Category Archives: Inside History

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

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.

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A Bear, a Cougar and a Boisterous Myrtle Philip

Every now and then a long term and frequent visitor of Whistler will grace us with their stories of this valley’s past. Gordon Cameron is one such character. As a young man, Gordon (also known as G.D.) would spend summers at Alta Lake with his family. A few years ago, Gordon wrote two letters to the museum outlining some fascinating stories from his childhood here in Whistler. One story he recalls involves a cougar, a bear, and a boisterous Myrtle Philip.

Alta Lake from Rainbow Lodge, 1944. Photograph by G.D. Cameron. Philip Collection.

Alta Lake from Rainbow Lodge, 1944. Photograph by G.D. Cameron. Philip Collection.

Firstly, to paint a better picture of Gordon and Myrtle’s relationship, Gordon explains Myrtle’s unorthodox method of teaching a young G.D. how to ride a horse. Basically, Myrtle tied Gordon’s feet together underneath the horse’s belly and let boy and animal be! The horse reluctantly traipsed around Alta Lake with the boy strapped firmly astride for most of the day, until it finally managed to shake loose the ties and buck the young Gordon into the River of Golden Dreams.

Myrtle with saddle horse and workhorse, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

Myrtle with saddle horse and workhorse, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

In 1934, a few years after Gordon’s unconventional horseback riding lesson, Gordon and some other boys in the area were recruited by Myrtle to fix a trail that often flooded in high run-off years. The crew got to work slashing the bushes to make the trail wider, while one of the boys held the horses. All of a sudden, one horse bolted; everyone stopped to see what was happening only to observe that just down the trail was a mean looking black bear sniffing the wind. The crew turned to their escape route and had the unpleasant sight of a large tawny cougar stalking towards them. Whilst the boys were scrambling their thoughts into some sort of action, a “whoop and a holler” was heard coming up the trail “in a slightly off-key feminine voice that would have curdled the milk.” Faced with such a vision, the bear took off straight up the mountain and the cougar took one look at the apparition coming charging down the trail and disappeared. Myrtle was so mad, she let off steam in a language that was certainly not “ladies chit-chat.”

Myrtle on a white horse, ca. 1940. Philip Collection.

Myrtle on a white horse, ca. 1940. Philip Collection.

As if we didn’t have reason enough to adore Myrtle and her courageous ways!

The “Fishy” History of Rainbow Trout in Whistler

The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is native to streams, rivers, and lakes along the west coast of North America from Alaska to northern Mexico. This fish can live its entire life in freshwater when confined to land-locked bodies of water, but it also has a migratory form, known as steelhead trout, which feeds at sea before returning to its birthplace to spawn. The rainbow trout is notable because it has been widely introduced throughout the world – non-native populations can now be found on every continent except Antarctica.

This beastie has made its mark on Whistler by way of a common misconception. Locals know that the name “Rainbow” can be found all over Whistler – Rainbow Mountain, Rainbow Lodge (now Rainbow Park), the Rainbow Building, and the new Rainbow subdivision. Many people (including the staff here at the museum!) believed until very recently that these places and landmarks were named after the rainbow trout, due to its natural abundance in our lakes and rivers.  But early accounts of the area indicate that cutthroat trout (O. clarki) were the primary species being caught by early patrons of Rainbow Lodge, and that rainbow trout weren’t introduced to Alta Lake until the 1920s, nearly 10 years after the lodge was named!

Whistler has a long history with fishing, as the fishing industry was one of the first attractions to bring in tourists. Rainbow Lodge was the first and only holiday destination built in the valley before 1914, when the Pacific Great Eastern Railway was built. At this time, other entrepreneurs began building accommodations most notably for fishing holidays. Now, we know that fishing was a main attraction in early Whistler days and that Myrtle and her guests were catching trout; however, our archival photos are not clear enough to determine the species definitively.

