The historic Edelweiss Swiss Village has captured the attention of many – not just within the British Columbia town of Golden, but across the province and even overseas – with a growing push to purchase and preserve the property.
The 50-acre property, which initially went up for sale in early 2021 and was listed at $2,300,000, features six historic, Swiss-inspired homes.
All have updated plumbing, heating and electrical components, as well as an updated furnace from the early 2000s.The village also has a main residence built in 1978.
Dr. Johann Roduit and Dr. Ilona Spaar are behind the push to preserve the village. Both were raised in the Swiss Alps and now call Canada home, and were captured by the history of the Swiss guides in the Canadian Rockies.
The two have laid out a roadmap for what preservation would look like, including establishing the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation, gathering key players from Canada, Switzerland and around the world to purchase and preserve the village.
With a deep appreciation for the mountains, the two believe that Edelweiss village captures the history of mountaineering in the Canadian Rockies, with its unique blend of Canadian and Swiss history.
None may be more qualified to understand the historical importance of Edelweiss than Spaar, a historian and author of Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada and Swiss Immigration to Canada: Achievements, Testimonies, Relations.
As for Roduit, he is an elected Swiss delegate, who sits on the Council of the Swiss Abroad for Western Canada, as well as a board member of the Swiss Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver.
Both recall having a great admiration for the village when they first came across it.
“I was on a research trip to Golden and met with Colleen (the then curator of the Golden Museum),” Spaar says. “I read so much about the Swiss Guides and the village, and when I saw it I got very emotional, I was so impressed by the village.”
Added Roduit, “I had a similar sense of amazement. You have to understand, it’s so far away from home, it’s across oceans, but it brings a sense of amazement and a sense of pride.”
The two first came together even before Edelweiss went up for sale, with Roduit contacting Spaar in September 2020 as he was interested in digitally preserving the site.
Things have accelerated once the property was listed for sale, as they worried about what its sale might mean for the future of the village.
Now, after extensive media coverage, they find themselves at a pivotal moment as they raise awareness and receive support for the village’s preservation.
The Swiss Guides
The Swiss Mountain Guides were hired by Canadian Pacific Railway initially to work as seasonal guides, brought to Golden to guide tourists through Rogers Pass, Banff and Lake Louise.
However, Spaar says that meant a lot of annual travel at a time when it could take weeks by boat, which led the guides to approach CP Rail about permanent housing.
Constructed began between 1910 and 1912. The chalets were constructed in the Swiss style that was popular at the time and helped the guides feel more at home while giving their families a place to stay as well.
Spaar says the unique architecture of the village is what sets it apart – the ‘Swiss style’ is not actually authentic Swiss architecture, combining North American elements that make it unique.
“You can’t find this style anywhere else in the world,” Spaar says. “That in itself is a good reason to preserve it. Can you imagine the loss if it ever were to disappear?”
The construction of Edelweiss and the arrival of the Swiss guides signalled the start of the golden age of mountaineering in the region, which remains an important aspect of life in Golden for both residents and tourists alike.
The Swiss Guides and the experience they brought to the region were crucial in shaping mountain culture in Western Canada and the development of mountaineering tourism as a leading industry.
A Jan. 22, 2020, article from the BBC even crowned Golden the ‘birthplace of Canada’s mountain culture,’ a testament to the impact that the Swiss Guides had on the area.
“Even though the Swiss Guides were in Banff and Lake Louise, their home was in Golden,” Spaar says.
“We sometimes forget amidst the mountaineering achievements that Golden was their home, a sort of sanctuary, where they relaxed and had families.”
The region as we know it today would have looked vastly different without Swiss influence, Roduit adds. “There is no Lake Louise without Edelweiss Village.”
The path forward
For now, Roduit, Spaar and their team’s No. 1 priority is to secure the site as they work towards establishing a foundation that will allow them to crowdfund to help purchase the village.
The next steps would involve a feasibility study on how to restore it.
Following that, the roadmap to preservation would involve the actual restoration of the chalets, and then crowdsourcing of ideas to create and promote sustainable cultural tourism to the area.
Roduit and Spaar say that the reaction has been good from both the Canadian and Swiss sides.
It’s a mission that has brought together people from across continents for the love of one shared passion: the mountains.
“Swiss people, even those who aren’t here, they love the Rocky Mountains, they can relate through the love for mountaineering that really connects people and speaks to that deep level of love and appreciation for this,” Roduit says.
The project has even earned the endorsement of the Swiss Consul General based in Vancouver, Andreas Rufer.
“The Edelweiss Village in Golden is one of the many memories of the achievements of the Swiss mountain guides in the Canadian Rocky Mountains that we should keep alive,” Rufer wrote.
The team is working with Golden residents and stakeholder organizations, including the Golden Museum and Tourism Golden, and has made it a priority to involve the community to realize the vision that would best suit Golden.
They also believe it’s important to acknowledge the First Nations and the traditional territory the villages stands on.
“We think that this village should be a gift for all communities to enjoy,” Spaar says.
The support from the community is there, and while the team works on securing the property, the full plan is outlined at swissvillage.ca for anyone to read through.
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