By Martha Briggs Watson
Let me begin by saying that winter is my very favourite season of all—always has been—even as a kid trudging to school, all bundled up, in minus forty degree weather when our eyelashes turned to icicles and it felt like there were razor blades in our nostrils when we inhaled.
Among my very early memories of winter in our beloved town is one of creating a most amazing snowman. My very close friend and soulmate Susan Kellock and I were five years old, all bundled up in our Red River coats and woolen leggings, hats and knitted mittens. He was a beauty, complete with a carrot for his nose. However, when we proudly brought our parents out to admire him, his nose was gone! Our little friend David Stone, age three, had taken it and eaten it. Boy, were we mad!
There was tobogganing down local hills, including on our street, Fairy Avenue, where a huge snowbank, created by the snow plow, prevented our catapulting into the river. Several boys had made a gorgeous snow fort in that huge snowbank, facing the river. Among the architect/builders were the three Davids who lived in our neighbourhood—David Caswell, David Lough and David Salmon. It was on pain of death that we were threatened not to go into that snow fort. I know it was gorgeous because Susan and I defied their threat. Wow! Complete with rooms, snow benches, candles, doors, it was a beauty. Luckily we weren’t caught. I have never seen a snow fort like it!
At my end of town, as teenagers, we took great joy in donning our mukluks and hitching a ride with a rope behind our friend Barbara Birch’s dad’s vehicle. What fun was that dangerous, and even maybe illegal, activity!
I know at the other end of town, Brent Munroe (brother of my dear friend Judy), Eric Ruby and Roy MacGregor (brother of my dear friend Ann), and pals were latching onto the backs of vehicles as they travelled down the streets in their neighbourhood to catch a good joy ride. But that’s a story for Roy to tell!
Outdoor skating was so much fun in the Huntsville of my youth. Mr. Catton, custodian at Huntsville Public School, created in the schoolyard a skating rink, complete with boards that he kept flooded somehow by a method connected with the hot water heating system in the school. Staying after school to skate until dark was just magical.
Then there was the “wetland”, where the Canvas Brewing Company, China House, Home Hardware, Freshco and so on are located now, skating in and out amongst the cattails.
Occasionally, we could skate everywhere on Fairy Lake on the bare ice after a proverbial January thaw.
The town rink was an outdoor one as well. It was somewhere in the middle of town, by one of the side streets. I can’t remember exactly where it was, but there were benches for putting on skates and a wood stove for warming up.
I don’t know when our indoor skating rink was built on the site of the Canada Summit Centre, but there was a very active skating club there with some excellent instructors, such as Hilka Gough, Hattie Briggs and Marilyn Leigh. Several of my friends and I took figure skating lessons. Every year, my friends Lynda and Gail Grigg were the stars of the skating carnival. I, on the other hand, was most inept at the figures, even with the instruction of my Aunt Hattie, who won a silver medal in speed skating in the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid! Still and all, we all had lots of fun.
But…the best of all was downhill skiing!
After the Mica Mine, the Huntsville Ski Club was situated at Ski Jump Inn, just south of town off Gryffiin Lodge Road (it later became Curlew). Those of us who learned to ski there will never forget the long wooden skis with no steel edges, the bamboo ski poles with enormous baskets on the ends, the boots with finger-shredding laces, and the rope tow, which gave us upper body strength, especially as the top of the hill steepened. One Christmas, I received a pair of skis with steel edges. Then came the shorter metal skis, along with boots with buckles. We had arrived!
Then, in the early 1960s, Hidden Valley opened with not only a rope tow for beginners and a t-bar, but a chair lift! All of us kids got for Christmas a membership at a cost of $35 for the season. We skied every weekend and every Christmas holiday, every single moment that we could. And then we went back out there on Saturday nights to dance in the chalet, to such music as The Tijuana Brass and Ray Coniff, and sat by the fireplace all aglow with our hot chocolate. Good, fairly innocent fun in those days!
A couple of times a year, on a bright sunny day, we would pile into Rob Hamilton’s car for a day off school to ski. Bill Waterhouse, part owner and manager, was on our side, and when he spotted Mr. Doug Stone’s vehicle approaching the parking lot, he would announce on the PA system that our vice principal was coming to look for us. We were nowhere to be seen and were free to enjoy our day on the hills. Of course, we were nailed the next day for truancy, but it was well worth the detentions incurred!
The ski hill at Limberlost, although not as big as the other hills, did have a rope tow. It was a north-facing hill and held the snow much longer than the others which were not. Of course, there was no snow-making equipment back then, but our ski season was extended.
Tally-Ho Winter Park was a wonderful family-oriented ski facility, with a ski school run by John Derzai. He also provided a ski exchange so as kids grew, they could trade up. It was still in operation when many of us who had skied and instructed there had kids of our own. There are so many wonderful memories of reunions at Tally-Ho for weekends of fun! There was a tradition that at the end of each season the ski instructors would climb a particular tree at the foot of the hill, in their ski boots, for a photo. Not to be outdone, the two daughters and a son of Margaret and Marcello Bernardo, and the three sons of Winston Watson and me, followed suit! Imagine letting kids climb a tree wearing ski boots! Ah, but the memories.
The very most magical memory of all for me was walking on a spectacular cold crisp moonlit winter’s night with my boyfriend Winston, later my husband. He turned to me, as our footsteps crunched, and declared, “Oh, Martha, listen to the hydrogen bonding!” That was a chemistry teacher’s idea of romance! That’s the most wonderful memory because it conjures up so many others.
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