Tag Archives: Florence Petersen

Petersen Family Home Video – Creekside in 1974

We can get pretty wordy around here, so w e’re going to switch things up this week. If a picture is worth a thousand words, than what’s the value in video?

We’re fortunate enough to be quite rich when it comes to film, so we’ll share some of that this week.

Earlier this year we were able to digitize some home video filmed by Whistler pioneers Florence and Andy Petersen. They provide a fascinating look at the resorts early days, from the 1950s-70s. Several short videos have been uploaded to our YouTube account, but this week we’ll highlight a single clip from 1974.

It opens with a quick pan across Alta Lake to Mount Currie, Wedge Mountain, and Weart Mountain glowing in the winter sun. It then cuts to a slow drive past Creekside, Whistler’s original ski resort base. One is able to spot the Gondola Barn, the Skier’s Chapel. the original Gulf gas station, and several other modest wooden structures.

Though Creekside certainly has its charms, it is a far cry from the thoroughly planned and meticulously maintained Whistler Village. Though short, the clip allows you to understand the lay of the land much better than words or photos.


Since we’re quite well-endowed in the photo department as well, we’ll include a lovely photo of Florence swimming in an alpine tarn (perhaps Harmony Lake) in August 1958.


Ice harvest on Alta Lake

Usually, we don’t think about ice very often, unless there’s none in the freezer. The cold, slippery truth is that our local ice deserves more consideration than that. Wrap up warm, and we’ll take you back to the times when the ice harvest was a hard, but fun, event in our valley.

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground and Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Cutting ice was a big event at Alta Lake. The Photograph shows Sewall Tapley (Myrtle Philip’s father) in foreground together with Rainbow Lodge guests. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

Since amenities were few before the 1960s, ice was one of the only ways to keep things cool and food from spoiling. Ice blocks were cut out of the frozen Alta Lake during February, when the ice was thickest. In the 1920s, it would take Myrtle and Alex Philip, the owners of Rainbow Lodge (Whistler’s first resort lodge), about two weeks to get enough ice to last the summer. The ice cutting was very hard work – as one can imagine due to fact that our early settlers had no modern tools. “They cut the ice with an ice saw… like a big crosscut saw” noted Myrtle on the back of her photos. Blocks were cut out of the chilled Alta Lake, loaded onto a sled, and pulled to an ice house where the blocks were kept to provide refrigeration through the summer months.

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A chore for every winter until Hydro came in: Alex Philip with an ice saw cutting blocks of ice out of Alta Lake. They were stored in sawdust in an ice house for summer use. Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1920s

A couple of small ice houses dotted the valley’s landscape at this time. Ice houses were double-walled, tightly insulated structures packed with sawdust, capable of keeping large amounts of ice through the warm months. At first, Myrtle and Alex built their ice house near Rainbow Lodge. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled.

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

The early Rainbow Lodge with the ice house close by. It was later moved closer to Alta Lake to cut down on the distance that the ice needed to be hauled, Whistler Museum, Philip collection, 1919

Of course, the hard work had to be duly celebrated. In her book Whistler Reflections, Florence Petersen, founder of the Whistler Museum, remembers that after the ice-cutting work Alta Lake locals like Alex Philip would gather at the cabin of Bill MacDermott, an American who settled on the south end of Alta Lake in 1919: “His jugs of homebrew would be brought out from under the floorboards to help celebrate.”

A Fitting Honour – Florence Petersen Park Unveiling Ceremony

For most of the summer, the empty lot between the museum and the public library has been a fairly heavy duty construction zone.  There has been a steady hive of activity as RMOW staff and various contractors have been busy transforming the dusty, under-utilized space into a verdant work of art. The work is nearly done, and we couldn’t be more excited to share the finished product with you.

This Wednesday, August 28th at 2pm you are invited to join RMOW & Museum staff, Her Worship Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, friends and family of the Petersen family for the official unveiling ceremony for Florence Petersen  Park.

