Tag: archival photographs

The Skiers’ ChapelThe Skiers’ Chapel


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 Skiers’ Chapel being moved to a new location adjacent to the Whistler Mountain Ski Club Cabin in 1979. Whistler Question Collection.

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.

A Ski Coach’s R&RA Ski Coach’s R&R


Before Whistler became a year-round destination resort there were few visitors and events throughout the summer. Residents made their own fun with regattas on Alta Lake, softball, fishing and hiking all popular pastimes. Along with mountain biking, today golf is a very popular activity in the summer with the local golf courses often booking up well in advance. However, before Whistler’s first 18-hole golf course officially opened in 1983, the Squamish Valley Golf Course was the closest place to tee off. Still, summer residents would make their way along the narrow and windy highway to have a hit.

Although skiing is not thought of as a summer sport, summer ski camps in Whistler have kept athletes on the snow year-round since the resort opened. The first summer ski camp was run by Roy and Jane Ferris and Alan White in 1966 with Art Furrer as a guest coach. Alan and Roy owned Highland Lodge and the summer camps were initially conceived as a way to bring visitors to Whistler during the quiet summer season.

The summer ski camps became known as the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps in 1967, after Toni Sailer was recruited during a ski demonstration at the Seattle Center. Toni Sailer was an Austrian skiing superstar who had won gold in all three alpine events at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Toni would coach the Austrian ski team during the winter months then disappear to Whistler where he enjoyed living in relative anonymity, rarely being swamped for autographs like when he was back home in Austria.

Toni Sailer (right) and Tim Ferris on the t-bar in July 1978 during the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camp on Whistler Mountain. Alex Douglas Collection.

A legend in his own right, Jim McConkey moved to Whistler the year after Toni Sailer to take over the Whistler ski school and ski shop. He became good friends with Toni, who said that he took the job in Whistler specifically so he could play golf in Squamish. Before Whistler had its own golf course Toni would coach each day until noon, then go to Squamish Valley Golf Course which also opened in 1967.

Jim McConkey still comes to the Sea to Sky to golf today; however, before there was the pick of local golf courses he was a member of the Capilano Golf Course. Toni Sailer was a big name in sport, and the Capilano Golf Course said everything would be on the house if Toni visited. Jim and Toni started golfing together at Capilano on the days between summer ski camps. One particularly memorable visit was a trip that they took with Earl Noble. Earl owned a big lumber mill in North Vancouver and had a helicopter. They golfed together at Capilano in the morning, then they flew to the Victoria Golf Club for another round in the afternoon. According to Jim, “Toni never forgot that, he just thought that it couldn’t get any better. 36 holes!”

Don McQuaid teaching tricks during the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps in 1977. Alex Douglas Collection.

The Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps were ahead of their time and quickly began to offer four types of instruction – Advanced Racing, Intermediate and Novice Racing, Recreational and Freestyle. Along with Toni Sailer and Jim McConkey, personalised instruction was offered by internationally renowned skiers, including Nancy Greene Raine and Wayne Wong.

In 1984, ski racer, Crazy Canuck and former camper, Dave Murray took over the summer camps and they became known as the Atomic Dave Murray Whistler Summer Ski Camps. Campers continued to be coached by internationally renowned athletes, having a blast and creating lifelong memories. This continues today with Momentum Ski Camps on Blackcomb Glacier, run by Olympic skiers John and Julia Smart and their talented coaches.

A Well-Oiled RoadA Well-Oiled Road


You may spend the day breathing in dust while you are riding in the Whistler Bike Park, but it is unlikely you have to worry about dust every day while hanging out in your yard. However, when Whistler’s roads were all gravel, dust was a major problem throughout the Valley.

Brent Wallace grew up spending weekends at his family cabin in Alta Vista throughout the 1960s and 1970s. When describing the oiling process he said, “Here’s something that people will not believe – used motor oil from cars, trucks and buses was spread on the highway to keep the dust down. Oil trucks would go up and down the highway and through the subdivisions spreading oil to keep the dust down. It was done on an industrial level, you would hire a company or the highways department would oil the highway.” Drivers on Highway 99 would feel lucky when the road had been recently oiled before their trip.

Highway 99 before it was paved. Leidal Collection.

Highway 99 was paved during the summer of 1966 from Squamish to Mons. However, the paving of local roads came far later. You can imagine the mess that the oil would make for cyclists and pedestrians. In 1979, the Whistler Question wrote, “By now, those of you who have dogs, small children, baby strollers, 10-speed bicycles, fast cars and white jogging shoes will have realized that the recently-gravelled shoulders of Highway #99 have been liberally laced with oil from Cheakamus Canyon to Alpine Meadows.”

