Whistler has had some pretty memorable buildings constructed in the valley, but few are as instantly recognizable as the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. This iconic structure stood in various locations in Creekside for decades and, based on the responses we get to any photograph of the Chapel, holds poignant memories for many residents and visitors, past and present.
Franz Wilhelmsen, the first president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., fondly remembered small chapels in ski villages of Norway where he had skied as a young boy, and the lift company was able to donate land for the Chapel right at the base of Whistler Mountain. In 1966, Marion Sutherland and Joan Maclean formed a Board of Trustees and a fundraising committee for the idea. They approached the Vancouver Council of Churches to supply ministers and the Diocese of Kamloops agreed to include Whistler in the territory of Father Wilfred Scott of Mount Currie.
There were many people who donated their time and money to the construction of the Chapel. The Chapel’s stained glass windows, designed by Donald Babcock, were gifted by Mr. & Mrs. Gordon Southam; Dewer Maclean donated a hand-lettered Founders book (currently in the Museum archives); and an organ was purchased with the proceeds from a ski movie night held in Vancouver.
The simple A-frame design of the Chapel was provided free of charge by Vancouver architect Asbjorn Gathe. Norwegian-born Gathe studied architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology at the University of Zurich before immigrating to Vancouver in 1951. He joined the firm of Frank Gardiner and Peter Thornton, becoming a partner in Gardiner, Thornton and Gathe in 1954 before leaving to start his own practice in 1966.
Gathe is best known for his three decades of work designing Westminster Abbey for Benedictine monks in Mission, BC, but he has also left a lasting mark on Whistler. In addition to donating his design for the Chapel, Gathe also designed Edelweiss Village (a twelve-unit complex near the Creekside gondola base) and is responsible for the design of Tamarisk.
When the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel opened in 1966, it became the first non-denominational chapel in Canada. It was purposely designed with no purely Christian symbols and its dedication ceremony included clergy from the Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish, and United faiths.
The first service held at the Chapel was for Christmas Eve and was open to any who wished to attend. The Chapel’s interdenominational Christmas Carol Service on Christmas Eve proved to be increasingly popular, and by 1978 two additional services had been added to accommodate the several hundred people who attended. By the mid-1980s, the demand had outgrown the small building and the Christmas Carol Service moved to the newly constructed Whistler Conference Centre. It continued to be an inter-denominational services, led in 1986 by Reverend Valerie Reay from the United Church and Pastor Lamont Schmidt of the Whistler Community Church, with carols led by the Whistler Singers under the direction of Molly Boyd.
Though the original Whistler Skiers’ Chapel was dismantled after a final Easter Service in 2000, the many weddings, christenings, and services held in the A-frame are well remembered by those who attended.