The landscaping work is still underway, but already the park is a very beautiful and welcoming space.

The landscaping work is still in progress, but already the park is a beautiful and welcoming space.

Florence, a cherished and influential resident of the Whistler Valley for more than five decades, and the founder of the Whistler Museum, passed away on August 28th last year. It is fitting that this public space dedicated in her honour be located right next to the building that is such an important part of her legacy, and that the unveiling ceremony occur on the 1-year anniversary of her passing.

The park acts as a natural extension of the Museum itself. The open lawn provides the perfect space for outdoor talks, children’s crafts, and other activities when the summer weather permits. There will be a large memorial plaque for Florence surrounded by flowers symbolic of her long-time role as local marriage commissioner; at least two of the staff who helped construct the park were personally wed by Florence.

The gentle slope creates a wonderful natural ampitheatre effect.

The gentle slope creates a wonderful natural ampitheatre effect.

The bright green lawn perfectly complements the wonderful mural painted last year by local artist Kris Kupskay, making the vibrant colours pop that much more. New trails link the park with the pre-existing Village Park, with its historical logging stumps and fascinating nurse trees.

This western redcedar tree grew straight out of an old logging stump. Coastal forests are fertility and regeneration defined.

This western redcedar tree grew straight out of an old logging stump. Coastal forests are fertility and regeneration defined.

As well, an original Red Chair has been installed, for those who find the picnic tables lacking historical gravitas. With all these elements (and a few more still to come), Florence Petersen Park immediately becomes one of the best picnic/lunch spots in Whistler Village.

Not your average bench.

Not your average bench.

We’re thrilled for this beautiful park, and the fitting memorial it provides for our dear friend. We hope you have a chance to join us for the park’s unveiling ceremony and that this modest green space becomes a cherished rest spot for all tourists and visitors alike.

Florence Petersen

The End of an Era – Florence Petersen, 1928-2012

For anyone taking notes out there, here are three of the best ways to become a cherished member of your community:

  1. Found a museum that provides a safe haven for that community’s stories, ensuring that a sense of the past will survive into the future.
  2. Become a marriage commissioner and play a central role in the single-most important and happiest moment of many people’s lives.
  3. Simply have the warmest, most positive, charming demeanour you can at all times.
Florence Petersen, it goes without saying, did things right.

Photo: Bonny Makarewicz/Whistler Question Archives

As many know by now, Florence Petersen, who founded the Whistler Museum & Archives Society more than 25 years ago, passed away two evenings ago at her home on Alta Lake. While we have lost a pillar of our community and an irreplaceable store of knowledge about our community, a brief look at her life reveals much to celebrate.

At the time of her passing, Florence was the longest-tenured living resident of the Whistler Valley. In the summer of 1955, more than a decade before ski lifts began operating on Whistler Mountain, a youthful Florence Strachan and four school-teacher friends purchased a modest cabin called “Witsend” on the west side of Alta Lake.

The cabin quickly became a cherished summer and weekend retreat, and the five young women were welcomed into the tight-knit Alta Lake community. It was here that Florence met and soon married the charming Danish carpenter, Andy Petersen.

Florence (top left) and friends at Witsend, 1950s.

All the while, Florence’s professional life remained focused on her work as a teacher in Burnaby, not to mention athletic pursuits which even landed her a spot on Canada’s national women’s field hockey team and took her to Melbourne, Australia as an ambassador.

Upon retirement from teaching in 1983, Florence moved to Alta Lake full time. Retirement is a misleading term, however, because she immediately set upon fulfilling a promise she had made years previously to Alta Lake pioneers Myrtle Philip and Dick Fairhurst. Florence would ensure that the memory of their quiet lakeside community would not be overwhelmed and forgotten during the valley’s reinvention as a global destination resort.

