Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles
Beamish Hill and Beyond
by Allan Richens
Beamish Hill was a popular ski area in West Hull (now Chelsea) in the 1940s and 1950s. It was one of several ski hills my friends and I could reach from Ottawa by public transport-bus or streetcar-at that time. The Cliffside Ski Club was at Fairy Lake (Lac des Fées), past the end of the streetcar line on Gamelin Boulevard where the Hull Hospital (Hôpital de Hull) is today. Dome Hill Lodge (one of several lodges affiliated with the Ottawa Ski Club) was at Ironside, where a golf club, the Club de Golf Hautes Plaines, is now. A little farther on was Pink Lake Ski Hill, half way along the trail to Camp Fortune-a bit of a distance! At Kingsmere, the Snow Bowl Ski Hill was located on the Kingsmere Road (near Penguin parking, P-5).1 The Ottawa Ski Club had a network of trails and runs on several hills at Camp Fortune in those days; it is the only one of these local hills still offering alpine skiing half a century later.
The Hull Bus Line, owned by the Bisson family, served the Hull and Gatineau area. This company ran buses from its Ottawa terminal, on George Street, to Beamish Hill and Old Chelsea (the end of the line for Camp Fortune), and sometimes to Le May's, a restaurant near the NCC's Penguin parking lot on the Kingsmere Road. The destination name was placed in the front window of the bus. All of these ski areas were within an hour's drive, and several buses would leave around 8:30 on weekend mornings. The return trip was normally at 4:30 to 5:00 p.m.
The bus to Beamish Hill took us through Hull to the Mountain Road to Beamish Hill, right at the base of Lariault's Hill. Beamish Hill was right ahead of you as you stepped down from the bus. No long trek required! There was a large open area beside the road, a chalet and two runs. The lower hill had a rope tow up the middle of it. Beside it was a longer, steep run down Lariault's Hill. Lariault's Hill was a road during the summer months, linking the end of Kingsmere Road with Mountain Road, but it was closed during the winter time and became our ski area.
When we arrived, the ski hill would be lined up with the skiers "cross checking" to make their way to the top of the hill ready to head down.2 The ski tow in those early days didn't always operate, which didn't matter at all to us kids. We had a great deal of enjoyment on the way uphill, talking with our friends and trying to make an impression on the girls. Later, in the 1950s, a 450-foot-long rope tow was installed on Lariault's Hill.3
Beamish Hill had two important advantages for skiers. During the day, it was a nice place to ski because the ski slope faced to the west and got the sun. But Beamish Hill had another amazing attraction: we could ski at night. It was the first ski hill illuminated at night in the Ottawa-Hull region. The "illumination" was actually a few 200-watt light bulbs, strung on a line beside the hill, but for us and many others, this was a truly awe-inspiring sight in those days.
Some skiers would stay overnight at Camp Fortune on the weekend, and ski across to Beamish Hill to spend the evening on its lighted slope. The trip took about 45 minutes, each way, but they had to be sure to leave Beamish in time to return to Camp Fortune before the lights were turned out and they lost the light reflection that helped them find their way on the trail.
Beamish Hill also offered races and competitions. Most of them were held on the smaller hill, which featured Wednesday-night ski races under the lights for many years. One of the most memorable events was a competition for the Alexander Cup. This was a combined Alpine downhill and slalom race, open to all ages and held over several days. The King Mountain Downhill used a long, narrow trail that ran in the trees from the top of King Mountain and finished right next to Lariault's Hill. The trophy was donated by Viscount Alexander of Tunis, Governor-General from 1946-1952, who himself was a skier. I can recall him skiing at Beamish Hill just like all the rest of us, climbing the hill and enjoying the Chalet with his family. Jim Soame, one of my friends from Lisgar Collegiate and a member of the Lisgar Ski Team during that era, was a winner one year. He received the cup, presented personally by Lord Alexander. Jim still has the trophy on the mantel in his Ottawa home.
