Thinking About Museums: BCMA Conference 2016

Regardless of your profession, networking with peers, sharing tools of the trade, and meeting industry leaders is always a rewarding and reinvigorating experience. Museums are no different. Last week, staff from the Whistler Museum were fortunate enough to attend the annual conference of the BC Museums Association. The fact that it was held right here in Whistler this year, was an added bonus.

Over three eventful days, roughly 150 museum, gallery, and heritage professionals from across the province and beyond converged on our little mountain town to talk shop. Dozens of workshops, panels and plenaries were held on wide-ranging topics from digital history and new media, to indigenous science, best practices for serving children and seniors, and far, far more. A gala dinner recognized top achievements in our field and provided a welcome social outlet after our long and eventful days.

Jackie Chambers, Education & Outreach Manager at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum demonstrates her innovative "Beaty Box" program of environmental education outreach boxes.

Jackie Chambers, Education & Outreach Manager at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum demonstrates her innovative “Beaty Box” program of environmental education outreach boxes.

Keynote presentations from world-leading museum professionals reminded us to not become lost in our daily tasks and lose sight of larger moral and philosophical questions like our role and responsibilities in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, our potential as centres of civility in an increasingly uncivil world, and an exploration of the concept of family as a useful metaphor for museums, our communities, and our nation as a whole.



An employee from the Sikh Heritage Museum in Abbotsford accepting one of 3 awards of merit that were awarded at the “Peaks of Success” awards banquet. Congratulations to all the winners!

What’s more, it was a great opportunity for us hosts to showcase our work to our peers. In that respect the Whistler Museum, the Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre, and the Audain Art Museum were honoured to open our doors to conference attendees and invite their impressions and feedback.

Three of us at the Whistler Museum also presented a well-attended panel. We focused on sharing advice and success stories to help other small museums “punch above their weight class,” increase their presence, and better serve their communities. Brad Nichols, our executive director, gave a history and overview of our operations while highlighting easily replicable strategies related to branding, partnerships, admissions, and more. Alyssa Bruijns, our Collections Manager, shared tips and tools to better manage a large, constantly growing, and at times overwhelming archive with limited resources. Jeff Slack, Programs Manager, focused on a topic near and dear to his heart, blogging, and why every museum can and should do it. We learned a lot from the panels that we attended, and we hope we were able to make a similar contribution.

Part of a panel presentation on Museums and Digital Media had us dreamboarding about digital projects we'd like to pursue.

Part of a panel presentation on Museums and Digital Media had us dream-boarding about digital projects we’d like to pursue. Was it all just a ploy to recruit potential students for the new Digital Museum Studies program at the Centre for Digital Media?

We’ve come out of the conference with a host of new ideas, reenergized to pursued them and with a strengthened sense of community among our fellow colleagues whose expertise and support is a mere email or phone call away. And as fun as it was to play host and showcase our home town (cold October rain and all), we are excited to do it all over again next year in beautiful Victoria.

Taking Stock of Glacial Loss in Garibaldi Park

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure to run into a pair of glaciologists performing research in Garibaldi Provincial Park. They let us tag along and see what a day of glaciological fieldwork entailed.

Their focus was the Helm Glacier, a slender icefield four kilometres southeast of Black Tusk most commonly accessed from the Cheakamus Lake trailhead.

Jason Vanderschoot and Mark Ednie arrive at the day's jobsite. Jeff Slack photo.

Jason Vanderschoot and Mark Ednie arrive at the day’s jobsite. Jeff Slack photo.

Helm Glacier is important because it has a solid baseline of data; it has been continuously monitored since the late 1960s. Moreover, multiple photographs taken by mountaineers as far back as the 1920s help give an even better indication of the glacier’s change over time.

This change has been consistent: rapid retreat. Between 1928-2009, Helm Glacier lost an estimated 78% of its mass, and it has shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, in a database of sixteen North American glaciers with extensive and comparable datasets, Helm has experienced the most rapid melting of them all.

The two glaciologists, working for the Geological Survey of Canada, were measuring vertical surface loss, that is, the extent to which the glacier’s surface has dropped since the previous summer. This is done by drilling six-metre long metal poles vertically into the glacier, then returning the following year to measure how much of the pole has become exposed. The drills are human-powered; all the drilling and the hike to the glacier and back makes for a long day of hard, physical work.

Fascinating caverns and tunnels are emerging along the edges of the fast-retreating glacier. Jeff Slack photo.

Fascinating caverns and tunnels are emerging along the edges of the fast-retreating glacier. Jeff Slack photo.

Last year’s results indicated that the glacier’s surface had lowered an average of 4 vertical metres on the lower glacier, and roughly 3.5 metres higher up. Numbers still need to be crunched, but preliminary data for this year suggests smaller losses, roughly 2.6 metres at the bottom and 2.2 metres at the top.

