November 28, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

History Repeating 

Museums and archives may have more to say about the present and the future than they do about the past, but the past is still important

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By Jehanne Burns and Leslie Anthony 



It 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 year-round residents.

In 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.

True 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. 

Over 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.



Whistler's 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.

Behind 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.”

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