In a move that has been years in the making, the new Whistler Museum building is one step closer to becoming a reality following the signing of a land-transfer agreement between the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the Whistler Museum and Archives Society (WMAS). With the land officially secured, the WMAS is beginning fundraising efforts to construct the new facility.
"This agreement has been in the works for a long time, since 2014," said Jinny Ladner, a trustee on the Whistler Museum Board of Directors. "We are thrilled about getting on with this and moving forward with a new home for the museum. We have so many stories to share about the past, present and future of Whistler and having a modern facility to do this will really make them come alive."
The transferred land is at the museum's current location on a portion of Lot 20 at 4333 Main Street, adjacent to Florence Peterson Park and the Whistler Public Library. The new building will replace the semi-permanent conjoined trailers that the museum has operated out of since 2009.
Once complete, the two-storey, 927-square-metre building—more than three times the size of the current facility—will include display areas, a foyer, a reception desk, and a gift shop that will serve as a gathering place for groups and events. The addition of a third storey is also a possibility should the museum need to expand in the future.
According to Whistler Museum curator and executive director Brad Nichols, the new building is crucial as archival materials have built up over the years, resulting in space limitations. The expanded space will help provide a spot for record-keeping long into the future.
“I think we're [going to be] able to tell more stories and also being able to help preserve Whistler's stories and people's experiences, and that can be through both the exhibits as well as more adequate archival and artifact storage, which right now, we're just running out of space for our archival holdings,” Nichols said.
“That's definitely one of the important things as well for a new facility, is just ensuring that those are not for the next five to 10 years, but for hundreds of years down the future.”
In November 2021, the museum society received a cost estimate of $7,130,987 to construct and equip the proposed building. With rising construction costs, there is a need for a more significant contingency fund, so the museum has set a fundraising goal of $9 million.
For WMAS to keep the transferred land, it must raise 80 per cent of the necessary capital funds within six years, by Dec. 31, 2028,, or the RMOW will revoke the lease. As it currently stands, the museum needs $5,704,789 to complete the project.
“Well, clearly, the next phase is really all about the fundraising and connecting to the community to get this done," said Ladner. "We know this project is a multimillion-dollar build, and we have already started along the path thanks to community support. But we need significant financial assistance to get the new facility, a place that we want to be the heart of the history of our community, built.”
Once some capital is acquired, the museum hopes to get additional funds from other levels of government to cover a portion of the project's costs. Now that the land-transfer agreement is signed, the new building is eligible for the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, which could provide significant funding for the museum.
Councillor Jeff Murl, who sits as the RMOW’s representative on the WMAS, said that, partly because the transferred land represents significant in-kind support to the museum, the municipality will not use any money from its one-time Growing Communities Fund or from Resort Municipality Initiative funding to back the project.
“Council and staff have made it clear we have given [WMAS] essentially a lease on [the] land for free. That is a huge contribution from the municipality. That land alone is worth a small fortune," Murl said.
"In the future, when this gets off the ground, the community will look at what other ways we can assist. But we don't need to attach commitments to do any of that at this point because there's a lot of money that has to be raised before this gets the greenlight to go ahead."
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. The earliest anticipated opening date for the new facility is 2027, and a temporary artifact storage location will be required in the meantime.
“Hopefully, we're going to see some money from the community to step up and make this a reality. It's an ambitious target, but I think this community needs to house its artifacts and history properly because what we're doing right now is not really cutting it,” Murl said.
People can donate to the building project at whistlermuseum.org/newmuseum. The donations will be managed through the Whistler Community Foundation’s new fund dedicated specifically to the building’s construction, which is separate from the foundation’s existing WMAS fund supporting the museum’s operations. Learn more at whistlerfoundation.com.