Volunteers are organizing to purchase and preserve Golden’s Swiss Village. (RE/MAX Golden)

Volunteers are organizing to purchase and preserve Golden’s Swiss Village. (RE/MAX Golden)

Saving Golden’s Swiss Village: Dr. Johann Roduit and Dr. Ilona Spaar reflect on iconic B.C. spot

The historic Edelweiss Village has been for sale for over a year, and preservation talks are moving

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH GOLDEN’S SWISS VILLAGE

The historic Edelweiss Swiss Village has captured the attention of many, not just within Golden, but across the province and even overseas this month, as an increasing push to purchase and preserve the property has been made in recent weeks.

The Edelweiss Swiss Village, which initially went up for sale in early 2021 and was listed at $2,300,000, is comprised of six Swiss-inspired homes, on a 50-acre property.

The historic 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 that was built in 1978.

Dr. Johann Roduit and Dr. Ilona Spaar are the duo behind the push to preserve the village, both of whom were raised in the Swiss Alps, and now call Canada home. Both were captured by the history of the Swiss guides in the Canadian Rockies.

The pair have laid out a roadmap for what preservation would look like, which started with raising awareness about the village, and are working towards establishing the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation by gathering key players from Canada, Switzerland and around the world in order 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.

WHO THEY ARE

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.

“When I first saw the village, I was emotional,” said Spaar.

“I was on a research trip to Golden and met with Colleen [the then curator of the Golden Museum], 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.”

“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,” said Roduit.

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.

However, when the property went up for sale a few months later, things accelerated as they worried about what selling the property meant 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.

HISTORY OF THE SWISS GUIDES

The Swiss Mountain Guides were hired by The Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail), initially to work as seasonal guides, who were brought to Golden to guide tourists through Rogers Pass, Banff and Lake Louise.

However, according to Spaar, that meant a lot of travelling every year back and forth at a time when travel could span weeks by boat, which led the guides to approach CP Rail in search of permanent housing.

Constructed began between 1910-1912, 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,” said Spaar.

“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,” said Spaar.

“We sometimes forget amidst the mountaineering achievements that Golden was their home, a sort of sanctuary, where they relaxed and had families.”

“There is no Lake Louise without Edelweiss Village,” said Roduit, who explains that the region as we know it today would have looked vastly different without Swiss influence.

“The tourism industry in Banff and Lake Louise, those guides needed a home.”

Guides such as Ernst Feuz once called the village home and became well-established in Golden’s history, with the name Feuz still persisting in town today.

Roduit also points out that Alpinism, the art of climbing up summits and walls in high mountains, in all seasons, in rocky or icy terrain, is considered an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and that preserving the history of Alpinism and the Swiss Guides is a culturally important historical undertaking for the region.

THE PATH FORWARD

At this moment in time, Roduit, Spaar and their team’s number one priority are to secure the site as they work towards the establishment of 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 been 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,” said Roduit.

The project has even earned the endorsement of the Swiss Consul General based in Vancouver, Andreas Rufer.

“The Edelweiss Village in Golden, B.C. is one of the many memories of the achievements of the Swiss mountain guides in the Canadian Rocky Mountains that we should keep alive,” wrote Rufer.

Throughout the whole process, the team has been working with Golden residents and stakeholder organizations, such as with 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 that it is important to acknowledge the First Nations and the traditional territory that the villages stands on.

“We think that this village should be a gift for all communities to enjoy,” said Spaar.

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.

READ MORE: Turning back the pages: Swiss guides

READ MORE: New book details Golden’s history

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Built between 1910-1912, the village housed Swiss Guides who paved the way for adventure tourism in Golden, but also in places like Roger’s Pass, Lake Louise and Banff. (Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies photo)

Built between 1910-1912, the village housed Swiss Guides who paved the way for adventure tourism in Golden, but also in places like Roger’s Pass, Lake Louise and Banff. (Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies photo)

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