May 02, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Wedding pioneers of Whistler 

With the 2003 spring wedding season upon us, we look back in time to perhaps one of the first weddings ever performed in Whistler.

The date was Jan. 20, 1967. A Vancouver couple entered national history as the first couple to get married at the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel – Canada’s original ecumenical chapel. Despite the treacherous driving conditions and snowstorm, nearly 50 venturesome family members and friends risked the drive along the old Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, to witness the wedding of Tony Lyttle and Irene Foerster.

The couple first met when Irene hitched a ride to Whistler with a stranger named Tony. As Irene recalled, "I basically met the back of his neck and I wasn’t too impressed at that point."

Despite this initial setback, their friendship developed and they were married soon after. Tony headed the volunteer ski patrol in Whistler and had no affiliations with the local ski hills in Vancouver. Irene was working for the Aspen Ski Corporation in Colorado, but had spent a great deal of time skiing on Whistler Mountain.

There was never any doubt for either of them that the wedding would be held in Whistler. Tony and Irene were both ardent ski enthusiasts and planned the entire wedding in less than two weeks. As one can imagine, it wasn’t very common to get married in Whistler in those days. Their wedding preceded the days of getting married on exotic beaches or the top of a mountain.

"I didn’t do it because it was popular," said Irene. "We didn’t have any church affiliations and I really loved the mountains and the outdoors. It seemed natural to get married at the skiers’ chapel, and it was more of what we were at the time – skiers."

Although the paint in the newly built chapel was still drying, this didn’t stop Irene from persuading the people in charge to let her hold her wedding at the chapel.

As Whistler grew from a weekend destination to a permanent settlement, a place was needed to officiate births, deaths and marriages. This led to the building of the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel, an idea that stemmed from the childhood memories of Norwegian-born Franz Wilhelmsen, president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd. With the support of local skiers, Franz set in motion the creation of the first interdenominational chapel in Canada. The entire chapel was built with funds collected from more than 300 interested skiers and churchgoers.

Designed by Vancouver architect Asbjorn Gathe, the simple, wooden A-frame building was located at the base of Whistler Mountain, next to the lower terminal of the original gondola. The interior of the building was designed so that there were no purely Christian symbols. The chapel’s dedication ceremony took place on Christmas 1966 and brought together Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Church clergymen. The chapel remained at the same location until 1979, when the building was moved adjacent to a small building that was the original Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin.

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