Category Archives: Museum Musings

These articles have also appeared in the Whistler Question or Pique Newsmagazine in the Whistler Museum’s weekly column.

Canoeing through Whistler’s Past

This evening (Tuesday, July 7) the museum will be hosting our first virtual Speaker Series, an adapted version of the talk and film screening with Mike Stein that we were originally planning to present in March.  Though Whistler is known internationally as a ski resort, the film features a different form of recreation and transportation that is commonly found in the valley: canoeing.

In the 1980s there was even a Whistler Canoe Club, which held races on Alta Lake.  Whistler Question Collection.

Canoeing has a much longer history in the area than snowsports, as canoes are important to both the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations.  The Great Hall of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre features a 40 foot long Salish hunting canoe carved from a single cedar tree which at times is removed from the exhibition and taken on an ocean journey.  Learn more about this canoe and others by visiting the Squmaish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, which reopened last month.

The Whistler Museum also has records of canoes being used to transport people and products around the valley for over a century.

In the early 1900s the Barnfield family established a dairy farm on their property at the northeast end of Alta Lake.  As summer tourism became more popular in the area following the arrival of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway in 1914, the Barnfield’s dairy began supplying the lodges and visitors with fresh supplies.  They used a dugout canoe to deliver milk, cream, eggs, news and gossip to the different lodges on Alta Lake.  By 1920 their largest customer was Rainbow Lodge, which had a daily order of 80 quarts of milk, 4 quarts of cream, and 2 quarts of table cream.

This dugout canoe is similar to the one Alfred and Fred would have used. It may in fact be the one they used, but we have no records to confirm or deny that.

Rainbow Lodge itself had a number of boats, including canoes, for guests and staff to use for fishing or paddling down the River of Golden Dreams, one of which now resides in the museum’s collection.  In 2011 the museum, with the generous support of the Province of British Columbia, was able to purchase a cedar canoe bought by Alex and Myrtle Philip in 1916 for Rainbow Lodge.  After the Philips sold the lodge in 1948, Myrtle kept the canoe for her own personal use for the next 25 years.  The canoe and aged and, before coming back to Alta Lake, was restored by Dave Lanthier, an expert vintage canoe restorer and member of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.  The canoe is currently displayed in the Whistler Public Library, as the museum does not have the space to exhibit such a large item.

Myrtle’s canoe, pre-restoration.  The canoe now hangs on the wall of the Whistler Public Library, until such a time as we have space to display it at the museum.

The popularity of canoeing continued even after skiing came to Whistler.  In 1975 canoes represented the water part of the first Great Snow Earth Water Race, with cyclists passing the baton to canoeists who worked their way up Alta Lake to the first weir on the River of Golden Dreams, where they handed off to the runners.  From all reports, the canoeing was the most fun for the spectators.  According to Dave Steers, “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.”  As you can imagine, quite a few canoes tipped and those watching got to see a lot of splashing.

The canoe portion of the Great Snow, Earth, Water Race heads out on Alta Lake.  Whistler Question Collection.

Three years before that inaugural race, Mike Stein, Adolf Teufele, Wink Bradford, Ferdi Wenger, and Jim McConkey set out on their own journey by canoe on the Liard River.  Teufele captured their adventures in the Grand Canyon, a 20 km stretch of the Liard, on 16mm film and the film has now been digitized, edited, and narrated by Stein.  This evening we’ll be hearing from Stein about the film and the journey, as well as screening Highways of the Past: Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard, via Zoom.  Visit here to learn more about the event and register.

We’ve Reopened

Over the past few weeks museum and other cultural organizations have begun to re-open around the province, many with new procedures in place and some with reduced hours and services.  Locally the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and the Audain Art Museum both reopened with reduced hours on Friday, June 26.  Over here at the Whistler Museum, we’re taking things a little more slowly and officially reopened to the public on Wednesday, July 1.

We didn’t have any balloons but we have reopened! Whistler Museum Collection

Our reopening comes with a few changes, beginning with our operating hours.  The museum will be open only six days a week and will be closed on Wednesdays (apart from July 1) for the foreseeable future, though we will continue to be open until 9pm on Thursdays.  Visitors to the museum will also notice some physical changes to the space, with a barrier at the front desk and designated pathways through the exhibit area (we have also repainted some areas, which eagle-eyed visitors will notice are a slightly different shade of gray).  You can find more information about changes in our protocols and procedures here.

Our summer programming will also be starting up in July.  Walking tour season will begin July 1, with our Valley of Dreams Walking Tour, a historical tour through the Village, accepting up to ten participants at 11 am and the launch of a digital version of our guided nature walking tour.  This online tour includes videos and images related to Whistler’s rich natural history that correspond to numbered locations along the Nature Trail starting at Lost Lake PassivHaus (more information can be found at whistlermuseum.org/naturewalk).