Despite following the spirit of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, the oiling of the roads was not cheap. In 1979, residents on the west side of Alta Lake were disappointed to hear that Alta Lake Road was not going to be oiled with Whistler’s other residential streets. The municipality decided against it because the process was going to cost $4000 to oil just the residential section of the gravel road.

Even once the town centre was developed, many of the local roads remained dirt. It was not until 1982 that the roads around Alpine were paved to improve access to the newly created Meadow Park. Roads throughout the other local subdivisions followed, while north of Whistler the Duffy Lake Road was not paved until 1992.

You can really see the oil covering the gravel on the side of the road in July 1979. Whistler Question Collection.

It is almost impossible to imagine pouring truck loads of motor oil around Whistler’s pristine lakes and forests today, although this method for dust dampening is still used on dirt roads in some more remote regions of Canada.

While you may come across the odd pothole, dampening the dust on suburban streets is not something we have to worry about anymore. Instead of being poured on the road, used motor oil can be recycled at many of the automotive shops in Function Junction.

Creating Whistler’s Parks: Emerald Forest, the three-wayCreating Whistler’s Parks: Emerald Forest, the three-way


Nancy Wilhelm-Morden made many important decisions for the Whistler community during her time as councillor and mayor. However, the accomplishment she is most proud of from this time is the protection of the Emerald Forest.

Emerald Forest is the 56.3 hectare (139 acre) protected area between Whistler Cay and Alpine. It is a significant habitat corridor for many of Whistler’s furry and feathered friends and is enjoyed by hikers and bikers.

Before 1972 when the BC Highways Department extended Alta Lake Road connecting Rainbow Lodge (now Rainbow Park) to Alpine, there was limited access to the area now known as the Emerald Forest. The extension of Alta Lake Road, along with the construction of the first section of the Valley Trail between Whistler Cay and Alpine, meant that the Emerald Forest Lands became more readily accessible to recreationists.

When mountain biking took off in the 1980s the local trail builders started what are today Whistler’s world-renowned mountain bike trails. Many of the earliest trails were built through the Emerald Forest despite it being privately owned land.

Dan Swanstrom scanning one of his trails in 1994. Dan was responsible for building many of the popular trails through the Emerald Forest. Whistler Question Collection.

The lot had been bought by Decigon Corporation in the late 1970s. As the area became more popular with mountain bikes, ‘no trespassing’ signs started to appear. There were additional challenges as well when a mountain biker broke their back in the early 1990s and brought a lawsuit against the landowners.

Decigon made multiple unsuccessful attempts at getting the land rezoned throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then in 1996, the municipality increased the minimum parcel size of land with the Rural Resource 1 Zoning (RR1) from 20 acres to 100 acres. This meant that parcels zoned RR1 could be subdivided into 100 acres at minimum. Trying to maximise their return on investment, Decigon came forward with proposals to develop the land before this change came into effect.

Their preferred plan was for high-density development on a small section of the land. Forty single-family lots with a total of 240 bed units were proposed for 20 acres. Under this plan, the remaining undeveloped land would be protected as parkland, therefore retaining many of the bike trails. This would require rezoning of the land and the municipality was reluctant to approve the proposal because the number of bed units exceeded the development cap.

WORCA president Al Grey appeared in the Whistler Question in 1995, discussing etiquette and maintaining trail quality as more and more riders were getting into mountain biking. Whistler Question Collection.

Decigon’s alternative proposal involved subdividing the entire lot into 20 acre parcels for six single-family homes with 36 bed units. This fit within the RR1 zoning restrictions, however, would be a huge loss of established biking trails. Local community groups Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA) were also very active in campaigning for the protection of the forest for the environment and recreation.

Between 1996 and 1999, Decigon, led by the Houghton brothers, was constantly in the media trying to garner support from the Whistler community and council. However, they could not come to an acceptable agreement with the council and Decigon became more and more outraged as the years passed. Most meetings were held in-camera – closed to the public – and rumours were swirling about an impending lawsuit against the municipality.

Then, in August 1999 it was finally announced that a deal had been made for the Emerald Forest lands. Unbeknownst to the community, Intrawest had been brought in as a third party to finally make the deal happen. In the three-way deal, Intrawest purchased the Emerald Forest lands from Decigon for an undisclosed sum. The municipality then paid Intrawest $1 million and gave them approval for an additional 476 bed units so they could develop two further hotels in the Benchlands, in exchange for the Emerald Forest.

There was some disappointment toward this agreement because it meant that Whistler would far exceed the development cap outlined in the Official Community Plan. However, the unique agreement succeeded in ensuring the Emerald Forest was protected in perpetuity.