This Christmas sees the 46th anniversary of the first service held in the first church in Whistler — the Christmas Eve Carol Service in the Whistler’s Skiers’ Chapel.
The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel was an unusual place in more ways than one. In most communities in Canada one of the first institutions to be established by the pioneers was the church. In Whistler, the first church wasn’t built until 1966 — 60 years after the valley was first inhabited.
When a church was finally established it was not just a first for Whistler, it was a first for the whole country — the first ecumenical (multi-faith) chapel in Canada.
The idea for the Skiers’ Chapel came from Whistler Mountain’s first president, Franz Wilhelmsen. Norwegian born, he remembered a small hillside church in the village where he skied as a child.
The site was donated by Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. and architect Asbjorn Gathe designed the chapel free of charge. The fundraising committee was co-chaired by Marion Sutherland, (a Protestant) and Joan Maclean (a Roman Catholic). The chapel was kept free of purely Christian symbols and the chapel’s dedication ceremony brought together clergymen from the Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish and United faiths.
The stained glass windows were designed by Donald Babcock and bore the inscription “Natus Renatus” meaning “birth and rebirth.” This year the Whistler Museum was donated these windows, and although they are too large to display in the current museum space we hope one day to have a larger building where they can be exhibited.
The Chapel was also unusual because it was built at the base of a ski hill. Skiers could attend the services and, in some cases, get married in their ski gear!
One couple who were married in the chapel in 1988 recalls, “On that day we skied down the hill to the chapel hearing the bells ring as we descended. We removed our skis at the stairs, and removed our boots on the veranda. Then we walked up the aisle in our ski socks.”
This year I will be singing with the Whistler Singers in the Christmas Eve carol service at the Westin at 6.30 p.m. There will be far more people there than could have fit into the tiny 60-seater Skiers’ Chapel, but I would have liked to have had a chance to sing in the Skiers’ Chapel too. Who knows — maybe one day it will be reborn.
Sarah Drewery is the executive director of the Whistler Museum