Tag Archives: Tamarisk

Canada’s First Interdenominational Chapel

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.

The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel.  Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation Collection.

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 stained glass window of the Chapel. Wallace Collection.

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.

Tony and Irene Lyttle getting married in the Skiers’ Chapel, January 1967.

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.

Saunas of Whistler

Looking through Whistler publications from the 1970s, it’s easy to see that building and design in Whistler has changed a lot over the decades.  It’s rare today to see a newly constructed A-frame, Gothic arch cabin or a condo advertised using wall-to-wall shag carpeting as a selling point.  Like the shag carpeting and A-frames, saunas also seem to be disappearing from town.

Not all saunas built in Whistler necessarily met the criteria of H.J. Viherjurri, one of the founding members of the Suomen Saunaseura (Finnish Sauna Society), to be considered a true sauna.  He and other members defined a sauna as a room or hut built of wood and containing stones heated by some kind of stones.  These stones heat the air to upwards of 160°F and water can be thrown on the stones to produce steam, called löyly.  Viherjuuri explains that, unlike steam rooms, the air in a sauna remains dry as the moisture is instantly absorbed by the wooden walls of the room.

It’s not clear whether the products in this 1980 California Pool & Spa ad from the Whistler Answer would meet the requirements of a sauna.  Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Also important to be considered a true sauna is the multi-round process of alternately heating and cooling, whether by a cold shower, jumping in a lake or even rolling in snow.  The process often also includes light beating with leafy birch branches to clean the skin.  Without known how saunas built in Whistler were used in the 1970s it is impossible to assume they met the requirements of this definition.  The term sauna was, however, used to attract buyers and visitors to various properties.

In advertisements placed in Garibaldi’s Whistler News the Christiana Inn, Highland Lodge, Cheakamus Inn, Ski Boot Lodge and Whistler Inn all featured the word sauna among their various assets.  The Whistler Inn, described as “an ultra modern, yet rustic lodge” listed their sauna first among their attractions “available for your added enjoyment and comfort”.

Many of the condominiums built around Whistler at the time also included saunas, whether private or shared, for the use of guests and residents.  Blackcomb Condominiums, Telemark Townhouses and Alpenforst condos all had saunas available and the “very deluxe units” of Adventures West included “dishawashers, saunas, washing machines and dryers”.

This living room was used to sell Tamarisk units in 1973; see the massive fireplace and wall-to-wall shag. Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Fall 1973.

Perhaps best known is the example of Tamarisk.  The first phase of Tamarisk, built in 1973, included 146 units, each featuring a sunken living area, a “massive stone fireplace”, shag carpet and a private sauna.

Saunas remained a popular part of aprés-ski culture into the 1980s.  For those who didn’t already have their own sauna Wedge Mountain Construction advertised in The Whistler Answer in December 1980 that they could build one for you.  You could also purchase a freestanding sauna kit from California Pool & Spa for $900.

For a price Wedge Mountain Construction would build a sauna for you. Whistler Answer, December 1980.

Though houses may still contain saunas, many of these rooms are now used for purposes other than bathing.  Growing up in 1980s house built with one of these wooden rooms, some small children thought sauna was just another word for storeroom.  Rather than attract buyers with the promise of their own private sauna, house listings today are more likely to advertise a Tamarisk unit with a converted sauna.

While saunas may not be nearly as prevalent as during their 1970s ’80s heyday, they can still be found in Whistler at Meadow Park Sports Centre, various hotels, the Scandinave Spa and even some private residences.

Condo-mania Hits Whistler

Today the term “condo” can be heard pretty much every day throughout most of Canada.  When Whistler Mountain first opened in the 1960s, however, condominiums were almost unheard of.  The first official condominium in Canada was Brentwood Village in Edmonton, Alberta in 1967.

After Whistler opened for skiing the valley experienced a boom in construction.  While many ski cabins were built, the condominium took hold as a vacation home, both to own and to rent.  In the fall of 1969 Garibaldi’s Whistler News even published an article by Ian Douglas entitles “What is a Condominium?” for those unsure of what exactly was for sale.  In it he mentions “some new condominiums” located “across from the base of the Gondola at Whistler” which all have their own separate entrances, real estate taxes and mortgages, unlike the Whistler Alpine Village co-operative, which does not technically operate as a condo.  Douglas lists the benefits of owning a condo, such as the security of owning rather than renting and being able to do renovations (within limits).

These condos in Nordic were still under construction in 1968. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

From the coverage of the Garibaldi’s Whistler News it would seem housing and real estate were as much a topic of conversation in the 1970s as they are today.  Almost every issue contains news of a planned or completed development as well as real estate listings and updates on the progress of Alpine Meadows, Emerald Estates and Whistler Cay.

One condominium development that gets quite a few mentions is Tamarisk.  Still a part of Whistler today, construction began on Tamarisk in 1973.  The plans for the $15 million development, located about a mile away from the base of Whistler Mountain, included over 400 units, a “condo-lodge” containing a cocktail lounge and dining facilities, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and pools and squash handball courts, all to be built over two phases.

This living room was used to sell Tamarisk units in 1973; see the massive fireplace and wall-to-wall shag. Photo: Garibaldi’s Whistler News, Fall 1973

The first included 140 units, an outdoor tennis court and the heated outdoor swimming pool.  By the spring of 1974 all first phase units were sold and a tennis pro, Australian Lex Vinson, had been hired.  A 1974 advertisement (meant to attract buyers for phase two) announced “All apartments feature massive cut-stone fireplaces, wall-to-wall shag, private sauna (every apartment has one) and a furniture selection that’s an interior decorator’s dream.  There’s more but you’ll have to see it to believe it.”  It being the 1970s, wall-to-wall shag carpeting was a selling point, rather than a deterrent.

The units were designed by Vancouver architect Asbjorn Gathe, the same architect who had designed the twelve units of Edelweiss Village near the Creekside gondola in 1968.

The shape of the Tamarisk buildings remain the same today (apart from one). Garibaldi’s Whistler News

The first phase was completed by 1975 and continues to house residents and visitors today, as was the first outdoor tennis court and the heated outdoor swimming pool.  The plans for Tamarisk, however, were never fully realized, similar to the case of Adventures West from a few weeks ago.