A Crash Course in Archives

The Whistler Museum and Archives is collecting donations of objects, photographs, video, and other documents to record Whistler’s experience during the pandemic.  We’re accepting items Monday through Friday, 11 am to 5 pm, and all donations will be safely quarantined.  While collecting artefacts is fairly straightforward, as we’ve written in past articles on the topic, archives themselves can be confusing.  So, here’s a quick crash course!

Archives are naturally-generated historical records that are created by a person or organization over their lifetime.  They are preserved in order to demonstrate the function of the donor in society or changes of places and events over time.  Records are usually unique, as opposed to books or magazines, which often have many identical copies (this is one way archives and libraries differ).  For example, a business might donate an advert they created, or a person might donate their photos of the Bike Park from the past decade.

Though archives and artefacts are often grouped together, they are actually separate. Artefacts are physical things, such as Myrtle Philip’s pants and riding jacket shown here, while archives are records such as letters, photographs, films and journals.

Here at the archives in Whistler, we aim to describe, preserve, and provide access to materials donated.  The archives is a tool for researchers – from historians, to genealogists, to filmmakers – to access primary sources and records untainted by censorship or skewing.

The principles an archivist is taught during a degree in archival science are chock-full of French terms, arising out of Belgium and France in the mid-1800s.  Provenance dictates that materials from different origins should be kept separate.  It would be impossible to find anything if we kept all our donations in one big “Whistler Collection.”  Respect des fonds, stemming from provenance, means we must group materials according to the entity which created them or from which they were received.

The archives room within the Whistler Museum is full of the stories of the resort town and those who have called it home.  Keeping it all in order as it grows continuously can be a daunting task, but one our Head Archivist Alyssa Bruijns does very well.

But, wait!  We can’t physically rearrange things into a new order!  We rearrange “intellectually” when cataloguing, because we also have to respect original order.  If we physically rearrange the records donated to us, we risk losing the context of how these records were created.  While keeping this context may not seem useful right now, it may reveal very useful information for a researcher in the future.  When a record is removed from its fellow records, it can lose its meaning and credibility.

So, what’s the point of keeping records if you can’t find anything, maybe by subject or date?  We must describe the records using a catalogue and metadata so we can find them for you.  In fact, in the 1970s, Canadian archivists were among the first int he world to put together a comprehensive description standard that took into account the changes technology brought, called “Rules for Archival Description (RAD)”.   It is the archivist’s Bible.

Many of our archive collections are safely housed in acid-free boxes such as these shown here holding the Blackcomb Mountain Collection.

Archives are meant to last; some archives have already lasted centuries.  To preserve archives safely, we rehouse records in acid-free containers, store in climate-controlled areas, and digitize deteriorating items.  For fragile items and valuable records in high demand from the public, digitization can provide remote access.  Due to media formats dying out a frightening speed (RIP VHS), we must digitize our older media to current formats so we don’t lost it entirely.

Still, even current hard drives can become corrupt and file formats do fall out of use, and this is partly why we never throw out original materials.  Digital technologies still have a shorter life expectancy than paper, though we’re hopeful this could change.  Until then, the Whistler Museum & Archives will keep digitizing to bring you access to our community’s history.  Our photo collections can be found here: whistlermuseum.smugmug.com/; our video collections can be found here: youtube.com/WhistlerMuseum; and our archival catalogue can be found here: whistler.ica-atom.org/.

Whistler Museum’s First Virtual AGM

The 2020 Annual General Meeting of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society will be held online Thursday, June 11, 2020 beginning at 5 pm.

As the Whistler Museum remains closed, we will be hosting our AGM on Zoom this year.  If you are planning to attend the AGM, please RSVP by 4 pm on Wednesday, June 10 so we can be sure to send you the link to join us.  Simply email us at events @ whistlermuseum.org.

If you are looking to renew your membership or are unsure about the status of your membership, you can email us at events @ whistlermuseum.org or give us a call at 604-932-2019.

We hope to see you there (virtually)!

Happiest in the Mountains: Stefan Ples (Part Two)

There is an often told story of the first meeting of Stefan Ples and Franz Wilhelmsen of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. on Whistler Mountain.  Apparently Franz arrived at the top of the mountain by helicopter to find Stefan there on skis.  Franz asked, “What are you doing on my mountain?”, to which Stefan replied, “What are you doing on mine?”  Though we do not know exactly how their first meeting occurred, the story certainly demonstrates Stefan’s love of the mountain and his preferred way to navigate it.  (For more information on Stefan’s life before coming to Alta Lake, check out last week’s article here.)

