Our Mission Part 1 : Home Sweet Home

As we draw nearer to the 50th anniversary celebrations of our beloved museum we'd like to take some time to reflect on our Mission and what that means to us in 2018.

In the spirit of Peter and Catharine Whyte, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies acquires, preserves, interprets and makes accessible the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains of Canada by inspiring and cultivating the exchange of knowledge and ideas through our collections, programs and exhibitions.

The part of that statement that resonates most with a lot of the staff at the Whyte Museum is the very first phrase "In the spirit of Peter and Catharine Whyte". If you could be a fly on the wall of the offices and meeting spaces at the Whyte Museum you would hear a variation of a question pop up quite often when staff discuss new programs, exhibitions, and the future of the Whyte Museum:

"What would Catharine do? What would Peter think of that? I wonder what Pete 'n' Catharine would've thought about this?"

Some of our staff, and a few community members, were lucky enough to have met Catharine and/or Peter. The majority of us have not. However, that doesn't mean that we don't feel as if we knew them, somehow...

Working at a Museum we are privileged to hold and preserve letters, audio files, photographs, sketches, paintings, and videos of people of the past. Through these materials we have been able to 'meet' Peter and Catharine by reading their letters, listening to interviews and even by admiring and interpreting their artwork. In this two part blog series we will explore two key ways that we (the staff of the Whyte Museum) connect with our founders in order to uphold their legacy.

Home Sweet Home

A particular artifact in our collection that helps us to connect to Peter and Catharine in about as intimate a way as possible is their home. The Whyte Home rests a stone's throw away from the museum building proper and has resided there since Peter and Catharine built it in 1931. It has been left almost exactly as it was when Catharine left it to the Museum upon her passing in 1979.  

As kids, Peter and Catharine had both drawn their own idea of what they would like their future house to look like:

Peter in Banff:

And Catharine in Concord:

When you walk through the front door you're welcomed by the soft scent of wood smoke leftover from the days when Catharine and Peter would sit and read by a cozy fire. As you walk through the house you're overwhelmed by the hundreds of paintings, books, and knick knacks lining the walls and many shelves. Collected from both their travels and their everyday lives of living in Banff, you can form a pretty good idea of the type of people Peter and Catharine were. They loved to learn about the world, but they were also deeply connected to their home community.

Many staff members who have worked in close relationship to the Whyte Home have felt a connection to the house and its past inhabitants. 

Recently, Enza Apa, who volunteers in our Curatorial Department and designed our brand new virtual tour of the Whyte Home, discussed how the objects in the home, and the relationship between those objects, can tell you a lot about Peter and Catharine's personalities and values:

"Spending time in Peter & Catharine's house always floods me with inspiration. It's evident they had such a wide and broad definition of beauty and what they considered precious and worth keeping. In their home, a small display of unique rocks and twigs perched on the window sill can occupy your attention as much as the late 18th century Japanese vase on the bookshelf around the corner. 

The juxtapositions in their displays, too, says a lot about them: used paintbrushes kept together in a gorgeous turquoise vase, or a child's craft project displayed lovingly next to a rare object brought home from a trip around the world. For me, it's those preserved personal touches that keep the house alive and pulsing with Peter & Catharine's sense of beauty, joy and play. The more time I spend in their home, the more I get a sense of who they were. And continuing to explore the house online in the virtual tour, I still feel that way."

Peter and Catharine's home means a lot to us here at the Whyte Museum, and we are lucky to have the opportunity to preserve it in the exact spot where it was built almost 90 years ago. 

In Part 2 of this blog series we will explore the archival materials that give us a window into Peter and Catharine's life and how that helps us to tell their story today.

_      _      _

   You can visit Peter and Catharine's home too!
If you find yourself in Banff between June 1st & August 31st you can go on an in person tour of Peter and Catharine's home, along with our other heritage home and cabins on the Heritage Homes Tour!

If you can't make it to Banff, check out our brand new Virtual Tour of the Whyte Home!
Special thanks to the Government of Canada, Museum Assistance Program for supporting the virtual tour and other projects at the Whyte Museum including our upcoming summer exhibition Artistry Revealed: Peter Whyte, Catharine Robb Whyte and Their Contemporaries opening June 17th, 2018. 


Popular posts from this blog

In Castle Mountain's Shadow: The Story of Silver City

The Swiss Guides in the Canadian Rockies

The Beach House Hotel: Lake Minnewanka's First Hotel