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By Kevin Damaskie It was September of 1941 when Walter Zebrowski got word he was being shipped to Russia. Zebrowski, a member of a group of Polish ex-patriots who had escaped from Poland, immediately began searching for a pair of skis to take with him to Russia. After purchasing a pair from a Polish officer, Zebrowski was shipped across the North Sea. The ship was torpedoed by a U-boat. The crew was rescued by a British vessel. Zebrowski's ship, complete with his skis, was saved, repaired and the journey to Russia continued. Over the course of World War II, Zebrowski skied south through Russia and then took a few days to do some turns in the expansive Russian mountains, within sight of the Chinese border. "That was some beautiful country there," Zebrowski says, recalling the amount of time he spent on those boards. "Those skis gave me good service." The service carried on to Abruzzo, Italy for the winter of 1943 and then through the Middle East at the end of 1943. The last time they were skied on was the winter of 1964-65, when Zebrowski brought them to his new home at Alta Lake, near Whistler Mountain. Since June of 1988, Whistler's history has been housed in Whistler's first municipal hall, relocated to a site at the south end of town, and re-named the Whistler Museum. Right now, Zebrowski's skis are packed in a box waiting to be hauled to their new home adjacent to Northlands Boulevard, between the village and Marketplace. So are the pink Lange boots Rob Boyd wore when he won the World Cup downhill on Whistler Mountain in 1989. The ski motif is carried even further through a pair of antique skis handbuilt in Norway in 1850 and brought to this country by Franz Wilhelmsen, the first president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. Everything the Whistler Museum and Archives Society has acquired since the society was formed in February 1986 is on the move, to a new museum site. Away from where the deer, vicious smells and bears play to Whistler's paved heartland and a tidy site at 4329 Main Street. The museum will be reunited with the Whistler Public Library for the first time since 1988, when the museum moved to it's present site across Highway 99 from Function Junction. For almost a decade, cars, buses and vans full of people have been rocketing by one of the greatest gems in Whistler's crown at 100 km/h. Now hundreds of walkers a day will stroll right by the museum as they pass between the village and Marketplace and further developments in Village North. The relationship between the museum and the library began when the museum got its start in an 11x14 foot room in the back of the Whistler Public Library's previous home in the municipal hall. The museum's new temporary home is actually the portables which housed Whistler's doctor's offices prior to the construction of the new Whistler Medical Centre. The municipality has paid to relocate and set up the building and the WMAS is chipping in $10,000 to renovate the new building. According to Brian Buccholz, president of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society, the money will be well spent to get the museum's 1,000-object collection closer to the busiest area in the valley. The move is the next step in the evolution of the story that has become the Whistler Museum. "History is constantly evolving and this move is a great step for us," says Buccholz. The museum has an annual visit total around 5,000 and if the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is a site in the village, Buccholz says that attendance figure could increase "many times over." They may have lost 1,000 square feet in space, but that is made up by a location 100,000 times better. "Look at the profile we have gained, within view of the museum there are six major hotels, the conference centre and great parking," Buccholz says as he looks out the door of the new building which is being renovated and set up to house the collection. The museum will have a "soft opening" May 24 so people can come through and "see the project take shape," Buccholz says. The relocation and grand opening are set to take place on the July 1 weekend. One of the most amazing aspects of the Whistler Museum and Archives Society is the size and scope of the collection gained, while the organization remains less than a decade old. Florence Petersen moved to Alta Lake in 1955 and has been here ever since. Petersen has spent the last 10 years as the force behind the museum's drive to preserve Whistler's past. "People just started coming to us and dropping things off on the step," Petersen says. "The amount of community spirit and generosity we have watched come through the doors of the museum is amazing." With the acquisition of Myrtle Philip's collection of photos, furniture and artifacts after her death in 1986, the museum got an immeasurable kick-start, Petersen says. As a chronicle of the early years of Alta Lake and the Rainbow Lodge, the Philip collection is a work of historic art. It covers local history from the early 1900s to the day the Philips sold the lodge in 1948. Three decades later, the Rainbow Lodge burnt to the ground. But thanks to the efforts of Petersen and a dedicated group of volunteers, a connection to Whistler's past has not gone up in smoke. Franz Wilhelmsen, was there when the plaque commemorating the opening of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., now the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, was erected, Jan. 15, 1966. The plaque is in the museum, ready to be moved to the new site. Wilhelmsen, now 77 and living in Vancouver, used to hike up Whistler Mountain along the ski run which now bears his name and has the distinction of being the ski run with the greatest vertical drop in North America. He says museums have an integral role to play in small communities, especially in one that has grown as quickly as Whistler. "There are a lot of small mining and logging towns throughout this province that have changed a lot over the years and now they wish to hell they had a museum to preserve and protect the old ways," Wilhelmsen says. The new museum will be divided into areas dealing with nature, discovery, settlement, the railway, logging, mining, resort development and skiing. Stephanie Sloan donated a large collection of her husband Dave Murray's ski racing momentoes after Murray's death in 1990. Sloan says museums are designed to harbour memories and foster new ones through education. "There's not much point of it being here in my cupboard and never used," Sloan says. "I think school children should have a chance to see things like that... to learn." And as the museum moves into the village, Whistler moves one step further along in the community development process. A process that sees facilities develop along a pattern that has been charted in other mountain resort towns as schools, hospitals and recreation facilities take front and centre on the priority stage before museums. Whistler Mayor Ted Nebbeling says getting the collection to the village will follow the recommendations of Whistler's last Official Community Plan, to get cultural facilities closer to the village. "I think this council has started to create a base to bring into our package of community amenities, facilities such as the museum. We had it before, it was just that a lot of people couldn't get there."

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