Tag Archives: history

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/.

Working in the Archives

The Whistler Museum houses a permanent exhibition chronicling the growth of Whistler, the journey to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Games, and the history of the ski resort.  A majestic wolf nestles in the corner of the natural history section, while in the back there is occasionally a temporary exhibit.

Most recently the temporary exhibit focused on Isobel and Don MacLaurin, two important figures to the Whistler scene.  Items displayed ranged from a painting Isobel had done of a black bear and cubs, which was displayed in the original Roundhouse on Whistler Mountain, to Don’s 1977 award for Innovation in Education.

However, there is more to this museum as it also houses the Whistler archives.  But what exactly does that entail?

As a masters student in Archival Studios, I often get asked: “But what are archives?” or “So what does an archivist do?”  Answering these questions is not so easy.  Archives, and the archivist’s role, are nuanced and complicated, and they play an important function in society, including Whistler’s.

The archives room within the Whistler Museum is full of the stories of the resort town and those who have called it home.

What are archives?  In the Whistler Museum, the archives are held in a  room, a basement and a few storage containers filled with documents, photographs, artifacts, and, for the remainder of the summer, two hard-working students.

Working in an archive can include many things.  Appraisal, for example, is an important function that involves deciding which records to keep and which ones don’t fit within the archive’s mandate.

Th Whistler Museum and Archive’s mandate is to collect, preserve and interpret the natural and human history of mountain life, emphasizing Whistler.  This mandate gives us a broad scope around what to acquire or keep to accurately represent the town’s rich heritage.

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.

There is also arrangement and description – this consists of arranging records in structures that represent them best and makes it easy for researchers to review them.

A third function is preservation, which is an important part of archival work.  It consists of activities like putting records in protective files, being aware of temperature and humidity levels, and hoping that the shadow you just saw scurrying under the shelf wasn’t a silverfish!  (Museum collections are very susceptible to pest damage.)

Artifacts are photographed from all angles and described in detail before being prepared for storage or display.

We also digitize materials, both to preserve them and to make them available to a wider audience.  In addition, we help researchers find the records they need.

The archives are open to the public by appointment; staff will have materials available to you when you arrive and be happy to assist with your research needs.

In a society, archives preserve history and aim to be as accurate and representative as possible about the community they represent.  In a town like Whistler, archives contribute to building a solid foundation of civic pride in our shared heritage.  They show us how far we have come from the Rainbow Lodge days, the monumental effort that brought the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Whistler in 2010, and generally instill a sense of pride in the tireless individuals who brought to life the Whistler we all know and love.

Sasha Duranseaud is one of two summer collections assistants at the Whistler Museum.  She will be returning to the University of British Columbia in the fall to continue her Masters in Archival Studies.

What Happens After You Donate: The Inner Workings of the Whistler Museum’s Collection

When I meet people in Whistler and the topic of work comes up, I talk about Whistler’s wild history and how awesome it is to work with every day.  I also bring up the challenges of the job: as a non-profit, we fight with our pens each year to maintain a budget for operating through grant writing and presentations.  History marches on and collections inevitably grow; we are bursting at the seams in terms of storage in our portable behind the library.

The archives stored on-site at the museum are packed with boxes, binders, and Alyssa, our collections manager.

We are balancing the storage issue with wanting to represent as many of the subcultures in the Whistler community as we can.  This town changes fast – evidence of places, people and events from even 10 years ago have already been wiped from the landscape (The Boot, for instance).  If potential donors believe only Myrtle Philip and the Crazy Canucks are “old enough” to be considered history, the evidence of more recent events will be lost before anyone gets a chance to donate related items.

I’ll give you a step-by-step process of what happens when you donate in the hopes that perhaps you might consider it an option.  The process of donating involves bringing your items, documents, films or photographs into the museum and signing a donation form in which you’re able to give us historical context for what you’re donating – maybe “worn on Gaper Day in 1995” or “photos from shows at Alpenrock”.

Our mandate allows us to accept any item that is related to the Sea to Sky region (though we prefer receiving things relating to the Whistler community!) and items that demonstrate mountain culture.  We then give each individual item of our donation an accession number that acts as its own unique identity.

For an artefact (any physical object), a lot of physical description is necessary (object type, year of creation, years of use, dimensions, colour, material, geographic origin, condition, and so on).  We photograph artefacts from all sides, capturing details like inscriptions on the back.

Artefacts are photographed from all angles and described in detail before being prepared for storage or display.

