Category Archives: Museum News & Events

Whistler Museum in the community.

News from the Whistler Museum

Back in September 2020 we posted photos on our social media of exploratory trips taken by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) in 1964 and the construction of the VOC Cabin from 1965.  The photos were donated by Karl Ricker, a VOC member who had substantial involvement in the VOC Cabin.  Recently, Ricker brought in copies of the VOC Journal from 1964 to 1968 to add to our research collection and, though we’ve only taken a quick look so far (and are looking forward to examining the journals more closely), they appear to be a very valuable addition.

One of the photos posted on our social media, showing the construction of the Cabin by VOC members. Karl Ricker Collection.

The journals cover a period during which the VOC was exploring the possibility of a cabin in Whistler, constructing the cabin in Whistler, and beginning to put the cabin in Whistler to use.  According to the VOC Journal of 1964, the VOC Cabin on Mount Seymour was rarely being used as a ski cabin, as members could drive right up to the lifts, and skiing on Seymour was becoming increasingly crowded.  They also found that Seymour was “inadequate as an area for ski touring, for hiking, or for mountaineering,” the “most important activities of an outdoor club.”  Building a cabin in the Whistler area was thought to be an improvement as the long drive from Vancouver ensured most skiers would stay overnight, there was a proposal to develop lifts on Whistler Mountain, and the surrounding mountains would “present spectacular opportunities for touring and hiking.”  Members of the VOC made their first reconnaissance trips to the area throughout 1964 and began construction of the cabin in 1965.

Skimming the journals, mention of progress on the VOC Cabin are frequent and, as far as we’ve seen, optimistic.  In 1967 then VOC President Paul Sims wrote in his report of the upcoming completion of the cabin, saying: “When the last shake is nailed to the wall, and the last stone mortared into the fireplace, the construction at Whistler will be of a different nature.  The shaking will continue but from dances, pots and pans, sing-songs, laughter and conversation.  The building will bulge with eager and exhausted outdoor groups instead of construction crews.”

Karl Ricker in the midst of a socially distanced recording session (anyone not in front of the camera is also masked at all times).

The journals were brought in by Ricker when he came to the museum to record an interview for an upcoming exhibition by the Museum of North Vancouver.  We were excited to help facilitate the recording as it gave us a chance to try out equipment we’ve now been using in our virtual events.  This past weekend marked our first BC Family Day Kids Après: At Home Edition.  Rather than invite families to the museum, we created Kids Après Packs that brought parts of the museum to you.  Packs were picked up for free at the museum and included materials for two crafts and a Kids Après Activity Book, which combines stories from our exhibits with colouring pages, mazes, trivia and more.  We released craft videos online so that participants could craft along from home, creating their own skiing snowpeople and a (non-edible) mug of hot chocolate, a staple of Kids Après.

The same equipment was also used to create the craft videos as part of BC Family Day Kids Après: Home Edition.

Tomorrow evening we’ll be hosting our first Virtual Speaker Series of 2021, kicking off the series with Whistler Pride: A Look Back with Dean Nelson.  Though the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival was not able to go ahead this year, you could still see the spirit of the festival in the flags along Village Gate Boulevard – we’ll be learning more about how the festival started and how it has grown and become more visible with one of its long-time organizers.  You can register for the free event here.  Find out more about the rest of our Speaker Series line up for 2021 at our website here.

2021 Virtual Speaker Series begins this week!

Our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series kicks off this Wednesday, February 17 with Whistler Pride: A Look Back with Dean Nelson!

The Whistler Pride and Ski Festival has been taking place in Whistler for almost 30 years but it hasn’t always been as visible as it is now.  Beginning as a small weekend gathering in 1992, the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival has since become one of the largest queer-focused ski weeks in the world.  We’ll be taking a look back at how it started and how it has grown with one of its long-time organizers Dean Nelson, followed by a Q&A with Dean and the audience.

Register for the event for free here or contact us at the Whistler Museum.

Upcoming Events

We are very excited to announce some upcoming events from the Whistler Museum!

