Category Archives: From the Archives

Raw History.

Whistler Museum Celebrates 30 Years

It was the chance for a weekend get-away spot that spurred Florence Petersen and four friends to purchase a small cabin at Alta Lake in the mid ’50s.

Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) and her friends (left to right) Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice "Kelly" Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum & Archives Society) and her friends (left to right) Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

At the time, the valley was a quaint summer fishing resort with only a handful of year-round residents.  In the years following, the valley would transform from its humble beginnings into the internationally renowned four-season resort we now know.

With so much change taking place in the ’70s, early pioneer Myrtle Philip and Cypress Lodge owner Dick Fairhurst confessed to Florence a worry that the early days would soon be forgotten.  Florence eased their fears by promising them that she would somehow ensure that their stories would be remembered and, true to her word, Florence started the Whistler Museum and Archives as a charitable non-profit society.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1977: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1977: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen, Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

Since incorporating on February 12, 1987, the Museum’s basic function has been to collect and preserve the history of the Whistler Valley and to display, educate and disseminate information about Whistler’s history and its role in the greater society of British Columbia and Canada.

To that end, the Museum collects and preserves artefacts, archives and oral histories.  To date we have acquired some 275 feet of archival records, including documents and photographs.  Our collection includes 2332 artefacts; 80 oral interviews that have been conducted, digitized and transcribed; approximately 300,000 photographs, both negatives and prints; 150 hours of video (VHS, SVHS, DVD, DVcam, hi8 and U-Matic formats); and 13.5 hours of film in both 8mm and 16mm.

Our Collections Manager Alyssa strives to organize, catalogue and digitize our ever-growing archive.

Our Collections Manager Alyssa strives to organize, catalogue and digitize our ever-growing archive without being swallowed by it.

In order to make the Museum’s information easy to access there is a consistent ongoing project to organize, catalogue and digitize its collection.  The artefact collection is 99% catalogued.  150 archival collections have been catalogued and are available online at the Museum’s ICA-Atom archival database.  Approximately 42,000 photographs have been digitized to archival standards.  The Museum endeavours to interpret the history of Whistler and the Museum’s information collection for visitors and the community with its exhibits, walking tours, blog and programs such as our very successful Discover Nature Project.

2016 was the busiest year in the Museum’s history in terms of exhibit visits, with a 7% growth over 2015 (another record year).  We hope to continue our momentum in growing our numbers in regards to both our exhibit visits and the amount of material that we can make available to the public.

An original gondola from Whistler Mountain sits proudly as part of our exhibits.

An original gondola from Whistler Mountain sits proudly as part of our exhibits.

A special thank you to everyone who has volunteered, donated, visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our stories and helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating heritage over the past 30 years.

The Whistler Museum would like to invite you to our 30th Anniversary Open House on Sunday, February 12, 7:30 – 9 pm.  Join us for an evening of food, music and free admission to explore the museum, venture into the archives and meet our staff.  Everyone is welcome and we hope to see you there.

Happy Birthday Whistler Question!

Earlier this year, Whistler’s longest-running newspaper, the Whistler Question, celebrated their 40th anniversary. The Whistler Museum wanted to celebrate in style, so what better present could we give than digitizing nearly 35,000 photographs from the Question’s archival collection and making them available online to the public?

Our archives recently received generous funding from UBC’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre to digitize The Question’s negatives. The project will aim to preserve and share snapshots taken for every week’s newspaper spanning from 1978-1985. These stunning black and white 35mm negatives chronicle such poignant events in Whistler’s history — Village construction, the opening of Blackcomb, 1982 Alpine Skiing World Cup, to name a few. We felt this collection would not only be of the most use to the community, but also the most fun to explore in its entirety online.

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The Keg hits the road, from the week of May 28, 1981.