Margaret Tapley, Edna, & her husband Don McRae with dog Ki, fishing from the log bridge to Tracks, Myrtle's tent house. 1915. Inscription reads: Rainbow 1915. Philip Collection.

Margaret Tapley, Edna, & her husband Don McRae with dog Ki, fishing from the log bridge to Tracks, Myrtle’s tent house. 1915. Inscription reads: Rainbow 1915.
Philip Collection.

One of Whistler’s earliest fishing enthusiasts, a Mr. Billy Bailiff, refers to “Kamloops trout” in his 1956 article, “History of Alta Lake.” This is a moniker given to rainbow trout found in the interior of British Columbia (particularly around Kamloops, believe it or not). Most introduced rainbow trout in B.C. are descended from the Pennask Lake strain, which is known for its ability to conserve fat, making these fish well suited for long winters and the low temperatures of high-elevation lakes – sound familiar? This strain is also notoriously “spirited,” meaning that they put up a good fight when hooked, much to the delight of the sport fisher.

Myrtle Philip and Grace Naismith with freshly-caught large fish, Mahood Lake. 1949 Philip Collection

Myrtle Philip and Grace Naismith with freshly-caught large fish, Mahood Lake. 1949.
Philip Collection.

So, then, how do we explain the ubiquity of the “Rainbow” label around town? It seems to have originated with the mountain, rather than the fish.  How the mountain got its name is still uncertain. Perhaps the early settlers in the area were often treated to a rainbow arching over the mountain after a storm – sounds like a memorable sight!

– Written by guest blogger Jeanette Bruce

Building an Identity: Whistler the First Resort Municipality.

When the Resort Municipality of Whistler was incorporated in 1975, the town was a far cry from its beginnings as the small settlement of Alta Lake. Development had transformed the town, now with a permanent population of over 500 people, into a recreational park and ski area with huge touristic appeal This led to competing groups battling out the issue of how best to manage the burgeoning resort town.

Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association pamphlet.

Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association pamphlet.

The composition of the town at this time was made up of a small, local population whose property holdings were dwarfed by non-resident holders: more than 80% of the residences in the town were second homes, mostly belonging to owners in Vancouver. The Provincial Government was also a presence in the area, considering the high quality recreational opportunities an invaluable resource for the province – and investment in their development a means of stimulating the tourism industry in British Columbia. These groups had some very different ideas about what successful advancement would look like for the area. There were non-residents who would be content to see the ski hill remain an under-developed weekend getaway, locals who urgently sought improvement in community resources such as a sewage system and externally-run dump site, and outside investors looking to expand the town’s resort potential, particularly with regards to bed capacity.

1971-1972 Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association sticker

1971-1972 Alta Lake District Ratepayer Association sticker

So who represented the town’s interests in the early ‘70s The Alta Lake Ratepayers’ Association was a committee of residence owners who raised funds in order to seek legal advice and have a voice in local affairs concerning the longevity of the community. They took on responsibility for many local services, one of which was the regulation of the volunteer-run community dump before the incorporation of the municipality. Whistler was governed at regional level by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which had been incorporated in 1968, and at provincial level by the Department of Municipal Affairs. The issue, as the Ratepayers’ saw it, was that property owners were paying taxes to an entity that did not represent them and their needs. For the Regional District and the Province, Whistler’s disperse population could not raise sufficient taxes to support the necessary facilities for its many weekend and seasonal visitors. There were calls for local, self-representative government at many levels, as Whistler continued to emerge as a town with unique needs. interior

The issue of government became more urgent in the face of a bid to host the Winter Olympics in 1976 – if the bid were to prove successful, huge development would take place in the town. In 1974, sensing how crucial the next few years would be for the town and its recreational facilities, the Provincial Government instigated a land freeze and undertook a development study. Their results formed the framework of priorities for a new local government.

