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:
- 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.
- Become a marriage commissioner and play a central role in the single-most important and happiest moment of many people’s lives.
- Simply have the warmest, most positive, charming demeanour you can at all times.
As many know by now, Florence Petersen, who founded the Whistler Museum & Archives Society more than 25 years ago, passed away three evenings ago at her home on Alta Lake. While we have lost a pillar of our community and an irreplaceable store of knowledge about the valley, 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.
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 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.
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 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.