Whistler Millennium Place is about spirit, rather than religion
By Bob Barnett
On Christmas Eve, 1967, most of the inhabitants of Alta Lake gathered in and around a tiny A-frame building at the base of Whistler Mountain, next to the old ski school bell, for the first service in the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel.
There weren’t many people living in Alta Lake in the winter of 1967-68, and very few visitors were in town, but the little chapel was a magnet for those who dared to spend Christmas in the Coastal Mountains; service-goers spilled out of the building, down the steps and out on to the snow. Reverend Aubrey Bell, of the Church of St. John the Divine, came up from Squamish to conducted the carol service, which doubtless included Oh Come All Ye Faithful.
On Christmas Eve, 2000, the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society hopes residents of the Whistler Valley will again be drawn to another inaugural carol service, at the new Whistler Millennium Place.
After going through Whistler Skiers’ Chapel and Whistler Interfaith Chapel, Whistler Millennium Place is the final name for the inter-denominational and community facility that will replace the original Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. The three-floor, 1,800 square metre building will be built on a lot on Blackcomb Way, donated by the province, situated between municipal hall and the BrewHouse.
The Christmas Eve, 2000 carol service is conditionally scheduled; the next three months of fund-raising will determine whether construction will start in September or whether the whole project — and the opening carol service — will be delayed a year.
The price tag for construction is $5.6 million. The Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society, which has maintained the original Skiers’ Chapel and which is spearheading Millennium Place, has approximately $1 million in commitments and donated services, including $400,000 from the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation and an offer of construction management by Amako Construction. One individual has made a verbal commitment to a $400,000 donation. A couple of philanthropists are discussing even larger donations.
"I think we can raise $3 million in three months," says Stephen Milstein, who heads the steering committee of the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society.
"We’re looking for the one big hit that will generate interest in Vancouver and give us momentum."
Thirty-three years ago, it took nearly 18 months to raise the $30,000 needed to build the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. The A-frame building was Franz Wilhelmsen’s idea. Inspired by a little mountainside church where he learned to ski in his native Norway, the founding president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. recognized that a place for spiritual gatherings was a natural in the mountains. The first non-denominational skiers’ church in Canada was built on land provided by Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. Located right at the base of Whistler Mountain, it was possible for skiers to glide right up to the door of the chapel.
But even a modest building like the Skiers’ Chapel required a co-operative, community effort before it become a reality. In addition to the lift company’s donation of land, members of the Southam family donated the stained glass. Asbjorn Gathe, an architect who skied at Whistler, designed the building. Funding came from many Vancouver skiers, locals and businesses with ties to the burgeoning Whistler community.
The project was a success because it was inclusive; people of many faiths were involved and there was an understanding the community needed a spiritual place. Those same principles are behind Whistler Millennium Place.
"We don’t think this building is about religion, it’s about spirit," Milstein said.
"This building is about people sharing their differences and similarities."
The Millennium Place project has brought together Anglicans, Jews and members of the United Church, who have all sought a suitable place to worship. But the building has also been a catalyst for community groups, bringing together the various arts organizations in town and all the child care services to help determine what is missing and how Whistler Millennium Place can help meet some of those needs.
The Franz Wilhelmsen Hall, the main place of worship, is an example. Located on the third floor of the building, the hall will have seating for up to 250 — 200 fixed seats and 50 moveable. The hall will be designed for religious services, but will also accommodate music concerts, stage plays and will include provisions for 35 mm film projection. Special attention is also being given to the room’s acoustics.
The second and ground floors are also multi-purpose spaces, housing a children’s centre, teen facilities, offices, space for art classes and music rehearsals — spaces for many of the community activities and groups that to date have had to scramble for space.
The inclusion of all these community activities has meant the design and scope of Millennium Place has changed substantially over the last four years. At one time the budget was about $2 million and the design was a larger version of the original Whistler Skiers’ Chapel A-frame. A development permit for that design was issued two years ago, but as discussions continued and new needs were discovered, the budget increased to $3 million and finally to the current $5.6 million.
"As more people came on board, there were more needs and more opinions," Milstein says. "I think we’ve met most of those."
Listening to the grass roots of the community has shaped the changes and the evolution of the building’s design. As Milstein says, "We went out and listened to them."
"Them" includes the Whistler Community Arts Council, the Whistler Centre for Business and the Arts, the Whistler Singers, the Whistler Players, Whistler Secondary School’s music and drama departments, and outside experts in the arts world.
On the child care side, representatives from the Whistler-Blackcomb Ski and Snowboard School, Myrtle Philip Community School, the Whistler Children’s Centre, a Montessori school, the Jewish Community Centre Daycare, the parks and recreation department and the B.C. Community Licensing Officer were consulted.
These groups and a number of others were part of a 12-month needs assessment done by a professional consulting firm to determine who and what services Millennium Place could fulfil.
Milstein can make a case that the building should perhaps be the municipality’s responsibility, as many of the services that will be provided through Millennium Place would otherwise have to be provided by the municipality. Indeed, consideration has been given to the municipality holding council meetings in the Franz Wilhelmsen Hall.
On Monday, Whistler council received a report from staff which confirmed that the teen centre should be included in Millennium Place, rather than in a renovated KOA building at Spruce Grove Park, as the municipality had originally intended.
So now the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society is faced with fund-raising, something that really hadn’t been possible until a final design was in place. The society has $400,000 for a pre-school facility from the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation, verbal commitments from some individuals and promises of services from various local businesses.
The focus now is on "the list." In addition to the philanthropists who have been targeted for large individual donations, the society has put together lists of people who live in Whistler, who own homes in Whistler, who do business in Whistler, cross-referenced them all, and is systematically setting out to solicit contributions. Many of the people on the lists have been contacted some time ago and have just been waiting for the final fund-raising push.
In addition to straight donations, a unique art sponsorship/donation program has been designed, with a goal of raising $1.5 million. Next week a call will go out to artists across the province for works that relate to or reflect the multi-faceted use of the building. A jury will select approximately 12 larger proposals by August, as well as a number of smaller works. Sponsor patrons will be asked to purchase the works, which will be on permanent display in a small gallery in Millennium Place. Each work will include a plaque identifying the patron and their contribution to the building through the purchase of the work of art.
Last week the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society submitted its application for a development permit for Whistler Millennium Place. In less than three months the society will know if it can schedule another Christmas Eve carol service for 2000.