Whistler’s first council. Left to Right: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce (municipal clerk & treasurer), Pat Carleton, John Hetherington, Garry Watson

Whistler’s first council. Left to Right: Bob Bishop, Al Raine, Geoff Pearce (municipal clerk & treasurer), Pat Carleton, John Hetherington, Garry Watson

On September 6, 1975 the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the first of its kind, was incorporated by the RMOW Act. This Act bestowed the Council with the duties of law-making and service provision, while also endowing it with the responsibility to “promote, facilitate and encourage the development, maintenance and operation of the resort land.” The Council’s position was to be one that involved a careful balancing of interests between residents, visitors, and investors.

Even after such huge development that has taken place in Whistler up to today – with almost 10,000 permanent residents and over two million visitors annually – the diverse groups that make up the identity of the town have remained much the same. The Council still represents the interests of a local community, second-home owners, and seasonaires, while maintaining Whistler’s status as a destination that draws tourists from all corners of the globe.

-Written by guest blogger, Melinda Muller

We’re shutting down!

Yes, you read the headline right.  On Monday October 21st the Whistler Museum will be shutting our doors. Don’t fret, we aren’t going anywhere, and we’ll re-open better than ever!

We’re temporarily shutting our doors in order to  renovate and install our most significant exhibit overhaul since  the launch of our 2010 Winter Olympics exhibit, nearly three years ago! This exhibit update was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation.

One of the most iconic images in Whistler's history: Franz Wilhelmson points to his new ski resort, winter 1966.

One of the most iconic images in Whistler’s history: Franz Wilhelmson points to his new ski resort, winter 1966.

There will be minor tweaks throughout the museum, but the main project is installing a new exhibit showcasing the evolution of skiing in Whistler, covering almost 50% of our whole exhibit space.  The entire back part of the museum will be retrofitted to resemble that most nostalgic example of alpine architecture, the ski cabin.

Whistlerites have been pushing the envelope for years. Here, a hanglider gets rad on Whistler Mountain, 1970s.

Whistlerites have been pushing the envelope for years. Here, a hang-glider gets rad on Whistler Mountain, 1970s.

Over the last half-century, Whistler has played host to countless memorable moments, influential innovations, and some of the best skiing on the planet. This exhibit, first and foremost, celebrates this decades-long love affair between Whistler and skiing. We’ll have display panels and dozens of new artifacts showcasing various aspects of this history, from massive wooden skis from Rainbow Lodge, to the heroic efforts of ski patrollers to keep our mountains safe, and a look forward to the future of skiing, which continues to be shaped in large part by Whistler, and Whistlerites.

We don’t want to give away all our secrets, but we’re pretty excited to show it all off once its done. We will be re-opening when we’re good and ready. By that we mean early to mid-November, just in time for the start of ski season.

This is a hint about what you can expect in our new exhibit.

This is a hint about what you can expect in our new exhibit.

Basically, we’re mimicking Whistler-Blackcomb’s opening strategy: our official launch party will be happening on November 28th, but if everything goes smoothly, and if we’re a little lucky, there’s a good chance we’ll actually be open before that date. The exhibit launch will be accompanied by a whole slew of exciting events, to be announced here and in other places in the coming weeks.

This also means that if you want to see our exhibits in their current form, your last chance is to come to our Whistler Debates event “Self-Publish or Perish?” as part of the Whistler Readers & Writers Festival, this Sunday afternoon at 2pm.

What’s in a Name?

We love place names here at the Museum. Researching place names, even seemingly mundane ones, often reveals unique stories about earlier human encounters with the landscape. Apparently you love them too; two of our most popular blog posts ever have listed the meaning behind some of Whistler-Blackcomb’s ski run names (Why is that Ski Run Called Hooker? & Who Burnt the Stew?)

So we were especially excited with the most recent arrival to our archives: a thick folder featuring maps, name lists, and correspondence by prolific local mountaineer/geologist/Olympian father Karl Ricker, dating from 1964 to the early 2000s. Essentially the file tells the official story behind dozens of mountain, glacier and creek names around Whistler (primarily the north half of Garibaldi Park).