 

When the collection’s digitization is complete, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to explore this town’s sporting events, parades, Village construction projects, road collisions, festivals and portraits of locals from the years 1978-1985. Corresponding captions that originally accompanied the photos in each week’s published newspapers will tell the story of Whistler’s transitional years and the day-to-day lives of the people who lived here at the time, all on one snazzy website.

The Question’s negatives were donated to our institution in 1991. When archival documents are donated to the museum, they go through quite the process before we are able to share them with the public. The entire collection must be labelled with an accession number, put into preserver sleeves safe for photographs, and then entered into our online database with full descriptions. It is at this point we are able to make high-quality scans of the photographs.

Once the collection is scanned, we will upload it to our Smugmug photo-hosting website, so that the public can explore and even purchase the photos for personal or commercial use. The Whistler Question collection will join several collections of already digitized material, including the Whistler Mountain collection, the Myrtle Philip collection, the George Benjamin collection, among several others already hosted on this website.

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We have boxes full of binders full of pages of full of strips of negatives. There are A LOT of photos to scan!

We have finally begun scanning, slowly bringing Whistler’s history into the digital world. The project is slated to take roughly six months, at the end of which we hope to present to you the massive Question collection in all its glory, online.

Happy Birthday, Whistler Question — here’s to many more!

Jim McConkey’s Movie Magic

Whistler-Blackcomb is a very athlete-driven resort. So much so that when it came time celebrate the resort’s 50th anniversary last winter, the single, official image they chose to promote the anniversary was this:

The famous "Legends & Icons" image. Photo by Blake Jorgensen, courtesy Whistler-Blackcomb.

The famous “Legends & Icons” image. Photo by Blake Jorgensen, courtesy Whistler-Blackcomb.

In the front left, next to freestyle phenomenon Wayne Wong is none other than Jim McConkey, Whistler’s first local celebrity-athlete.

When “McConk” moved here in 1968 to run the ski school and rental/retail operations, he was already an established ski star, with feature roles in films by filmmaking icons like Warren Miller and Dick Barrymore. For nearly two decades he lent his personality, fame, and expertise to the growing resort, all the while still appearing in films and magazines that featured his big-mountain and powder skiing prowess.

McConkey enjoying some of Alta, Utah's famous champagne pow.

McConkey enjoying some of Alta, Utah’s famous champagne powder during the filming of Ski Crazy! (1955).

We have a few photographs of McConkey in our archives, but very little video, until now.

A few week’s ago “Diamond Jim” (his other main nickname) stopped by the museum for a visit. We planned on recording an oral history interview with him, and figured he’d be bringing in a few more photos for us to digitize and share.

What we didn’t count on was him bringing in the original 16mm film reels from 25 of his original ski films!

This is what 25 films on their original 16mm reels looks like.

This is what 25 films on their original 16mm reels looks like.

The collection includes features like “Skiing is Freedom” & “The Snows of Garibaldi,” as well as instructional and promotional films. Jim ran Whistler’s second heli-ski operation, so there should be lots of wonderful early aerial footage of McConkey and friends skiing untracked powder on the Coast Mountains’ vast glaciers. McConkey was such a renowned and well-rounded outdoorsman that we even have “Canoeing the North Country.”

The titles are tantalizing, but unfortunately, we won’t be holding any screenings in the immediate future. We don’t have the means to view the film, and wouldn’t want to run the risk of permanently damaging such fragile and significant film stock.

The classic image of Jack Bright (right) skiing Whistler with "Diamond Jim" McConkey. Photo taken ca. before toques were invented (1972, actually).

The classic image of Whistler Mountain GM Jack Bright (left) skiing Whistler with “Diamond Jim” McConkey. Photo taken ca. before toques were invented (1972, actually).

Our first step is researching to find out which of these gems has not yet been digitized by another individual or institution, then securing funding to digitize those films. This is not a cheap prospect, but as these films represent such an important part of our local ski heritage, and will likely make for highly entertaining viewing, we are confident that this will be accomplished.