She began collecting photographs and artifacts, speaking to the “old-timers,” gathering their stories, and on February 12, 1987 the Whistler Museum & Archives society was formed. For her efforts Florence was named Whistler’s Citizen of the Year.

Florence and her baby.

Florence became the ultimate source on the history of Alta Lake, authoring The History of Alta Lake Road, Whistler Reflections, and a third book, First Tracks: Whistler’s Early History which is set to be published shortly. Of course, her breadth of knowledge extended far beyond whatever made it to the written page, and her knack for story-telling made for an enriching experience.

Meanwhile, Florence also became the district marriage commissioner. In the days since Florence’s passing, we have heard from many people with fond memories of having Florence oversee their weddings. For anyone who knew Florence it is clear  she was just the woman for the job, possessing the poise to ensure the ceremony was seamless and dignified, but with an unwavering optimism that perfectly complemented the joyous nature of the occasion.

For all these major, measurable contributions that Florence made to Whistler, however, from preserving our past to helping so many couples as they embark on their future (aside from new births, is there a more optimistic, forward-looking event than a wedding?) it was the warmth of her presence that was perhaps her greatest gift.

Florence sharing a laugh with long-time neighbour and close friend Myrtle Philip.

While technically she has not been an employee or board member of the Museum for several years, Florence remained our leader emerita, her and Andy stopping in regularly with much-welcomed words of advice, encouragement, and fresh-baked cookies. Countless others in the community have similar stories of such ever-pleasant encounters.

While the Museum currently feels a little rudderless without the prospect of any more of Florence’s cookies, and the kind words that always accompanied them, we are left with the substantial  legacy of her tireless efforts and the inspirational model by which she lived.

Thank you Florence.

The Museum has a book of condolences on-site. Feel free to stop by and share a thought for Florence and her loving husband, Andy. We are open 7 days a week 11am-5pm.

Congratulations to Florence Petersen

Florence Petersen will be presented with Whistler’s highest distinction, the Freedom of the Municipality, Monday, June 4, 2012.

Florence Petersen (left) and Myrtle Philip (right) enjoying a joke together.

Florence founded the Whistler Museum and Archives Society in 1986 as part of a promise made to Whistler pioneers Mytle Philip and Dick Fairhurst to preserve Whistler’s pioneer history.  Florence has worked endlessly to share stories from before the ski hill when Whistler was a site of summer fishing destinations and logging camps.

Florence Petersen with the new sign for the Whistler Museum and Archives building in Function Junction, opened in 1988.

Florence and fellow recipient Joan Richoz, founder of the Whistler Public Library, will officially be awarded the Freedom of the Municipality at a special council meeting at the Whistler Conference Centre on June 4.  The meeting begins at 5:30 and a reception will follow the ceremony.

Florence Petersen and her friends (left to right) Jacquie Pope, June Tidball, Fido, Getty Gray and Eunice “Kelly” Forster at their Witsend cottage in 1955.

Myrtle Speaks!

Myrtle Philip in riding garb.

Myrtle Philip is the leviathan of Whistler’s history: her name is immortalized in the Myrtle Philip elementary school; she was the first person to be awarded the title ‘Freeman of Whistler’; there is even an official Myrtle Philip day! By all accounts she was a very special lady.  Incredibly gutsy, she could do pretty much anything – from building Rainbow Lodge by hand, to baking pies out on the trail, to guiding stranded railway men across the snow and back to civilization.  Myrtle Philip was certainly no wallflower.

The Museum is packed full of artifacts and archives relating to Myrtle and Rainbow Lodge. She was the first person to donate items to us, and it was Myrtle and another pioneer, Dick Fairhurst, who inspired Florence Petersen to start the museum. We have hundreds, if not thousands of photographs of Myrtle – I can recognize her instantly at any age from 19 to 90. We even have some silent film footage of her: fishing and with her beloved horses.  But despite this I had never heard her voice, save for a ten second clip on an old radio show.