Discover Nature will look different this year, with “no touch” tables and much more distance between our interpreters and visitors.

This summer our popular Discover Nature program will rotate through different parks around town, bringing visual displays, “no touch” tables, and on-site interpreters to feature different themes and aspects of Whistler’s natural history Mondays through Fridays.

Crafts in the Park, a joint program with the Whistler Public Library, is going virtual this summer, with seven weeks of crafts brought to you from Florence Petersen Park.  Each Saturday, beginning July 11, we will share a video filmed in the park to share a little about Whistler’s history and lead you through a craft project.  Families can sign up with the Whistler Library to receive weekly craft supply packages and craft supply lists for each week will be shared online so everyone can participate.

We are also very excited to be able to announce that we will be presenting a virtual screening of Mike Stein’s film Highways of the Past:Canoeing the Grand Canyon of the Liard, with a Q&A session with Mike, on Tuesday, July 7.  Participants must register for the event, as space is limited.  Go to the Events page on our website to find out how to register.

Though the season will be different than we initially planned, we’re looking forward to a busy summer at the museum, both online and in person, and we are especially excited to welcome our members and friends again (a few at a time and from a safe distance)!

Cooking with the Museum

Earlier this month the museum posted a photo on our Instagram account of a page from Whistler Recipes, a cookbook published by the Whistler Museum & Archives Society in 1997.  The book contains recipes gathered from past and (at the time) present residents of Whistler and Alta Lake, as well as a few scattered recipes from a 1940 cookbook published by The Vancouver Sun.  Recipes such as “Myrtle’s Muffins” from Myrtle Philip, who was one of the original proprietors of Rainbow Lodge in 1914, are found along with instructions for making Yorkshire Puddings from Ann Bright, whose family moved to the area when her husband Jack Bright began working as the general manager of Whistler Mountain in the 1960s.

This cover may look familiar to some!

It is easy to tell that some of the recipes have been handed down from friends or family, with specific names attached to contributions such as “Mrs. Noble’s Blueberry Muffins” and measurements you wouldn’t necessarily see written in more formal cookbooks.  The best example of this comes from “Granny Cosgrave’s Scones” submitted by J’Anne Greenwood, which called for “1 lump butter, the size of a small egg.”

Mabel Cosgrave first visited Alta Lake in 1923 when she, her eight year old daughter Sala, and her mother Judith “Mimi” Forster-Coull stayed at Rainbow Lodge.  The family returned the next summer and in 1925 Mabel bought a lot on Alta Lake and hired Bert Harrop to construct a cabin.  After Mabel and Sala moved from Seattle to Vancouver they were able to use their Alta Lake cabin quite often in all seasons.

Sala’s daughter J’Anne Greenwood visited Alta Lake for the first time at just six months old in 1940.  Sala and her family had been living in Winnipeg, where her husband was in the RCMP, but after he joined the army and was sent overseas Mabel, Sala, and J’Anne decided to live at the Alta Lake cabin full-time.

Mabel “Granny” Cosgrave’s original cottage, July 1926. Photo courtesy of J’Anne Greenwood.

Over the summers of 1943 and 1944 they ran a tearoom out of the cabin (possibly even serving the same scone recipe).  Sala did the cooking while Mabel read tea leaves for those who wished.  In 1944 Sala bought two lots of her own on Alta Lake, paying Charlie Chandler a total of $800, in anticipation of her husband’s return from war.  Sadly, he was killed while still overseas.

One of the lots had a cabin built in the 1930s and Dick Fairhurst and his brother built an additional wing to be used as a tearoom in 1945.  That same year, however, Mabel, Sala, and J’Anne moved back to Vancouver, in part for J’Anne to attend school as the Alta Lake School had closed.  The family continues to spend time at the cabin regularly.

When the Philips retired and sold Rainbow Lodge in 1948, Myrtle Philip bought Mabel Cosgrave’s original cabin and owned it until her death at the age of 95 in 1986.  The cabin on Sala’s lot stood until 1989, when the Greenwood family decided to build a new house.  Like many other buildings from that period, the original cabin was offered to the fire department, who burned it down as part of fire practice.

The recipes included in the book taste as good today as they would have when the cookbook was first published in 1997.

Recipes and the people who share them can offer far more information than just what people like to eat and so we love that Whistler Recipes includes names for each contributor.  Keep an eye on our social media for more recipes and results from Whistler Recipes (we tried making Elaine Wallace’s Lemon Loaves and can confirm that they are delicious) throughout June and, if you happen to have a copy, let us know what your favourites are!

Camping Advice from “Ol’ Bill”

A few weeks ago we took a look at Bill Bailiff and his column in the “Community Weekly Sunset,” the newsletter of the Alta Lake Community Club, which featured information about the history and environment of the area, alongside personal anecdotes.  With summer approaching and the thoughts of many turning to camping, we thought we’d share another topic from Bailiff’s articles: practical advice from “Camping Out with Ol’ Bill.”

