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More than Money

Posted by HPOC Staff on

With millions of dollars needed to protect Edelweiss Village, an important historic site in Golden, BC, can a small group of individuals make a difference?


Article by Stephen Robbins, MA

Stephen Robbins holds a MA in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia. He has worked as a professional researcher-writer since 2008. Stephen lives in Peterborough, Ontario with his partner Sara, and border collie Glenn.

Photo: Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies – Provided by the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation


Without heritage protections, Swiss Edelweiss Village in Golden, BC, was put up for sale in 2021. This historic, one-of-a kind, village could have been sold and demolished with little notice. Along with the village, important connections to the establishment of mountaineering culture in Western Canada, and its Swiss-Canadian heritage. With belief, and a moral responsibility to prevent this potential loss, two individuals Dr. Ilona Spaar and Dr. Johann Roduit formed the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation.[1][2] “We had nothing to lose because all we could do is just try”, Spaar explained in an interview with HPOC. Some people would say that “we don’t have a chance; we are just dreaming”, that it all comes down to funding. But as we will learn here “there’s so much more”.

Dr. Spaar, Canadian-Swiss author of Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada (2010) recognized the importance of Edelweiss Village well before it was put up for sale.[3] Built between 1910 and 1912, the history of the village can be traced back several decades earlier.[4] From around 1885, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) began to promote and develop the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains for wilderness tourism. With the CPR providing new access and accommodations to a remarkable untouched mountain experience, Canadian and international attention soon followed.[5][6] In addition to the luxurious resort facilities that were made available, the CPR provided opportunities to become fully immersed with the mountain surroundings. This would include challenging climbing expeditions in high unfamiliar terrains.

Photo: Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

As might be expected, early attempts to reach some of Canada’s Western summits would invite peril. In 1896, it led to the climbing death of Philip S. Abbot, despite Abbot having been considered an experienced mountain climber.[7] In response to this unfortunate event, the value of hiring individuals from Switzerland to guide and teach safe climbing techniques became a consideration. The American Appalachian Mountain Club hired the first professional Swiss guide in the area in 1896.[8] This guide, Peter Sarbach, led the first successful summit of Mount Lefroy in 1897.[9] With Sarbach providing plenty of evidence of Swiss capability on mountain summits, the CPR would soon begin hiring their own Swiss guides by 1899. Notable individuals such as Eduard Feuz Sr. and Christian Haesler Sr. would sign the first contracts.[10] Remarkably, during their full fifty-year period of guiding, there were no fatalities in the thousands of climbs led by these Swiss mountaineers.[11]


Swiss Guides and the mountains named after them.
Photo: Bruno Engler Archives – Provided by the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation

Between 1899 and 1911, the first two generations of Swiss guides that came to work for the CPR did so seasonally, May to September. However, the long trip from Switzerland and separation from their families would prove to be a burden for the guides. Fortunately, the CPR recognized this hardship. In response, the CPR developed plans to build a permanent home for the guides and their families. Between 1910 and 1912, Edelweiss Village was constructed for this purpose in the small town of Golden, British Columbia.[12]


Photo: RE/MAX of Golden (original source not confirmed)


The Village

By 1912, the six chalets making up Edelweiss Village were ready for the Swiss families.[13] The chalets were truly unique Swiss inspired structures designed by George S. Rees and James L. Wilson. Interestingly, at the time, these two architects had never actually seen a real Swiss chalet in person.[14] The result was a loose interpretation, hence, one-of-a-kind buildings. The chalets were built over a 50-acre hillside north of Golden, and each were recognizable by their eclectic decorative elements. Made from wood and stucco, they featured finely detailed bargeboards, half-timberwork, and distinctive ornate balconies.