Stefan and Gerda Ples sit on their hearth at Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Bareham family.

Although Stefan didn’t understand why people would prefer going up on lifts and skiing only a short distance down, he became greatly involved in the development of Whistler Mountain.  By the mid 1960s he had been exploring the mountain on his skis for years and knew the are perhaps better than anyone at the time.  Stefan began working for the lift company in 1963, going up to Alta Lake every weekend for over a year to climb up to a meadow at the bottom of the T-bar, where he would record the temperature and snowfall and other information (his handwritten reports were donated to the Whistler Museum & Archives by his daughter Renate Bareham in 2013).

When construction of the runs and lifts began Stefan moved up to Alta Lake full time to work.  Part of his responsibilities was to bring the horses up the mountain with supplies to a work camp that was set up in what may have been the same meadows he gathered his reports from.  Renate accompanied him on one of his trips up with the horses and told the museum, “It was just magical, because we went up through the forest and everything and we ended up in this meadow.  Oh, it was so beautiful up there.”

During one particularly bad snow year, Stefan also introduced the sport of Ice Stock Sliding to the valley.  “The old master, Stefan Ples, who introduced ice stock sliding to the Whistler area, sending one of the “rocks” down the recently blacktopped course next to the school at Whistler.” (Garibaldi Whistler News Fall 1977)

Though Gerda had continued to run their rooming house in Vancouver when Stefan first started working for the lift company, the rest of the family moved to Alta Lake in 1966.  According to Renate, not many people lived in the area at the time, and those who did either worked for the lift company or worked construction around the gondola base.  Renate attended high school in Squamish and worked for the lift company on the weekends and breaks.  At fourteen she began by stapling lift tickets and then handing out boarding passes, moving on to teach skiing for Jim McConkey when she turned sixteen.  She also babysat, caring for the Bright and Mathews children whose parents worked for the mountain.

Stefan continued working for the lift company and led ski tours to areas the lifts didn’t access.  One summer Renate even remembered helping him paint the top of the Red Chair.  Despite working for the lift company and receiving a lifetime pass in 1980, Stefan continued to prefer walking up, occasionally taking a lift as far as midstation before beginning his climb.

According to Renate, the only person who could go up the mountain on skis faster than her father was Seppo Makinen: “It took my dad three hours, probably, to get to the peak.  Seppo made it in an hour and a half.  I think he actually ran, you know, on his cross country skis, and my dad walked on his cross country skis, but Seppo ran.  He was also considerably younger than my father.”

Stefan Ples, long-time resident of Whistler, receives a lifetime pass from Garibaldi Lifts President Franz Wilhelmsen in recognition of his long involvement with Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Parts of Stefan’s legacy can be seen throughout the area though many may not know of his role in creating it, from the Tyrol Lodge to the two runs off Whistler Peak that bear his name (Stefan’s Chute and Stefan’s Salute).  He was a founding member of the Alta Lake Volunteer Fire Department in the 1960s and helped start Whistler’s first Search and Rescue Team in 1973.  His name can also be found on the Stefan Ples trophy, the prize for the overall winners of the Peak to Valley Race, as he like to climb to the peak and then ski all the way down.

Though some people may come to Whistler to build a career or make it rich, Renate said of her father that, “All he wanted to do was be in the mountains,” a goal it would appear he certainly accomplished.

COVID-19 Archival Donation Drive

The Whistler Museum & Archives is conducting a donation drive in order to collect posters, signs, photographs, videos, records, and objects documenting the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.

All who spent the past few months of the pandemic in Whistler are encouraged to donate any materials relating to COVID-19 and changes made during this time to the Whistler Museum & Archives in an effort to document this time in Whistler’s history.  This donation drive is an effort to collect items such as signs and posters listing restrictions or closures placed in local businesses and public spaces, photographs and videos of the effects of COVID-19 measures, written or visual accounts of individual pandemic experiences, or other items related to social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine.  The Whistler Museum’s goal is to piece together an accurate representation of Whistler’s experience during the pandemic for the sake of the community’s historical record.