So hopefully some day not too long from now, we will have these films digitized and available to see. In the meantime, take some inspiration from Jim himself and go play outside!

 

 

 

Soundbite-Sized History: Whistler Heritage Minutes

In our never-ending quest to spread the word of Whistler history as far and wide as possible, a few months ago we started producing a weekly series of audio clips called Whistler Heritage Minutes that air every Monday on Mountain FM.

We’ll continue to produce a new one to be played on the air every week, after which they will be uploaded to our SoundCloud page where our entire catalogue is hosted.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to share a few of our favourites here to this blog for your listening pleasure.

First off, Myrtle & Alex Philip are considered the founders of the community that became Whistler, as it was their Rainbow Lodge, built in 1914, that first established this valley as a tourist destination. In this clip, Myrtle recalls the first time she ever laid eyes on her future husband and life-partner:

Myrtle & Alex with their dog Skookum, circa 1920.

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Long-time local, professional forester, and dedicated environmentalist Don MacLaurin made innumerable contributions to our community over the more than 50 years that he lived here. In this audio clip he recounted how Lost Lake was nearly lost in the early 1960s, and what he did to save it.

 

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

Myrtle Philip entertaining Rainbow Lodge guests at Lost Lake, early 1930s.

 

One of Whistler Village’s major assets is the abundance of gorgeous sight lines towards the surrounding mountains. If these seem almost too perfectly aligned, well, they’re no happy accident. In this clip, Eldon Beck, the lead architect of Whistler Village, explains some of the early inspiration for his designs.

Lots of attention were paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.

Lots of attention was paid to ambiance, the flow of traffic, and sight-lines of the surrounding mountains when designing Whistler Village.

 

When snowboarding first emerged in the 1980s, the new sport was met with a lot of skepticism and outright opposition. Blackcomb Mountain was one of the first ski hills in Canada to allow the sideways sliders on all of its slopes. In this clip Blackcomb Mountain VP-Marketing Dave Perry explains his mountain’s rationale.

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

Early snowboarders on Blackcomb. Photo: Greg Griffith/WMAS

We’ve got 8 clips so far, with lots more to come! Make sure to check out all of our Heritage Minutes at http://www.soundcloud.com/whistlermuseum

Pants? We got Pants!

Building and growing Rainbow Lodge into a bustling resort amidst the vast and isolated Coast Mountain wilderness, Myrtle Philip and her husband Alex had to draw upon an almost endless supply of resourcefulness, ingenuity, and old-fashioned hard work.

There was no shortage of tasks to be completed, much of it incongruous of the social expectations of a lady at that time. Thankfully, Myrtle wasn’t the type to be inhibited by such expectations, and she more than pulled her weight in the lodge’s year-round operations. Thus arose that eternal question: “What to wear?”

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Myrtle Philip in typical riding garb.

Well, as Myrtle recalled during a 1971 oral history interview that is preserved in the Whistler Archives:

“I used to try and wear dresses, but they weren’t practical. I had to go and do outside work, maybe harness a horse or something. You just can’t do these things in skirts.” When asked if she ever wore an apron, Myrtle bluntly replied “No. Never. To hell with it!”

And while Rainbow Lodge is generally remembered as a fishing lodge, as Myrtle explains, horseback riding quickly became a popular activity for lodge guests as well.

Fast-forward to late January and we were pleasantly surprised by a visit to the museum by Kristi King of Pemberton, BC. Kristi brought with her an old pair of leather riding breeches that had been given to her by Myrtle Philip! Kristi’s family had been close with the Philips, and since Kristi was an avid horse-person as well, Myrtle had decided to pass them on when she no longer had use for them.

Museum staff with Myrtle's overcoat and riding pants.

Museum staff with Myrtle’s overcoat and riding pants.

