There is no doubt that in the origins and development of mountaineering and mountain culture in Western Canada, the Swiss Guides were front and centre. The fact that much of their work was divided between Lake Louise and Rogers Pass meant Golden BC became their place of residence. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)brought a few Swiss Guides to Canada after a fatal death in 1896, and as more and more became keen on mountaineering and mountain treks, the CPR realized more Swiss Guides were desperately needed to fulfill a growing interest and need. So, between 1910-1912 the CPR built a variety of chalets on an upper ridge in Golden to provide homes for the Swiss Guides and their growing families. The forested area on the hillside came to be known as Swiss Edelweiss Village.
I have been fortunate over the years to spend time at Edelweiss Village on various mountaineering treks in the area. Sadly, this heritage site and decades long centre of Canadian mountaineering is potentially being sold to a buyer solely interested in demolition and new development. If this does occur (hopefully it will not), a significant part of Canadian and Canadian mountaineering history will disappear—Canada and Golden would be the lesser for it.
Dr. Ilona Spaar and Dr. Johann Roduit (both from Switzerland, Roduit lives in Abbotsford, Spaar in Vancouver) have taken leadership in preserving Swiss Edelweiss Village from being sold and potentially demolished—their Swiss-Canadian line and lineage positions them well for such a commitment. I was fortunate to live in Switzerland from 1972-1974. Because I’m Canadian, I have a decided fondness and affinity with the Swiss-Canadian love of the mountains and mountain culture. Swiss Edelweiss Village is but a portal into the larger cathedral of Swiss-Canadian mountain life.
The recent publication of Edward Feuz Jr.: A Story of Enchantment (2021) by D.L. Stephen builds on and develops yet further the earlier The Guiding Spirit (1986) by Andrew Kauffman/William Putnam and nestled nicely between these beauties and bookends is Ilona Spaar’s fine primer Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada.
I have, in various editions of Cloudburst, lightly landed on such topics and issues: “The Canadian Alpine Tradition: Swiss Guides and Conrad Kain (Fall/Winter 2009) and “Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada” (Fall/Winter 2010). The photos taken in Golden (Alpine Mural) and at Edelweiss Village (with Jean Feuz-Vaughan) reflect the significance of Golden, the Swiss Guides and Swiss Edelweiss Village as icons that must be protected as a vital part of the Canadian mountaineering tradition—such a mother lode lost if consumed by developers.
I have been fortunate to do a lingering zoom call with Ilona Spaar and listen in on the heroic effort to preserve both Swiss Edelweiss Village but also the much grander and fuller Swiss-Canadian mountaineering culture and ethos.
Those who are interested in delving much deeper into the unfolding project can do so at www.swissvillage.ca.