First up is Family Day Kids Après: Home Edition.  We won’t be able to host our annual Kids Après at the museum this year, so we’re making it possible to take some of the museum experience home.  Our Kids Après Activity Book shares some of the stories from our exhibits alongside colouring pages, trivia, mazes and more that the whole family can enjoy.  For the Family Day Weekend (February 12 – 15), we’ll be creating Family Day Kids Après Packages that will include an Activity Book and the supplies for two Kids Après crafts.  We will be posting craft videos (similar to the craft videos created by our amazing student Jasmin for Crafts in the Park last summer) online here on February 12 so that you can craft along with us at your convenience at home.  Family Day Kids Après Packages are free and will be available at the museum from 11am February 12.  (Please note that packages will not include scissors or glue.)

Next, we have our 2021 Virtual Speaker Series.  We will be kicking off on Wednesday, February 17 with Whistler Pride: A Look Back with Dean Nelson.   The Whistler Pride & Ski Festival has been taking place in Whistler for almost 30 years and we’re taking a look back at how it started and how it has grown with one of its long-time organizers Dean Nelson.  You can register for the event here or contact us at the museum.

In March, we are pleased to be looking at the history of journalism and publication in Whistler with Paul Burrows, Charlie Doyle, Bob Barnett and Clare Ogilvie.  Then, in April freestyle skiing legends Stephanie Sloan and Mike Douglas will be sharing more about the sport that once included competitive ski ballet.

May we’ll be back with the 6th annual (or is it 5th? We’re not entirely sure how to count annual events after 2020) Mountain Bike Heritage Week.  We’ll be sharing more details about all upcoming events soon, so be sure to stay tuned.

*All events through spring 2021 will be presented virtually.  While we can’t wait to see everyone in person once again, our limited space is unlikely to allow in person events in the near future.

Whistler Museum 2020: Year in Review

by Brad Nichols, Curator & Executive Director

With the arrival of COVID-19 early in 2020, and the lockdowns and uncertainties that followed, it was an unprecedented year for the Whistler Museum & Archives Society.

From March 16 to July 1, the museum, like may businesses in Whistler, was closed to the public.  During this time, however, museum staff were still hard at work, taking in and processing archival and artifact donations from the community, digitizing VHS and 8mm films, conducting oral history interviews, re-designing our website, hosting online events, and researching topics for our blog and Museum Musings column.

While the museum was closed to the public we took the time to digitize some of the VHS tapes we have in our collections.

The museum saw an increase in archive and artifact donations during this time, as many people had free time to tidy their homes, unearthing items they could then donate to our collection.  We received donations related to the 2010 Winter Games from former mayor of Whistler Ken Melamed and from Vancouver 2010 Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) site construction manager Jan Jansen.  Items included uniforms, development documents, and commemorative materials.

One of the major donations the museum received this year was the Whistler Pride & Ski Festival collection.  This collection, donated by Dean Nelson, documents many aspects of the long-running festival, one of the biggest and best sexually diverse focused ski weeks in the world.  This is a major asset to the museum, and helps preserve aspects of Whistler’s diverse community that have been under-represented within our collection until now.

The museum started welcoming visitors into the building again on Canada Day 2020 and has since remained open six days a week (closed on Wednesdays).  Over the course of 2020, we saw 5,099 exhibit visitors, down considerably (65 per cent) from 2019’s 14,410 exhibit visits.

Reopening saw a few changes to our exhibit space, with new signage, screens and a guided path through the space.

The museum continued to explore, share, and educate about Whistler’s unique history and people through our online presence on Facebook, Instagram, and our Whistorical blog.  Our numbers (including followers and engagement with posts) increased on all platforms significantly throughout 2020 due to the hard work and dedication of the museum’s events and community manager Allyn Pringle and head archivist and collections manager Alyssa Bruijns.

Last year also marked the first time the museum had hosted a traveling exhibit since the 1990s.  The Land of Thundering Snow traveling exhibit developed by the Revelstoke Museum & Archives explores the history of snow avalanches and their impact on the people and nature in Canada.  We are grateful to the Revelstoke Museum & Archives for developing this exhibit and for the opportunity to host it in Whistler.  This exhibit will run at the museum until March 31, 2021.

