Whenever nostalgia causes long-time Whistler locals to reminisce about the old days, the conversation invariably leads to Seppo. It says a lot about this community that one of the most cherished figures in our history was not a politician or “founder” in the traditional sense, but a generous and warm-hearted Finnish logger. Few could keep up with Seppo’s work ethic and zest for life, but countless people had a blast trying.
In commemoration of the remarkable impact that Seppo had on Whistler, both the mountain and the community, a new public art installation dedicated to Seppo will be installed this week. There will be an official unveiling ceremony this Thursday May 31st at 3pm, near the Passivhaus at the entrance to Lost Lake Park.
Seppo Jalmari Makinen was born December 6, 1928 in Vyborg, Finland, a small town near the Russian border. One world war and twenty-five years later, Seppo stepped off the plane in Gander, Newfoundland, never to return to Finland. In the summer of 1963, while visiting Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition, he introduced himself to Franz Wilhelmsen. Wilhelmsen was selling shares for the fledgling Garibaldi Lifts Limited, a company he had formed to develop a ski resort on Whistler Mountain. Seppo was already familiar with the area so he proposed to Wilhelmsen that he would hire a crew to clear the ski runs. Eyeing up the burly Finn, Wilhelmsen didn’t need a job reference.
It was the start of a highly successful, life-long partnership between the two Scandinavian transplants. Seppo was an unstoppable workhorse who helped clear virtually every run on Whistler Mountain. In 1980 Seppo cut his last run. The wild, off-camber descent quickly became a local’s favourite on big snow days, and was named “Seppo’s” in his honour.
Meanwhile, Seppo built himself a massive log house that quickly became an unofficial community hub and the venue for many legendary parties. Sadly, the house burned down in 1998, and Seppo froze to death the following December while living in his camper van. He was two days shy of his 71st birthday. Seppo’s passing led to an unprecedented memorial service, with more than 800 people overflowing from the Whistler Conference Center to celebrate the gregarious Whistler icon.
The artist responsible for the new Seppo memorial, mixed-media sculptor Christina Nick, has fond memories of the local legend from attending some of the famous parties in his log home near Nesters, and serving him lunch at Auntie Em’s Kitchen in Marketplace, where Seppo was a regular. “I sketched several different versions of Seppo for his memorial sculpture,” Christina explains, “and I wanted to represent him with as much respect as possible.”
Ultimately, this led her to favour a simpler design. For the piece, Christina has employed her innovative “drawing with light” technique to etch a portrait of Seppo into a large sheet of steel that will be framed in-situ by rough cedar logs–a reference to Seppo’s long career as a logger. The thick steel panel has been cut with a plasma cutter, then ground down and finished with an acid and covered with a special penetrating protector to give it a beautiful sheen.
With the sculpture’s installation, Seppo–whose hospitality knew no bounds–will be welcoming visitors to Lost Lake Park for generations to come. Stop by this Thursday for the unveiling ceremony including a short statement by artist Christina Nick.