The Whistler Mountain Skiers’ Chapel was one of the most iconic buildings from the early development of Whistler as a ski resort. Remembered for its distinctive A-frame design, the building was one of the first skier chapels in Canada, as well as one of the first interdenominational churches in Canada.
The chapel was designed from conception to be integrated into the ski culture blossoming in Whistler. Franz Wilhelmsen, president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd, set aside a small parcel of land for an alpine skiers’ chapel. Wilhelmsen had fond memories of skiers’ chapels in the alpine villages of Norway, his home country, and envisioned something similar on Whistler Mountain. Likewise, the chapel’s status as an interdenominational chapel was envisioned since its beginning. Marion Sutherland and Joan Maclean, who formed the original board of trustees and established the fundraising committee in 1966, ascribed to different denominations of the Christian faith; Sutherland was a Protestant and Maclean belonged to the Roman-Catholic Church.
Fundraising began in 1966 with Sutherland and Maclean seeking support from local faith communities, approaching both the Vancouver Council of Churches and the Kamloops diocese, both of which agreed to support the effort by supplying ministers. Architect Asbjorn Gathe contributed by donating plans for the chapel’s design, a simple A-frame, the layout left intentionally devoid of specific denominational features. A stained glass window designed by Donald Babcock was donated by the Southam family. Support for the chapel’s construction also came from local ski culture. Warren Miller, colloquially referred to as “dean of ski cinematographers,” held a benefit screening of his film Ski on the Wild Side and donated a portion of the proceeds to the construction of the chapel.
The $15,000 needed was swiftly raised, and the chapel’s construction was completed in December, the first service being held on Christmas Eve 1966. The dedication ceremony included representatives from Lutheran, United, Anglican and Jewish faiths. As Whistler expanded over the years, the chapel also grew and changed. It held regular services for many denominations, ranging from Catholic to Seventh Day Adventist. It also became a de-facto community center, as local groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and community health services utilized the space.
The growth of Whistler and the chapel’s evolving role exposed the physical limitations of the A-frame building, forcing some groups such as the Whistler Community Church to split up services. Additionally, as the Creekside location developed, the chapel was forced to relocate multiple times, and was finally given the option to move to the new Village Centre. However, the projected moving cost of $10,000 and the growing spatial limitations prompted the Skier’s Chapel Society to launch a fundraising campaign for a new building in 1989.
The vision for what the new chapel would be had changed by 1991, becoming more ambitious with the hope of constructing a building that could fulfill the needs of both secular and faith communities in Whistler. The committee also exchanged their plot of land in Village Centre for one in Village North in 1996. Both the Catholic Church and the Whistler Community Church, two of the chapel’s larger congregations, decided to pursue their own buildings, but the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society continued to fundraise for a new interfaith building in the Village, spearheaded by members of the Jewish faith and United Church, as well as community members with no particular religious affiliations.
By 1999, the majority of the funds for a new building in Village North had been raised through donations from organizations including the Chan foundation, the RMOW, and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, as well as more personal donations. $2 million was donated by the Young and Barker families in honour of William Maurice Young, who had been the president of the Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation. When the new interfaith building opened, it was named Maurice Young Millennium Place (the building is now known as the Maury Young Arts Centre). The last service held in the original skier’s chapel was for Easter of 2000.