Category Archives: Museum News & Events

Whistler Museum in the community.

Avalanche Control and Thundering Snow

Next month we will be opening Land of Thundering Snow, a traveling exhibit created by the Revelstoke Museum & Archives.  The exhibit complements Revelstoke Museum’s virtual exhibit of the same name, which examines the history and impact of snow avalanches across Canada, and we are very excited to be its first stop through March 2021!

When we think about avalanches in Whistler, one of the first things to come to mind is often the sound of avalanche control that echoes through the valley in the winter.

An avalanche set off during control on Whistler Mountain. George Benjamin Collection.

According to John Hetherington, who joined Whistler Mountain’s pro ski patrol for the 1967/68 season, early avalanche control was often “putting a bunch of Forcite dynamite sticks together and going out and going, ‘I think we should throw some over here, and I think we should throw some over there.'”  Over time the patrollers learned which slopes and conditions were more likely to have an avalanche, but it was still mostly done by instinct and past experience.

In 1978, Hetherington and Chris Stehem, a former patroller then working as Whistler Mountain’s Safety Supervisor, wrote “Whistler Mountain Avalanche Control Programme,” a technical memorandum, describing the methods then used by Whistler patrollers and providing an idea of a typical morning.  Documents such as this are incredibly useful for learning about past procedures and the development of current practices.

Over a typical season, patrollers would use approximately 1,000 avalauncher rounds and 2,000 hand-charges containing Submagel 95%, a nitroglycerin explosive.  Hand-charges were most often used singly but were sometimes combined into doubles or triples in “special circumstances”.  For control purposes, Whistler Mountain was divided into three sections, Zones A, B & C.  The zones would be covered by teams of two using their own knowledge of the area and radios to communicate.

Some recognizable patrollers examine the data at the Alpine Office. George Benjamin Collection.

On a typical control day, 7 am would see ten to twelve patrollers heading up Whistler Mountain to the Alpine Office at 1,850 m.  Along the way, weather data, snowfall readings, and wind readers were taken.  Once at the Alpine Office, one patroller would take weather readings while the others would begin preparing the day’s charges.  The patrol leader would make an initial evaluation of the avalanche hazard and decide on the control measures.

On an average day, three hand-charge teams and one avalanche gun team would be sent out by 8 am to cover Zone A.  A second gun team would then head out to clear the more inaccessible slopes of Zones B and C.  Radios would be used to update other teams and allow the plan to be adjusted.  If all went according to plan, Zone A would usually be open by 8:45 am when the first skiers were reaching the upper mountain.

The Avalauncher sat in storage at Whistler Mountain for several seasons before improvements were made to the technology. George Benjamin Collection.

On days when helicopters were used, eight patrollers would control Zone A while three patrollers controlled Zones B and C from the air.  The helicopter was not, however, without its shortcomings.  Helicopter use was limited by the weather and reportedly eliminated the “feel” for the snow that teams learned while hiking.

Avalanche control is only one focus of the virtual Land of Thundering Snow exhibit, but it is one with which many are familiar in Whistler.  Though we will not be able to host an opening event, we hope to see many of you (from a distance and a few at a time) at the physical exhibit over the winter.

Land of Thundering Snow

Do you have an avalanche story you’d like to share?

The Whistler Museum will be opening Land of Thundering Snow, a traveling exhibit on avalanches from the Revelstoke Museum & Archives, on December 17.  Because we will not be able to hold an opening event in person, we are putting together online content with a more local perspective to complement the exhibit.

As part of this, we are seeking short (3 – 5 minutes) avalanche-related stories from community members to be shared virtually.  These stories could be recorded in any way that is convenient for you (using a phone, setting up a video chat with us via Zoom or other platform, or any other way).  Videos would then be shared on the Whistler Museum’s social media in the days leading up to the exhibit opening.

If you have a story that you would like to share, or if you have any questions, please contact us at events@whistlermuseum.org or give us a call at 604-932-2019.

If you are interested in taking a look at Revelstoke Museum’s virtual exhibit of Land of Thundering Snow, check it out here.

We’re Offering Free Walking Tours!

