Muse du Ski des Laurentides
St-Sauveur, Quebec

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History of skiing in the Laurentians



Early days of skiing in Montreal and the Laurentians

The year 1904 marks the founding of the Montreal Ski Club, the first such club to be established. Although members skied mainly on the slopes of Mount Royal in the area known as Fletcher's Field, it wasn't long (1905 to be exact) before they ventured north to the Manitou Ski Club in Sainte-Agathe. Of course they fell in love with our region and quickly saw its immense potential for skiing. The Laurentians had been discovered by skiers!

The club was based near Saint-Sauveur at Marshals Pension in Shawbridge, conveniently located at the foot of the Big Hill. Marshals was an austere, almost monastic, place. A common meal might have been pea soup and beef stew served with homemade brown bread, and for dessert apple pie with maple syrup. And just imagine sleeping on straw mattresses! The conditions were not luxurious, that's for sure.

By 1919, Montreal Ski Club members also stayed at Chalet Cochand in Sainte-Marguerite. Owner Louis Cochand was one of the first professional instructors in Canada and had a huge influence on skiing in this region. Along with other European instructors, he introduced ski techniques and teaching methods from the Alps.

By the early 1930s, a favourite outing of skiers was to board the early-morning train at Viger or Mile End station in Montreal; get off in Val-Morin, Val-David or Sainte-Agathe; ski through the woods and over hills to Shawbridge; and catch the 5 p.m. train back to Montreal.

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Skiing's growth in the Saint-Sauveur valley: some key events

On a ski outing with his sons and some friends in 1910, Percy Douglas (one of the founders of the Montreal Ski Club) reached the summit of Mont Saint-Sauveur.

In March 1934 the Red Birds Ski Club proposed changing the name of the Big Hill at Saint-Sauveur to "Hill 70". This was in memory of the 1917 victory by Canadian soldiers who had fought the Germans at Hill 70 at Lens in Flanders. A commemorative plaque, originally placed at the top of the hill, is now displayed in Mont Saint-Sauveur's main chalet. From the naming of Hill 70 also came the names of Hills 68 and 69 to the east of 70, and 71 and 72 to the west.

That same year, 1934, the American Fred Pabst installed the first mechanical lift on Hill 70, which soon became one of the most popular slopes in eastern North America.

First ski lifts

By the early 1930s, a new invention was about to change the world of skiing. A key figure behind the invention was engineer - and skier - Alexander Foster. When an injury kept him off his skis, he applied his engineering skills to this new idea: a mechanical means of getting up the hill.

In January 1931, Foster installed what is reported to be North America's first lift - a rope tow at the Big Hill in Shawbridge. Foster's Folly, as it was called, worked like this: a Dodge automobile was mounted on blocks of wood, one of the rear tires was removed, and a cable that looped around the rim was fixed to a pulley on a tree at the top of the hill. Not a comfortable ride, but it beat climbing!

One ride up cost five cents and people could ski all day for 25 cents. This was truly the beginning of a new era for skiing, and before long the idea would become known far and wide.

Around the same time, Mose Paquette of Sainte-Agathe came up with a similar idea. Paquette was a handyman/inventor who during the 1920s had fashioned an "aeroski" - an airplane with the wings removed - that pulled skiers across frozen lakes. He patented his rope tow idea in 1934, and it was this concept Fred Pabst used for the tow at Hill 70.

So, even it's not completely clear who had the rope tow idea first, one thing is sure: the idea was born - and first put into practice - in the Laurentians.


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