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SIGHT LINES: Peninsula resident Chip Barrett leaves a legacy of community building

Architect was also noted for Community Christmas Day Dinner, Sandcastle competition

It was a sure sign that Christmas was approaching.

Not the clatter of reindeer hooves or ‘visions of sugarplums’ – for me, the signal the holiday was around the corner was a call from Peninsula architect Chip Barrett.

In his soft, relaxed, unhurried voice – always seemingly on the verge of a chuckle – Chip would gently remind me that the Community Christmas Day Dinner was happening again and it might be time for an article in the Peace Arch News.

He always wanted to be sure to remind people to reserve a spot, and also pay tribute to the hard work and generous contributions of many volunteers in making the dinner a happy, welcoming tradition.

Sadly, such warm, affable conversations – and there were many over the years – are only a memory now.

Chip left this world May 29 at 78, on his own terms – with a smile, and with close family around him – through the Medical Assistance in Dying Program (MAID).

A combination of recent health challenges had prompted his decision, his widow Cindy, and long-time friend and former White Rock mayor Gordon Hogg, told me.

READ ALSO: White Rock-South Surrey Christmas Dinner returns after 2-year hiatus

Another former mayor and long-time friend of Chip’s, Tom Kirstein – who broke the news of Chip’s passing to me – also provided a wealth of background information about the friend and fellow community booster who had co-chaired the Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition with him in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kirstein, and his wife Marylou, recalled that Chip never “dwelt on the past.”

“He always looked forward, and only wanted to improve the lives of people in his community,” Kirstein said. “He has left the world in a better place.”

“I visited Chip in the hospital a few months ago and he talked about how difficult it was to walk and about the great support that he was getting from his family and friends,” Hogg said.

“He phoned me a few weeks ago and talked about the challenges he was facing physically. I had left him a phone message and then found out that he had chosen MAID.

“He was a positive, caring family man who gave a great deal to our community. He had a wonderful supportive family and he greatly appreciated that support. He did not want to be in pain and a burden to anyone.”

“Our daughter Lindsay, son Tim, the extended family, and I, will miss him terribly,” Cindy, his wife of 54 years, added.

“But we know that he left in peace, with a smile, and while knowing he had done his best. We are incredibly proud of Chip.”

“I’m sad to hear of his passing,” said Brian Hagerman, the current chair of the Community Christmas Dinner, to whom Chip passed the baton several years ago.

“He was a tremendous community builder and innovator, with a strong sense of giving back.”

For more than 40 years, the dinner – formerly at the First United Church in White Rock and now at the White Rock Baptist Church in South Surrey has provided a place of celebration and bonhomie for people who would otherwise be “alone or lonely” on Christmas Day.

Typically, Chip would downplay his role in the event, preferring instead to focus on such community-minded people as the late George Bryant and the late Rev. Howard Filsinger as the originators.

It was, he told me, provoked by one particularly bad Christmas in the late 1970s when several community members passed away alone in their homes during the holiday, and the founders were determined they would do everything they could to make sure that such sad situations were avoided in future.

READ ALSO: Christmas Day Dinner returns to White Rock

But his devotion to the Christmas Dinner was only part of Chip’s story – as relayed to me by Cindy and the two former mayors.

Born Lawrence W. Barrett in Toronto, Ont. in 1944, Chip attended the private Upper Canada Boys School, and came out to the west coast in 1964 to attend UBC, where he majored in architecture.

“He grew up in a wealthy family, but he always wanted to give back – he wanted to help everybody,” Cindy told me.

Chip’s outstanding ability as a football player came to the fore while at UBC, and he became a member of the Thunderbirds team. After he graduated in 1966 he was a first round draft pick for the CFL, subsequently playing defense for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts in the years 1967 to 1972.

He was ultimately traded to the BC Lions, Kirstein recalled, “but by that time he was already headed to a career in architecture in White Rock.”

“Chip recently joked that if he ever returned to the league, the Lions would have to waive their rights to him,” Kirstein said.

Chip may have retired from football but he soon became recognized as a strong team player for White Rock and the Semiahmoo Peninsula, both as an architect specializing in below-market rental housing and as a family man with a penchant for worthy causes.

“He was proud of his profession, and I was proud of the way he approached it,” said Cindy.

“He was focused on people who were not millionaires – he designed the Phoenix House (a residential addiction-treatment facility) in Surrey and the Sunnyside Villas retirement residence in South Surrey, for instance.”

Chip maintained his architecture practice until the day he retired in late 2022, and Kirstein noted that Chip’s architecture is a feature of many commercial and residential projects on the Peninsula, in Langley and beyond.

Chip volunteered for many years on the White Rock Advisory Design Panel and was recognized by the Architectural Institute of BC for his services to not-for-profit societies, he said.

Among his many achievements, Chip was also in the forefront of establishing the Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition, which made White Rock internationally renowned from 1979 until 1987.

He had been at the White Rock council meeting in 1979 where Kirstein, an alderman at the time, had been told by the then-mayor that his job was not “to promote this city.”

“Fighting words, those were,” said Kirstein, who recalled that it only took until noon of the next day for Chip and him to drum up some $4,000 from the community for prizes for a sandcastle contest.

Just six weeks later, the first Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition took place on White Rock beach, drawing an estimated crowd of 40,000.

Its success – drawing an average of 120,000 people each year – led to the establishment of the US Open Sandcastle Competition in Imperial Beach, plus the BC Open in Parksville and the Harrison Hot Springs event as well, Kirstein said.

Each subsequent year, Chip and Kirstein were co-chairs of the event, with Chip taking on the seemingly impossible task of gathering 400 volunteers needed for judging, operating buses, supervising parking, selling ice cream and reuniting lost children with their parents.

The event was cancelled in the Expo year of 1986, when the co-chairs considered that risks caused by changes to the B.C. liquor laws would “outweigh the benefits”.

But it bounced back for the final event in 1987, which took place on Chip’s birthday, Aug. 10.

It might have been the event’s swan song but the last competition was a wonderful birthday present for Chip – receiving coverage by both ABC and CTV National News and a visit by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney by hovercraft, as well as what Kirstein termed “a glowing write-up” in the Smithsonian Magazine.

Hogg also remembered Chip as a “great organizer and planner.”

“(I remember) gatherings on Friday afternoons at the Design Group office on Marine Drive, across from the station. It was a social time to explore ideas about our community – everyone was welcome.

“I have great memories of our times together – the laughter, the joy and the camaraderie. He gave so much to our community. We were blessed to have, and to know him.”

A celebration of life is planned, with date and location still to be finalized, and Chip’s family ask that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Community Christmas Dinner through Hagerman at 604-329-55661 or

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