A pioneering spirit surrounded the creation of the Chicopee Ski Club, from the establishment of organized skiing in Waterloo County to night skiing to the building of rope tows. Faith made it all possible: the pioneers' faith in each other, and in the power of their passion for skiing.
This spirit which pervades the Club's history was ignited seventy-five years ago by a group of enthusiastic local businessmen known as the 'Dutch Companee.' The name of this casual social club refers to the German or 'Deutsch' background of many of the members, and draws on a much older historical tradition. The lands known as Chicopee were all part of what was called the 'German Company Tract,' dating back to 1805. These businessmen had ties not only through the local Rotary Club, but more importantly, through their love for skiing. Original members of the Dutch Companee included Jake Baetz, Dr. H.M. Lackner, J.A. Martin, Albert Butler, brothers Fred and Norman Schneider, Jack Halliwell and Clare Duffus.
In the fall of 1934, the Dutch Companee discussed creating a ski club close to home. Clare Duffus, a native of the southern United States, marveled at the breathtaking northern winters and encouraged his Canadian friends to take full advantage of them through skiing. He led the effort to establish the Chicopee Ski Club. According to Dave Schneider, President of the Club in 1941, Clare Duffus "had a dream, an earnest desire to make the community ski conscious, to instill in them a love for winter's keenest, cleanest sport." This dream would be achieved with the support of the Dutch Companee and the several dozen enthusiastic skiers who turned out for a planning meeting at the Kitchener YMCA in November 1934. By the end of December, Chicopee was officially on its way with the establishment of a constitution and a Board of Directors. In its first ski season, under the presidency of Clare Duffus, the Chicopee Ski Club attracted 200 members from Kitchener, Waterloo and surrounding areas including Galt and Preston, and made a profit of 64 cents.
The success of this first season was only realized, however, through much hard work, commitment and perseverance. By the fall of the second season the Club decided to publish its own newsletter, The Chicopee Skier, under the editorship of Ted Mulrooney, which provided members with Club news, skiing advice and friendly gossip.
The location chosen for the Club was the only viable ski terrain in the area, namely the Lewis and Janowski properties on what is now King Street East near Morrison Road. These lands included parts of the Chicopee Hill and were in use as operational farms during the spring and summer months. Each ski season, therefore, the Club rented the site which consisted of both downhill slopes and bush trails.
The first hills used by the skiers were the 'Front Hill’ and the 'Sumac Hill’ named for the heavy sumac growth which covered it each summer, and 'the Cradle' which today is known as 'Tenderfoot.' The northern area of the property, including the North Hill, became popular later in the 1930s.
The Club's origin in the mid-1930s was consistent with social club activity in the area at the time. Club life in Kitchener-Waterloo thrived during the Depression and became more organized and structured. The founders of Chicopee Ski Club had skied the hills and fields of the region but with the planning of people like Clare Duff us, they were able to enjoy better skiing as well as a warm and convivial atmosphere, part of the Chicopee tradition which thrives today. A large fieldstone building, the Lewis farmhouse, located on what is now the northeast corner of King Street and River Road, was included in the rental of the Chicopee lands. As the Club grew in popularity, the Grand River Railway system, commonly known as the ‘trollies,’ honoured the clubhouse with its own stop. The farmhouse soon became the heart of the Club. It was not only a place to rest and sip steaming coffee after the half-mile trek from the hill, it was a warm and cheery haven where lifelong friendships were made.
In the summer of 1935, the senior ski jump was constructed using teams of farm horses and a large earth scraper. A dedicated band of men spent their holidays and Saturdays completing this addition to the Club — the only ski jump in Southern Ontario. As part of this group, Jack Halliwell was instrumental in the engineering of both this 115-foot jump and the junior jump constructed for 45-foot leaps in 1936.
In an era before artificial snow, the Chicopee pioneers took advantage of every opportunity for fine skiing. A little creative thinking and mechanical know-how allowed Chicopee to offer floodlit night skiing. The Club is believed to be the first in North America to develop this phenomenon. On November 5, 1935, daily newspapers across Ontario and Quebec reported that this first illumination was provided by battery powered automobile headlights mounted on a child's sleigh pulled to the top of the slope.
There were no ski lifts or tows for these early skiers. Wax was used on the bottom of ski boots to help skiers reach the top in the ideal fashion: by walking straight up the hill. The sidestep and the herringbone were other methods used. Members were also taught quickly to yell 'Track!' on their way back down, which meant "hey, get out of the way, I'm coming down the hill!"
Lessons were included in membership fees which, during the 1936/1937 season, were: Senior men $2.50, senior women $1.50 and juniors 50 cents. Ski instructors in the early seasons were volunteers who donated their time and expertise on weekends and evenings.
As early as 1935, the Club became affiliated with the Canadian Amateur Ski Association (CASA), the body that regulated non-professional skiing, and was also involved in the Ontario Ski Zone.
At the close of the pioneer era, there was a definite feeling of optimism at the Club. The experimental days were over and the Club was well established in the community as a recreational facility. Chicopee’s grand spirit had been kindled and was to play an important role in guiding the Club through the war years of shortage, missing friends and mourning.