The King Mountain run was also known as "The Devil's Run," and one year a young teenager, Paul Allen, from University of Ottawa High School, struck a tree and died in this downhill race. The trophy was renamed the Paul Allen Memorial Trophy in his memory. The organizers later changed the location of this downhill event to the Côte du Nord at Camp Fortune, another narrow, twisting trail that began at the top of Alexander Hill and ran to the Dunlop Trail (near P-10 parking lot).
Robert Lyle Beamish, for whom Beamish Hill is named, began acquiring property for the ski hill in 1938, purchasing several tracts of land from members of the Mulvihill family.4 A 1951 document of sale describes Beamish as a "merchant," of the city of Ottawa.5 Members of the Beamish family had several small clothing stores in different parts of Ottawa, and one in Aylmer (now part of the city of Gatineau), Quebec. Over time, Lyle Beamish added more land, and eventually owned parts of lots 22, 23 and 24 in Range 8 of the Township of West Hull (now Chelsea). Although he held some of the land until 1985, the ski hill ceased operations in the 1960s.
Beamish Hill had hired managers and any necessary staff to operate the chalet and ski hill. One of these was the Scobie family, who lived nearby. Then, in the early 1960s, Bill and Margaret Richards took on the management of the Beamish Hill Chalet. Margaret ran a family group home for children, taking in 15 or more at times. Bill operated the ski hill, and they both organized and ran dances on Friday and Saturday night and kept the lodge open to provide refreshments for the skiers.
Keith Richards (son of Margaret and Bill) recalls that it was not unusual for Children's Aid workers to bring a group of children out to the Richards' home on Christmas Eve.6 His mother wouldn't hear of the children doing without Christmas gifts to open on Christmas morning, so she would call Mr. Beamish, and he would open his Aylmer store for her to shop for her new wards. Although the ski hill closed down in the 1960s, Bill and Margaret continued to run the group home until they left the chalet in 1979.
By the early 1960s, Camp Fortune had expanded, and offered several hills, night illumination and modern tows, as well as parking at the bottom of the hills. Vorlage Ski Hill, with ski hills and a lodge at Wakefield, also opened at this time. Beamish Hill was no longer attracting enough skiers. Leo Mulvihill, a descendant of the family who formerly owned much of the Beamish Hill property, recalls that the ski hill closed in 1965.
In September of 2007, I set out to revisit the Beamish Hill and refresh my memory by describing what it looks like today. I was sure that this would be no problem whatsoever, as I had spent many happy times there 60 years ago, and had skied there from several different locations, including Pink's Lake, Kingsmere and Camp Fortune. So I took off in my car from Chelsea and drove over the Notch Road, and along the Mountain Road, past the restaurant that used to be Ruby's Lunch (at the corner of Mountain Road and Vanier). There is still a restaurant at this spot, but the name has changed.7 Continuing along the Mountain Road heading north toward Luskville, along the edge of the Eardley Escarpment, I arrived at the Kingsway Park Golf Club, which came into being in 1965. I realized, much to my surprise, that I could not see any evidence of the Beamish Hill Ski Club area.
A few weeks later, I retraced the same route, but this time continued farther along Mountain Road, where, not far past the golf club, the road takes a sharp turn to the right, followed by a quick swing back left. There I was, looking up at King Mountain, with its sharp granite cliffs along the skyline, while down along the road was a very recognizable resemblance to the former Beamish Hill area and lodge. A nearby road sign read "Hollow Glen." Two houses have been built on the former ski hill, but it was easy to visualize the old Lariault's Hill road and the hills where I spent so many happy times during the winter sixty years ago.
|1.||See Up the Gatineau!, Vol. 29, for Heather Quipp's account of "The Old Mountain Lodge at Kingsmere."
|2.||A skier can climb a hill by "cross checking" or doing the "herring-bone," pointing the skis outwards on either side to prevent slipping back.|
|3.||Heather Quipp, "The Old Mountain Lodge at Kingsmere," Up the Gatineau!, Vol. 29, 25.|
|4.||Gouvernement du Québec, registres fonciers.|
|5.||Gouvernement du Québec, registres fonciers, No 26393.|
|6.||Letter, Donna (Mrs. Keith) Richards, to the author.|
|7.||Restaurant Lap'tite Cantina Rosa in 2008.|