Today, each of the original Swiss chalets can still be found. The best-preserved example, the Edward Feuz House, has been well maintained in its original form. “The previous owners put a lot of care and love into it” Spaar said. It has been decorated with memorabilia, photos, and stories from the early period of Swiss mountaineers. The chalet was built in 1911 and first occupied by Edward Feuz Jr. He came in the second generation of Swiss guides, following his father Edward Feuz Sr.[15] When Ed Jr. and his family moved to the Golden town center in 1915, the home became occupied by his brother, Swiss guide Walter Feuz, and his family (including wife Johanna). Purchased by Walter in 1959, they would live there until their passing in 1984 (Walter) and 1987 (Johanna).[16][17] Since 1987, the descendants of Walter and Johanna carefully maintained the property. While some restoration work was completed, the interior only changed slightly. In fact, many aspects are still exactly where they were when it was occupied by the Feuz family.


The Edward Feuz Chalet.
Photos: RE/MAX of Golden – Provided by Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation


In addition to the elements shared by all six chalets, the Edward Feuz House features five large roof brackets. It also has decorative panels with shapes resembling exclamation points set into the stair railings. The exterior consists of cedar shingles painted in a redwood finish. Inside, the house consists of three rooms on the first floor, four bedrooms on the second, and three basement storage rooms. The living room features a fireplace which would have been originally the only source of heat. The chalets were described as cold and drafty in the winter, and warm in the summer.[18] You could imagine a very different living experience than many of us are familiar with today.


For a virtual tour of the Edward Feuz House, and village area follow this link. This represents efforts by the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation in partnership with the University of Calgary to preserve the village digitally. The digitization of the other chalets, supported by the Consulate General of Switzerland Vancouver, will continue in 2023.

Swiss Edelweiss Chalet #3.
Photo: RE/MAX of Golden – Provided by Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation


Saving Edelweiss Village: The Property on the Market, and the Need to Act

In 2021, the entire 50-acre property, including each chalet, was put up for sale for $2.3 million.[19] Golden, like several towns in BC, has prospered as a tourist destination, and has high development potential. While in many areas in Canada, heritage properties being sold does not automatically put them at risk of demolition or significant alteration. This is due to protections offered by heritage bylaws or other means of formal recognition (provincial or federal). However, since the village is technically located in a rural district without heritage bylaws, there is no means to obtain a heritage designation. Therefore, there was a real possibility of the village being sold for the purpose of demolition. As mentioned, this risk gave rise to the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation and their monumental task of protecting this important site.

One may be tempted to default to the common plot line of the greedy developer in this case. However, “I want to just point out that there are also good developers”, Spaar reminds us. She adds that “they absolutely understand the importance of the village…they share our intention to save and preserve it”. Furthermore, “they are from the region, so they know the community…The reality is that without them, it wouldn’t be secured”. Spaar goes on to mention that “actually, we already benefited from this partnership”. For example, land studies that included analyses on potential road expansion, and the water situation were “all financed by the for-profit”.

Swiss Edelweiss Chalet #2.
Photo: RE/MAX of Golden – Provided by Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation

With limited funds, how is the Foundation succeeding in their efforts to protect Edelweiss Village? The answer may be through their community building efforts, and rightfully gained influence. As Spaar explains, “we’re well connected to the community…Our leverage is through lobbying, advocating, and awareness raising. Thanks to the media attention we received with 40+ media contributions, through different government levels, and in the community”.[20][21] She adds, “In fact, there were about three other developers who approached us” before they contacted the owners of the property. “In a way, they realized that we became the safeguardians…the owners, town officials, and other groups involved all checked in with us on what we think of this for-profit”. Amazingly, the Foundation was “able to actually choose between the for-profits” and operate in everyone’s best interests.

Even though the site is secured from sale, there is still much work ahead for the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation. First, as Spaar mentions, the “challenge now is to find a mutual agreement…that works for the for-profit and also for us”. Second, the Foundation is working to achieve charity status, which will be key in enhancing future funding. Also, the location requires costly road, sewer, and water upgrades to enable future site uses. And finally, due to erosion, two of the chalets must be relocated. The goal is to move them to the plateau where the Edward Feuz House is situated, to create a European style village plaza. The message from Spaar here is that this is all “quite the process and needs patience”.