In the early days of Rainbow Lodge, Myrtle made most of her clothes herself, including her riding breeches. These leather pants, however, were made by the Berlin Glove Company, of Berlin, Wisconsin. Founded in 1869, B.G.C. specialized in high-end, western-style leather goods and apparel. While we are uncertain when Myrtle acquired these pants we suspect that it was later in Myrtle’s career, perhaps the 1940s or 1950s.

But wait, there’s more! A fascinating and under-appreciated aspect of the Philip’s life story is that, while they were certainly at home welcoming guests to this remote mountain valley, they were equally at ease donning formal attire and rubbing elbows with Vancouver’s social elite. They frequently entertained Vancouver’s well-connected and well-to-do up here at Alta Lake, and enjoyed trips to the big city to visit with their many friends.

Along with Myrtle’s riding pants, a formal overcoat that belonged to Myrtle was also included in the archival donation. Myrtle’s rugged, mountain lifestyle would have gone completely unsuspected by passersby while adorned in this full-length, black-sequined coat.

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We don’t have any photos wearing this specific overcoat, but here’s an image of her and Alex looking rather sophisticated at the Rainbow Lodge 25th anniversary celebration at Vancouver’s iconic Commodore Ballroom, 1940.

Considering Myrtle’s revered position in our community’s history—if anyone could lay claim to being the founder of the community of Alta Lake, it would be her—we were naturally thrilled to receive these new donations to our archives.

Whistler’s first ski lift (Petersen home video)

If you were asked to name Whistler’s first ski lift, you would be likely to answer the original Creekside Gondola, one of the t-bars, or the original two-person  Red Chair.

You would also be wrong.

No, that distinction goes to a modest little rope tow, installed by the enterprising Alta Lake pioneer Dick Fairhurst in 1960, almost 6 years before Whistler Mountain opened for business. The rope tow ran under the power lines behind Fairhurst’s Cypress Lodge on the west shore of Alta Lake (later used as a hostel and today home to The Point Artist-Run Centre). The rope tow ran for more than 800 feet. Powered by an old Ford V8 motor, it could pull four skiers up at a time.

Aside from the wonderful footage of the ski lift and skiers (though snow conditions appear to be sub-par), you also see a little Snow-cat machine that belonged to Dick. Dick was enamoured by snow machines of all sorts and would later become a dealer for Bombardier snowmobiles. He was also a founding member of the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club which still exists today, operating a club cabin on Brohm Ridge near Mount Garibaldi.

Skiers enjoying a day on Dick Fairhurst's slopes, early 1960s.

Skiers enjoying a day on Dick Fairhurst’s slopes, early 1960s.

It may not be the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, but this humble little ski lift lays claim to a very special and under-appreciated honour as the first lift in the Whistler Valley.  We’re extremely fortunate to have this short clip, another gem from the Petersen Family home video archive. Enjoy!

 

Florence Petersen Home Video: Driving up to Whistler… in 1958

The Sea-to-Sky Highway is widely regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the province, if not the world. Driving along Howe Sound one enjoys a nearly constant vista over the shining blue sea, while the climb to Whistler features such marvellous sights as the Stawamus Chief, the Tantalus Range, Cheakamus Canyon, and more.

Though problem still remain, the major upgrades leading up to the 2010 Olympics made the highway smoother, more relaxing, and made it easier to enjoy the sights en route. It’s common to hear drivers reminisce about the white-knuckle driving on the older, narrower, windier road.

But let’s take things back a little further. This week we feature a home video made by Florence Strachan (better known as Florence Petersen, after she wed Andy Petersen in 1967) during a drive up to Alta Lake, as the Whistler Valley was known at the time, in 1958. Back then the road was completely unpaved, far more winding and treacherous than almost any living person can recall. And so Florence and friends made a full day of it (not entirely by choice), and recorded this wonderful video of their drive.

Keep an eye out for familiar landmarks, and some big changes that have occurred in the decades since. Enjoy:

 

 

Florence must have had her backpacking gear in the trunk, because later that summer she went on this memorable hike to Burnt Stew Basin: