Category Archives: Museum News & Events

Whistler Museum in the community.

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.

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.