Tag Archives: Whistler Skiers Chapel

A Prime Minister in love

Throughout the decades, the grandeur and excitement of Whistler has inspired a lot of couples to spend their honeymoons at our beautiful valley hideaway. Roots of Whistler’s honeymoon history date back to the 1920s when Rainbow Lodge was one of the main destination accommodations for newlyweds on the west coast. Alex Philip, proprietor of Whistler’s first lodge, would paddle honeymooners down the River of Golden Dreams in a large canoe, often by moonlight, where they could snuggle up and soak in the valley’s natural beauty.

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After an afternoon of skiing, the Prime Minister and his bride attended the Sunday Catholic service in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection.

The most famous honeymooners in Whistler are undoubtedly former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his bride, Margaret. Pierre Trudeau was a 48-year-old bachelor when he became the Prime Minister of Canada in 1968. In March 1971, the hearts of many Canadian women were broken upon the announcement that Trudeau had married 22-year-old ‘flower child’ Margaret Sinclair. They surprised the media with their secret wedding in Vancouver, and afterwards drove directly to Whistler for a three day stay. Here, the newlyweds took a skiing honeymoon, media in tow, with everyone excited about the refreshing hipness of Canada’s First Couple.

Clearly, such esteemed guests required ‘above-and-beyond’ service. So, Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain, and Jim McConkey, Whistler’s prominent ski school director, served as the newlyweds’ personal ski instructors during their stay.

“Ski conditions were excellent during their stay with snow falling all three days.” proudly reported Garibaldi’s Whistler News in their spring issue of 1971. The photo shows Area Manager Jack Bright, flowed by Margaret Trudeau and the Prime Minister ski down the Red Chair run. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

“Ski conditions were excellent during their stay with snow falling all three days.” proudly reported Garibaldi’s Whistler News in their spring issue of 1971. The photo shows Area Manager Jack Bright, flowed by Margaret Trudeau and the Prime Minister ski down the Red Chair run. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

The couple stayed at the Sinclair family condo in the Alpine Village complex near the base of the lifts. “This was the second ski holiday at Whistler for Mr. Trudeau” proudly reported the Garibaldi’s Whistler News later in their 1971 spring issue, including three pages of colorful, side-filling photos of the couple. The news also commented on the couple’s ski skills: “Mrs. Trudeau is a good and stylish skier who is able to keep up with her husband. At one point during their stay at Whistler, Trudeau announced that his wife was a better skier than he is. ‘It’s not true, it’s not true’ she laughed.”

Mrs. Trudeau, the former Margaret Sinclair of West Vancouver, had a season’s pass at Whistler and skied the mountain many times before her marriage. This photo shows her skiing with Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

Mrs. Trudeau, the former Margaret Sinclair of West Vancouver, had a season’s pass at Whistler and skied the mountain many times before her marriage. This photo shows her skiing with Jack Bright, General Manager of Whistler Mountain. March 1971, Whistler Mountain collection

Victor Irving, a RCMP officer in charge of the Prime Minister’s security at that time, shares a sweet anecdote of the Whistler honeymoon in the book Pierre: Colleagues and Friends Talk about the Trudeau They Knew. He remembers to drive the Trudeau’s to the Sinclair condo in Whistler after the secret wedding which was by then no secret anymore. “The next morning I received a request from them for ice cream and all the Vancouver papers. I delivered these, leaving the happy couple kneeling on the living-room floor reading the papers. (Pierre still owes me $5.75.) “

Margaret included this photo of her honeymoon in her memoirs Changing My Mind and noted: “Both athletes, we chose to spend our first day of marriage skiing at Whistler.” Source: Changing My Mind by M. Trudeau, Harper Collins Publishers

Margaret included this photo of her honeymoon in her memoirs Changing My Mind and noted: “Both athletes, we chose to spend our first day of marriage skiing at Whistler.” Source: Changing My Mind by M. Trudeau, Harper Collins Publishers

Also, Margaret remembers that first honeymoon morning in Whistler in her memoirs Changing My Mind: “We were woken next morning at 6:30 a.m. by the telephone. The queen was calling to congratulate Pierre; she had got the time difference wrong. Later came a telegram from the president of the United States, Richard Nixon. Scary, but also the stuff of fairy tales.”

Looks like, when it comes to fairy tales, our enchanted Whistler is the right place to be.

Forget the Glass Slippers: Whistler Chicks Wear Ski Boots

The tale of Tony and Irene Lyttle really is a ‘Made in Whistler’ story.  The couple first met in the mid 1960s and while it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, sometimes things are just meant to be.  Tony worked for BC Hydro and was also a ski patroller.  Irene was a skier, subletting an apartment from Paul Burrows in Whistler while he was in Europe.  In a 2003 interview Irene was asked how she first met Tony, and romance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind:

“[…] the long and the short of it was that I hitched a ride in the back of Tony’s car, so I basically met the back of his neck.  I wasn’t too impressed, actually, by the back of his neck.  So that’s how we met.  Tony was on the Patrol and I was ‘just the skier’ and he gave me a drive up to go skiing.”

Whistler Skiers’ Chapel in 1989

Despite this inauspicious beginning, Tony and Irene soon became a couple and later engaged in 1967.  They chose Whistler as the perfect place for a wedding. When the Lyttles were asked why they chose to be married in Whistler, they said it just seemed like the natural place to do it. Irene elaborated:

“I don’t know whether it [getting married in Whistler] had been done at all.  I didn’t do it because it was popular.  I didn’t have any church affiliation and I loved mountains and the outdoors, and it didn’t make sense to get married in a church in Vancouver when none of us spent much time there.”

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

In fact, the Lyttles may have been the first couple married in Whistler. It certainly wasn’t easy.   Tony wasn’t even in the country at that point  — he was working for the Aspen Ski Corporation at the time.   Also, everything had to be brought up from Vancouver a treacherous 2.5-hour drive in the best weather.

The challenge was how to get all the guests up to Whistler in January.  Some guests travelled all the way from Nanaimo to attend the wedding.  One of Irene’s friends was only two weeks away from delivering a baby and still managed to make the trip. Tony himself brought the priest up to Whistler in a sports car during a snowstorm!

Irene Lyttle on her way to the wedding alter, January 1967.

While all their friends joked that Irene would wear ski pants to the wedding she was determined to wear a white wedding dress. However, one of the wedding ushers placed her white mid-calf ski boots in the aisle.  As the now married couple prepared to make their exit, Irene stopped, pulled up her skirt, removed her fancy white satin heels and, like the Whistler version of Cinderella, placed her newly married feet into the ski boots. She then proudly left the chapel with her patroller prince.

Wow – a wedding on the mountain and a bride wearing ski boots.   Maybe there’s hope for romance after all.