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Father of Whistler' remembered in memorial Franz Wilhelmsen: 1918 - 1998 By Chris Woodall A memorial service for Franz Wilhelmsen, regarded as the "father of Whistler" for his pioneering work 30 years ago to establish what is now a world-class four-season ski resort, was held Wednesday, May 6, in Vancouver. Wilhelmsen died from cancer, April 30, one day after the B.C. Hall of Fame awarded him the WAC Bennett Award, acknowledging Wilhelmsen's impact on ski resort development in this province. Wilhelmsen, 79, leaves his wife Annette and their children. Mourners gathered at St. John's Shaughnessy Church to relive Wilhelmsen's accomplishments and what his life meant to his family and so many others. "I will always think of Franz as one of the most valuable mentors in my career," says Hugh Smythe, Intrawest president, resort operations group. Smythe worked for Wilhelmsen from 1966 to 1974. "He was incredibly perceptive, had a great sense of humour, and was charming and gentlemanly in every situation," Smythe says. When Smythe began development of Blackcomb Mountain in 1978, he worked alongside Wilhelmsen as a friendly competitor. "As we continue to develop Whistler Mountain we have replaced many of the original lifts using exactly the same alignments that Franz chose so many years ago," Smythe says. "Franz did a fabulous job in designing Whistler Mountain. It's tough to improve on his remarkable vision." Wilhelmsen's presence will continue to be felt on his home turf. Franz's Meadows leading to Franz's and Lower Franz's is a ski run from Whistler Mountain's Glacier Bowl to the Creekside — and original — base of the mountain. Whistler/Blackcomb has announced The Peak triple chair will be moved this summer to the location of the old Little Red Chair and re-named Franz's Chair. A new high-speed quad will carry skiers to the Peak. "I didn't truly appreciate how much of a visionary Franz was until I started to develop Blackcomb," Smythe says. "I then understood not only what he had to go through in building a ski resort, but what it must have entailed undertaking this task 15 years earlier" than when Blackcomb got going. In 1960, Franz and a few friends began developing what was then known as London Mountain, bringing this dream to reality six years later. On Jan. 16, 1966, Whistler Mountain opened with Wilhelmsen as president of Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., the forerunner of Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation. Over the next 17 years, Wilhelmsen guided expansion of runs on Whistler Mountain and developed the north side of the mountain to link skiers to the "new" Whistler Village. Born in Norway, Wilhelmsen moved to California in 1939. The following year he joined the Norwegian Merchant Marine and in 1941 he moved to Toronto to join the Royal Norwegian Air Force. He moved to Vancouver in 1946 and became a partner in Jarvis Inlet Express, a coastal shipping company. Wilhelmsen retired in 1983 at the age of 65. As well as his B.C. Hall of Fame award, he received the prestigious Queen's Medal in 1977 recognizing notable Canadians in Queen Elizabeth's silver anniversary year, and was inducted to the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1997. Wilhelmsen was also instrumental in the founding of the Whistler Skiers Chapel. In lieu of flowers, Wilhelmsen's family request that donations be made to the Whistler Skiers Chapel Society fund-raising efforts for a new building.