January 16, 2004 Features & Images » Feature Story

Trashing the past 

Who we are and where we came from is a story articulated by the Whistler Museum but shaped by the community

As tempted as I might be to destroy the evidence of my uncool youth – music cassettes of bands I’m embarrassed at having purchased, a woeful collection of poems serenading first love (retch), pictures of bad hair and worse outfits – I keep them. Locked out of sight, but nevertheless, they remain, in the personal archives, as evidence of how far I’ve come. I may not be the hippest chick in Reykjavik, the current global epicentre of cool, but at least I’m not 14 anymore.

I seek out some counselling from local experts in preserving history on just what to do with this incriminating historical evidence. Jim Galvao, the programming co-ordinator at Whistler Museum and a visual artist in his own right, advises against burying the past in order to move on.

"I don't mean to sound like Dr. Phil," says Galvao, "but knowing and understanding your past is crucial in understanding your present and in gaining direction for your future. Your sense of identity is based on your history: places visited, people met, things owned, and so on."

Museum President, Stephen Henderson echoes this. Henderson has been serving on the museum board since 1995, and as president since 1999.

"I got involved with the board of the museum because of my passion for history. I’ve always been interested in history. Since I was a kid, I would go to museums. I think in order to avoid mistakes in the future, you have to know the past, and where you’ve come from. So I think history is important for everyone to have some knowledge about."

If we get bogged down cringing at the past, we do disservice to our progress. We lose track of the fact that life is about becoming ; it’s a long, messy and frequently embarrassing evolution; the getting of wisdom. Or cool. Or whatever your chosen path is.

"The same could be said for communities, towns, cities, countries, and the human population as a whole," says Galvao.

Human history can be humbling and awe-inspiring. This may explain why one in three Canadians over the age of 15 visit heritage institutions each year. That museums are in the top 10 places visited by foreign visitors to Canada. That more people attend one of Canada’s 2,300 heritage institutions each year than attend all professional sporting events combined.

What could have been? Who are we? What does it mean to be human? A cast of Lucy’s footprint. A cuneiform tablet of the earliest writing. A fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A small carving of a goddess. Half a set of Viking-style Chess pieces on the Newfoundland coast. How rich and evocative these objects are.

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