Category Archives: Museum Musings

Speaker Series: Manufacturing in the Mountains

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When asked to name Canadian manufacturing towns, few people will put Whistler at the top of their lists.  Whistler is far better known as a destination resort than as an industrial centre.

There are, however, some products that can proudly bear the label “Made in Whistler”.  Not surprisingly, these products tend to be very closely connected to the mountain culture that brings so many to this town, more specifically:bikes, boards and skis.

From breweries to bike shops, the neighbourhood of Function Junction is at the heart of manufacturing in Whistler.  It is from here that many local companies have garnered international attention for their products.

John Millar (an early settler in the valley) had his cabin at Mile 34 1/2, today known as Function Junction.

John Millar (an early settler in the valley) had his cabin at Mile 34 1/2, today known as Function Junction.

North Shore Billet, founded by Chris Allen and Peter Hammons, began producing bike components in 2003, starting with a Specialized Big Hit derailleur hanger.  Since moving to Whistler they have continued to manufacture all of their products in house and out of aerospace-grade aluminum on their CNC milling machines and even supply components for another popular local manufacturer, Chromag.  Chromag bikes, also located in Function, designs and test their products here in Whistler and has a large and loyal following.

Chris Prior in the Prior factory in Whistler.

Chris Prior in the Prior factory in Whistler.

Perhaps one of Whistler’s best-known manufacturers is Prior.  Founded in 1990 in North Vancouver, the company began manufacturing snowboards out of Chris Prior’s garage (a common theme in Whistler’s history: Whistler’s first council reportedly held meetings in mayor Pat Carleton’s garage).  Chris Prior began his design and manufacturing career creating custom sailboards using skills that transitioned well to a quickly growing snowboard market in the ’80s and ’90s.

In 1999 Prior moved to Whistler and introduced splitboards to their selection of products.  Skis followed soon after.  Today, 18 years after the move, Prior continues to manufacture onsite and offers free tours of their factory in Function where curious onlookers can watch skis and boards being made.

Though the products may differ, companies that manufacture in Whistler (like NSB, Chromag and Prior) tend to have at least one thing in common: their founders, employees and customers are passionate about what they make and the place in which they make it.

Join us on February 23 for a discussion with Chris Prior on the history and development of Prior Snowboards and Skis and how design and manufacturing are influenced by location.

Doors open at 6pm, talk begins at 7pm.  Tickets are $10 ($5 for museum members and Club SHRED members) and are available at the Whistler Museum.

A Night at the Movies

For some people the long, dark and cold nights of winter are reason to stay warm indoors and catch up on episodes of something on television or watch movies in the comfort of your own home.

Though now a common way to spend an evening, television did not arrive in Whistler – then Alta Lake – until the 1960s and movie nights in Alta Lake began as community events.

In 1954, the Alta Lake Community Club (a social club formed by residents and regular visitors in the 1920s) raised enough money to buy a projector and began holding weekly movie nights in the community hall throughout the year.  On Saturday nights a film was shown using a sheet for a screen and a gas-powered generator for electricity.  In the busy summer season these screening would be followed by dancing.  Alta Lake resident Dick Fairhurst said of the film selection that, “perhaps they were not the most up to date, but they were fine as we had never seen them.”

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse also served as the valley's first community movie theatre.

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse also served as the valley’s first community movie theatre (among other purposes).

In recalling her first year living in the valley in 1968, Trudy Alder provides a description of a winter’s night at the movies: “The films started when it was dark as the hall did not have any curtains.  The shows were usually the social event of the week.  Everyone who could walk would come.  Sometimes there was a large audience of 25 people.  We could buy popcorn and soft drinks from the children.  Dogs were only allowed in the movies when you promised to have them sitting under your seat.  But they found out fast that it was better to snuggle with the children in a cozy pile on the floor in front of the front row.  You should have heard the howling if there was a dog or two in the movie.  For us these movie nights were half an hour walks each way in the deep snow.”

Denis and Pat Beauregard, who ran movie nights as ALCC volunteers, receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain's 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Denis and Pat Beauregard, who ran movie nights as ALCC volunteers, receiving silver coins for Whistler Mountain’s 25th Anniversary from Maurice Young (centre).

Pat and Denis Beauregard ran the movie nights for eight years as volunteers in the 1960s and 70s, first in the community hall and then later in the cafeteria at the base of Whistler Mountain using a portable screen donated by Myrtle Philip.  For those who missed a show due to impassable roads, the Beauregards would provide an extra showing in their home.

