Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Fort William Ski Club Early Years - thanks to Sally Smaha...

HR&J received this nice email from Sally back in June of 2012 and of course accepted her photos with great pleasure and thanks.  The three photos she sent are dated into the early 1940's at the Fort William Ski Club, later known to be the Mount McKay Ski Area.
I felt it would be a good time to do a post using her photos since the weather here has been in the -20's F. for the past few days and reminded me of the 1950's where I spent most of my winter weekends skiing in the brutal cold weather....but never noticed how cold is was because we were enjoying our skiing so much.

June 2012
"Hello.   My step father used to talk about skiing and ski jumping back in Fort William. This probably was in the early 1940’s. His Name was Ev Clift and he passed away in 2002. Last year my Mom passed away and now I've been looking through pictures. I have one of the ski hill way back in the days Ev was there. I don't want to throw it away so was wondering if you would like it. If you would please send me your mailing address and I will send it to you.    Sally Smaha"

This article was written just a couple of years before the pictures below existed.  Click on all the pictures once or twice to enlarge them to full screen.
Here are the skiers lined up to be pulled up to the top by the rope tow.  You would let go of the rope at the top of the hill that you see and glide a few feet and grab another rope tow to take you all the way to the very top.  The famous Fort William Ski Club jump is shown on the left top of the picture and the hill that you see just to the left of the rope tow was known later to be the "B" Slalom, later to be full of moguls.  Oh yes, and no T-bar's or Chair Lifts as yet.
Early local ski jumpers and downhill skiers Erling and Knut Hansen were well known in the late 1930's and early 1940's having numerous wins and close finishes in meets around the area helping to promote the local ski clubs of the day.

This is a little wider angle showing a little more of the runs to the right of the rope tow and a long rack to place your skis when you went inside the club house to warm up.  I remember huge wood stoves that made the clubhouse very warm and toasty, as well as a special waxing room to wax your skis or have a professional do it.

This photo is again further right than the last two.  Note the service men standing by the pole to pretty much date these photos as taken during the early years of WWII.  Later in the 1950's we would jump over the "big rock" that you see on the left of the photo.  Just out of the picture to the right would be the clubhouse.  The service men would probably just come to watch and check out the attractive ladies who were skiing there that day.

This is what the equipment would have looked like back in the 1940's and into the 1950's.  The skis were wood with no steel edges and the poles were bamboo.  The square toe boots on the right were very common and a style that lasted well into the 1950's.  The picture of the couple here shows some of the ski apparel that was worn then.....wow how things change over time.

 This is a brochure that was in my mothers photo album and would have been used to show potential skiers that Fort William and Port Arthur Ontario had great skiing and was only a stones throw from the upper mid-west in the United States.
 Here is the back side of the brochure showing how the hill had grown since the 1930's and well into the 1960's.
Here are four of my own White Falcon Ski School badges.  Throughout the 1950's, this was a way for an average family to afford to send their kids skiing, as some had considered it only a rich man's sport.  You could purchase slightly used equipment and the City of Fort William would pick up your skis on a truck and young skiers on city buses and bring them to Mount McKay Ski Area to learn how to ski for a mere 25 cents a week.  There were pick-up spots around the city and you could stay all day after your lesson and practice with no extra charge for the rope tow.
Well known names such as Wally McDougal and Andrew Coffee were founding fathers of the White Falcon Ski School.

This is how progressive the Mount McKay Ski Area looked just before it finally was closed.

Click on all photos for enlargements.

The Dominion Ski Championships were held on February 19th and 20th here at the Fort William Ski Club back in 1949.  Many skiers from the Nordic, Downhill and Jumping divisions here in Fort William went on to Olympic Status putting Fort William and Port Arthur on the map.

Click on this link for more on the Mount McKay Ski Area on this blog, then return http://hotrodsandjalopies.blogspot.ca/2010/01/need-for-speed-in-winter-in-fort.html
Many thanks again to Sally for the great photos.
The Port Arthur Ski Club later to become the Mount Baldy Ski Area, just east of Port Arthur Ontario is the oldest club that still exists here in the Thunder Bay Area.


Anonymous said...

As another former student of the White Falcon Ski School in the
50's I appreciate these photos. They show the hills just as I remember them. On Saturday mornings I'd get up early, take the city bus to Westfort then start walking out Hwy 61 to the Club, then the reverse after skiing all day. Two bits in my pocket for a hot dog and pop for lunch. On good days someone would pick me up, otherwise I got a lot of exercise that day.
Thanks for the great post.
Geo. Rogers

Dave Cano said...

Thanks for the comment George...they were great days for sure. D.

3160catherine said...

I have a photo of my mother and her girlfriends skiing at Mount McKay in the late 1940s. Just today, I asked my aunt how they got to the ski area, since in those days that would have been a long drive from Port Arthur. She told me that they caught the Port Arthur street car and rode it to the terminus at the Neebing River on Memorial, walked across the bridge to catch the Fort William street car which took them as far as the swing bridge on the Kaministiquia River and from there they rode shank's mare to the hill. What interests me is that my aunt says the street cars all had ski racks on the outside where you stowed your skis.

Dave Cano said...

Thank you 3160catherine....new notes and comments are much appreciated and more than welcome... D.