It has been a long journey, but Whistler legend Florence Petersen’s book First Tracks: Whistler’s Early History has officially hit the shelves of the Whistler Museum.
Published posthumously after Petersen passed away in September, the book charts the history of the Whistler Valley from the early 1900s until the opening of the ski hill in 1966. It was a time when the community was called Alta Lake, B.C. and was made up of a handful of fishing lodges, a some grizzly trappers and hard-working loggers and railway labourers.
The book took four years to complete and for the last year Whistler Museum executive director Sarah Drewery worked with Petersen accessing the archives.
“It is quite close to my heart,” Drewery said, adding the book launched on Oct. 31, Petersen’s birthday and the day of her memorial. “She had a lot of information … but she knew she was not going to be around forever and wanted to get it out of her head and onto the page.”
Packed full of entertaining and often extraordinary stories, many of which Petersen heard directly from the pioneers themselves when she first came to the valley in the 1950s. Others were sourced through interviews with families of those settled in the community in the early days.
Drewery said Petersen did not really consider herself an author, although she had already published an earlier history book, Whistler Reflections with Sally Mitchell and Janet Love Morrison. That book along with The Whistler Story by Anne McMahon are both out of print.
“She wanted to make sure the stories would be preserved,” Drewery said.
After making a now famous promise to Myrtle Philip and Dick Fairhurst that she would preserve the memories of those who came before the major ski resort was developed, Petersen spearheaded the establishment of the Whistler Museum and was involved with keeping the area’s history alive ever since.
Drewery said it was important for Petersen that the book be full of images, it has over 200, to represent the era properly and it doesn’t disappoint.
“Unfortunately, Florence passed away earlier this year and was not here to see her hard work in print,” Drewery said. “However, she had completed the manuscript and chosen all the photographs at the time of her passing so First Tracks is more or less exactly how she intended it to be.
“Florence had long been motivated to make sure that the pioneer days of Whistler would not be forgotten. With this book she has managed to keep alive the memories and stories of those who came to this valley before her.”
The book is available for purchase for a suggested donation of $20 at the Whistler Museum gift shop, located behind the library on Main Street.
As the museum received a federal grant last year to publish the book as part of the 100 year anniversary of the area, it can only accept a donation for the book, meaning she is still giving back to preserving the community’s history even after she is gone.