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VIKING SKI CLUB, 1929-2004 | Laurentian Heritage WebMagazine
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VIKING SKI CLUB, 1929-2004

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Morin Heights has been celebrated as a centre for cross-country skiing for many years. Much of this reputation can be credited to the Viking Ski Club, established permanently in Morin Heights since the 1950s and active in that part of the Laurentians since its beginnings in the winter of 1929-30.

At present, the Viking Ski Club, with about 250 members, operates out of its clubhouse on Jackson Road in Morin Heights. The club maintains its own trail network that connects with the local municipal trails, creating a total of 75 kilometres of skiing. A popular children’s programme, organized by Rick and Sylvie Nesbitt and Brian Morin, takes place on
winter weekends. The Morin Heights Viking Loppet is an annual event for all levels and ages of skiers.

As with many volunteer organizations, the Viking Ski Club has had an interesting history. The Club originated with Scandinavian immigrants to Canada who, in Norway, Sweden and Finland, had been skiers and all-around outdoors people. Later, other European immigrants, mostly from Germany and Switzerland, along with a growing proportion of native-born Canadians of all backgrounds, joined, and continue to join, the Viking Club.

Robert Weiler, who came to Canada from Germany in 1955, has been a director of the club for 25 years and its president between 1964 and 1967. He says, “When I first arrived in Canada, I looked for a cross-country ski club but couldn’t find one for some time. Then someone referred me to Morin Heights. So I took the train up and discovered fellow cross-country skiers operating out of Basler’s Bellevue Hotel basement. They had the old Clover Leaf Trail going – now part of it is the Triangle Trail – and they held races. I joined the club, which had 25 members. We had some trouble with access to certain areas where people weren’t keen on having ski trails pass over their property, so we looked for our own land to make trails. Finally, in 1958, Rolf Ellingsen, Sam Stallard and I purchased a small cottage on the Jackson Road and 50 acres of land. By 1963, we had nine acres more land along with this, next to existing trails near the Jackson Road.”

At the beginning, the Viking Ski Club held its activities at a variety of locations. There was a great interest in ski jumping, from the 1920s until the 1970s, when interest and participation in this aspect of skiing began to dwindle in North America. At first, local and national jumping events were held on Mount Royal. The ski jump, an essential aspect of competitive skiing, was on Côte des Neiges. Mount Royal, along with the Westmount Mountain and Outremont, was a major spot for winter recreation in the 1930s. The Viking Ski Club soon started to dominate local competition in ski jumping and Nordic combined -- jumping and racing. The 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, also contributed to interest in these sports. The major force in promoting all of these aspects of the sport, along with encouraging and setting up trails in the countryside, was Herman “Jackrabbit” Johannsen, who had settled in the Montreal area in 1928. He had emigrated from Norway to the United States in 1907 but spent most of his long and productive life in Montreal and the Laurentians. By 1930, Johansen was president of the Montreal Ski Club, and, within a few years, had decided to devote his life to the development of skiing. He was responsible for creating the Maple Leaf Trail, which ran from Labelle, north of Mont Tremblant, to Shawbridge, a total of 128 kilometers. This was “laid out as a comfortable touring route, to be traveled by families and friends of varying ages.”(1) There was no mechanical track-setting at that time and trails were created by hand clearing, with ease of movement for all levels of skiers in mind.

Ski train, Morin Heights, c.1940. (Photo - Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge Club)

Another strong influence upon the development of skiing were the ski trains. “During the winter of 1927-28, they carried 11,000 skiers to the Laurentians. Both the C.P.R. and C.N.R. started to run trains with ancient wicker-seated passenger cars especially for skiers. The ski trains became famous and were the most popular and practical way of transportation to the Laurentian Mountains until after World War Two when gasoline was no longer rationed and roads were being built.”(2). This combination of gifted individuals, improved transportation and the traditional interest in winter outdoor recreation among Montrealers led to the development of a thriving Laurentian tourist industry, mostly focused on cross-country skiing.

Later, Mike Loken, another Norwegian Canadian and a member of the Viking Club, started the well-known Loken Trail that looped around Ste-Anne-des-Lacs and south of St-Sauveur. However, the growing settlement and development upon recreational lands became a concern, especially in the southern Laurentians. Fortunately, municipalities in this sector have since adopted laws that state that “any sub-division of a property should set aside five percent of the land surface for the common good….for access to trails.”(3).

After the Second World War, it was difficult to find suitable cross-country ski equipment in Canada. Members of the Viking Club started importing equipment from the Karhu Company in Finland and selling it. This continued for five years with an ever-increasing volume of equipment sold. With the profits from this, the Vikings bought more land on Jackson Road. In 1964, the members built the clubhouse.

Orienteering, 1980s. (Photo - Orienteering Quebec)In the 1960s, there were about 100 members, and more trails were opened. Programmes other than racing were inaugurated: ski jumping at the Bellevue Hill and at Mount Christie in Christieville, although this lasted only until 1966; a monthly newsletter; and summer activities, such as canoeing. In 1967, orienteering became popular and the Viking Club held organized events. There was a six-day international orienteering meet on a course behind the Bellevue ski hill.

By the 1970s, the growing popularity of cross-country skiing saw Viking membership increase to over 350 (with a waiting list!). By the early 1980s, 3000 people were competing in the ski marathons, and one year the number reached 4500. In 1980, the Viking Club started the first Gillette World Masters cross-country ski championships. Although this was all very prestigious and excellent for public relations, it was also becoming far too complex for what remained a volunteer club, so major events were gradually scaled down. Viking Ski Club - awaiting winter. (Photo - Sandra Stock)

At present, the Viking Ski Club emphasizes skiing activities for all ages and levels. The excellent children’s programme and the annual loppet encourage participation. Over the past several years, local municipalities have realized that their economic prosperity and community responsibilities lie with the support and maintenance of such leisure activities, both for residents and for recreational-tourism. In Morin Heights, the municipality organizes and cares for most of the cross-country trails in partnership with the Viking Ski Club, which remains a private organization. “The maintenance of the Morin Heights trail system has been excellent and our cross-country facilities are as good as those in Norway. A skier can do either a short loop or a longer challenge of fifty or sixty kilometers here,” says Robert Weiler. “However, our concern now is to keep what we have and preserve both access to trails and our natural environment from interference from development.”(4)

1) Van Walsum, Walter, “Ski touring and the Viking ski club”, 2003.2) Van Walsum.3) Van Walsum.
4) Weiler, Robert, Morin Heights