Category Archives: From the Archives

Raw History.

Sharing and Naming Whistler’s History

A huge thank you to everyone who came out last Friday evening (September 15) to the opening of The Whistler Question: A Photographic History and to those who came out on Thursday for our first Naming Night!

It was great to see so many familiar (and new) faces at the museum, as well as so many past and present Question staff members.  We would also like to thank our amazing special guest speakers Paul Burrows and Glenda Bartosh for joining us for the evening and for creating the paper.  Without The Question we wouldn’t have these photos that we now get to share with both the community and visitors.

Paul Burrows speaks to a packed house at the opening of The Whistler Question: A Photographic History.

Paul and Glenda both let those present in on a few secrets about the early days at The Question and the years when the survival of the paper and of the town seemed questionable at best.

The Burrows’ A-frame on Matterhorn, where the first editions of the Whistler Question were created.

The Whistler Question was started by Paul and Jane Burrows in 1976 in their A-frame home on Matterhorn Drive.  After an unsuccessful run to be Whistler’s first mayor, Paul had to decide whether to start a bus company or a printing company.  At the time the Burrows couldn’t afford to buy the buses needed for a bus company and so The Whistler Question was born.  The first issue was given out for free; the second issue cost buyers 15¢ and, as Paul Burrows explained, the paper’s readership dropped dramatically.  He continued publishing, however, and today The Question continues to be printed and distributed each week.

If you weren’t able to see the exhibit on opening night or are planning to come again to take your time and leisurely peruse the photographs (to view all of the images takes over 20 minutes), The Whistler Question: A Photographic History will be on display through the end of November.

As you may have read last week, community members have been identifying the subjects of some of our photographs on social media and here on our blog.  To continue this important work, we recently hosted our first Naming Night.

Community members came out to help us identify many of the people and places in 100 photographs.

As the title suggests, we invited everyone to the museum to help us add names to the subjects of our mystery photos.  We also wanted to know the stories behind the photographs and the memories these photographs brought to mind.  We had a great time listening as those who came out debated various names, locations and dates for the photographs on display.  In one evening we were able to add over 250 names to our photographs!  We can now tag all of these people and places in the photographs so that when you’re searching for something or someone in our database it is more likely that these photographs will come up.

Just one of the photographs on display. Photo: Whistler Question Collection, 1984

We’ve got a lot more photographs we need information for so keep an eye out for our next Naming Night!

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Naming Night: Finding the Stories Behind the Photos

You might have heard that the museum opened a new exhibit on the photographs of The Whistler Question yesterday (if you haven’t, The Whistler Question: A Photographic History 1978-1985 opens at 6 pm on Friday and will run through November 30).  Thanks to everyone who came to celebrate the opening with us, especially our guests Paul Burrows and Glenda Bartosh!

While many of the photographs appeared in the newspaper with context provided by their respective captions and articles, there are many more that we don’t know a whole lot about.

While we know that this photo was taken at an Alta Lake Community Club Fall Fair, we have not yet been able to identify any of the people pictured.

The amount of information we have on photographs in our collection varies depending upon the photograph.  Often the person donating the photograph is able to tell us exactly who is in it, where it was taken and what was going on at the time; other times the photograph has a caption written on its back that provides some information.

Some photographs, however, are donated to the museum without any names or dates given other than those that can be identified by museum staff.

When this happens we rely on the community for help identifying people, places, dates and events.  If we are able to identify one or two people in a photograph then often we will ask them if they are able to identify anything else about the image.  Social media is also very useful, as those who follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and our blog are able to comment and add what they know, whether they took the photo, are in the photo or recognize something about the photo.

When this photograph was posted on Facebook Greg Griffith, the photographer, was able to name every person on the chair: Cheryl Morningstar, Eric Griffith, Pat Griffith & Dean Stone.

A (somewhat) recent article about Worlebury Lodge and the Burge family included a photo of a group hike to Rainbow Falls in the 1950s or ’60s.  Of the 15 people pictured only two had been identified.  Luckily for us, one of the members of the group read the article and was able to provide 10 more names, including his own (top, second from left).  He was also able to narrow the date of the photo to around 1959.  Being able to add information like this to the photograph’s entry in our database makes it much more likely that the photograph will be included when someone searches for a specific person, place or event in our database or online gallerie

A hike to Rainbow Falls: (top left to right): Jean Dove, John Burge, Joyce Gow, Tim Burge, Maurice Burge, Don Gow; middle: Florence Petersen, Jane Dove, unknown; bottom: unknown, Connie Gow, unknown, Stephen Dove, Karen Gow, Muriel Burge. From his absence it is possible Ray Dove took the photo. Photo: Dove

While recognizing and identifying subjects of a photograph on social media is incredibly useful to the museum, reminiscing is much more fun when you’re with other who share some of the same memories.

