Tag Archives: Whistler Museum and Archives

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.

New Panels Installed in Rainbow Park

The Whistler Museum is pleased to announce that new interpretive panels have been installed in Rainbow Park. The panels detail life in Whistler’s early days, including the lives of Myrtle and Alex Philip and other early visitors to Alta Lake’s famous ‘Rainbow Lodge’. The newly installed panels have replaced the older panels that had been in place since the Whistler Museum was founded in 1986.

New panels adorn the historic cabins at Rainbow Park. Photo by Robyn Goldsmith.

The panels have been installed in the three remaining structures from Rainbow Lodge, which closed in 1974. Many of the buildings were destroyed in an accidental fire in 1977. These buildings have been moved slightly from their original location, but still sit in what was the original Rainbow Lodge Area.

The new panels were installed to continue the legacy of our 2011 ‘100 Years of Dreams’ celebration, which commemorated Myrtle and Alex Philip’s first visit to the valley in August, 1911. Whistler owes much of its development to these early visionaries, whose passion for the natural beauty of the area inspired them to build the first resort in Whistler.

Visitors to Rainbow Park can now read about life at the lodge, the history of transportation in the valley, the community on Alta Lake, and how the area transitioned from a busy tourism community to a quiet lakeside park.

A visitor to Rainbow Park checks out the newly installed interpretive panels. Photo by Robyn Goldsmith.

These panels are on public display to be enjoyed by any visitor to Rainbow Park.

This project was made possible by Canadian Heritage through their Community Anniversaries Program.

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.

Name Whistler’s history – Florence Petersen’s book has a title!

We have a name!

After lots of entries from all over the community, a title for Florence Petersen’s new book has been chosen. In the end, Florence combined one of her own ideas with one of the titles entered.

The new title will be…

First Tracks: Whistler’s Early History

Congratulations to winner Stephen Vogler – a signed copy of First Tracks will be coming your way.

We hope to get the book published by June this year, so watch this space for more information nearer the time.

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.

A short history of the Whistler Museum

Happy Birthday to us!

In the summer of 1986 Florence Petersen began fulfilling a promise. You see, Florence had made a promise to Myrtle Phillip and Dick Fairhurst that their stories would not be forgotten. Phillip and Fairhurst were concerned that the early days of the valley would be forgotten entirely as skiing became the dominant activity.

That summer Florence, with a group of dedicated volunteers, set to work in creating a museum in Whistler. Unfortunately, Myrtle Phillip passed away in August of that year, and did not get to see the new museum become a reality.

Florence (at left) and Myrtle share a laugh.

As items for the museum were gathered, a temporary showcase was constructed in an 11 by 14 foot room in the back of the Whistler Library. In February 1987, 25 years ago, the Whistler Museum and Archives Society (WMAS) became an official non-profit organization.

By January of 1988 the WMAS, located in Function Junction, had its own temporary space in the old municipal hall building, renovated through the generosity of the Whistler Rotary Club. The museum, which officially opened in June of 1989, showcased replicas of Myrtle Phillip’s sitting room, information on Whistler’s natural history as well as exhibits on skiing and pioneer life.

Florence poses with the new Museum sign in 1988 – this same sign adorns the side of the Museum today.

Between June and September of that year, the brand-spanking-new museum had attracted over 2,000 visitors. That number increased to over 3,800 visitors the following summer. Not too shabby Florence!

In 1995 the Whistler Museum and Archives scored temporary space in a prime location on Main Street beside the library. The new space was 1,000 square feet smaller than that in the Function Junction location, but was definitely more accessible and visible. In the first month alone of operating in the new space, the Whistler Museum welcomed 2,168 visitors.

Thirteen years later, in 2008, WMAS closed its doors to prepare for its fourth move — a new home in the adjacent structure that had previously housed the Whistler Public Library. By the end of 2009 WMAS had re-opened with a brand new interior and brand-new permanent exhibit, with support from the municipality, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the American Friends of Whistler and the community at large.

If you haven’t seen the new Museum, you really are missing out.

So thank you Florence and thank you to the army of volunteers over the years. Without you we wouldn’t have the awesome museum we have today and, frankly, we wouldn’t have these sweet jobs!

To celebrate our birthday, we will be holding a fundraiser at Creekbread. Please click here for all the details.