Advocating and awareness building will also continue, as Spaar explains. “You will be surprised how many people just don’t know about the site…With Abbot Hut gone, I believe Swiss Edelweiss Village is now one of the last remaining links to this golden age of mountaineering history in Canada”.[22]


More than money?

“I believe in the power of the site itself”, Spaar points out. Ultimately, perhaps this is the key that serves to protect Edelweiss Village? From that belief, two individuals managed to step forward to become gatekeepers of an important space, one full of history and meaning. Their end goal being to continue that history through preservation and eventual sustainable tourism. At the same time, they remind us, and other heritage groups, that while important, money is not everything. Communities and partnerships with common goals can be built, and respect and integrity can be fostered, to achieve great things.


Would you like to help protect Edelweiss Village? Click here to visit the Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation’s donation page.

Photo: RE/MAX of Golden – Provided by Swiss Edelweiss Village Foundation


[1] Szeto, W. (2022, February 27). Swiss Canadians in B.C. are trying to save century old chalets in the Canadian Rockies. CBC News.

[2] See

[3] This is recommended reading for those further interested in the background of Edelweiss Village. While it highlights Swiss and Canadian mountain heritage, it also presented insight on the families at the village, including the Swiss women. Based on this omission in earlier publications, this contribution is noteworthy. Available online at

[4] National Trust for Canada. (n.d.). Edelweiss Village. Retrieved April 11, 2023 from

[5] Spaar, I. (2010). Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada. Consulate General of Switzerland Vancouver.

[6] While this area was new to visitors, Indigenous people were active in the area well before the CPR. As per oral history, the ancestors of the Stoney Nakoda people have lived in the Rocky Mountain foothill area since time immemorial. Furthermore, they served as important guides to early traders, surveyors, missionaries, and mountain explorers. In the opinion of this author and others, their full role in early mountaineering has not been adequately researched or recognized.

[7] Pullan, B. (2022, August 17). Death in the mountains. Crag & Canyon.

[8] Spaar, I. (2010). Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada. Consulate General of Switzerland Vancouver.

[9] Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. (2011, May 21). The Swiss Guides in the Canadian Rockies.

[10] Spaar, I. (2010). Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada. Consulate General of Switzerland Vancouver.

[11] Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History. (2021, February 4). The CPR Swiss Guides.

[12] Spaar, I. (2010). Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada. Consulate General of Switzerland Vancouver.

[13] Spaar, I. (2022). Swiss Edelweiss Village: History. University of Calgary – Digitally Preserving Alberta’s Diverse Cultural Heritage.

[14] Both Rees and Wilson were active at the time in the Calgary, Alberta area. Previous, they both were born and practiced in England prior to emigrating to Canada. See: and

[15] Spaar, I. (2022). Swiss Edelweiss Village: History. University of Calgary – Digitally Preserving Alberta’s Diverse Cultural Heritage.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Walter Feuz purchased the entire 50 acre property, including all six chalets, from the CPR in 1959.

[18] Spaar, I. (2010). Swiss Guides: Shaping Mountain Culture in Western Canada. Consulate General of Switzerland Vancouver.

[19] Wiebe, C. (2022, September 28). It Takes a Village: Saving Golden BC’s Storied Edelweiss Village. National Trust for Canada.

[20] These media contributions extended beyond Canada and included Switzerland, United Kingdom, Poland, Italy, and the United States.

[21] Not to be diminished here, the Foundation made a truly impressive campaign to secure the property themselves. In addition to obtaining considerable media attention, they gained the support of a wide range of groups and individuals. These include many in the town of Golden: city officials, Museum & Archives, and Tourism Golden Association. Additionally, the Foundation obtained support from the Consulate General of Switzerland (Vancouver) and the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA). One of the most notable achievements was the inclusion of Edelweiss Village on the National Trust of Canada’s Endangered Places list (See

[22] Abbot Hut was an important National Heritage Site near Lake Louise, AB. Built in 1922 by the same Swiss guides who lived at Edelweiss Village, it was recently dismantled by Parks Canada, due to erosion they attributed to climate change.