So, imagine my delight when Kay Alsop, a retired journalist and good friend of Myrtle’s called me to let me know that she had some reel-to-reel tapes of an interview she had conducted with Myrtle in 1971 for an article for the Vancouver Province.

Kay had been sent up to Whistler to do a piece on Myrtle and the two of them hit it off immediately. Kay remembers,  “She was such a take charge kind of person – no nonsense…really a nifty lady and I could tell right off the bat that we were going to be friends.”

The museum has digitized the tapes.  All six reels come to around an hour’s worth of interviews: too much to put on a blog, but we can share some of our favourite excerpts for you here.

Firstly Myrtle discusses how she always wore breeches, despite the fact that women never wore pants at this time:

Myrtle Philip discussing women’s clothing in the wilderness

She also talks about the popular horseback riding excursions at Rainbow Lodge.

Myrtle talks of the horseback riding at Rainbow Lodge

Here she tells the story of how she met her husband, Alex Philip:

Myrtle meets Alex

Hearing Myrtle converse in her broad Maine accent is really thrilling for us at the museum. We have been telling Myrtle’s story for 25 years – now Myrtle gets a chance to speak for herself.

Who Burnt the Stew? Ski Run Names, Part 2

We received a great response for our recent post about Whistler-Blackcomb ski run names, so we figured we would post a few more. Last time we were pretty Blackcomb-heavy, so this week we’ll weight things more towards Whistler.


Franz’s Run – Franz Wilhelmsen, from Norway, was one of the founders of Garbaldi Lifts Ltd and remained the president of the company for 20 years.

Bagel Bowl – Preferred piste of former Whistler Mountain President, Lorne Borgal, affectionately known as the ‘Lone Bagel’.

Franz Wilhelmsen and Lorne Borgal (the Lone Bagel!) at the Franz’s Run dedication ceremony in 1983.

Chunky’s Choice – Named after Chunky Woodward, he was another one of the founding directors of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd.  It was his favourite run.

Jolly Green Giant – Named after Vancouver and Whistler resident Casey Niewerth.  He was over six feet tall and dressed all in green so he was easily recognized on the hill as “the Jolly Green Giant” named after the canned vegetables brand.

Jam Tart – Named after cat driver John Cleland who was tragically killed in Whistler Bowl while recovering avalanche duds – Jam Tart was Cleland’s nickname.

Pony Trail – At one point during the construction of lifts on Whistler Mountain, fire hazard forced workers to use packhorses to transport supplies up the mountain.  The road they used became a ski run, so it kept the name.

Tokum – Named after Tokum Corners – a ‘skibum’ house lived in by John Hetherington, George Benjamin and others. Tokum was the run they took home at the end of the day. We’ll let you figure out how Tokum Corners got its name.

George “Benji” Benjamin outside Tokum Corners, 1970s.

Cockalorum – Named for mechanic Jack Goodale, who died in an accident in 1981. Cockalorum means a small person with a large presence.

Boomer Bowl – Apparently, windows in Alpine Meadows rattle when this bowl gets bombed for avalanche control.

Burnt Stew Trail – In the summer of 1958 Florence Peterson, Kelly Fairhurst and Don Gow were on a back-packing trip around Whistler Mountain.  After setting up camp one evening they started cooking dinner in an old billy can over a fire, built into the rocks of a dry creek bed.  Nobody remembered to stir the pot, resulting in the smell after which the area (Burnt Stew Basin), and ski run are named after.

Kelly Fairhurst and Florence Petersen during their 1958 Burnt Stew hike.


Arthur’s Choice – Named for Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager Arthur DeJong in 1994. Designed to bring a new dimension to glad skiing.

Xhiggy’s Meadow – Named after Peter Xhignesse, an original ski patroller on Blackcomb Mountain who died of cancer at 32.

There are literally hundreds of more run names, both on and off the trail map, so if you are curious about any specific names leave a comment or e-mail us your questions!