Early days of skiing fondly recalled

In anticipation of more of Neil’s writing to be released as an ebook, here is a review of Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club from 2000:

Laurentian Lodge members going downhill since 1924

by Alan Hustak of the Gazette.

The Laurentian Lodge Club in Prevost is nothing at all like the rented condos that abound in the fake corporate Alpine villages up north. Perched in the shadow of the Big Hill, 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, it offers great skiing within a short distance of several resorts in the area. It is one of those rare and rustic places that grew out of youthful camaraderie and into tradition.

Veteran Montreal broadcaster Neil McKenty and his wife, Catharine, have belonged to the club for 27 years. Together, they have written Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club, a social and anecdotal history of an institution that is high on the social slopes of Montreal.

The club began in the winter of 1922 when the 34 original members, all of them men, shelled out $15 each to join. It wasn’t formally registered until March 13, 1924. Then, on September 29, 1929, the club bought a farmhouse for $8,000 to accommodate its members and the Lodge Club has occupied the building ever since.

Its wraparound verandah was originally painted in hideous shades of red and green, and was once described as the ugliest house in the province. The lodge wasn’t easily accessible, the furnishing was second-hand and the accommodations were rudimentary.

“It had no special cachet, the beds squeaked and the showers leaked,” the authors write. “Why not join a prestigious club, where you sank into the leather chairs and leaned back while the uniformed barman bought you a drink? Precisely because these men sensed there was still something of the frontier spirit in the mountains. They didn’t want to lean back and go slack. They still sought challenges and they found them skiing in the Laurentians.”

The McKentys might be right about the challenges, but the suggestion that the club had no special is disingenuous. It was written up in the New Yorker as early as 1929. As skiing became an increasingly popular pastime during the Depression, it was one of the few places in the Laurentians where you could indulge in it for a weekend.

Members have included Percy Douglas, the first president of the Canadian Amateur Ski Association, Herman (Jackrabbit) Johannsen, the legendary outdoorsman who lived until he was 115, Dr. Wilder Penfield, founder of the Montreal Neurological Institute, and Douglas McCurdy, the first person in Canada to fly an airplane.

From its inception the club was also popular with Americans, including the patrician Boston Cabots, the New York Chryslers, and Dr. Irving Langmuir, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1932. Philadelphia millionaire Joe Ryan was a guest before he had the idea of turning Mont Tremblant into a ski resort.

The Laurentian Lodge Club was also the first in North America to install a rope tow. In 1930, McGill student Alex Foster hoisted an old car on blocks, removed one of the back wheels, and used it to drive a pulley that drove a rope tow up the big hill. To commemorate the inventor, one of the trails toward Saint-Sauveur is known as Foster’s Run.

The club is one of the last anglo bastions in the province – members still refer to Prevost as Shawbridge, even though the name was changed in 1974. You have to look hard for francophones among its members, although Major General Edouard de Bellefeuille Panet was president in 1939. Panet apparently resigned because he couldn’t bring his Irish setter into the lodge.

Today a membership will set you back $500 a year, and the number of members is limited to 90.

Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club is thoroughly researched and includes splendid photographs that provide an affectionate snapshot of the past.

The book is a welcome chapter to the regional history of the Laurentians, one that might have easily been overlooked. And the longer the lodge itself stands, the more important it becomes in telling the story of the development of recreational skiing in this country.

1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Ann Reid Says:

    “what’s in yourhead” in writing? My experience advises: WRITE. This is the beginning and is not at all where you might finish. (does one ever finish?) Thing is writing clears your head and clarifies your thinking…

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