Whether you’ve recently arrived in town, have visited over the years or have lived here for decades, everyone is invited to Naming Night at the Whistler Museum at 7 pm on Thursday, September 21, to help us find out more about the photographs in our collection (there will be free admission for the evening and a cash bar).

We’ll provide the photographs, ranging from the 1950s through the 2000s (with perhaps an emphasis on the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s due to the overwhelming number of photographs in The Whistler Question collection), and we’ll be relying on you to provide names, places, events and stories of the photographs and their contents.

What Happens After You Donate: The Inner Workings of the Whistler Museum’s Collection

When I meet people in Whistler and the topic of work comes up, I talk about Whistler’s wild history and how awesome it is to work with every day.  I also bring up the challenges of the job: as a non-profit, we fight with our pens each year to maintain a budget for operating through grant writing and presentations.  History marches on and collections inevitably grow; we are bursting at the seams in terms of storage in our portable behind the library.

The archives stored on-site at the museum are packed with boxes, binders, and Alyssa, our collections manager.

We are balancing the storage issue with wanting to represent as many of the subcultures in the Whistler community as we can.  This town changes fast – evidence of places, people and events from even 10 years ago have already been wiped from the landscape (The Boot, for instance).  If potential donors believe only Myrtle Philip and the Crazy Canucks are “old enough” to be considered history, the evidence of more recent events will be lost before anyone gets a chance to donate related items.

I’ll give you a step-by-step process of what happens when you donate in the hopes that perhaps you might consider it an option.  The process of donating involves bringing your items, documents, films or photographs into the museum and signing a donation form in which you’re able to give us historical context for what you’re donating – maybe “worn on Gaper Day in 1995” or “photos from shows at Alpenrock”.

Our mandate allows us to accept any item that is related to the Sea to Sky region (though we prefer receiving things relating to the Whistler community!) and items that demonstrate mountain culture.  We then give each individual item of our donation an accession number that acts as its own unique identity.

For an artefact (any physical object), a lot of physical description is necessary (object type, year of creation, years of use, dimensions, colour, material, geographic origin, condition, and so on).  We photograph artefacts from all sides, capturing details like inscriptions on the back.

Artefacts are photographed from all angles and described in detail before being prepared for storage or display.

All of these descriptions and photographs go into one catalogue record for each artefact.  This catalogue is searchable, so that if we want to find “Whistler Mountain pins” we can view all artefacts that were described this way.  Before storing artefacts, we make sure they’re cleaned of dirt, mould or anything else that might degrade their condition in storage.

Cleaning artefacts requires much care that we do not damage the object.  We often use brushes, cloth and lightly soaped water.  The artefacts are then wrapped in acid-free tissue, placed in acid-free boxes and placed on a shelf in our off-site storage.

For archival donations (written documents and media), content is more important than physical appearance.  We describe an item’s physical appearance in a catalogue entry and tag the catalogue entry with “access points” – subjects, places, people and organizations related or pictured – so that we can search for all the items related to a certain topic.

You can even search at home at whistler.ica-atom.org.  Archival donations are stored on-site at the museum because we often receive requests for certain texts or photos to be digitized.  Digitization requires a massive amount of computer storage, two very expensive scanners and a lot of employee time.

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

If you’re interested in having your own items go through this rollercoaster of historical processing, come by the museum!  We’re especially looking to fill gaps in our collection – mountain biking, summer activities, restaurants, and 1996-2010.

Brandywine’s Murky Origin Story

Long before Brandywine Falls was established as a provincial park in 1973 the area was a well-known destination for sightseers, hikers and campers.

Not known, or at least not confirmed, is the origin of the name Brandywine.  The most popular story of the name was reported in The Vancouver Sun in 1946 by Wallace Gillespie who in turn was quoting a man named Cliff Thorne who lived in the Squamish area beginning in the 1890s.  In this version dated to 1910, Jack Nelson and Bob Mollison, two surveyors for the Howe Sound and Northern Railway (which became part of the PGE Railway), wagered a bottle of brandy on which of them could more accurately estimate the height of the falls.  When the height was later measured using a chain Mollison had the closer estimation and Nelson bestowed the name Brandywine Falls in memory of his lost wager.

A view of Brandywine Falls taken by Leonard Frank in the 1920s. Frank, the son of one of Germany’s earliest professional photographers, moved to Vancouver in 1917 and became the leading commercial/industrial photographer in the city.

