shop and venue space will also provide the museum with additional income.
The lease agreement with the RMOW is contingent on the museum raising enough money for construction. In Nov. 2021, the museum society received a cost estimate of $7,130,987 to construct and equip the proposed building. With rising costs for construction and needed contingency funds, the museum has set a fundraising goal of $9 million.
WMAS must raise 80 per cent of the necessary capital funds within six years (Dec. 31, 2028), or the RMOW will revoke the lease. As it currently stands, the museum needs $5,704,789 to complete the project.
While $9 million might seem like an ambitious goal, the museum has already identified numerous funding sources, including 250 potential donors in the Whistler community who are supportive of a new facility.
The project is eligible for a few different funding sources, including the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, the Community Economic Development and Diversification in BC Fund, Museums Assistance Program, and Resort Municipality Initiative. WMAS estimates half of the costs will come from donations, with the remainder from capital grants and foundations.
The museum aims to acquire the $9 million within three years, with the majority coming from the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund for organizations that already own or have long-term leases. The North Vancouver Museum received $3 million for a new facility in 2016 from this fund.
Construction of the new building will start once the museum society raises sufficient funds and takes down the existing building. The museum estimates fundraising will take three to five years, and construction between 12 and 18 months. 2027 is the earliest date a new facility will be available, as a temporary artifact storage location is required.
“A new museum will allow us to preserve and showcase Whistler's natural and human history for generations to come. A new facility would house and protect expanded museum exhibits that can better utilize our extensive collection of artifacts and archival material and ensure safe storage of these collections for residents, visitors, and researchers,” Nichols said.
“The growth and development of Whistler into a world-class resort is unique and deserves to be celebrated, along with the many people who have been part of Whistler's history."
Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton welcomed the project at the Dec. 8 council meeting, thanking RMOW staff, councillor Cathy Jewett, museum staff, and volunteers who were in attendance at the meeting.
“We're excited to cheer you on and see you raise the money for the museum. This is a good step. I'm really pleased and grateful for all the work that's been done to get us here,” Crompton said.
If you wish to donate to the museum, check out the Whistler Museum donation page, whistlermuseum.org/join-support/