Prince George's downtown ski jump offered cheap thrills in tough 1930s
Tournaments and competitions were held on ski jump in the middle of town during the Great Depression
To celebrate Prince George, B.C.'s 100th birthday, CBC is kicking off a new year-long series called Prince George, 100 Years, 100 Stories to celebrate the city's history. This is one of those stories.
There is no longer any trace of the ski jump that towered over the City of Prince George in the 1930s on downtown Connaught Hill — but it used to have a huge presence in the northern B.C. town.
"Close your eyes and picture yourself back in the early 30s and that would be quite the landmark, for a small little town like this to have that huge structure on top of there," said Bruce Holst, whose father used to ski on the jump.
At the time, Prince George was already considered the hub of Northern B.C., by virtue of the railroad and the confluence of the Nechako and Fraser rivers, but it was small and dusty with little saw mills peppering the area around the town.
"Most of the houses burned wood at that time. We used to come up and over, if you went up on Connaught Hill, where the ski jump was, and look over the town, in those days, and see the smoke coming out from the houses. In the winter time there was lots of chimney fires, and that type of thing," said Bill Blackburn, who has lived in the city for about 85 years.
Cheap thrills in tough times
The Great Depression meant that money was scarce — but Scandinavian immigrants had brought a passion for skiing with them to their new home, and had made the hobby popular.
"Everybody skied, it didn't matter what nationality you were, that's all there was to do," said Wilf Peckham, who moved to Prince George in 1930, when he was seven years old.
"We had old wooden skis, some of us had jumping skis, my brother had big jumping skis. There were three grooves on them, they were heavy skis. A native fellow named Eddy Bird made mine out of birch. I got mine with two grooves on them."
The ski jump was built in 1930, and several jumping competitions were held each winter.
"It was a big thing, I suppose there was maybe 3,000 people in town at that time, and it would be a big show. There would be hundreds of people there to watch the ski jump," said Peckham.
What goes up must come down
The fun came to an end when the ski hill collapsed on Oct 26, 1938.
"It wasn't maintained I guess. It was always a little shaky up there, if the wind blew, you know. I was up on there the day before it blew down," said Peckham.
There was some discussion about rebuilding the jump until the 1950s, but it never materialized.
Children continued to ski down Connaught Hill until Patricia Boulevard was built at the bottom.
Eventually the hillside grew over with trees, covering any trace of the once majestic structure.
To hear more memories of Prince George's old downtown ski jump, click the audio labelled: Prince George's ski jump.
With files from Rafferty Baker.