Ottawa Ski Club and Murphy's Hill
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
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
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
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
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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