This is not surprising, as two winters ago our region experienced historically low snowpack levels, followed by a long, hot summer (remember those massive forest fires?). Last winter, Whistler Mountain measured a slightly above average snowpack, and this summer has been closer to average as well. Still, on September 29th (the day we were up there) there was hardly any seasonal snow left on the surface of the glacier. This year was not as hard on the glaciers as last, but we still lost a lot of ice.

Hand-drilling five metres down into the glacier is low-tech hard work, but these gus weren't complaining. Jeff Slack photo.

Hand-drilling five metres down into the glacier is low-tech hard work, but these gus weren’t complaining. Jeff Slack photo.

After the Helm Glacier research was completed, the pair headed up to their research station on the Place Glacier, north of Pemberton, to conduct further studies. When compared to similar data from hundreds of other glaciers around the world, this research is creating a fuller understanding of past, present, and future environmental change. Much thanks to these intrepid scientists for the work they do, and for letting us tag along for the afternoon!

Where's Waldo, glacier-style.

Where’s Waldo, glacier-style.

Helm Glacier Panorama. Jeff Slack photo.

Helm Glacier Panorama. Jeff Slack photo.

It Started With an Ark

As Whistler enters the (somewhat) slower season of autumn, Arts Whistler is presenting Fall for Arts, a collection of exhibitions, classes, performances and more highlighting the diverse arts and artists this town has to offer.  In this spirit, we offer a brief look back at one of the older (or younger, depending on how you look at it) performing groups in Whistler: the Whistler Children’s Chorus.

The Whistler Children's Chorus performing Hakuna Matata, 1995

The Whistler Children’s Chorus performing Hakuna Matata, 1995.  Photo: Whistler Children’s Chorus.

The Chorus began in 1991 when Molly Boyd, already the director of the Whistler Singers, was asked to put together a group of children to perform with a Vancouver orchestra putting on Noye’s Fludde (an opera based on Noah’s Ark) in Whistler.  Under the direction of Boyd this group would become known as the Whistler Children’s Chorus in 1992, accepting members 6 and up with the mandate to “provide opportunities for all children in our community to sing and enjoy making music”.

The first performances of the newly formed Chorus included carolling through the Village with the Whistler Singers and joining the Singers at the Christmas Eve Carol Service (a Christmas tradition now entering its 34th year).  The community of Whistler and its variety of events (ie. ski races) soon offered the Chorus many opportunities to perform.  The Chorus participated in the community’s Canada Day Parade and Remembrance Day Ceremony and annually held holiday concerts in support of the Whistler Food Bank.

The Whistler Children's Chorus in the Canada Day Parade, 1997

The Whistler Children’s Chorus in the Canada Day Parade, 1997.  Photo: Whistler Children’s Chorus.

Most notably, in 2002 the Chorus was chosen to represent British Columbia in the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill as part of Unisong, a 500-voice choir made up of choirs from across the country.  During this visit to Ottawa the Chorus performed in the National Arts Centre, Christ Church Cathedral and at then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s garden party.  This trip also taught the valuable lesson that red shirts, white pants and fire hoses do not mix, as adult chaperones sat up late trying to scrub the pink out of once white materials.

Unisong mass choir performing in the National Arts Centre, July 2001

Unisong mass choir performing in the National Arts Centre, July 2001.  Photo: Whistler Children’s Chorus

During the lead up to the 2010 Olympics the Chorus built on their early experiences at parades and races to become veritable pros at performing “O Canada”, as well as the catchy official song of the Torch Relay (complete with choreography).  Beginning well before the Olympics at “A Celebration of Canada” for the IOC in 2003, the Chorus performed for the Bid Announcement on July 2, 2003, the “100 Day Countdown Celebration” in November, 2009, the arrival of the Olympic Torch in February 2010, with Norman Foote during the Olympics, and at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games.

Whistler, BC, February 5th 2010 Olympic Torch Relay in Whistler. The Whistler Children's Choir and the Whistler Singers will sing, "There's a Light/ Cette Flamme," Photo: Ian Robertson /

Whistler, BC, February 5th 2010 Olympic Torch Relay in Whistler. The Whistler Children’s Choir and the Whistler Singers sing, “There’s a Light/ Cette Flamme,” Photo: Ian Robertson /

Now in its 24th season, the Whistler Children’s Chorus continues to provide opportunities for children to sing and make music.  They can next be seen performing a spooky selection of songs October 30th at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church.  For more information check out their website or find the choir on Facebook.

If you fancy singing yourself, consider joining the Whistler Singers (Wednesdays at Maury Young Arts Centre) or Barbed Choir (Sundays at the Point).  All are welcome.