In April and May of 1958 Bailiff wrote a series of articles about camping in the area, including suggestions on where to camp, what to bring, why one should go camping or hiking, and how to behave while out in the wilderness.  While some of his advice still holds true, his suggested campgrounds for the area look a little different today.

Ol’ Bill’s articles were illustrated with images such as this, showing what one could do while camping around the area. Community Weekly Sunset, Vol. 1, Issue 14.

In 1958, a get away from the crowds at Alta Lake could be as near as a trip to Green Lake (“lots of good camping and ground and sometimes good fishing”), Twin Lakes (“good safe place to camp, a good hike but no fish”), or Lost Lake (“ideal, good fishing, good camping site”).  Today, just over sixty years later, very few spots around any of these lakes would be considered a campsite in the wilderness.

Some of Bailiff’s more lasting advice comes from a article he wrote outlining what not to do while camping:

  • Don’t go sliding down a steep snowbank as you may not be able to stop and the rocks below are harder and sharper than your bones.
  • If on a glacier, don’t ever attempt to cross on a snowbridge over a crevice as these are liable to give way anytime so leave that to the experienced mountaineers who rope themselves.
  • Don’t step on a wet greasy log with ordinary shoes on as you may go down hard enough to receive a cracked rib or two.
  • If off the trail and lost, don’t panic.
  • Don’t be a litterbug around a campsite, clean it up as someone else might be along to use it.
  • Don’t stay too long on a snowfield without dark glasses on as you may get a terrific headache from partial snowblindness.
  • Don’t go killing wildlife needlessly… Much better to try a shot with your camera.
  • Don’t be an old grouch round the camp or on the trail as this has a bad morale effect on others.  If the going is tough take it with a smile and joke about it as it makes it easier and pleasanter.

The most pointed of Bailiff’s advice is reserved for campfires, as forest fires were a concern in 1958 much as they are today.  Along with suggestions of where to make a campfire (not next to a tree) and instructions for reporting an uncontrolled fire (in 1958, not so simple as making a phone call), he reminded those who would go camping that they have a responsibility to the environment.  As he put it, “Don’t take the attitude it’s none of my business because it is your business.  You’re enjoying the cool green forest full of life and breathing in the sweet scented life-giving oxygen.”

Camping equipment may look a little different these days. Philip Collection.

Camping in the area looks different than it did in the days of “Ol’ Bill” (tents now tend towards lightweight and waterproof) but his ideas of safety and stewardship should remain priorities for those heading out this summer.

A Virtual AGM: A First for the Whistler Museum

This Thursday (June 11) the Whistler Museum & Archives Society will be hosting our 2020 AGM online beginning at 5 pm using Zoom, one of the many online platforms that have become increasingly popular over the past few months.  Though this will be the first time in over thirty years of operations that we will not be able to welcome our members in person, we’re looking forward to connecting with all who attend using the means currently available.

Most years our AGM includes dinner and a chance for members to catch up, but this year members will all be responsible for providing their own refreshments.

The Whistler Museum & Archives Society became an official non-profit organization in February 1987, but work to start a museum had begun well before that.  In the late 1970s Myrtle Philip and Dick Fairhurst, both early Alta Lake residents, had expressed their concerns to Florence Petersen that the history of the small community would be lost as skiing became more and more popular in the area.  In the summer of 1986 Florence and a group of dedicated volunteers began gathering items and archival records to tell their stories.  Sadly, both Myrtle and Dick passed away before the first museum opened as a temporary showcase in the back room of the Whistler Library in the basement of Municipal Hall.

The first museum displays in the Whistler Library, then located in the basement of Municipal Hall.  Whistler Museum Collection.

The Whistler Museum moved into its own space in January 1988 when it took over the old municipal hall building in Function Junction.  Thanks to the generosity of the Whistler Rotary Club, who helped renovate the space, the museum was able to open to the public in June 1989 with exhibits on skiing and natural history and even a replica of Myrtle Philip’s sitting room.  Over its first season of operations, the Whistler Museum attracted over 2,000 visitors.  The following summer that number increased to over 3,800 visitors.

Florence poses at the Function Junction location with the new Museum sign in 1988 – this same sign adorns the side of the Museum today.  Whistler Museum Collection.

The museum remained in its Function Junction location until 1995, when it and the library both moved into temporary spaces on Main Street.  Though the new location was actually quite a bit smaller than the old one, this was more than made up for by its increased visibility and prime location.  In the first month of operation in the Village the museum attracted 2,168 visitors to is new exhibits.  The museum began to offer programs, such as walking tours and school trips, participated in community events such as the Canada Day Parade, and even published cookbooks sharing recipes from local restaurants and community members.

The Whistler Museum and Archives cookbook committee, April 1997: Janet Love-Morrison, Florence Petersen (founder of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society), Darlyne Christian and Caroline Cluer.

In 2009 the Whistler Museum reopened in its current location (conveniently right next door to its previous building) with a new interior and new permanent exhibits with support from the RMOW, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the American Friends of Whistler and, of course, many community members.  From this space the museum has continued to offer programs and events, participate in community events, and offer temporary exhibits on different topics (though there have been no cookbooks published recently, First Tracks, Florence Petersen’s book on the history of Alta Lake, is now in its third printing and is available at the museum by request).

We hope that all of our members will be able to join us next Thursday to look back on the past year of museum operations (our busiest on record!).  For information on how to attend or to check on the status of your membership, please call the museum at 604-932-2019 or email us at events@whistlermuseum.org.

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/.

Happiest in the Mountains: Stefan Ples (Part Two)

There is an often told story of the first meeting of Stefan Ples and Franz Wilhelmsen of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. on Whistler Mountain.  Apparently Franz arrived at the top of the mountain by helicopter to find Stefan there on skis.  Franz asked, “What are you doing on my mountain?”, to which Stefan replied, “What are you doing on mine?”  Though we do not know exactly how their first meeting occurred, the story certainly demonstrates Stefan’s love of the mountain and his preferred way to navigate it.  (For more information on Stefan’s life before coming to Alta Lake, check out last week’s article here.)

Stefan and Gerda Ples sit on their hearth at Alta Lake. Photo courtesy of Bareham family.

Although Stefan didn’t understand why people would prefer going up on lifts and skiing only a short distance down, he became greatly involved in the development of Whistler Mountain.  By the mid 1960s he had been exploring the mountain on his skis for years and knew the are perhaps better than anyone at the time.  Stefan began working for the lift company in 1963, going up to Alta Lake every weekend for over a year to climb up to a meadow at the bottom of the T-bar, where he would record the temperature and snowfall and other information (his handwritten reports were donated to the Whistler Museum & Archives by his daughter Renate Bareham in 2013).

When construction of the runs and lifts began Stefan moved up to Alta Lake full time to work.  Part of his responsibilities was to bring the horses up the mountain with supplies to a work camp that was set up in what may have been the same meadows he gathered his reports from.  Renate accompanied him on one of his trips up with the horses and told the museum, “It was just magical, because we went up through the forest and everything and we ended up in this meadow.  Oh, it was so beautiful up there.”

During one particularly bad snow year, Stefan also introduced the sport of Ice Stock Sliding to the valley.  “The old master, Stefan Ples, who introduced ice stock sliding to the Whistler area, sending one of the “rocks” down the recently blacktopped course next to the school at Whistler.” (Garibaldi Whistler News Fall 1977)

Though Gerda had continued to run their rooming house in Vancouver when Stefan first started working for the lift company, the rest of the family moved to Alta Lake in 1966.  According to Renate, not many people lived in the area at the time, and those who did either worked for the lift company or worked construction around the gondola base.  Renate attended high school in Squamish and worked for the lift company on the weekends and breaks.  At fourteen she began by stapling lift tickets and then handing out boarding passes, moving on to teach skiing for Jim McConkey when she turned sixteen.  She also babysat, caring for the Bright and Mathews children whose parents worked for the mountain.

Stefan continued working for the lift company and led ski tours to areas the lifts didn’t access.  One summer Renate even remembered helping him paint the top of the Red Chair.  Despite working for the lift company and receiving a lifetime pass in 1980, Stefan continued to prefer walking up, occasionally taking a lift as far as midstation before beginning his climb.

According to Renate, the only person who could go up the mountain on skis faster than her father was Seppo Makinen: “It took my dad three hours, probably, to get to the peak.  Seppo made it in an hour and a half.  I think he actually ran, you know, on his cross country skis, and my dad walked on his cross country skis, but Seppo ran.  He was also considerably younger than my father.”

Stefan Ples, long-time resident of Whistler, receives a lifetime pass from Garibaldi Lifts President Franz Wilhelmsen in recognition of his long involvement with Whistler Mountain.  Whistler Question Collection, 1980.

Parts of Stefan’s legacy can be seen throughout the area though many may not know of his role in creating it, from the Tyrol Lodge to the two runs off Whistler Peak that bear his name (Stefan’s Chute and Stefan’s Salute).  He was a founding member of the Alta Lake Volunteer Fire Department in the 1960s and helped start Whistler’s first Search and Rescue Team in 1973.  His name can also be found on the Stefan Ples trophy, the prize for the overall winners of the Peak to Valley Race, as he like to climb to the peak and then ski all the way down.

Though some people may come to Whistler to build a career or make it rich, Renate said of her father that, “All he wanted to do was be in the mountains,” a goal it would appear he certainly accomplished.