February 25, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

Heritage of faith 

Religion and spirituality in Whistler: from the Skiers’ Chapel to Snowboarders for Christ

By Pina Belperio,

Whistler Museum & Archives

Each year the Heritage Society of British Columbia sets aside a week for communities to honour local history and culture. The theme for 2005 is Heritage of Faith — Sacred Buildings and Spiritual Places .

Throughout ancient folklore and religious texts, people have been attracted to remote mountains and pristine peaks. Something spiritual seems to happen in the presence of mountains. In keeping with this year’s Heritage Week theme, the Whistler Museum & Archives sent me out to explore sites of worship in Whistler, including churches (past and present), and the role that spirituality plays here in the Coast Mountains.

Unlike many other communities in British Columbia, Whistler lacks obvious examples of historic places of worship. Initially, this led me to conclude that locals were too engaged in the "Church of the Great Outdoors" or partying to find time for organized religion or bible classes. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sunday mornings are surprisingly busy around Whistler, despite findings by Statistics Canada that attendance at religious services has fallen dramatically across the country over the past 15 years. Whistler is home to a diverse group of established and post-modern faiths.

Whistler Skiers’ Chapel Society

Whistler’s first church stemmed from the childhood memories of Norwegian-born Franz Wilhelmsen, the president of the company that first developed Whistler Mountain. His vision included a chapel designed specifically for skiers. With the support of local skiers, Wilhelmsen set in motion the creation of Canada’s first ecumenical church, the Whistler Skiers’ Chapel. It was built to act as a multi-faith worship centre for residents of Whistler. The chapel’s first service was held on Christmas Eve in 1967.

The chapel’s dedication ceremony in March 1968 brought together clergymen from the Anglican Church in the Diocese of New Westminster, the British Columbia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Jewish Community in Whistler and the Whistler United Church of the United Church of Canada.

The chapel was a simple A-frame designed by Vancouver architect Asbjorn Gathe and kept free of any purely Christian symbols. After being moved twice from its original location next to the original gondola in Creekside, the chapel held its last service on Easter Sunday 2000, before being dismantled.

In the early 1980s, the province gave the Skiers’ Chapel Society the deed to a small lot for a future church. This property was later exchanged for the property on Blackcomb Way, where the Maurice Young Millennium Place Interfaith Chapel was built. Commonly referred to as MY Place, it opened for worship service on June 17, 2001. Since its inception, MY Place has served as a worship centre for the Roman Catholic Church, the Whistler Community Church, the Jewish faith, and the Whistler Village Church.

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