By Allyn Pringle

H.I.T.: 20 Years of Grassroots Action

Whistler became the community it is today in large part thanks to the incredible natural wealth in our surroundings. However, the extent to which this natural wealth has been protected and preserved is a testament to the character of the community that has grown here.

A deep understanding of this intertwined relationship spurred Arthur De Jong to action two decades ago. Working as Mountain Planning & Environmental Resource Manager for Whistler-Blackcomb, Arthur was a frequent attendee at meetings where local environmental groups and engaged citizens raised a variety of ecological concerns. There was no shortage of will, but Arthur stepped in and created a simple, effective way to address these problems.

“Why don’t we have a group dedicated to fixing what they can within a short time-frame to address some of the smaller, easier-to-fix environmental issues in the valley?”, Arthur wondered. And thus, H.I.T. was born.

This past week the Habitat Improvement Team, or H.I.T. wrapped up their 20th summer of grassroots environmental rehabilitation in the Whistler Valley. The enduring success of the group is in large part thanks to the group’s deceptively simple structure (and, of course, Whistlerites’ enthusiasm for the local environment).

The H.I.T. team after a night rehabilitating the riparian zone. Photo courtesy Arthur De Jong.

Bi-weekly, all summer long, a group of volunteers come together and get to work on a predetermined project. Arthur coordinates the team and determines the work schedule, with input from local community groups. Whistler-Blackcomb supports the group with transportation support and a late après at Merlin’s for the thirsty volunteers.

A lot of the group’s early work focused on improving fish habitat in the valley by replanting native species in disturbed riparian zones, preventing suffocating erosion on adjacent trails and stream banks, and other rehabilitation projects.

W-B’s Wendy Robinson transporting native plants for habitat restoration.  Photo courtesy Arthur De Jong.


Over the years the group’s mandate expanded beyond ecological restoration to other environmentally oriented projects such as hiking trail maintenance and improvement, installing interpretive signage, cleaning up areas of high garbage accumulation, and packaging retired Whistler-Blackcomb uniforms for shipment to developing nations such as Romania and India. 

Getting retired uniforms ready for shipment. Photo Courtesy Arthur De Jong.

Just this summer, H.I.T. cleared parts of the Lost Lake interpretive trails, removed invasive burdock plants, packaged clothing for international aid, completed 2 work nights on the Ancient Cedars trail (more on this project in next week’s column), and helped build a pollinator garden at the Spruce Grove community gardens.


For their efforts, H.I.T. has been awarded a Silver Eagle for Community Relations by the National Ski Areas Association, and special recognition for business leadership at the Shift Conference for Public Lands Management in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On a more personal level, Arthur notes that “it’s always a joy to walk through parts of the valley and seeing areas that H.I.T. was instrumental in restoring. That’s quite rewarding.”

And it’s not just Arthur who feels gratified. Many of the volunteers contributing this past summer have been involved for years, some nearly the entire 20 years that H.I.T. has been active. Ultimately the big winner is the local environment, which is greener, more productive, and more appreciated thanks to two decades of grassroots, volunteer-led efforts from H.I.T.

Happy volunteers. Photo courtesy Arthur De Jong.

VIDEO: Bear viewing at the old dump

Among the many autumn rituals in Whistler are watching the changing colours in our surrounding forests, watching the snow line slowly move down the mountainsides, enjoying some relatively quiet time here in the village, and perhaps skipping town altogether with a fall getaway.

For many residents, Fall is a crucial time of year when they eat non-stop and try to put on weight in preparation for the long winter. No, we’re not talking about depressed mountain bikers at Thanksgiving dinner, but our local black bears of course!

Every autumn, black bears enter a physiological state called hyperphagia, which essentially means increased appetite. After having climbing up the mountainsides through the summer they often come back down to lower elevations in search of any calorie-rich foods that might be left, like mountain ash berries, or roots and greens in marshy lowlands.

In a place like Whistler, it also means a time of heightened bear-human interactions, as they are more commonly looking for food in human-occupied places. Increased diligence in securing your garbage, being aware of your surroundings when hiking or biking in the forests, and giving bears plenty of space when you do encounter them is especially important this time of year.

In Whistler we do quite a good job of co-existing with our ursine friends, and are one of only seven officially recognized “Bear Smart” communities in British Columbia. We still have our challenges, but to demonstrate how far we’ve come, here’s a video of black bears feeding at our local dump in the early 1970s.

The dump, located right in the middle of the valley where Whistler Village now stands, was open air, unfenced, and got routinely overrun with bears back then. Many long-time residents recall that it was the preferred bear-viewing spot in the valley, and it’s not hard to see why!

Today, our “dump” (actually called a Waste Transfer Station) is well-fenced in and we manage our garbage far more responsibly. Please do your part to help ensure that our local bears have a smooth transition to winter during this crucial time of year!