The building of the Rainbow Theatre during the construction of the Village in the 1980s marked Whistler’s first commercial theatre.  Due to having only one screen and limited show times, however, movies continued in many ways to be community events (without the howling dogs), especially during the slower spring and fall seasons.

Today visitors and residents of Whistler have many options when deciding what to watch; Village 8 Cinemas opened in December 2002 with multiple showings of various films daily, the Whistler Public Library has a large collection of movies that can be borrowed for free and streaming services such as Netflix provide access to films without the need for walking through the snow at all.

Celebrating Peak Chair’s 30th Birthday

To most non-advanced skiers Whistler’s Peak was completely inaccessible before 1986.

No panoramic view, no glimpse of the vast expanse of Garibaldi Park and no feeling of being on top of the entire mountain.  This past month marked the 30th anniversary of the Peak Chair opening on Whistler Mountain.  In 1986, the 1,000-metre lift was imported from Grand Junction, Colorado, at a cost of $900,000, costing $1.48 million overall.

Since 1980, Whistler Mountain had been struggling to make ends meet and part of the strategy behind adding the new lift was to broaden the appeal of Whistler to Lower Mainland skiers.  Additionally, Whistler Mountain intended to keep pace with Blackcomb Mountain, which had opened their new T-Bar System and 7th Heaven in the high alpine in 1985.  Just a year later, Whistler Mountain countered this opening of new high alpine terrain with their opening of the Peak Chair on December 22, 1986.

The first poster advertising the new Peak Chair.

The first poster advertising the new Peak Chair.

The official opening of the Peak Chair was attended by a few big names: Premier Bill Vander Zalm, Mayor Drew Meredith, Female Athlete of the 20th Century Nancy Greene-Raine, Mount Everest climber Sharon Wood, Whistler Mountain president Lorne Borgal and the event’s master of ceremonies Jim McConkey.

“For years, people have been climbing and skiing off the peak and hiking to the peak in summer,” said Nancy Greene-Raine in the original December 24, 1986 Whistler Question article.  “It’s wonderful that now they’ll be able to ride p and ski it, with a little caution.”

The mayor cracked a joke at the idea of quick access to all those steep new runs: “I think this is something Lorne dreamed up while riding the Scream Machine at Expo (’86) last summer.”

As we know well today, there are some intense line choices available from Whistler’s Peak, some having gained legendary status in this town, like the cliff drop visible from Peak Chair known as “Air Jordan” and the Peak to Creek run, the longest groomer in North America at 5.5 km.

The chair was first opened only to advanced skiers due to the steepness of the terrain and the early season rock hazards.  More than 70 skiers eagerly awaited the opening of the chair that day.  Unfortunately, intermediate and beginner skiers still missed out on most of the runs coming down from the Peak; the only run accessible for non-advanced skiers was aptly named “Last Chance”.

Today we take for granted the opportunity to zip up to Whistler’s peak as easily as taking a seat on a chair.  Give a brief pause to take in the stunning panoramic vistas when you’re up on Whistler’s peak this winter, and perhaps remember the work that went into making those views possible for every skier and snowboarder to experience without a treacherous hike up.

Christmas at Rainbow Lodge: The Musical

If you take a walk along the Village Stroll in December you’re sure to notice signs of the holiday season anywhere you look; there is snow on the ground, tree are lit up, wreaths have been hung, and beneath the voices of crowds of people strains of holiday music can be heard.  As in many communities, music plays an important part in Whistler’s holiday traditions, many of which began in the 1980s when the Whistler of today was still developing.  Events such as the Bizarre Bazaar (now the Arts Whistler Holiday Market) would not be complete without festive music in the background and for thirty-three years the Christmas Eve Carol Service has brought local residents and visitors together to sing carols as one community.  Though rarely performed, Whistler even has its own Christmas musical.

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of "Christmas at Rainbow Lodge".

Molly Boyd with Myrtle Philip at the first performance of “Christmas at Rainbow Lodge”.

