Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Spaceships in the Sky

In 1965 the first gondola lift in British Columbia was installed on Whistler Mountain, carrying skiers from the Creekside base to the powder-covered hills. For the next 35 years the aluminum-plated capsules would be a staple for destination skiers and locals alike until their replacement with more modern (read – larger) counterparts. The Creekside Gondola Barn may have been demolished and the base remodelled, but the original gondolas did not disappear. Many were purchased by Whistler locals, and now reside in backyards around the Whistler neighbourhoods, and I’m sure that some disappeared to the metal recycling yards, but one was saved by the Whistler Museum and Archives Society.

For many years the Gondola has had a place of honour on the roof of the Museum building – a shining beacon of Whistler’s colourful history if you will – but recently a decision was made to remove the Gondola from its place of honour and bring it indoors. The Museum is slated to construct an exhibit which includes the Gondola to open this Fall, but before the artifact is considered “tourist friendly” – it will be a hands-on exhibit – some restoration work had to be done.

The task of removing the “grime of the ages” from the Gondola fell to the resident archivist, myself, and the other collections summer student. For those of you who think that working an archive or museum is a cakewalk, I’m sorry to disillusion you, but this was filthy dirty work that took a large amount of determination.

You’ve all cleaned cars right? Well, the Gondola is no car. We couldn’t use a powerwasher, or abrasive brushes, or chemical solvents because they don’t qualify under the archival best standards. Fun fact: did you know that a baking soda solution can be used to remove gunk from almost anything? Except aluminum, since it attacks the protective oxide layer that coats raw aluminum. So we went at it with a solution of vinegar and water (bio-friendly cleaning products for the win!), toothbrushes, and brillo pads.

Cut to four days – and much whinging – later, and the Gondola is finished. It may not be in brand-new condition, but it looks infinitely better than it did before. In fact, some might even say it shines!

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