The Whistler Museum & Archives Society has been collecting artefacts and archival materials related to the history of the Alta Lake and Whistler area since it was first formed in 1988.  Whistler Museum Collection.

While the Whistler Museum & Archives has always encouraged donations of historical items local to Whistler or demonstrating mountain culture, this COVID-19 donation drive will be larger in scale and specific to pandemic-related items.  Items donated will be added to the artefact and archival collections and preserved at the Whistler Museum & Archives.  Access to items donated will be maintained through museum exhibits, reference services, and digitization projects.

“This COVID-19 donation drive is important – the Whistler Museum & Archives is collecting these items so we can share the legacy of these historic times in Whistler with each other and with future generations,” says Alyssa Bruijns, Head Archivist & Collections Manager at the Whistler Museum & Archives.

The COVID-19 Donation Drive will bring in pandemic-related items and stories is order to preserve Whistler’s unique experience with COVID-19.  Items for donation can be dropped off at the Whistler Museum & Archives between 11am and 5pm from Monday to Friday.  All donations will be quarantined for 9 days before handling by museum staff.

For any questions or to learn more about the COVID-19 Donation Drive, please email Head Archivist & Collections Manager, Alyssa Bruijns, at archives @ whistlermuseum.org.

Happiest in the Mountains: Stefan Ples (Part One)

Well before people started to pay for lift access and a day’s skiing, skiers were climbing Whistler and the surrounding mountains, either in search of skiable terrain, such as the George Bury expedition in 1939, or simply to spend time outdoors exploring, such as Pip Brock in the early 1930s.  One person who spent countless hours ski touring on Whistler Mountain was Stefan Ples.

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1912, Stefan Ples spent much of his life surrounded by mountains.  When he was a young man it was common to work until noon on Saturdays, leaving Saturday afternoons and Sundays as his free time.  According to his daughter Renate Bareham, Stefan would work until noon and then get on a train or his bicycle and head for cabins in the mountains.  Ski lifts were still relatively new and uncommon at the time (the first recorded ski lift was built by Robert Winterhalder in Germany in 1908) and so Stefan would spend his time climbing up the mountain, skiing down only once at the end of his trip.  This would remain his preferred way to ski for the rest of his life.

Stefan and Gerda Ples sit on their hearth at Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Bareham family.

During the Second World War Stefan lived in Hallein, a town outside of Salzburg, where his wife sadly passed away, leaving him with their young son.  After a move to Sweden Stefan met Gerda.  She came from Leipzig, Germany and had lost her fiancé in the war.  Like Stefan, Gerda was planning to come to Canada.  The pair got married and Stefan, Gerda and Steve came to to Canada together, docking in Halifax and then going by train to Montreal.  In Montreal, Stefan would hike up Mount Royal whenever he got the chance, though it couldn’t compare to the mountains he grew up in.  The family spent some time there before moving on to Vancouver.

In Vancouver, Stefan and Gerda ran a rooming house in the West End, a Victorian building located on Denman and Davie Streets, right across the street from English Bay.  Renate, who was born in Vancouver, remembered that their house became the first stop for Austrian immigrants coming to the city.  In 2013 she told the museum, “I think I met just about every Austrian that came to Canada in the first ten years that I was born.”

Settling in Vancouver also meant Stefan was once again living amongst mountains.  In the early 1950s he, along with Norbert Kamnig, Fips Broda, and Erhard Franks, instructors at Hans Brunner’s ski school on Hollyburn Mountain, became founding members of the Tyrol Ski and Mountain Club.  The Club soon built a cabin on Mount Seymour, where Stefan and his family would often go in the summers.  Renate learned to ski on rope tows on both these mountains, though she remembers Seymour more clearly.

The Tyrol Ski & Mountain Club enjoyed the area so much they even decided to build a lodge in the 1960s. The Tyrol Lodge still stands above Nita Lake today.  Tyrol Lodge Collection.

According to the Club, it was a chance meeting with an Alta Lake resident at a cobbler that first introduced Stefan to the area around Whistler Mountain.  He and a few other Club members took the train up to Alta Lake and were impressed with the location, returning afterward to continue ski touring around the area.  In 1959, Stefan and Gerda went further and bought a property on Alta Lake next to Cypress Lodge.  This became their own cabin in the mountains, though it would be a few more years before the family moved to Alta Lake full time.

Next week we’ll be continuing with a look at Stefan Ples and his family’s time at Alta Lake and Whistler Mountain.

