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.
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Rest in peace sir..Your memories will be treasured in our hearts.
Seppo, you were one of a kind! Old school logger and woodman with the biggest heart of gold who worked hard and played hard. Old school in the way how he lived by the Honor System. Back in the late 1980’s, I came down from Alaska one winter packing my telemark skis to check out Whistler. Froze my ass the first night camping out in 15° clear sky. Next day I met a lady on the lift and asked is she knew of a decent cheap place to stay. She told me to find Seppo at one of the Village locals bar, that he had a big “cabin” to crash at for $20 a night. Never ran into him but got directions to his “cabin” which turned out to be this massive 3 story hand built log lodge that he built with the biggest granite boulder lined hot tub that I’d ever seen in the basement! The place was packed and rockin’, 3 pool tables, huge communal kitchen, everyone having fun, the ultimate ski lodge, with hundreds of pairs of skiis lined up out on the huge covered entryway. I couldn’t believe it. I asked people where Seppo was so I could pay for the night and they just said “go find a bed somewhere (in one of the numerous bunk style rooms, nooks & crannies or wherever…) and Seppo will find you later. Well it was three days later before I finally ran into jolly old Seppo and when I told him I needed to still pay for staying, he told me to just go upstairs and put it in a jar in his room, no big deal, your word was good with him. The honor system of lore that doesn’t exist many places in the modern world anymore. What a lovable character he was, always smiling and having a good time, would give you the proverbial “shirt off his back”. I went back a few more times over the years and always loved to see him. About ten years ago I tried to get in touch with him but never got a reply. A few years later I looked for his place on google earth but it looked like the lodge was gone, replaced by condos or mega-mansions that had taken over the valley it appeared. Wasn’t until I came across this this article forwarded by a ski buddy who stayed there once on a trip we took there, that Seppo was gone. Cheers to you Seppo! I’m glad your spirit still lives on in Whistler! You were a class act !!!
I back packed across Canada in1991 and ended up at Seppos , originally for a week i stopped for 2 1/2 months , quick with a story and a beer he was a wonderful character , and will be sadly missed, i couldn’t agree more with Shawn about his personality and what fun we had at the cabin . A legenda who i had the privilege of knowing , there were not many like him , top man.
Sounds like some wonderful memories you have of Seppo. Thank you for sharing!
3 weeks at Seppo’s has been a highlight in my life. Such a cool man. Thank you Seppo! May your generosity live forever. RIP.
I stayed at Seppo’s Log Cabin for six weeks in 1991. I arrived in Whistler late one snowy night in February, and the backpackers were full. I asked a cab driver if there was anywhere I could stay. He took me down a road and stopped in what I thought was the middle of the forest, and pointed towards a path in the snow and said, “go down there and knock on the door”. I did as he said and came across this monstrous log house, with a big saw blade on the front door with ‘Seppos’ written in chalk on the blade. I knocked on the door and about a minute later an Australian guy (I’m an Aussie) welcomes me in. That was the start of one of the most memorable and fun years of my life.