The museum team also continued its collaboration with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) to produce the History & Heritage segment of the Whistler 101 series.  Originally conceived in 2019 as an in-person lecture series, the scripts and content of each Whistler 101 lecture were reimagined in 2020 to produce a 20-minute video for each subject.  The History & Heritage segment will premiere on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 and will be available to view at whistler.ca/101.

While this sign did not change position for a few months, we are very glad to be able to flip it to open six days a week for now.

The museum is currently finalizing its 2021 winter programs, including the return of our Speaker Series and Naming Nights, both to be delivered virtually, and our Kid Après program, currently being developed as an interactive activity booklet.  More details on these programs will be available in the coming weeks.

I would like to take a moment to thank our funders and supporters: the RMOW, the Province of British Columbia, the Community Foundation of Whistler, Canadian Heritage, British Columbia Museum Association, and our museum members for their continued support over the years.

I would also like to say a special thank you to everyone who has visited our exhibits, attended our events, read our Pique column, followed us on social media, and otherwise helped spread the word about Whistler’s fascinating people and history.  Your support helped us make it through a very challenging year!

Opening Land of Thundering Snow

Last Thursday (December 17) we were very excited to open Land of Thundering Snow, the first traveling exhibit that the Whistler Museum has hosted since moving into our current building in 2009.

While Whistler will be the first museum to host the physical exhibit, Land of Thundering Snow began as a virtual exhibit launched by the Revelstoke Museum and Archives in partnership with Parks Canada and Avalanche Canada in 2015. (find it here) The exhibit explores the history of snow research and avalanche safety in Canada, from a fatal avalanche in 1910 that took the lives of 58 rail workers in Rogers Pass to the creation of Avalanche Canada in 2004.  The virtual exhibit was reportedly the first time that the history of Canadian avalanches had been gathered together in one place.  The content for both the virtual and physical exhibit was developed by retired Parks Canada biologist and naturalist Dr. John Woods.

Come check out Land of Thundering Snow and discover how an entire exhibit can be transported in just one (very impressive) box!

In preparation for hosting the exhibit, we’ve taken a look at what we have in our own collections related to avalanches and avalanche safety, from photographs to films to oral histories.  We also invited anyone with their own avalanche story from the area to share it with us.  We ended up learning quite a bit about one specific avalanche that took place on Whistler Mountain in 1978.

Beginning on March 6, 1978, a storm system brought significant snowfall on the mountain.  On March 8, patrollers headed out to do avalanche control on Whistler’s peak.  At the time, two patrollers from Snowbird in Utah were visiting Whistler as part of a training exchange and joined the group heading out that morning.

While the morning had started out clear, by the time the patrollers were out visibility had become quite limited.  A shot from an avalauncher was fired into the Whistler Peak North Face but, due to the lack of visibility, it was unclear what the result of the shot was.  Over the course of controlling that morning, an avalanche began on the North Face and caught two patrollers who were traversing below: Bruce Watt of Whistler and Rick Mandahl of Snowbird.

MAN, DOG & MOUNTAIN – Patroller Bruce Watt with his rescue dog Radar at the top of Whistler.  Whistler Question Collection.

Watt was recovered almost immediately as he had managed to get a hand above the snow.  It took seven minutes to locate and receive Mandahl using transceivers.  Luckily, both were relatively unharmed.

On March 15, the avalanche and recoveries made the front page of the Whistler Question, and the avalanche was also recounted in a larger report on avalanche accidents by Chris Stethem, which provided a lot of factual information but did not include personal accounts.

This image of the slide was included in the official report. Photo courtesy of Chris Stethem.

If you have been following the Whistler Museum’s social media over the past couple of weeks, however, you might have seen two accounts of this avalanche from patrollers who were involved: Bruce Watt and John Hetherington. (You can find their stories here and here.)  Their personal accounts of the avalanche provide information that neither the newspaper nor an official report would include, such as what was going through Watt’s head as he was caught or how Hetherington had to turn off his radio in order to hear the transceiver while searching for Mandahl.

If you have an avalanche story from the area that you would like to share with the museum, we will be continuing to gather and share more local information about avalanches while Land of Thundering Snow is exhibited through March 31, 2021.  We Would love to hear from you, or see you at the exhibit!

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.