Bill Bailiff’s Records of Alta Lake

Living in a place with such a beautiful landscape, where people spend a lot of time enjoying activities outdoors, environmental concerns are always relevant.  One of the first residents to voice concern for the environment was Bill Bailiff, back in the 1950s.

John William Bailiff moved to Alta Lake from England and lived in the area for 45 years.  Reportedly, his fiancé had died and left him heartbroken, so he picked up and moved to British Columbia.  Bailiff joined a construction crew for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, but in 1913 he had an argument with the foreman over the safety conditions of his work and ended up quitting.  He then moved to settle at Alta Lake permanently.

(L to R) Bill Holloway, Jimmy Fitzsimmons, Bill Bailiff, Bill MacDermott, Alex Philip Sr. and Tom Wilson prepare to head out to Fitzsimmons’ mine, about 1916. Philip Collection.

Bailiff kept a whitewashed log cabin near Mons Creek and Alta Lake, as well as additional shelters at each end of Cheakamus Lake.  He became an excellent trapper and would spend five weeks at a time out in the wilderness.  He also had trap lines in the Spearhead Range and Callaghan Creek areas that he tended to over the winters, snowshoeing between them.  The traps would catch wolverine, mink, marten, lynx, and weasel.  One continual nuisance was squirrels that continued to get caught in his traps.  In 1928, Bailiff caught 28 squirrels, so he froze them and stored them in his woodshed, where they were stolen by a marten and then hidden in a rockslide.

The summers were spent by Bailiff putting in railway ties and clearing trails around the lakes for the government.  He was also a prospector, looking for copper on the Fitzsimmons side of Whistler Mountain.  He and Bill MacDermott were looking for a vein that ran north from Britannia but, despite years of looking, they were never successful.

Bill Bailiff (far left) waits for the train at the Alta Lake Station with a group in 1937. Clarke Collection.

Surviving on subsistence living, Bailiff used any food available.  He was known to make the best bread using potato water and Pip Brock, whose family had property on Alta Lake, said he enjoyed his time with Bailiff “sharing his bottled beer and Blue Jay pie.”

Bailiff was often chosen to be Santa Clause at school Christmas parties and the descriptions people remembered him by explain why he was a clear choice for that position.  Brock said Bailiff “had a large belly which shook when he laughed,” and he was also described as a gentle man with round rose cheeks.

An active member of the Alta Lake Community Club (ALCC) and even president in 1958, Bailiff wrote an ongoing series about the history of Alta Lake and preserving the environment in the ALCC newsletter.  He dedicated his column, which included pieces on geography, forestry, topography and more, to the one room Alta Lake School.

This illustration accompanied Bill Bailiff’s article on black bears in the Community Weekly Sunset in July, 1958.

While describing the topography of the area, Bailiff wrote that “Before the advent of the Pacific Great Eastern Rly in 1914 the only access to [Alta Lake] was by pack horse trail which ran from Squamish to Pemberton through a virgin forest of magnificent timber as yet unspoiled by human hands.”  In the next issue, when discussing progress in the area, he described how the construction of the railway led to the “first despoilation (sic) of the forest.”  He also talked about the Hemlock Looper and other insects that attacked the local trees in the early 20th century, the dangers of human caused fires in the area (including a fire by Green Lake supposedly started by a cigarette butt “thrown carelessly into dry slash”), and the decrease in wildlife sightings as human activity began to destroy habitats.

Although he spent a lot of time on his own in the wilderness, Bailiff was a well known and well liked member of the Alta Lake community until his death later in 1958.

Whistorical Photo Challenge

It’s time to re-imagine some of Whistler’s historical photographs!

Each week we’ll be posting a selection of photos and we want to see how you recreate them (in a safe, physical distance maintaining way).  Up this week, we have:

Two colourful skiers examine their skis on Whistler Mountain in the 1980s. Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

Myrtle Philip in her iconic hand-sewn pants in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

Katie McGregor, Jean Tapley, and a gentleman friend pose in their fashionable swimwear of 1925. Philip Collection.

John Hetherington poses with an axe while installing the water system at Tokum Corners in 1973. George Benjamin Collection.

You can share your images on social media by tagging @whistlermuseum on Instagram or Facebook, or email us at events @ whistlermusem.org.

We can’t wait to see your interpretations!