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

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This thriving market for "collectibles" raises an interesting dialogue about the "value" of these artifacts.

In 2002, Sotheby’s auctioned a single coin for the record sum of US$7,590,000. A single page of a Mozart manuscript was purchased for millions. A baseball. A gown worn by Princess Diana. A religious relic from Tibet. A Guatemalan weaving. It seems the more sacred an item is to someone, and the rarer it is, the more a purchaser is willing to pay.

A host of interested bidders at the auction house can put a monetary value on a thing, but for most heritage watchers, these items have a value that is incalculable.

Whistler Museum Curator, Kerry Clark, explains: "Value? How do you define it? Especially referring to artifacts, value can come from emotional, historical, cultural value, or because it tells a certain story. Value is intrinsic, but it’s also negotiable. Defining value is something a community does. The museum needs to be a reflection of the community in which it resides, to determine the significance of artifacts. The community has to decide that. To tell us, ‘look, a collection of ceramics here is not a vital part of our culture.’ But a race gate that Rob Boyd skied through on his World Cup winning run? That’s history that means something."

The Whistler story is a fascinating one, and would have been junked in the dustbin of forgotten history if it weren’t for the foresight of museum founder, Florence Petersen.

"We lived on the West Side Road," recalls Mrs. Petersen. "Myrtle Philip was my neighbour for 30 years. Dick Fairhurst was another neighbour and friend. These old-timers began to feel when skiing got a grip on Whistler in the late ’60s that they would be forgotten, because it was as if nothing had been here before skiing arrived. So I said to them, when I retire, I’ll get an archives going."

A small group of dedicated volunteers set into motion the compilation of an historic record for the little mountain community. They interviewed people, collected reminiscences and oral histories, newspaper clippings and photographs. When word came that someone was moving away, museum volunteers would call them up, urge them not to throw anything away until representatives from the museum had come through, poked around and salvaged anything that told the Whistler story.

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