Friday, June 08, 2012
Petersen, Richoz presented with ‘freedom’
Two of Whistler’s most prominent citizens were recognized in the highest way possible on Monday (June 4), with Florence Petersen and Joan Richoz both receiving the Freedom of the Municipality Award — the top award given out by any municipal government in Canada.
Both longtime local residents, Petersen and Richoz were celebrated for their significant contributions in helping make Whistler what it is today.
Petersen is perhaps best known for founding the Whistler Museum and acting as the leading historian around town, while Richoz was celebrated for her work in founding the Whistler Arts Council and being an ongoing, prominent figure in the local arts scene.
Having previously been given out to only nine recipients in Whistler’s 37-year history, before Monday the Freedom of the Municipality had only been presented to one woman — Whistler pioneer Myrtle Philip.
“I really believe in recognizing people who helped build this town,” said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden at an event held Monday at the conference centre to honour Petersen and Richoz. “I’ve always been a great admirer of the Freedom of the Municipality Award and I knew that there were very few (recipients).”
With that in mind, Wilhelm-Morden brought the suggestion of two new recipients to the new council back in December, and they unanimously agreed.
Having its roots in feudal England, the Freedom of the Municipality Award was first recorded as the Freedom of the City in 1237 in London. The award allowed recipients to be able to wear naked swords in public, drive cattle over the London Bridge and if found drunk in public, were to be given a taxi home rather than be thrown in jail.
For Whistler’s version of the award, no such benefits are applicable, however recipients are able to vote in local elections for the rest of their lives, regardless of whether they reside or own property in Whistler.
“And as we know, they can also sign nomination papers,” joked Wilhelm-Morden, referring to the nomination challenge during last year’s election over whether or not Drew Meredith, also a recipient of the award, was able to sign her papers.
In front of an audience of about 50 people, Petersen and Richoz became the 10th and 11th people in Whistler to receive the esteemed award.
One of those gathered was Gary Watson, a member of the first Whistler Council and also a recipient of the award.
“The first person honoured was Myrtle Philip. The others who followed were all members of the first council — all we had to do was get the sewers going, get the water moving and so on,” said Watson. “But (Florence and Joan) have put more years in than anybody else. What we did was easy, but they’ve put in years and years and years in the community and it’s going to live on.”
Meredith was also at the ceremony, and offered a few words of praise to both Petersen and Richoz.
“Congratulations to both Joan and Florence, and congratulations to council for breaking the gender role that’s existed for 37 years,” said Meredith. “As Gary said, a lot of us have been involved in making this a resort, but probably less involved in making this a community and I’m just amazed at where we’ve got to and I think both of you deserve credit for that.”
As for Petersen and Richoz, both were gracious in their acceptance of the award.
“I would like to say thank you to the mayor and council for selecting me for such an honour,” said Petersen. “And thank you to all of the speakers for the kind words tonight and thank you all for coming.”
Said Richoz, “I’m deeply honoured, touched and so grateful to receive this award. Thanks to my husband and daughter for their support over the years — with volunteering I sometimes didn’t get to see them as much as I could.”
Wilhelm-Morden said it’s these kinds of events that really help build community spirit in Whistler.
“We don’t stop and celebrate who we are and what our town is, and these kind of events are, to my mind, really important,” she said. “Even though there’s some expenses involved with renting the spot and some food, I think we need to celebrate the people who have made such significant contributions to our town.”
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