Written by Christina Davies
Photography by Darren Brown
They helped found
one of the region's
but there are
no signs in Gatineau Park
the Trail Riders, Ottawa's
Doug Shone slips on his old Trail
Riders sweater — the navy blue
one with the patches down each
sleeve marking off the 1950s,
from before the time they had the
bright orange 1960s jacket and long before
the tomato red version from the ‘70s and
‘80s with the fancy crest and big First Aid
cross on the back — and all those accumulated
years just melt away.He yanks the dark
hood up over his soft white hair. A mischievous
grin lights up his face. He's 16 again.
Doug, who will turn 71 at the end of
November, is a retired technology designer
and teacher. A devoted husband and father
of two, Doug is now working on writing a
children's book. He still gets outside for a bit
of fresh air, though. Lots of air, actually.
Usually quite fresh.
A keen hiker, Doug is also a passionate
cross-country skier. He often calls on some of
his old cohorts to help him clear trails found
around his home in Manotick. Doug is past
president of the Trail Riders, a group he
joined in 1951 and more or less stayed with
until the melancholy — and, for some, acrimonious
— end in 1993.
Members of the Trail Riders from the earlier days.
With roots extending back to the 1920s,
the Trail Riders were largely responsible for
the network of cross-country and downhill
ski trails that have now become a linchpin of
tourism and recreation at Gatineau Park.
Every year, over 200,000 cross-country
skiers glide along the well-groomed trails in
the park, now operated and managed by the
National Capital Commission (NCC).
"Essentially, without the Trail Riders that
trail network wouldn't exist," says John
Quarterman, a former Trail Rider who mapped
trails, painted signs and trained patrollers in first
aid. "It has nothing to do with the NCC."
Doug was a major guiding force behind
the group. His life is part of the hidden legacy
of Gatineau Park and its trails, many of
which have now been left to disappear
under new growth.
The Trail Riders were a volunteer group
of skiers who had been maintaining and
patrolling the cross-country trails in Gatineau
Park since 1951, but they were certainly not
the first. A hundred years ago, Gatineau Park
was not a park at all, only a patch of wilderness
in the Gatineau River Valley. In the early
1900's the federal government had been discussing
turning the area around Meech Lake
into a national park; meanwhile the Ottawa
Ski Club (OSC) was making it happen.
By the time the club purchased Camp
Fortune in 1920, they had already cut 31km
of trails in the area for public use.
Recognizing the need for an organized maintenance
team, OSC member Joe Morin
formed the Night Riders in 1924. They were
a dedicated group of young men who volunteered
their spare time and hard work, maintaining
the trails and developing them to
keep up with increasing demand.
At first, the Night Riders were essentially
bushwhackers, armed with machetes,
saws, axes, and even dynamite. At night, they
would line up across the slopes and carefully
groom every inch of snow for patrons to
enjoy the next morning. In their efforts to
increase capacity while minimizing accidents,
the Night Riders gradually evolved
into builders, engineers and first-aid rescuers.
By the 1950's, cross-country and downhill
skiing were becoming more distinct from
one another, and the trail system had
expanded dramatically. The Night Riders
concentrated on the downhill slopes and the
Trail Riders were established to care for the
Trail Riders membership ranged between 30 and 60 active members patrolling trails twice a day, but Doug Shone says the network of past
and present members was much more vast than that."If the Trail Riders had still been active during the Ice Storm [in 1998] I could have had
150 people up here. We would have had these trails cleared in one day."
A map of Gatineau Park today doesn't
contain information about the history of the
trails. There are no quirky trail names, just a
system, colour-coded and neatly numbered
from Trail #1A to Trail #40.
Those names once had historic significance.
They reminded skiers of the pioneers
who blazed those trails. Skiers would gather
around a fire in the lodge and discuss the
wildlife they spotted on ‘Doug's Trail', what
kind of condition ‘Franks' was in, or who
they ran into on ‘Chicken Run' or ‘Pipe
Dream'. As the names of these trails were
repeated around the fire for generations, so
were their stories.
"Who writes a story with numbers, speaks
with numbers?" Doug wonders. "At one time,
we were able to really talk about the park.
Now you can't… not like we used to."
The Rider's Roost
Shone joined the Trail Riders at 15, when
they were first formed. He stayed until the
age of 19 when he left to pursue his career
and raise his family. He was drawn back,
however, when his then-teenaged son,
Steven, joined the group himself in the early
‘70s. Around the same time, Camp Fortune
wanted to develop a patrol that could perform
search and rescue and first aid operations.
Under his guidance, the Trail Riders
evolved into an adult group of emergencytrained
"We weren't just a first-aid group," he
maintains, "we were the whole park."
In addition to first-aid services, the
patrollers would be around to direct lost
skiers and hand out trail maps that the
Riders produced. They built their own cabin,
the Rider's Roost, to serve as a meeting
place, or to store equipment or just hang out
for social gatherings.