“Christmas at Rainbow Lodge” was written by Bob Daly and Molly Boyd and first performed by the students of Myrtle Philip School in December 1984.  Daly was the principal of the school from 1981 to 1985 and returned to head the school twice more before retiring in 2002.  During her twelve years living in Whistler, Boyd was heavily involved in Whistler’s music scene and its holiday activities – she founded the Whistler Children’s Chorus, was involved in starting the Christmas Eve Carol Service and directed the Whistler Singers.  During December she could often by spotted leading the Singers caroling through the Village with here battery-operated keyboard balanced on a shopping art.  The two were inspired to create a musical by Myrtle Philip’s stories of her life as a pioneer in Alta Lake as told to them over tea and Myrtle’s famous rum cake.

The musical tells the shortened and somewhat fictionalized story of how Myrtle and Alex Philip came to build Rainbow Lodge, beginning with Alex’s chance meeting of John Millar in Vancouver in 1911.  The story includes their first three-day journey to Alta Lake and meeting with loggers, trappers, railroad workers, miners and hunters who already lived or were working in the area.  Each group of people the pair meets helps them in some way as they begin settling and building.  To thank all these people for their kindness they all are invited to share in the Philips’ first Christmas at Rainbow Lodge.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

The dining room at Rainbow Lodge decorated for Christmas.

Unlike many holiday concerts, most of the music in “Christmas at Rainbow” is not about Christmas.  Instead, the majority are folk songs from the Pacific Northwest such as “Acres of Clams” and “The PGE Song”, many of which were collected by Philip J Thomas, a composer, singer, teacher and folklorist who founded the Vancouver Folk Song Circle and instrumental in collecting and preserving the folk music of British Columbia.

Since its inaugural performance in 1984, “Christmas at Rainbow” has been performed only twice more: once by the students of the current Myrtle Philip Community School in the 1990s and once by the intermediate students of Spring Creek Community School in 2012.

Happy Holidays from the Whistler Museum!

The Great Snow-Earth-Water Race Returns!

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The Great Snow Earth Water Race is being revived in 2014. A truly organic Whistler experience, we at the museum are really excited to see the return of this awesome event.

The original race began in 1975 and involved skiing, canoeing, cycling and running. Thirty teams composed of five men and women took part in that first year and the race was won by a dream team made up of Dave Murray, Trudy Alder, D.J. Muzullo, Nancy Greene Raine and Joe Czimazia. In the beginning there were very few rules, so a certain amount of “questionable” tactics were employed, including driving down the mountain!

great race

Competitors began at the top of Whistler Mountain where they would ski to wherever the snow finished. From there they would have to run the rest of the way down to Creekside (in ski boots, carrying their skis). At Creekside the baton was passed off to a cyclist, who would ride around Alta Lake and pass it off to the canoeists. The paddlers worked their way up the lake to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams. Then they handed off to runners who ran back along the highway to Creekside.

Apparently, Great Race canoeist copythe canoeing was the most amusing part for bystanders. Dave Steers recalls, “Most of the teams had members who could tell the front of a canoe from the back. A few teams didn’t even have that.” Consequently there were plenty of tipped canoes and great hilarity for all.

As the years went on the race evolved to include more sports. In the 2014 revival there will be six stages: ski or snowboard touring, ski or snowboard downhill, downhill mountain biking, running, canoeing and cross-country biking.

If you fancy putting a team together it’s sure to be hilarious fun. Visit http://www.greatoutdoorsfest.com for details. The race is also in need of volunteers to help all go smoothly, so if you have spare time on May 18th and want to sign up for a piece of pure Whistler fun, you won’t regret it!

Lost Lake Ski Jump

Summers at Lost Lake are known today for their mild diversions of picnicking, sunbathing, and paddling in inflatable Explorer 200 boats. But during the late ‘70s to early ‘80s the lake was home to Whistler’s “Summer Air Ramp” – a ski jump that launched aerialists high into the air and then deep into the water, allowing them to practice their somersaults and twists in the off-season.

Aerial practice. David Lalik Collection.

Planning for the ramp was initiated in 1977 by local freestyle skiers, commonly referred to at the time as “hot-doggers,” frustrated at the lack of aerial opportunities at Whistler’s glacier summer camps. Instead of relying on a summer snow pack that was, at the best of times, “quirky,” they proposed to create opportunities for aerial training in the valley.

Funding for freestyle skiing in the west was virtually non-existent at the time, so the aerialists banded together with local community members to gather funds and expertise to begin the project.

