From rock climbing, hiking and avalanche research to skiing, snowboarding and heliskiing, Alberta and British Columbia are known around the world for their rich and adventurous mountain culture. , certainly a defining characteristic of both provinces.
Almost entirely unknown is the fact that the roots of this mountaineering culture can be traced back to the Swiss Edelweiss Village (SEV), consisting of six Swiss Alps-style chalets built on a hill north of Golden, British Columbia, between 1910 and 1912. Sadly, these historic treasures are now sold and at risk of being demolished. The National Trust has listed SEV among the 10 most endangered historic sites in Canada.
In order to preserve the SEV and promote its historical significance, the Swiss Foundation Edelweiss Village was formed. While the nonprofit group’s primary focus is physically preserving SEV, it also looks to UCalgary Digital Heritage Archive to digitally preserve the site.
This digital documentation of SEV even includes a virtual tour of the important landmark. This project is led by Dr. Peter Dawson, Head of the Department of Anthropology and Archeology, and Denis Gadbois, Assistant Professor teaching in the Department of Art and Art History.
“At the turn of the 20e century, mountaineering had become popular, especially with wealthy tourists, and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) wanted to encourage it,” says Dr. Ilona Spaar, co-chair of the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation. “However, in 1896 there was a high profile mountaineer death, and the CPR recognized the need for professional mountain guides. The problem is that there were none in the Canadian Rockies.
For this reason, the CPR began bringing Swiss mountain guides to the area to teach safe climbing techniques. Soon, these guides became a fixture in the area, prompting the construction of the SEV as a permanent home. The village buildings were inspired by chalets in the Swiss Alps, partly as a marketing strategy.
“With the Swiss theme, the CPR used the village to attract tourists,” says Spaar. “The Swiss guides who lived there brought new standards and practices to mountaineering. The village can be described as one of the first cradles of modern mountaineering in the Canadian Rockies.
Bruno Engler Archive
Still owned by the descendants of the Swiss guides, the SEV is now up for sale for $2.3 million. Because the village is located outside of Golden in a rural district with no heritage regulations, it does not enjoy the protection that an officially designated heritage site would have. Under these circumstances, any potential buyer could take the wrecking ball of historic cottages.
“That’s why our digital archives focus on local heritage sites,” says Dawson, Director of Archives, who has been digitally preserving Alberta’s heritage sites using technologies like terrestrial laser scanning for more than a century. decade.
When a historic site is not given this official stamp of significance by government agencies, there is a greater risk of loss, as these sites are not protected by law. This creates an even greater urgency. Our mission is to ensure that these sites are digitally preserved and not lost.
This isn’t the first time Dawson has teamed up with Gadbois from the Art Department. “As an archaeologist, my approach to digital preservation is mostly on the documentation side and it’s more of a clinical process,” he says.
“But Denis looks at digital heritage from a different angle. He took most of the photos needed for the virtual village tour and he is more interested in engaging the audience by creating atmosphere, a sense of history, time and place. It requires an artist’s eye and that’s what Denis brings to the project.
In an email, Gadbois added: “The site and the location are rich in history, landscape and deserve all my artistic considerations. This project is the perfect example of an interdisciplinary collaboration between science, history and art.
In their efforts to save SEV, the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation must first collect $100,000 as a non-refundable deposit from owners, due by July 15, which will temporarily secure the property. By mid-December, the foundation is expected to have raised the $2.3 million sale price for SEV.
“Some people think that when a historic space is preserved, it’s something to look at but not touch,” says Spaar. “On the contrary, our vision for the Swiss Edelweiss Village is to create a truly dynamic heritage space.”