In 1964 Ricker was still a student at UBC and an active member of their Varsity Outdoor Club. That spring, along with other VOCers, he had famously completed the first tour of what they dubbed the “Fitzsimmons Horseshoe Traverse” better-known today as the Spearhead Traverse. (The Fitzsimmons Range and the Spearhead Range extend back from Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, respectively, to form the “horseshoe.” Both these sub-ranges’ names were created by BCMC mountaineers in the 1920s, and officially adopted after Ricker’s 1964 application.)

Of course these intrepid ski-mountaineers set out for adventure, first and foremost. They also recognized, however, that with the development of ski lifts less than 2 years away, these hitherto remote and rarely visited peaks were about to become a whole lot more accessible, and popular. It was time to investigate just what they had to offer.

This exploration, mapping and naming of the Garibaldi Park mountains was the continuation of a process begun in the 1920s by pioneer mountaineers like Don & Phyllis Munday, and especially Dr. Neal Carter. Carter was still active in the naming process with Ricker in 1964, more than 40 years after he began his exploration, cartography, and nomenclature work in Garibaldi Park. 

And so on to the names… Let’s start with the big one: Whistler. The story was already known, but it’s pretty important for us to finally have the official documentation in our archives.

Alex Philip and guest "At the summit of Whistle Mountain," 1920s.

Alex Philip and guest “At the summit of Whistle Mountain,” 1920s.

Locally, the mountain was always known to Alta Lake residents as “Whistle” or “Whistler” Mountain in honour of the whistling hoary marmots encountered by hikers in the high alpine. Somehow this name never made it to the survey officials in Victoria and Ottawa. Instead, this mountain was identified on government maps as “London Mountain,” presumably in reference to the mining claims on the mountain’s north slopes, registered to the “London Mining Group” (they were Brits).

By 1964, of course, high-profile efforts by Garibaldi Lifts to develop a ski hill and bring the Olympics to the southern Coast Mountains were already well underway, As Ricker wrote in his application to the Geographic Names Board,

Despite being published on every map since 1928 as London Mountain, it has not stood the test of time; the mountain is still “Whistler” Mountain to the Vancouver newspapers and to all the advertisements put forth on the development of skiing in this portion of Garibaldi Park. Yet when a newcomer or new park user attempts to find “Whistler” on the map he is faced with unnecessary confusion.

The Geographic Names Board was convinced, and the rest is history.

As for some of the more lyrical names one finds towards the back of the traverse route: 1964 marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of “The Bard,” William Shakespeare. As Ricker noted in his application,

His plays are loaded with a diverse lot of characters; the [naming] committee felt that a few of them aptly described some of the features in the area and that we should contribute to the commemoration of this anniversary. 

The mountains resembled Shakespearean characters? Hear him out:

Mount MacBeth: This hulking pyramid marks “the point of no return” for skiers attempting the full traverse. “Similarly, Macbeth reached a point of no return when he began to kill off his friends.”

Mount MacBeth from Whistler Mountain. Source: Bivouac.com.

Mount MacBeth (the glaciated peak at center/right) as seen from Whistler Mountain. In case “MacBeth” wasn’t accepted Ricker proposed as an alternative “The Fox Ears” due to the appearance of the twin summit. Photo: Bivouac.com.

Mount Iago: While on the 1964 traverse, this peak “appeared to be an impossible barricade to our ski touring party. The summit glacier is criss-crossed with hidden crevasses as well, and as a result the 1964 party was coerced into taking a long detour” (hence Detour Ridge). Later, the party realized that the peak was not so hazardous as suspected, and Ricker drew the comparison with Iago, “a very deceptive fellow in Shakespeare’s Othello.”

Mount Benvolio: The report describes how “when viewed from the north, this peak stands out from Mount Overlord and Fitzsimmons… However, its beauty from afar is somewhat dulled in close up views and its ascent is of no trouble. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the character of Benvolio had similar traits.”

