Tag Archives: Young Canada Works

Whistler’s Most Unpredictable Race

The Great Snow Earth Water Race was one of the many events that took place over the Victoria Day long weekend in Whistler during the 1970s and 1980s. The event contributed to the influx of tourists that arrived every May to participate in the festivities. The race was created by Bryan Walhovd in 1975 as a community event aimed at attracting all skill levels.

The event took different shapes depending on the year, and was far from predictable. In some years, the race had a cross country skiing portion that required more team members, and in other years the race switched between Whistler and Blackcomb. The state of the course varied from year to year as well. In his interview with the museum, Bryan said that in the years he or other volunteers were unable to clear out the River of Golden Dreams prior to the race, it was like an obstacle course for the competitors. Similarly, he said that some years competitors complained about the unruly state of the trails for the running segment.

When the first race took place in 1975, there were over twenty teams competing. Every team had to include both men and women. While the race was never known for its regulations, in its first year there were remarkably few. The first year, the only requirement was that competitors reach the bottom of the ski hill with all of their ski equipment, but once the snow ended, how they got down the mountain was entirely up to them. The lack of regulations led to all kinds of opportunistic tactics. A few enterprising teams even used things like trucks and motorbikes to get the skiers to the exchange point. Needless to say, after the first year a rule was added that competitors had to get down the mountain on their own two feet.

Skiing segment of the Great Earth Snow Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

In only a few years the number of teams competing had nearly tripled; by 1978 over sixty teams competed in the race (only fifty-eight completed it), and from there the race continued to grow and attract larger and further reaching audiences. The races were full of mishaps and complications. Due to lack of government involvement, navigating traffic during the cycling portion could be quite complicated, and one year the Whistler Question referred to this endeavour as “an interesting experience.”

Competitors in the cycling segment of the Great Snow Earth Water Race. Whistler Question Collection, 1981.

As the race became more notorious, by necessity it also became more organized. By the 1990s, matters of logistics and insurance made the race increasingly difficult to execute, and it came to an end.

The Great Snow Earth Water Race took place at the same time as Mayday Madness, a series of events organized by the Chamber of Commerce for community members and tourists. Local sentiment toward the festivities of the long weekend was similar to what we see today: some looked forward to the fun-filled weekend, while others braced for what they saw as inevitable chaos. The events were geared toward different age groups, and some were more family friendly than others. They included everything from wind-surfing to belly flop contests to mini-marathons and family sports.

Belly flop competition at the Christiana Inn. Whistler Question Collection, 1978.

If you are interested in learning more about the race, the Whistler Museum recently hosted a virtual speaker series with some of the original competitors and organizers, and a recording of the event can be found here.

Keely Collins is one of two summer students working at the Whistler Museum this year through the Young Canada Works Program.  She will be returning to the University of Victoria in the fall.

Whistler Speaker Series Launched for 2021

Last month the Whistler Museum hosted its first Virtual Speaker Series of 2021.  We are still getting used to hosting events online and miss the informal camaraderie of our audiences, but we are very excited to continue hosting some amazing speakers and sharing their stories.

For our first event of the season, we were joined by Dean Nelson.  Nelson is an LGBTQ+ activist and a travel expert specializing in LGBTQ+ travel who first came to Whistler in 1993 to help open the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort as part of the front desk team.  He became involved in Whistler’s gay ski week, then known as Altitude, when its founder Brent Benaschak approached him about the Holiday Inn becoming a hotel sponsor for the event.  From there Nelson volunteered to help with the fashion show and became increasingly more involved with the week.  As part of the event on February 17, Nelson told us more about how the Whistler gay ski week came about and how it has grown over almost thirty years.

Whistler’s rainbow crosswalks are just one example of increased visibility mentioned by Dean Nelson during our online talk. Photo courtesy of Dean Nelson.

Even if you weren’t able to attend our first Speaker Series, you may have read about what Nelson had to say in the Pique of February 25th, and you can still learn more about the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival and its history by watching our talk with Nelson on the Whistler Museum’s YouTube Channel.

Prior to 2020, the Whistler Museum had relatively few records or materials documenting LGBTQ+ history in the Whistler area.  Late last year, however, Nelson donated a large amount of archival material and artefacts to our collection, including photographs, promotional materials, jackets and much, much more.  Along with oral history interviews (such as the one we conducted with Nelson for February’s event) and other materials, this donation helps to fill one of the gaps in our collection.

Some of the materials donated as part of the Whistler Pride collection.

While the Whistler Pride collection is not currently available to search in our online database, we hope to begin cataloguing the collection this summer.  Most summers, the Whistler Museum is able to hire summer students through the Young Canada Works program, a joint initiative of the National Trust for Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage.  This summer, we are intending to hire a collections student whose main focus would be the describing, cataloguing, and rehousing of this new collection.  In the past, collections students have helped catalogue the Don MacLaurin Collection, the George Benjamin Collection, the Greg Griffith Collection, and many others that are now available to search online.  The ability to find documents and information online is especially important at a time when researchers may not be able to come to the archives easily.

We really enjoyed learning more about the Whistler Pride and Ski Festival with Dean Nelson last month, and are looking forward to continuing to learn more.  Our next Speaker Series event examining the history of journalism and publishing in Whistler will take place at 7pm March 25 and include an audience Q&A with the speakers (while the talk by our speakers will be posted online after the event, the Q&A will not).  Find more information about our upcoming Speaker Series at whistlermuseum.org/events.

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.