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Whistler Museum 2020: Year in review

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HISTORY IN THE MAKING It’s been a challenging year for the Whistler Museum & Archives Society, which closed for months due to COVID-19, then re-opened in a re-imagined way.

With the arrival of COVID-19 early in 2020, and the lockdowns and uncertainties that followed, it was an unprecedented year for the Whistler Museum & Archives Society.

From March 16 to July 1, the museum, like many businesses in Whistler, was closed to the public. During this time, however, museum staff were still hard at work, taking in and processing archival and artifact donations from the community, digitizing VHS and 8mm films, conducting oral history interviews, re-designing our website, hosting online events, and researching topics for our blog and Museum Musings column.

The museum saw an increase in archive and artefact donations during this time, as many people had free time to tidy their homes, unearthing items they could then donate to our collection. We received donations related to the 2010 Winter Games from former mayor of Whistler Ken Melamed and from Vancouver 2010 Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) site construction manager Jan Jansen. Items included uniforms, development documents, and commemorative materials.

One of the major donations the museum received this year was the Whistler Pride & Ski Festival collection. This collection, donated by Dean Nelson, documents many aspects of the long-running festival, one of the biggest and best sexually diverse focused ski weeks in the world. This is a major asset to the museum, and helps preserve aspects of Whistler’s diverse community that have been under-represented within our collection until now. 

The museum started welcoming visitors into the building again on Canada Day 2020 and has since remained open six days a week (closed on Wednesdays). Over the course of 2020, we saw 5,099 exhibit visitors, down considerably (65 per cent) from 2019’s 14,410 exhibit visits. 

During July and August, we were still able to operate our popular summer programs, albeit slightly modified to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines. These offerings attracted an additional 7,529 participants to programs held outside the museum, including our Valley of Dreams historical walking tours through Whistler Village and our Discover Nature educational program about Whistler’s rich biodiversity offered at Lost Lake Park, and to virtual programs, such as Crafts from the Park (delivered in partnership with Whistler Public Library) and our 24th annual LEGO Building Competition.

The museum continued to explore, share, and educate about Whistler’s unique history and people through our online presence on Facebook, Instagram, and our Whistorical blog. Our numbers (including followers and engagement with posts) increased on all platforms significantly throughout 2020 due to the hard work and dedication of the museum’s events and community manager Allyn Pringle and head archivist and collections manager Alyssa Bruijns.

Last year also marked the first time the museum has hosted a travelling exhibit since the 1990s. The Land of Thundering Snow travelling exhibit developed by the Revelstoke Museum & Archives explores the history of snow avalanches and their impact on the people and nature in Canada. We are grateful to the Revelstoke Museum & Archives for developing this exhibit and for the opportunity to host it in Whistler. This exhibit will run at the museum until March 31, 2021.

The museum team also continued its collaboration with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) to produce the History & Heritage segment of the Whistler 101 series. Originally conceived in 2019 as an in-person lecture series, the scripts and content of each Whistler 101 lecture were reimagined in 2020 to produce a 20-minute video for each subject. The History & Heritage segment will premiere on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 and will be available to view at whistler.ca/101.

The museum is currently finalizing its 2021 winter programs, including the return of our Speakers series and Naming Nights, both to be delivered virtually, and our Kids Après program, currently being developed as an interactive activity booklet. More details on these programs will be available in the coming weeks.      

I would like to take a moment to thank our funders and supporters: the RMOW; the Province of British Columbia; the Community Foundation of Whistler; Canadian Heritage; British Columbia Museum Association; and our museum members for their continued support over the years.

I would also like to say a special thank you to everyone who has visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our Pique column, followed us on social media, and otherwise helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating people and history. Your support helped us make it through a very challenging year!