Mounts Angelo and Diavolo, by the way, are not part of this Shakespearean celebration. They were named by Neal Carter in the 1920s. Steep, rocky Diavolo proved a hellish ascent. Its twin peak is snowier and more elegant appearing, and thus earned its name in counterpoint. Ricker heartily endorsed these place names out of respect for Carter, but alo because of their “euphony” (today’s word of the day) especially when combined with their similar-sounding Shakespearean neighbours. (For a great contemporary ski-mountaineering tale from Mount Angelo which adds another layer to this poetic place-naming story, click here.)

There you have it. Who said place names are boring?!

This just scratching the surface of all the great stuff in these folders, there are definitely more blog posts to come. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below if you’re curious about a specific name or feature, and we’ll see what we can do.

“For Those Tired of Questions…”

Usually, if you’re looking for a laugh, you don’t seek out your local newspaper. Of course, as we’ve made clear over and over again in this space, Whistler is no ordinary town. We’re blessed with more out-of-the-boxers, more trixsters, and more contrarians per capita than most small towns, and their presence has coloured our history remarkably.

Back in 1977 a group of free-thinking  and creative souls began publishing the Whistler Answer. In its first iteration the Answer ran until 1982, and it made a short revival in 1992-1993. The Answer provided an alternative voice for a growing community full of ski bums, squatters, hippies, and other counter-cultural types. Even its title was irreverent, a playful response to the Whistler Question, the only serious local paper at the time.

The Answer’s content was witty, creative and cherished by (almost) all who were around to read the originals. Few publications could have managed to fit in so much censor-maddening drugs, nudity and profanity while maintaining such a consistently hilarious and good-natured tone.

The first cover of the Whistler Answer, launched April 1st 1977.

The first cover of the Whistler Answer, launched April 1st 1977.

 With that said, we are extremely excited to announce the launch of the Whistler Museum’s latest on-line exhibit, the full digitization of both runs of the Answer, Whistler’s original underground newspaper. It can be found at www.whistlermuseum.org/whistleranswer, or from anywhere on our main website under the “Exhibits” drop-down menu simply click on “Whistler Answer.”

While it often featured stories that weren’t covered elsewhere, due to its heavy satire and quirky record-keeping the Answer’s main historic value stems less from its recorded facts than from its expression of the spirit of the times. The Answer provides a window into the oft-reminisced “Old Whistler,” an idyllic era that pre-dates our valley’s hyper-development and fast-paced urban atmosphere.

The guerilla newspaper’s content was inherently iconoclastic and irreverent, and when we look back upon that era in Whistler’s history, quite often the youthful, free spirit of the “ski bum” community is considered just as important as the more conventional historic figures: politicians, developers, business leaders, and so on. A core element of Whistler’s historical narrative is that many of the rebellious, counter-cultural youth went on to fill these more “serious” roles in later years.

With the benefits of hindsight one can see the extent to which those counter-cultural elements that the Answer represented actually became the mainstream in Whistler. With that in mind, a playful browse of the Answer catalogue is perfect fodder to debate whether Whistler’s free spirit is truly long-gone, or alive and well.

Hard-hitting journalism, December 1992.

Hard-hitting journalism, December 1992.

Either way, times have clearly changed. Consider how the Whistler Answer is now digitized, text-searchable, tablet-friendly, and has been given a permanent on-line home, but the original 1977-82 run was hand-drawn, hand-lettered and hand-pasted by the light of kerosene lamps in a local squat. That, in its own right, is an apt summary of Whistler’s mind-numbing rate of change in recent decades.

The original idea to digitize the Answer was born from a conversation between Whistler Museum staff and original Whistler Answer editor Charlie Doyle in 2011. Funding for the project was generously provided by the University of British Columbia’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, as part of their British Columbia History Digitization Program.