Features & Images » Feature Story

Trashing the past

Who we are and where we came from is a story articulated by the Whistler Museum but shaped by the community

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The founding of the museum arose out of a key turning point in Whistler history, the development of Whistler Mountain for skiing, although it was almost 20 years later that volunteers had the time to devote to the labour-intensive process of starting an archives and museum.

Some 20 years further down the track, looking towards a new facility and the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Whistler Museum finds itself at another turning point. The community has grown to 10,000, and is bursting at the seams, threatening to bust through the current bed-unit cap, even as the exodus of former locals burgeons. Museum officials are concerned that this rapid change and development means the loss of Whistler’s historic record.

President Stephen Henderson explains: "I don’t think most people realize that preserving history is about documenting the present. In Whistler, I think it’s clear we’ve lost some of the documentation about the story of Whistler. There are several things we’ve been told exist on the mountain, but when we try and search for them, no one has any idea where they are. There are definitely things of archival value that are gone."

Gone means gone forever. The historic record grows more anemic as these documents, photos, papers, and artifacts are trashed. As the Canadian Museums Association said in its 2002 brief to Ottawa, "Heritage could be looked upon as a non-renewable resource. Once lost through damage or decay, artifacts cannot be reclaimed."

In this little mountain village, a place characterized most clearly by transience, by the constant movement of people, residents, visitors, an incessant turnover of staff who might otherwise keep a documentary timeline within their files, and ongoing change and renovation, the Whistler Museum is working hard to hold on to the ephemera of the past, in order to tell Whistler’s evolving story.

Curator Kerry Clark believes there is an emotive power in the past.

"We take solace in the past. I think people bury painful elements of the past, but the proliferation of museums and cultural centres over the last 100 years suggests that the past holds real power for people. If you look at indigenous cultures, oral histories play a huge role. They’re the glue that holds those cultures together. I would say the Whistler community as a whole values the past – the old pictures, skis or snowshoes or race gates that people store and display in their homes is testament to this. But I think there’s a disconnect between the community and the museum.

"The ideal situation for the museum is one where there is interaction and communication between the museum and the community. It’s partly up to us at the museum to articulate Whistler’s story, but it’s also for the Whistler community to take on. The community needs to decide what’s important to them. The story we want to tell – we’re working on it, but it would be more meaningful and valuable if we received guidance and feedback from the community."