Build a Building

Plastic bricks and a building competition probably aren’t the first things you would associate with a museum; however, for many who grow up in the Whistler area they are one of the first introductions a child has to the Whistler Museum. The museum held its first “Build a Building” competition using LEGO bricks in September 1966 and the annual event continues to bring crowds of children to the museum each summer.

In the September 12, 1996 edition of the Whistler Question, the museum called on “Lego fans, budding engineers and aspiring architects” to enter their creations in a bid to win prizes donated by LEGO and local businesses such as Great Games and Toys. There were two ways to enter; participants could build at home with their own bricks or build at the Whistler Museum on the day of the competition with bricks provided by the toy store. The two categories were judged and awarded prizes separately. Costing $2 to enter, the event was both a fundraiser for the museum building fund and a fun way to bring more children to the museum.

Building takes place at the Whistler Museum in 1997. Whistler Museum and Archives Collection.

According to the report of museum board director Paul Fournier, 66 children participated in this first competition and created “some really elaborate entries.” With any kind of building allowed, kids built hospitals, museums, libraries, lakefront homes, and even some helipads (the helipad at the Whistler Heath Centre was upgraded in late summer of 1996). Entries were judged by Citizens of the Year Kris Shoup (1995), Stan and Shirley Langtry (1994), Sonya McCarthy (1991) and Linda Marshall (1996). Winners included Liam Fisher, Robyn and Jamie Pratt, Emily Macalister and Julia Murray, Jesse Clemiss, and Evan Macalister.

The following year’s event saw more than 200 participants. The competition took place both inside the museum and in the parking area outside (event today, trying to fit 200 people inside the museum building is not recommended) and organizers immediately began asking the community about alternative venues for the next year’s event. Again, there were two categories and winners took home prize packages of LEGO from Great Games and Toys.

Since the 1990s, the building competition has evolved and moved locations, taking place at the Spruce Grove Field House, Florence Petersen Park and even online in 2020. The annual event continues to introduce children to the museum each summer (this year will mark the 28th competition) and has itself become a part of Whistler’s history.

Building competitions, however, are not just for children. This month the Whistler Museum and LUNA (Late and Unique Nighttime Alternatives) will be hosting The Big Kids Building Competition for adults on Wednesday, March 22. Entry is $5, or $2 for museum or LUNA members, and there are limited spaces available. Unlike the museum’s early building competitions, there will be no build-at-home category and all participants will build at the Whistler Museum on March 22 with bricks provided by the museum. Like the early competitions, entries will be judged and winners will go home with great prizes from local businesses including Armchair Books, Escape! Whistler, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler and the Scandinave Spa.

Learn more about this year’s Big Kids Building Competition here.

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