With no development permit or permission from the SLRD, an inconspicuous site needed to be chosen. Thankfully, all eyes were on the new Village at this time, which had just had its first phase of development completed, and Lost Lake was remote enough not to draw undue attention from local authorities.

Construction was a cooperative effort – timber was scrounged from various sources in town and the plastic grass that had been used as the ski out from the old Olive Chair was salvaged from the Function Junction dump. The piecing together of timber and final overlay of the “Green Meanie” grass remarkably only took two weeks.

Looking down the ramp. David Lalik Collection.

At its completion the ramp projected 20 feet out over the lake. Skiers would ride down the steep ramp, over the slippery plastic grass, and launch themselves as high as 40 feet above the water. “Injuries were commonplace,” says David Lalik, one of the original workers on the ramp, “but [an] acceptable risk in the sport and environment of the day.” The ramp became renowned for being particularly gnarly, even by professional aerialists, and there was sufficient demand for a second, novice ramp to be constructed after the first season of training. By 1979 Lost Lake had become a popular summer hangout for locals – many of which were spectators of the experimental aerial training. The Whistler Answer from this Summer explains that, “the vicarious excitement of watching some ‘less than hot’-dogger pull off a full face landing upon completion of a faultless flip is enough to liven up the most boring tanning session.”

Sponsors began to show an interest in the ramp and competitions started in 1981. The events only got bigger as the Summer Air Camps kicked off the next year – Lost Lake had become a renowned destination for off-season jumping! Offering training from national team coach Peter Judge (current CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association), the camps attracted all kinds of aerialists, from new to experienced. Having the lakefront crowded with hundreds of spectators was no longer anything new, and often film crews would record events for television broadcast.

Spectators at the jump. David Lalik Collection.

Lost Lake failed to remain as remote as it once had been, and the site eventually became part of the revitalization that installed the Fairmont golf course. As Dave Lalik explains, “this ‘undesirable lot’ and their ramshackle mess … wouldn’t fit in with the new expanded, sanitized, recreation master-plan of contoured 12 foot paradise paths to ‘Lost Lake’.”

Lost Lake had been found.

-Written by guest blogger, Melinda Muller

A short history of the Whistler Museum

Happy Birthday to us!

In the summer of 1986 Florence Petersen began fulfilling a promise. You see, Florence had made a promise to Myrtle Phillip and Dick Fairhurst that their stories would not be forgotten. Phillip and Fairhurst were concerned that the early days of the valley would be forgotten entirely as skiing became the dominant activity.

That summer Florence, with a group of dedicated volunteers, set to work in creating a museum in Whistler. Unfortunately, Myrtle Phillip passed away in August of that year, and did not get to see the new museum become a reality.

Florence (at left) and Myrtle share a laugh.

As items for the museum were gathered, a temporary showcase was constructed in an 11 by 14 foot room in the back of the Whistler Library. In February 1987, 25 years ago, the Whistler Museum and Archives Society (WMAS) became an official non-profit organization.

By January of 1988 the WMAS, located in Function Junction, had its own temporary space in the old municipal hall building, renovated through the generosity of the Whistler Rotary Club. The museum, which officially opened in June of 1989, showcased replicas of Myrtle Phillip’s sitting room, information on Whistler’s natural history as well as exhibits on skiing and pioneer life.

Florence poses with the new Museum sign in 1988 – this same sign adorns the side of the Museum today.

Between June and September of that year, the brand-spanking-new museum had attracted over 2,000 visitors. That number increased to over 3,800 visitors the following summer. Not too shabby Florence!

In 1995 the Whistler Museum and Archives scored temporary space in a prime location on Main Street beside the library. The new space was 1,000 square feet smaller than that in the Function Junction location, but was definitely more accessible and visible. In the first month alone of operating in the new space, the Whistler Museum welcomed 2,168 visitors.

Thirteen years later, in 2008, WMAS closed its doors to prepare for its fourth move — a new home in the adjacent structure that had previously housed the Whistler Public Library. By the end of 2009 WMAS had re-opened with a brand new interior and brand-new permanent exhibit, with support from the municipality, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the American Friends of Whistler and the community at large.

If you haven’t seen the new Museum, you really are missing out.

So thank you Florence and thank you to the army of volunteers over the years. Without you we wouldn’t have the awesome museum we have today and, frankly, we wouldn’t have these sweet jobs!

To celebrate our birthday, we will be holding a fundraiser at Creekbread. Please click here for all the details.