Ottawa Ski Club and Murphy's Hill

New January 10, 2006:

Thanks to Anne-Marie Ibell for sending the following article ... Al

'History of George's Trail' 
article written by C.E.Mortureaux published in 
Canadian Ski Annual, 1923 - 1924 season

"The History of George's Trail"

Illustrated by Mary Falkner

This is Kingsmere, a step in the long climb up the mountain. Now comes a 
sharp winding slope, called Murphys Hill, because one William Murphy once 
lived at the foot of it; this over, the crest is reached.
Here the long bush trail that has been going up steadily since we left the 
valley; having at last reached the ridge, stretches leisurely and wanders 
about in a general east and west direction, through dark woods and sunny 
clearings, along deep gullies and gloomy ravines, until it finally tumbles 
northward, down the mountain side, towards Meach / Meech Lake, forming a 
one-mile drop called McCloskey's Hill, because one, McCloskey, once lived at 
the top.

Along this ridge, in that seven-mile stretch between Murphy's and McCloskey's 
Hills, once lived and toiled a little colony of Irish settlers - the Dunlops, 
Laheys, Keogans, Egans, Jeffs, McGuires and McCloskeys. How they came to settle 
on this stony land, no one knows. Probably they were planted there on some 
dark night and stayed there because they did not know that the rest of the world 
had anything better to offer. One day, as the story goes, they heard from some 
visitor about the level, flat lands in the valley below, and straightway they 
packed their household goods and climbed down, never to return, some by 
McCloskey's Hill and some by Murphy's.

The clearings now overrun with slender poplars, the shacks now a heap of 
mouldering logs, are the only evidences of their sojourn in these parts, 
fifty years ago. Not one, perhaps. of the thousand ski-ers who glide merrily 
over this ridge on a week-end knows that in one of the wildest spots of this 
wilderness once stood a schoolhouse that sheltered many light-hearted Irish kids 
who studied diligently when they were not running about in search of partridge 
nests,-and judging by the present scarcity of birds, school hours must have been 
short in those days, but this has nothing to do with our story.
All ski-ers heading for the Capital make for this ridge and the bush road, 
climbing by various trails according to the station at which they detrain: 
Tenaga, Kirk's Ferry, Cascades or Wakefield. They might save themselves a lot 
of exertion and trouble by sticking to the very good road around the mountain, 
but they would not be ski-ers if they did that. To-day they stop for lunch at 
Camp Fortune, of the Ottawa Ski Club, but in the days I speak of they used to 
push right on to Kingsmere, to enjoy Murphy's far-famed hospitality.

Truly the sight from the top of Murphy's Hill is grand, and the panorama 
that suddenly unfolds before the eye is well worth a prolonged stop; but, as 
it was usually well past the noon hour-and sometimes much later-when your 
ski-er arrived there, the only wonderful thing he could see in that thousand 
square miles of territory a thousand feet below him was Murphy's smoke stack, 
with that graceful wisp of smoke slowly curling upwards. laden with the pleasant 
smell of Mrs. Murphy's cooking.

But between him and the promised land stood Murphy's Hill. Now Murphy's Hill 
was not so very bad, as hills go. It was steep to be sure. Very steep, and 
there was a good deal of it; it was full of twists and curves and generally 
tracked with sleigh ruts. All this could be negotiated with a fair amount of 
luck and skill, save for that confounded right angled turn at the bottom caused 
by a fence, and that icy spot, caused by a spring trickling down the mountain-side; 
but the worst thing about it, perhaps, was its bad reputation, quite enough in 
itself to upset a man with an empty stomach and wobbly knees. Many sat there,. 
and they sat hard, very hard, so hard that they found sitting in a chair an 
uncomfortable posture for weeks after.

After the Ottawa Ski Club had been formed, and there was a live organization 
to take notice of things, and after the members of the Executive all had their 
little spill on Murphy's Hill, including the President and Vice Presidents, 
they went to Willie Murphy and spoke to him about after this fashion: "Look here, 
Willie, that hill is bad. Could you do something to improve it? It would not be 
very hard to take some of the curves out, and that fence could easily be removed 
too. That would make it a whole lot safer. Some day, you know, some serious 
accident will happen and you will be blamed for it, because that hill is named 
after you, and there will be a blemish on the name of Murphy."
This last sentence, which was intended as a telling argument, spoiled it all. 
"But why tack my name on to that hill?" said Willie. "No one called it that way 
before you fellows came in these parts. I suppose I will be blamed for the mountain 
being here next. I am not going to do any tearing down of
fences; there are enough ski-ing pests doing that in the country without my 
taking a hand in it. And if you think I am going to spend the summer carting 
that hill away just because you fellows can't ski, you have got another guess 
coming. Why don't you take to snowshoes? It is a whole lot safer."

