Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

Ski-ing in Earlier Years

Volume 13, page 7

This article from The Ottawa Journal of March 1967, no longer extant, is written by Bertha Wilson Holt, of Victoria, B.C., who is a sister of Lillian Walton, from whose scrapbook this is taken.

This is the fourth of a series of articles on what Canada's first century was really like. There will be glimpses of politics, of picnics, of the first trains, of the spirited arguments over liquor, of great oratory and high accomplishments. Today's is a look at our own Gatineau area not so long ago. Readers are invited to send in their own favorite flash-backs.

Written for The Journal by BERTHA WILSON HOLT

When visitors are touring the parliament buildings and arrive at the north side of the Peace Tower they hear the guide say: “In the distance you can see the Gatineau Hills.“

At the same time a group of young people could be on the mountain at Cascades, 16 miles away, pointing south and saying: "in the distance you can see Ottawa." Is it a popular pastime to climb these hills today, as it was in the mid-20's.

I grew up in these hills and loved them. We entertained visitors who came up the Gatineau for the first time by climbing the mountains across the river. The mountain from which Ottawa could be seen we named Wilson’s Point, because my father, S.E. Wilson, owned sixty acres across the top.

In winter we took to the ski trails. On a sunny day we would ski toward Meech Creek, past the Cowden farm over the mountain to Meech Lake.

This was a real good cross-country run. The trail went through open hilly country before disappearing into the forest. Once in the woods we had a steady uphill climb.

We plodded along in single file because the snow was deeper and the trail winding and twisting, as we skirted rocks and trees.

It took a good half-hour to go through this forest, then, all of a sudden brilliant sunshine as we came out of the shadows on top of Hopes Hill high above Meech Lake.

Old Chelsea
Ski-ing through Old Chelsea, Quebec in an earlier day. Public Archives Photo. (GVHS 171.1/2)

Seeing the lake frozen solid; the tiny cottages nestled in the snow around its rim; the warm winter sunshine; the peacefulness of the countryside, filled us with an inner tranquility beyond expression.

This hill facing the south was a pleasant place to spend the rest of the after- noon practising the slalom, christy, snow-plow and stem—turns.

With the exuberance of youth we played hard with the result we would develop a terrific thirst — and no water; eating snow only aggravated the condition.

Having this experience once we remembered to carry a lemon in our jacket, even though it was bitter, it quenched that seemingly unquenchable thirst.

Long before the sun set we would start for home in order to be out of the woods before dark. The trail back was exhilarating.

It had many short runs, dips and curves, until we reached the two-mile descent that brought us to the Cowden farm.

This was sheer ecstasy! We'd pause and count heads as each one appeared out of the forest at a tremendous speed, then we'd continue another three miles before reaching home. We would be hungry and tired, yet stimulated by our day's outing.

One of my favorite spots after a fresh snowfall was skiing to the "lost field". This field was smack in the middle of the bush on the Bates farm. Someone, long ago, jokingly said this field was lost, and the name stuck.

I loved to ski diagonally across this field leaving a straight trail — skis and pole marks in a perfect pattern.

If my great-grandfather, Isaac Cross, had not settled in this area in 1840, I might have been deprived of the pleasure of growing up in these hills.

He cleared the swamplands along the banks of Meech Creek. and the farm you see there today is the result of his labor.

In the early part of this century the farmers became interested in mining. If you hike through the countryside you will come across many open-pits overgrown with weeds and underbrush.

If a farmer had a mica mine on his property he would work it when his farm chores were less demanding, selling the few bags of mica to the dealers in Hull. It was one way of getting some ready cash.

My father was a prospector; he found and worked the "Borden Mica Mine” at Ladysmith, 30 miles from home. This mine produced high grade mica for a number of years.

The pit became too deep and dangerous for men to work in and it had to be closed down. Keeping it open meant a big investment in expensive machinery - and there was always the risk of losing the vein. There were no mining corporations to do things in a big way in those days.

One day, during the Second World War, my uncle, Stephen Cross, was in the department of mines when he saw a white rock on the desk of one of the officials.

He asked what it was and if there was a market for such an ore. When he was told it was brucite, containing magnesium, and most essential to the war effort, he grinned, and said: “I have a mountain of that stuff at Farm Point, 17 miles from here”.

The official, naturally, thought he was kidding but it was not so. The Aluminum Company of Canada bought up all the mining rights in the area and the large mill you see in operation today is the result of my uncle being curious about a white rock on a desk.

The hills of home... the hills of my youth... the Gatineau Hills.

List of articles - Volume 13