For more information on black bears, and how to live, work, and play responsibly in bear country, please visit the Get Bear Smart Society.


Fall getaways

Even paradise can get stale. Here in Whistler, locals often speak of the “Whistler Bubble” and their desire to escape this bubble from time to time. Fall is traditionally a time when many locals take extended holidays out of town, as the tourist trade quiets down substantially and, if ski bums get their wish, Whistler weather can get quite gloomy this time of year.

Sun-drenched surf retreats to Latin America or Indonesia are probably the current favourite Whistler escape, but Whistlerites are well-travelled people by nature. Come October you can find our locals scattered across the far corners of the globe.

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Myrtle hunting near Mahood Lake, circa 1950s, perhaps searching for a big stag deer like the one depicted on her rather fashionable hunting vest. 

This tradition of Whistler residents turning the tables and becoming tourists in the Fall is older than many might think. Our valley’s original vacation hosts, Myrtle and Alex Philip of Rainbow Lodge fame, were always keen to pack their bags and get out of town once their busy summer season wound down.

The Phillip’s were avid anglers, and thus many of their getaways focused on fishing. They made several autumn excursions to visit their friends Baldwin & Grace Naismith, who had a cabin on Mahood Lake in the Cariboo region of central British Columbia.

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Myrtle casting out into Bridge Creek, southwest of Mahood Lake, 1929.


Not only did the Mahood Lake area offer much larger fish than Alta Lake, lake trout in particular, it must have been a pleasure for the Philip’s to switch roles and be guests rather than hosts in this beautiful setting.

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Myrtle with her close friend Grace Naismith and the day’s catch, 1949.

The images span the decades and include a wonderful colour photo from 1961 of a smiling Myrtle (now 70 years young) piloting a small boat across Mahood Lake’s glass-calm waters with vivid fall colours framing the shoreline.

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Myrtle on Mahood Lake, 1961.

But just like today’s Whistlerites, Myrtle & Alex also pined for tropical shores to relax and rejuvenate. Here’s a photo from a month-long vacation they took to Tahiti in 1930-31:

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The annotation on the back reads: “Mr & Mrs Philip with their catch of Barracuda, Bonita and Miare.”

Just like Myrtle’s hunting vest shown above, in this picture the Philip’s once again demonstrate their fashion sense with their striking white outfits, Alex even wearing his trademark pith helmet.

Do you have plans to skip town this fall? Which would you prefer, fishing in Northern BC, or fishing in the South Pacific?

An Ode to the Beaver

A report on the ecology of the Alta Lake region by naturalists Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart-Cowan from 1935 depicts a Whistler we all are familiar with. They reinforce the picture of a diverse and eco-rich valley with an abundance of species of animals and vegetation alike. Today the Whistler Biodiversity Project has documented over 2500 species in the area, expecting that number to be up to 3000 when new records have been finalized.

Despite the whopping number of species in our fertile little valley, there are a few things that have changed since Racey and McTaggart Cowen collated their data back in the 1930’s.

The two men provided the provincial museum with a detailed overview of the species we have in Whistler. This overview included a description of the state of the Castor Canadensis Pacificus, or Pacific Beaver. It states “The Beaver has been completely trapped out in the district for over twenty years.” It goes on to mention that even though the Beaver has been hunted to nonexistence, proof of their lifestyle still exists in the form of dams left behind.

With the halt of killing beavers for their pelts came the slow re-emergence of a creature whose activities literally shaped the waterways of our country. When water depth or quantities are not suitable the extraordinary beaver will transform a stream in a forest into a large pond with nothing more then gnawed wood, sticks and mud. Several plant species rely on such water sources for habitat, so beavers can also be credited to many a saved plant.


Canada, in the form of a swimming rodent.

Beaver lodges and dams can be enormous. The largest on record spans 850 meters. It was found in Northern Alberta in 2007. It is possible that humans got the idea of a “nuclear” family from beavers, whose lodge consists of a pair of parents, their babies and yearlings. Monogamy anyone?

Their lodges can only be accessed from underwater. Beavers are great swimmers; with an extra, transparent eyelid that’s helps them see underwater. They have large webbed feet, which they use as flippers, and a paddle-shaped, rudder-like tail. Their tail is leathery and large growing up to 38 centimeters. The sound of these large tails slapping the water also acts as an alarm to warn of a predator. On land the tail can prop up a sitting beaver and add extra balance while they are carrying supplies.

Our main industry, tourism has to give thanks to the beavers as well for assuring that tour companies can operate in hot and dry years. With the improved management of this inspiring species we can assure their continued existence and in turn the continued flourishing of the Whistler valley.


Who can resist falling in love with this little guy?


By Shayna Ross-Kelly