Walking tours season may be coming to an end, but we’ll be offering two weeks of fam tours for any interested Whistler business or organization starting today!  If you’ve ever wished you could answer a customer’s questions about Whistler history (we often get asked if the Whistler Village was built for the 2010 Olympics), this tour might just be for you!

Whistler Museum’s 24th Annual Building Competition is Back!

The Whistler Museum is happy to announce we will be hosting our annual Building Competition with LEGO Bricks again this year!  We announce a theme and it will be your challenge to interpret that theme using LEGO bricks (or DUPLO for the younger ones)!  This is a great activity to help keep the little ones entertained and get their creativity flowing this summer!  We want to bring you the competition you know and love while also making sure everyone stays safe.  That being said, this year is definitely going to be different than previous ones, so it’s important to know the rundown.

Unlike past years, this year’s competition will not be held in Florence Petersen Park.

Don’t fret, this year won’t be all different!  Some things will remain the same as before.  Like past years, there will be 50 spots to register for.  You can register your child for $5.00 at the Whistler Museum website here.

Instead of a one day event, we will have online submissions open from Sunday, August 23rd to noon on Saturday, August 29th.  To stop any eager beavers (though we do love your excitement about LEGO!), we announced this year’s theme on Saturday, August 22nd, a day before submissions opened.  Each child will have a week to perfect and send in their LEGO creation along with a description of what you’ve made and how it relates to this year’s theme.

Before it was held in the park, it was held on the parking lot outside the Whistler Museum and Whistler Public Library. Museum Collection.

A proper submission must include: a photo of your child’s LEGO creation and a completed participation form with your child’s name, age, a description of how their creation relates to the theme, and consent to let the Whistler Museum share the photos of their creation.  The participation form is available on the Whistler Museum website.

We will have grand prizes for category winners and goody bags for all participants thanks to generous donations from businesses within our community.  All the prizes and goodies will be available for pick up at the Whistler Museum from Sunday, August 30th to Sunday, September 6th.  Prizes must be picked up and cannot be shipped.

We’ve asked members of the community to be judges for this event, so be sure to put forward your best creations!  We want this year’s virtual Building Competition to be as fun and fair as possible for all participants.  Keeping that in mind, winners will be judged on their LEGO creations as well as the description on how it relates to the theme.  We recognize that since families will be using their own LEGO and not all families will have the same amounts, winners will not be judged on how big or extravagant their creations are, but on their creativity, originality, and how well they relate what they’ve made to the theme.

We’re always amazed by the creations that are presented as part of the building competitions, and can’t wait to see what you all come up with this year!

Because this year’s event is virtual, we are trusting that all LEGO creations are original and your own (though we certainly know how tempting LEGO is to adults!).

We hope to hear from you over the last week of August for our 24th Annual Building Competition!  For more information, please visit our website or check out our Facebook event page.

Jasmin Linton is the Summer Program Coordinator at the Whistler Museum & Archives.  She is here on a Young Canada Works contract and recently graduated from Whistler Secondary School.

The 24th Annual Building Competition

Our annual Building Competition with LEGO Bricks is back, this year virtually!

Though this year’s competition will be online, not everything will be different.   Like in past years, there will be 50 spots to register for beginning on Sunday, August 9th.  The Whistler Museum will announce a theme and it will be your challenge to interpret that theme using LEGO bricks (or DUPLO for the younger ones)!  When you submit the photo of your creation, you’ll include a description of what you’ve built and how you have interpreted the theme.

The Whistler Museum will be accepting LEGO creation submissions by email from Sunday, August 23rd to Saturday, August 29th.  To make sure the competition is as fair as possible, we will be announcing the theme on Saturday, August 22nd and each child will have a week to send in their submission.

Like past years, we will have goody bags available for all participants and prizes for category winners.  These will be be available for pick up only at the Whistler Museum from Sunday, August 30th through Sunday, September 6th.  Prize winners will be announced Sunday, August 30th.

Winners will be judged on their LEGO creations as well as the description on how it relates to the theme.  We recognize that since families will be using their own LEGO and not all families will have the same amounts, winners will not be judged on how big or extravagant their creations are, but on their creativity, originality and how well they relate what they’ve made with the theme.

Learn more about the competition here.

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)!