A moment in history: April 19, 1979

A moment in history: April 19, 1979

· The Pulse

On this day in 1979, the Edmonton Ski Club faced an uncertain future.

When the city's first ski club opened in 1911, Edmontonians had a very different relationship with the river valley. These days, development is strictly controlled, but when the city was young, the banks of the North Saskatchewan River hosted most of the city's industry. Coal mines, sawmills, and other industries stood along the river, which provided a convenient way of transporting goods and materials.

It was among the brickyards and slaughterhouses that a handful of Norwegian immigrants to Edmonton founded the ski club. They were not content with the natural slopes offered by the terrain, however — ski jumping was popular at the time, both among athletes and spectators. So, they quickly started construction on the Connors Hill Ski Jump, a 30-metre wooden ramp that extended over what is now Connors Road, which was finished in 1912. The following year, one of the founders — John Haugen — set a Canadian record in front of 5,000 people with a 109-foot jump.

The ski hill and the jump were among the few things in the river valley to survive a devastating flood in 1915, which damaged hundreds of buildings and washed away entire industries. Even after the floodwaters receded, business owners were reluctant to rebuild in the valley. Instead, it became more focused on recreation, with the ski hill as one of the main draws.

The ski jump saw frequent use for another decade-and-a-half before the aging structure was deemed unsafe and torn down. It was eventually rebuilt and reopened in 1935. Skiing remained a popular pastime in the first half of the 20th century, and the hill continued to draw new members. But after the Second World War, the popularity of ski jumping, in particular, began to wane.

In 1975, the Connors Hill jump was closed again, this time for good. Three years later, it was torn down. Membership at the Edmonton Ski Club fell by more than a quarter between 1978 and 1979, and the club was in danger of folding. The club did survive, however; it was likely helped along by a resurgence of interest in the 1980s, courtesy of the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary.

The non-profit organization has seen financial struggles since then. In 2017, the hill opened for just three weeks and closed the following season entirely. But bluebird days may be here again. A $1.1-million investment by the city and the province allowed the club to reopen in 2019. Work will soon start on a new outdoor rec centre at the ski hill, which will offer year-round sports and cultural programming led by the Edmonton Ski Club and other community groups.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.