This was hard logic. Nothing could be done with a man like that, and the Executive 
went home rubbing their sore hips.
The Municipal Council was next appealed to, but they did not even bother 
answering, and it was inferred from their reticence that they were not 
particularly interested in winter traffic.
Then the President called George Audette, who claimed to know all about the 
highways and by-ways of the mountain, and he said to him:' "George, we have got 
to do something. That hill is not only hurting the members, but it hurts our Club. 
They call it our trail now. Could you not find a better trail somewhere down 
from the ridge? If the Ottawa Improvement Commission ever get hold of this 
mountain and hear that somebody sprained his ankle here, it will be good-bye 
to ski-ing forever. You know what they did to our jump in Rockcliffe Park."
George promised he would do something before long, but as a matter of fact 
he did nothing. He had too much fun watching the others coming down the 
hill. However. soon after that, he got an awful spill himself down Murphy's 
on a very fast day and broke his famous eight-foot hickory skis. Then he was 
all action.
One bright morning George breezed in to the President's office and said: "I 
have got a new trail, and it is a bird. It has got Murphy's skinned a mile. 
gentle as a lamb too. Anyone who tries it will never want to go down Murphy's 
again. It is all blazed and ready. Put it in the circular, and shoot them 
through !"
A hurried meeting of the Executive was called; they were told the good news; 
they went home happy and told their wives about it, and slept peacefully for 
the first time in many long nights. The Club Editor was instructed to urge all 
members, by means of the circular, to try George's new trail and leave Murphy's 
Hill, of sinister repute, severely alone, which was done.
But the next Monday morning, quite unexpected and alarming reports reached 
the President, and his phone rang with angry voices the greater part of the day. 
"Do you want to kill us?" they said, "Why don't you try your
own tricky trails before you advertise them? This trail is a disgrace and a 
crime, and you and your Executive should go to jail for it." Threats of legal 
procedure followed.
George took the whole thing very calmly. "I have got enemies in this Club," he 
said. "I know it-just because I was ahead of the gang at Murphy's one day and ate 
all the pie. They are a bunch of sore heads. Just tell them I had nothing to do 
with that trail and you will see, they will think it is all right." So the 
President did nothing and waited for developments.
But loud and long as the complaints had been the first week-end, they were as 
nothing compared to the complaints of the following week. Somehow, everybody 
had been trying the infernal trail, and everybody wanted to wring George's neck. 
There were wholesale threats of resignations. People demanded a refund of their 
fees, and a local paper took it up in an editorial, severely censuring the Club.
Then the President did what he might have done in the first place. He appointed 
a Special Committee, with instructions to investigate and report about the new 
trail. The members of this committee were old men, as ski-ers go, men of great 
experience, and it was felt that a report from them would be thoroughly reliable. 
They did not stand upon the order of their going; they kissed their wives and 
kids, shook hands with their friends, took the pole of 1922 and went.
As a result of this investigation the following paragraph was published in the 
Ottawa Ski Club circular:

"A special Investigation Committee was appointed to inquire into the condition 
of the new trail laid by George Audette, from Camp Fortune to Kingsmere, for the 
purpose of avoiding Murphy's Hill-the grave of ski-ers. It was followed by a 
Salvage Committee, that picked up what they could of the investigators. 
The remains of both Committees held a joint indignation meeting at the bottom 
of the last ravine, and, not being able to obliterate the trail, decided to give 
it such a name as would warn the ski-ers of the danger they were running. 
None of the names suggested, however,-such as "Suicide Trail," "Nightmare Trail," 
"DeviI's Own Trail," "Slaughterhouse Trail" -seemed quite to fit the occasion, 
and in view of the well-known reckless character of the originator, and as a 
fitting punishment for devising such a diabolical trail, the Committee decided 
that it should bear the name of its author. It will, therefore, be forever 
known as "George's Trail," and meanwhile average ski-ers are advised to keep 
as far away from it as they can."

On the following week-end not a single ski track could be seen on Murphy's 
Hill, beautiful under a blanket of immaculate snow; everyone of the five 
hundred ski-ers out on that day had gone by way of George's Trail. There 
were sprained ankles, twisted knees, cracked ribs and broken skis innumerable, 
a hundred times more than there ever had been on Murphy's Hill, but
no one complained, and even the Executive was blamed sharply for making 
nasty insinuations about "Poor George." The Investigation Committee was called 
the "Committee of Mutts." It was suspected that the ladies had taken a hand 
in the matter.
All this happened two winters ago. Things have not changed very much since 
then, save that Willie Murphy has moved his house from the foot of
Murphy's Hill to the foot of George's Trail, just to stay with the crowd, and 
two sign posts have been erected at the junction of the trails to the mountain. 
One says "George's Trail," the other "Murphy's Hill." On one side, ruin and 
destruction; on the other, comparative safety. On one side, a sea of bumps, 
a maze of curves and tricky passes, through dark trees, and over scantily 
covered cliffs, with here and there little oasis of refuge where nerve-shattered 
and horror-stricken stop to collect themselves before resuming their 
fateful journey. On the other side, the straight bush road and Murphy's Hill, 
good, honest, innocent Murphy's Hill, but quite as virgin of ski tracks to-day 
as in those far-off times when the Laheys, the Keogans and the McGuire family trod 
this ridge on their home-made snowshoes.

On the sign board pointing toward George's Trail someone has scribbled these 
words, taken from the inscription on the gate of Dante's Inferno: "Leave all 
hope behind, all ye who enter here." And yet they do not look much worried, 
those who enter this narrow and difficult pass. They know that some day the 
trail will get them, they know that somewhere, some day, on one of the bumps 
or at one of the curves, something will snap-a ski or
a bone. They know that if they should succeed in coming through unhurt a
whole season, they may yet fall a prey to that dreadful disease called 
George's trail disease," - a sudden collapse of nerves in the spring that 
leaves one weak and powerless for the summer, but who would not take the 
risk, for the exhilaration of "Shooting George," as they call it?
So the smashing of skis and the maiming of ski-ers still goes on merrily 
over George's Trail, but if many a ski has been broken over these bumps, 
many a good ski-er has been made. And to George's Trail, perhaps, the 
Ottawa Ski Ciub owes the winning of many championships.

C. E. MORTUREUX, President,
Ottawa Ski Club, 1924

E-mail Anne-Marie, Will Dunlop and Al Lewis

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