All of these descriptions and photographs go into one catalogue record for each artefact.  This catalogue is searchable, so that if we want to find “Whistler Mountain pins” we can view all artefacts that were described this way.  Before storing artefacts, we make sure they’re cleaned of dirt, mould or anything else that might degrade their condition in storage.

Cleaning artefacts requires much care that we do not damage the object.  We often use brushes, cloth and lightly soaped water.  The artefacts are then wrapped in acid-free tissue, placed in acid-free boxes and placed on a shelf in our off-site storage.

For archival donations (written documents and media), content is more important than physical appearance.  We describe an item’s physical appearance in a catalogue entry and tag the catalogue entry with “access points” – subjects, places, people and organizations related or pictured – so that we can search for all the items related to a certain topic.

You can even search at home at whistler.ica-atom.org.  Archival donations are stored on-site at the museum because we often receive requests for certain texts or photos to be digitized.  Digitization requires a massive amount of computer storage, two very expensive scanners and a lot of employee time.

Our Collections Manager Alyssa strives to organize, catalogue and digitize our ever-growing archive.

If you’re interested in having your own items go through this rollercoaster of historical processing, come by the museum!  We’re especially looking to fill gaps in our collection – mountain biking, summer activities, restaurants, and 1996-2010.

“The Evolution of Skiing in Whistler” Exhibit Launch!

We’re really excited to announce that we are on schedule to re-open the museum next weekend with our brand new exhibit “The Evolution of Skiing”! Almost 50% of our exhibit space has been revamped, renovated and replaced, making this our most significant exhibit upgrade in over 3 years. The project was made possible thanks to generous support from the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation.

Our new display case! Curious as they look, these humans won't be on display once we re-open to the public.

Our new display case! Curious as they look, these humans won’t be on display once we re-open to the public.

Our re-arranging made room for some new non-ski content as well. This panel shares some of the joys of exploring our mountains in summer.

Our re-arranging made room for some new non-ski content as well. This panel shares some of the joys of exploring our mountains in summer.

There are a whole slew of new informative panels, display cases full of artifacts, interactive displays, and some pretty big surprises that we just can’t wait to share. We don’t want to give away all our secrets, so you’ll just have to come and see them for yourselves!

While we think our new exhibit is plenty of an attraction in itself, we’ve decided to sweeten the pot and have a full program of launch events that will compliment our displays and give you even more reason to pay us a visit. Here’s a quick overview. Expect more details in the coming days.

November 23 – Feeding The Spirit. Our annual Welcome Week extravaganza, featuring free food provided by the fine folks at Creekside Market and tons of door prizes from awesome local businesses. Everyone welcome, from new arrivals to long-time residents. 5:30-8pm. Free!!!

November 28 – Official Exhibit Launch.  We’re dying to show off our new exhibit, come check it out! There will be some short speeches by museum staff & board, but the focus for the evening will simply be on exploring the additions and updates to our permanent exhibits, particularly our new section exploring “The Evolution of Skiing in Whistler.” 6pm- 9pm. Admission will be free to all.

November 30 – Backcountry Skiers Alpine Responsibility Code. We all know the Alpine Skiers Responsibility Code, that yellow card that lists the rules to abide by when at a ski resort. Well, what about the backcountry? Increasing crowds and obvious safety concerns mean a backcountry code of conduct is in order. This evening we will craft a draft of this code, featuring a very esteemed panel and a healthy dose of audience participation. 7-9pm. Tickets: $10/$7 museum members.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our "Filming Mountains" presenters, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

Filmer Garry Pendygrasse, one of our “Filming Mountains” presenters, hauling gear around the Tantalus Range. Dan Milner photo.

December 8 – Filming Mountains. This new event, in partnership with the Whistler Film Festival, celebrates our town’s proud history at the forefront of the ski and snowboard film industry. Heralded filmmakers will share clips and stories from the past that will entertain while giving unique insights into the filmmaking experience. 3-6pm, Tickets: $10/$7 members.

December 11 – The Whistler vs Blackcomb Debate. Without a doubt the most important topic yet to be tackled by our Whistler Debates series. With your help, this evening will decide, once and for all, which is the superior mountain in this valley (and, therefore, on Earth). Heavy stuff, indeed. 6:30-9pm. Tickets: $7/$5 members.

Two huge mountains, but only one can reign supreme. On December 11th help us decide!

Two huge mountains, but only one can reign supreme. On December 11th help us decide!

Name Whistler’s history!

Local historian Florence Petersen has been quietly working away on her book on Whistler’s pioneers for the last three years and with the help of the Whistler Museum, she hopes to get it published in the next few months. There’s only one problem…. it doesn’t have a name!

Whistler’s pioneers searching for a good name.

