Category Archives: From the Archives

Behind-the-scenes insights into the inner workings of a community museum and archives.

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/.

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.

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!

Naming Night (NOT) at the Museum

The Whistler Museum is looking for your help again!  As part of this interactive event, we’re seeking assistance in putting names to faces and places that appear in Whistler’s history.  Whether you’ve been in the valley for decades or are new to the area, have lived here or visited over the years, are staying home in the valley or haven’t been back in an age, we’ll be displaying a collection of photographs that we are searching for more information on.  Help us identify your friends, family, and anything in between!

This Naming Night will be a little different than usual.  Instead of having you all come to the museum, we’ll be bringing the photos to you!  We will be posting an album of photos on our Facebook page (find it here) at 7 pm PDT on Tuesday, April 21.  Names and information can be added to each individual photo in the comment section, or you can even tag your friends in the photograph.  Despite the physical distance, we hope the photos will still generate the discussions and debates about their who, what, where, when and why that we have enjoyed so much at our in-person events.

Fire at The Keg

While cataloguing the Griffith Collection (a collection of roughly 50,000 images donated by photographer Greg Griffith), our Assistant Archivist Stephanie recently came across slides of a fire at The Keg building that we had previously only seen in black and white.

The first Keg in the Whistler valley was opened at Adventures West on Alta Lake in 1974, but when construction of the Whistler Village began in 1979 plans were made to open a new Keg restaurant in the Whistler Village Inn.

When the first Keg building was moved up Lorimer Rd. to become the new Municipal Hall in 1981, the new Keg building was still under construction.  The hotel and restaurant were expected to open by the end of January 1982, in time for the World Cup, and by the beginning of January restaurant staff had already been hired.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department works to contain the fire in The Keg and Whistler Village Inn building. Greg Griffith Collection.

Around 3:30 pm on Wednesday, January 13, 1982, a fire broke out in the building, caused by a leaking propane tank.  The fire started in the restaurant section, spread upwards into the roof and, aided by strong winds, spread across the entire building.

The Whistler Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD) worked well into the night.  According to the Whistler Question, they poured water on the building for over seven hours.  Luckily there were no injuries from the fire, but one firefighter was taken to hospital with chest pains and several others were treated for smoke inhalation.

The next week the WVFD sent a whole bundle of roses into the Whistler Question’s “Bricks & Roses” section to thank those who had helped.  The Whistler and Pemberton ambulance crews were present all night, Dr. Christine Rodgers spent the night on call, Terry Rodgers manned the radio, Carol Simmie, Kathy Hicks and Katie Rodgers helped coordinate the effort, and the RCMP provided crowd control.  Members of the Surrey Fire Department and Squamish Fire Department who were in Whistler also came out.

Crowds watch the fire from the Village Stroll. Whistler Question Collection, 1982.

As it was January, dry clothing and hot food were greatly appreciated in the -20°C weather.  The Grocery Store opened late to provide food supplies, the Alta Lake Community Club, Stoney’s, the Brass Rail, Tapley’s and The Gourmet all brought coffee and food, and the Blackcomb Lodge offered the use of their dryers.

The fire was contained to the top floor of the hotel section, and most of the building was considered structurally sound on the lower levels, with some damage from water and smoke.  The damage was estimated at $2.5 million.

By mid-February demolition work had already begun.  Smith Brothers & Wilson Construction Ltd. got to work repairing and reconstructing the restaurant and hotel.  Because the Whistler Village Inn was designed in two separate buildings, they were able to open 44 rooms in 1982, but the hotel was missing planned amenities such as a pool, restaurant, and permanent lobby.

Brian Moran, Ken Till, Bob Elliott and John Grills outside the soon-to-be-opened Whistler Keg.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

January 1983 was a busy month, as finishing touches were put on the restaurant and over 100 staff were hired from over 500 applicants.

The Keg was finally able to open on Friday, February 4, with some familiar faces.  Herb Capozzi, a founder of the Keg restaurant chain, was one of the first to be served, and some staff members from The Keg at Adventures West came back, such as Scott Paxton.  Over the first three evenings, the restaurant served over 900 meals.