The Trail Riders continued maintaining
the complex web of trails by clipping
branches, repairing bridges, removing fallen
trees, and fixing hazards like holes. The
group also marshalled for cross-country races
in the area, hosting organizations like schools
and sports groups, as well as prestigious
events like the Canada Cup. When clubs,
tour groups, schools and even foreign dignitaries
were looking for a tour of the area, the
Trail Riders were the ones to call.
By the early 1990s the Trail Riders were
at their peak, even discussing plans for an
umbrella group of trail patrols that would
operate year-round from the 'Roost'.
At the same time, however, the OSC –
owners of Camp Fortune – were going bankrupt.
In 1993, the NCC purchased the area
and acquired ownership of the trails and cabins
built by the Ottawa Ski Club, the Night
Riders and the Trail Riders.
Members of the Trail Riders in the 1980s.
"They discovered that we were the people
that actually went out on their trails.We cut
branches off trails without permission, and we
removed trees that had fallen across trails
without permission, and we built bridges
without permission, we kept trails open that
they didn't want open, and we were in a lodge
that was now theirs," says Shone.
The NCC insists it tried to work with the
Riders. "We took over the land and all of a
sudden we had those patrollers from the
'Roost," recalls Michel Dallaire, Gatineau
Park's Manager of Recreational Services. "At
the same moment, we had our own ski
patrol, all pro patrollers and volunteers, so
we asked them to integrate, to create basically
a new ski patrol. "It didn't work out."
'A gap in winter'
Many former Riders describe the collapsed
negotiations and subsequent dissolution of
the group as a very negative experience.
"It was quite hostile," says Peter Sloan, a
former Rider who now confines most of his
skiing to NCC trails in the Greenbelt. "We
felt undervalued and not appreciated."
Peter is one of many Riders who felt as
though a lifetime of effort and history had
been casually, callously discarded. "I have
refused to pay to ski the trails ever since in
recognition of the trail maintenance work I
had done, unpaid."
Others take a more philosophical viewpoint.
"It was the bureaucratic culture meeting
the can-do volunteer culture," recalls John,who
along with Doug was involved in the final,
doomed negotiations with the NCC in 1993.
The first hurdle was insurance. The NCC
didn't want to deal with a loose assemblage
of 50 to 100 volunteers. They wanted a formal
group. When the Riders became a legal
entity, they needed to incorporate and
acquire insurance coverage since the "Good
Samaritan" provisions covering individual
volunteers no longer applied.
"It took a lot of time and energy to find a
lawyer," says John, "but we eventually found
one. An old Trail Rider who did it all for us
for $500 or whatever."
After that, the NCC wanted each member
of the trail patrol to be bilingual if they
were to be dealing with the public, as well as
meet the training standards that they felt
were necessary. They also objected to the
Riders' use of the Rider's Roost, which was
built by Ottawa Ski Club members, but had
been acquired by the NCC with the purchase
of the land.
"We tried to go along with all their ideas,"
says John. "We did what they wanted, but
basically it was a waste of time."
By the end of the 1993 ski season, the
two organizations had not reached an agreement.
The NCC offered individual Riders
membership in the NCC's new patrol organization.
After enduring years of tense negotiations,
most declined the invitation.
"...the loss of some
of those old trails
left a bit of a gap
in my winter." -
Earl MacEachern, 71, associate member
and trail developer with the Trail Riders.
In the years following their exodus from
Gatineau Park, the Trail Riders stayed active
in the region, maintaining trails at Dacridge
Farm and Lowney Lake Lodge in Ontario, as
well as the Carman Hostile in Quebec.They
even marked out the course and marshalled
the cross-country race at Winterlude from
1996-1998. They remain close, as a social
organization of about 26 people.
Today the trails are maintained and
patrolled by a private company under contract
with the NCC, with help from volunteers
on the weekends. Presumably to pay
for these private services, skiers now pay
admission for the trails and a trail map will
cost them $4.95.
Trails remain numbered, not named, in the
interests of bilingualism. "With regards to
bilingualism it's almost impossible to offer
names, other than (proper names), so we're
kind of stuck with that," explains Dallaire,
"People don't believe us, but that's the reality."
For their part, the NCC has been making
an effort in recent years to restore some of
the heritage behind the trails, researching the
area's past and installing plaques in places
that they feel have significant historical value.
Many former Riders still resent the sudden
severance with the park's history, and
the loss of so many trails that the NCC can't
afford to keep but that the Riders were quite
willing to maintain at no cost. "On our own
nickel," says John ruefully.
Earl MacEachern, 71, was an associate
member of the Trail Riders and helped develop
trails with the group for over 30 years.He
said what bothers him most is the loss of so
many trails, every year slowly vanishing a little
more beneath the undergrowth.
"The NCC abandoned some of the old
trails and it certainly — speaking personally,
the loss of some of those old trails left a bit
of a gap in my winter," says Earl, who still skis
in Gatineau Park.
"I've accepted the loss of the ones that
are no longer there. It's just the way it is . . .
Although occasionally I've made a point of
putting some tracks on them."
© Christina Davies and Ottawa at Home magazine, 2005.
( Note: If you have comments or information to share about this article, please post a message on the discussion forum. )