People come into the Whistler Museum every day and are inspired to share their own stories. “I remember when I was looking at real estate in Whistler in the 1970s. Lots next to the garbage dump were selling for $10,000 but I was scared of bears so didn’t buy one.” That garbage dump is where Whistler Village now sits.
A recent favourite was when a longtime local told us about volunteering for a race on Whistler Mountain. One of the chairs fell from the Orange Chair, and instead of stopping it and doing tests they were instructed to hide the chair in the trees so no one would see what had happened.
When Jim McConkey was visiting from Denman Island earlier in the year he casually brought up how Bob Lange brought him a prototype of a plastic lace-up ski boot to try, back when boots were exclusively made from leather. According to Jim, “I tried it and said, ‘You’re on the right track but you’ve got to make a buckle boot.’ That was the first plastic boot there was.”
There are so many unique stories about Whistler and the people who call, or have called this town home. 60 years ago there was no skiing on Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains, instead, the valley was mainly used for logging and summer tourism which revolved around fishing.
When Whistler Mountain first opened in 1966 visitors travelled to the lifts on a gravel road that was only plowed once a week. Whistler became a municipality less than 50 years ago, and when it was incorporated there was no sewer or town water in the valley, and many people relied on the manual collection of water from the lakes or creeks.
According to the 2021 census data, the median age of the population in Whistler is 35.6. This means that more than half of the population of Whistler was around before the mountains allowed snowboarding. Even more recent was the opening of the bike park. Most people would remember a time before the bike park, and Crankworx, now a global celebration of mountain biking, started in Whistler in 2004.
A lot has changed! Regularly we are told the only thing in Whistler that hasn’t changed since opening are the lift lines. The Whistler Museum and Archives Society was started in 1986 to document these changes so people could remember a time before skiing. Our mission is to collect, preserve, document, and interpret the natural and human history of mountain life, with an emphasis on Whistler, and to share this with the community to enrich the lives of residents and guests.
Like plenty of other Whistler institutions throughout history, we are currently housed in a temporary trailer. The trailer that we call home started its life as the Canada Post building in Creekside. In 1994 it was moved into the village, and the library moved in in 1995 until it found its permanent home in 2008.
There are a few challenges with our temporary home. Preserving archives and artefacts for future reference and exhibits relies on specific temperature and moisture controls so materials do not degrade. The building that we have currently is hard to keep within these parameters. Storage space is also limited so much of our collection is offsite in uncontrolled environments. This puts the collection at risk and we would love to keep it under stricter conditions for improved protection, which we could do in a new museum.
A bigger footprint will also mean we can share more of Whistler’s stories with the community. Whistler’s history is quite unique, we have had a big global impact for such a small town, and we want to be able to protect and celebrate this for generations to come.
On December 6th, the Resort Municipality of Whistler agreed to a lease of municipal land to the museum for a 60 year term. Sixty years ago Whistler was not a ski town, and in another 60 years who knows what will happen? Whatever the future looks like, we hope the Whistler Museum will be around to capture and celebrate our history.
Look out for more exciting information related to the new museum facility in the coming months.