Another account of the naming of Brandywine Falls comes from a source closer to home.  Alex Philip claimed that Charles Chandler (known locally as Charlie and famous for blowing up his own outhouse) and George Mitchell were passing through the area on their way to trappers cabins and stopped at the waterfall for tea.  One had brought a bottle of wine and the other a bottle of brandy and both were mixed in with the tea in a billycan.  After drinking this concoction the two are reported to have passed out for an entire day.

Regardless of which, if either, story is true the name Brandywine stuck to the waterfall and surrounding area.

Near the beginning of the twentieth century a family from Ontario called the Conroys moved West and preempted 380 acres of land for homesteading, logging and a mill site in the area that is now the Brandywine Falls Provincial Park.  As the Permberton-Lillooet Caribou Trail passed by only about 500 feet from the falls, the area had previously been used as a way station for north-bound travelers.

The view of Brandywine Falls clearly shows the railway bridge which provided a unique view to passengers.

The opening of the PGE Railway brought sightseers in open cars and the construction of a train station meant the area became a popular spot for picnic-goers in the 1920s.  A supply road was put in by BC Electric in the 1950s followed by the construction of the highway in the 1960s, bringing more visitors.

In 1966 Brandywine Falls was featured in the film “The Trap” starring Oliver Reed as a fur trapper in the wilds of Canada who takes Eve, a mute girl played by Rita Tushingham, as his unwilling wife to his remote cabin in the woods.  In one scene a battle between Reed and a black bear is waged on the brink of Brandywine Falls.

Some time in the 1960s Charlie “Whitewater” Conroy (who, in an interesting side note recorded a ballad about the Woodfibre pulp mill called “The Ballad of Woodfibre” in 1972) sold the property around Brandywine to Ray Gallagher.  In an article Gallagher wrote for Garibaldi’s Whistler News in 1970 he expresses the hope that “instead of developing as it must to survive, Brandywine should become a Public Park for the people in all season, for all times.”  Just three years later Brandywine Falls became a provincial park and continues to attract sightseers and hikers each year.

Whistler’s Very Own Easter Parade

This past weekend, with the Easter holidays, the closing events of WSSF, the Whistler Cup and still more snow on the mountains, there certainly wasn’t a lack of activities to occupy residents and visitors of any age.

Despite the snow, the Easter bunny put in an appearance on Blackcomb Mountain, 1982.

The Easter holidays have a history of being a busy weekend in Whistler.  In the 1970s the list of Easter activities offered by the Chamber of Commerce and Garibaldi Lifts was an impressive one for such a small town, including fireworks, Easter egg hunts and various skiing events such as skiing displays and obstacle and costume races.  Residents and visitors to the area alike could enjoy a torch light parade ending with a bonfire and hot dog roast in the parking lot at the bottom of the mountain.  The weekend also included dancing and live entertainment at local establishments such as the Christiana Inn, L’Apres and the Mt Whistler Lodge.  For those who chose to attend, all Easter services were held at the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel on the mountain, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Easter services were held on the mountain in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, Canada’s first interdenominational church.

Events varied from year to year.  Some years advertised prizes for an Easter Bonnet contest and in 1970 the Vancouver Garibaldi Olympic Committee was actively promoting a bid for the 1976 Olympics and used the popular weekend as an opportunity to get more people on board with a slide presentation on the bid at the Roundhouse.

The 1976 bid for the Winter Olympics was one of the most promising early bids put forward for Whistler.

One of the most popular events over the Easter weekend was Whistler’s own Easter Parade.  When thinking about parades in Whistler the first to come to mind is usually the annual community parade on Canada Day.  During the 1970s, however, the Easter Parade was not to be missed.

Traditionally an Easter parade was an informal and somewhat unorganized event in which people dressed in their new fashionable clothing in order to impress others.  Irving Berlin wrote “Easter Parade”, a popular song inspired by the Easter parade in New York, in 1933 and a film by the same name starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland was later constructed around the song in 1948.

Though the Easter Parade in Whistler may not have been designed to showcase anyone’s new finery, it did include carefully thought out floats and some illustrious leaders.  In 1971 the 52 floats were led by Miss Vancouver Ardele Hollins, Miss PNE Judy Stewart and members of the RCMP.  The following year the parade was led by none other than then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Coral Robinson, Pierre Trudeau and Dennis Therrien at the Easter Parade in 1972 sitting in a security detail car.

Whistler’s parade was open to anyone who wanted to participate.  Interested parties were told to “plan a float, come as a marching group, or just get dressed up in a crazy costume and join the fun.  The more the merrier!”  Community groups and local businesses, as well as individuals, created elaborate floats and costumes such as the Jolly Green Giant and the original gondola.  The 1974 parade was captured on film by the Petersens and can now be watched on our YouTube channel as part of the Petersen Film Collection along with other unique moments in Whistler’s 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 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!