A face from yesteryear – Scott Paxton, who worked at The Keg at the Mountain many years ago when it was located in Whistler Cay has now resurfaced at the new Keg as the official “bunmaster”. Paxton and fellow employees geared up for the opening night at The Keg Friday, February 4 for another era of Keg lovers.  Whistler Question Collection, 1983.

Though the Whistler Village has expanded and prices may have changed (in 1983 an 8 oz sirloin would cost you $8.95 and highballs at Brandy’s were $1.85), The Keg and Brandy’s continue to occupy the space opened in 1983.

Cameras and Museums: How Photographs Help Preserve History

No one can deny that Whistler is an extremely photogenic place.  With the valley’s majestic mountains, clear blue lakes, and abundant wildlife, it has been a beautiful getaway for lovers of the outdoors for over a century.  Many changes have taken place over those years, and the Whistler Museum and Archives Society (WMAS) is fortunate to have an extensive photo collection that documents most of it.  It is amazing how much the valley has changed over the decades, and the ability to actually see the differences through photographs is a great asset for the preservation of Whistler’s history.

A display of 1980s ski fashion, captured by photographer Greg Griffith.

If any of you follow the Whistler Museum on social media, you know that we have some very interesting photos in our archives.  One of our largest photo collections is the Greg Griffith Collection.  Greg Griffith is an Australian-born photographer who moved to Whistler in 1973 to ski.  He went on to have a successful careers in photography, showcasing Whistler’s natural beauty and documenting over 30 years of Whistler’s history.  Donated to the Whistler Museum in 2009, the collection is made up of thousands of Whistler-related photographs, ranging in subject from skiing and snowboarding competitions, to mountain tours and dramatic scenery.

Another of the Museum’s larger photo collections is the George Benjamin Collection, which was donated in 2010.  George Benjamin is a semi-professional photographer, who moved to Whistler in 1970 after staying in Toad Hall for a ski vacation.  He co-owned a well-known cabin called Tokum Corners until the 1980s and opened a photography store called the Photo Cell in Creekside, following after his family members, who owned a photo-finishing business in Ontario.  He lived in Whistler until the 1980s, and took many impressive photographs of the area during his time here.

George Benjamin captures the scene at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake in the 1970s.

The Museum is also proud to house the Philip Collection, which includes photographs taken during the Rainbow Lodge era.  These photos illustrate the beauty of Whistler while it was still an undeveloped fishing retreat, and offer an interesting comparison between the Whistler Valley of the early- to mid-nineteenth century, and the Whistler of today.

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

There are so many other aspects of the WMAS photo collection that we won’t be able to cover in this article, but they all play an enormous part in illustrating the valley’s colourful history.  From early horseback riding trips, to present-day Crankworx festivals, the trusty camera is always there to help preserve our history.  The WMAS collection currently includes over 170,000 photographs, which may seem like a lot, but we are always looking for more.  We are especially eager for photographs related to snowboarding and mountain biking in Whistler, photographs documenting life as mountain staff members, as well as photographs from the 1990s to the present.  With the tenth anniversary of the Olympics coming up, we’re hoping to expand our Olympic photographs collection, too.  Any photographs related to Whistler are extremely useful, though, and if you’re interested in donating to the Museum, please get in contact with us!  You can send an email to our archivist, Alyssa Bruijns, at archives @ whistlermuseum.org.  We would love to be able to add your photos and stories to the larger Whistler narrative.

If you’re interested in viewing part of our photo collection, you can go to www.whistlermuseum.smugmug.com, where you can order prints of any archival photo we have digitized.  You can also follow us on Facebook or Instagram, where we often feature photographs from the WMAS collection.

Naming Night is Back!

Everyone is invited to the museum to help us add names to the subjects of our mystery photos!  If you’ve got stories behind the photographs, know where they were taken, or can identify any of the people pictured, we want to know.

At our first Naming Night event we were able to add over 250 names to our photographs.  These names get added to our database, making it easier to search for people and places.  We’ll be featuring more photographs on Wednesday, September 18!