The book tells the story of Whistler before skiing came to the valley. Myrtle Philip and Rainbow Lodge are of course featured, but there are many other early residents whose tales are told here, including trappers, loggers, prospectors and summer cottage owners. It covers the period from about 1900 to 1965, the year the ski-hill was built.

The book can’t be published without a title, so we are running a competition in the hope that you lovely people in internet-land might be able to help us out.

If you have a good idea for a title then we would love to hear it.

There are lots of ways to enter!

–       post a comment on our blog post here

–       email collection@whistlermuseum.org

–       write on our Facebook wall at http://www.facebook.com/WhistlerMuseum

–       tweet us at @WhistlerMuseum

If we select your title you’ll win a free museum membership and a copy of the book signed by the author, and, of course, the GLORY of naming a book! Closing date for entries is March 1st.

Valley of Dreams Walking Tours video profile

Shaw TV Whistler recently produced a feature on the Whistler Museum’s Valley of Dreams walking tours. Check it out!

Our walking tours are offered every day in June, July, and August, starting from the Whistler Village Visitor’s Centre (adjacent to the taxi loop). They last approximately one hour and involve moderate walking through the village. By donation.

Also, as part of our 100 Years of Dreams series of events, running from August 3rd-7th, we will be changing the route to end at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, where participants will have the chance to sample fresh bannock and other treats, and explore the beautiful SLCC!

Taking history outside the classroom

This is a re-post of the June 23rd installment of the Whistler Museum’s weekly column in the Whistler Question newspaper, Museum Musings.

As Leah Batisse is currently frolicking around in jolie Paris, the arduous task of writing this week’s Museum Musings falls to me, one of those three summer students she mentioned in this column a few weeks ago. If this is what she had in mind by “diabolical plans” for us seasonal reinforcements, I’ve got more than a little sympathy for the devil.

If the whole point of summer job programs like Young Canada is to provide valuable on-the-job experience to complement our academic background, then my few weeks at the museum have so far exceeded expectations.

Studying history in university, I developed an appreciation for how important knowledge about the past is for socially engaged individuals and vibrant, healthy communities. And while I also believe that universities should serve as more than mere job-skills factories, the fact of the matter is that the basic skills taught in most Canadian history programs — reading, writing and archival research — have hardly changed over the last century. While I consider these to be valuable, under-appreciated skills, the curriculum is becoming a little old-fashioned for anyone who doesn’t intend on a career as a university professor.

In my first few weeks here at the museum my overlords have provided me with a good mix of pre-defined tasks such as writing PR releases and delivering walking tours (which we offer every day, all summer long, departing from the Whistler Visitor Center at 1 p.m.), as well as the opportunity to develop some self-directed projects such as designing and creating content for our new blog (blog.whistlermuseum.org).

In the process I’ve been gaining first-hand experience in how to make historical research more relevant beyond university, not to mention a crash course in a variety of practical, in-demand skills such as graphic design and web publishing. This experience will be crucial in my hoped-for jump from over-educated snowboard instructor/carpenter’s assistant to a challenging career that builds on the skills and knowledge I gained in school.

Meanwhile, Bridget (events) has been neck deep in crafts and event planning, while Brad (collections) has had a full run of archival work from transcribing audio interviews to poly-wrapping furniture in our super-secret underground lair. Glorified coffee runners we are not.

In other news, in the vein of community engagement we are excited to announce three upcoming events. First, the Whistler Museum’s annual general meeting will be taking place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday (June 29). Come get the inside scoop on what happened in 2010 and what we will be focusing on in 2011.

All are welcome, though only members have voting privileges. If you aren’t a member yet, you can always purchase a membership for just $25. Our AGM is a night to mingle with your friends, meet the museum staff and board of trustees, check out the exhibit, eat fantastic grub — there will be a free barbecue and a cash bar — and generally celebrate with us.

The festivities continue the following night (June 30, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.) during the ArtWalk reception. This is the best time to come see some great work by Pemberton-based action/landscape photographer Andrew Strain, but the art has already been mounted so you can check it out anytime, all summer long.

Our three-day bender culminates on July 1 with Whistler’s annual Canada Day celebration. As always, we will be entering a float in the parade, and we aim to win! Afterwards, come visit us at our tent in Village Square for an afternoon of arts and crafts. The museum will remain open all day long by donation in celebration of our national holiday.

Stay tuned to this column, our website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed for up-to-date info regarding upcoming events and our ongoing efforts to make the museum as innovative, engaging and relevant as possible for the local and global communities that we serve.

Jeff Slack is the summer program coordinator at the Whistler Museum.