PHOTO: The Laurentide Inn

 

LaurentideInn

Submitted by Ashley Van Etten:
This is a photo of my grandparents, taken in the late 30’s-40’s. My grandparents, Roys (Rosie) and Margie Ellis, were Americans, my grandfather having grown up in Detroit but spending much time in Alqonquin Park at the Taylor Statten Camps as a boy and on Caribou Island in Lake Superior. He had a love for adventure, skiing and the wilderness and became a pilot for American Airlines.

Laurentide Inn is referred to in this article.

Sun Valley remembered

 

A member of my family came across your posting on the internet about anyone knowing anything about the “Lost Ski Hills” and Sun Valley Hotel Suisse. I was married to the former owner Gerard Siegmann (son of the late Max Siegmann) in 1969 and my sister worked for him in various capacities for many years. The following is her remembrance of those years.
Elsbeth (Schnezler Siegmann) Tate

SUN VALLEY REMEMBERED

It was New Year’s of 1961 when I had my first glimpse of the snowy mountain. It towered above me and seemed gigantic but, then again, I had just become a teen and had never seen a ski resort before. Dotted throughout the idyllic scenery could be seen a variety of buildings of different dimensions but all in the same charming Alpine style of the Swiss countryside.

The main lodge was called “the Hotel” and was comprised of some two dozen guest rooms and it was always difficult to know the cost of renting one of them because none was in the least bit similar. Some had a private bathroom, others shared one with an adjoining room and for others you had to use the facilities down the hall. They held one, two or sometimes three beds. And there was a choice of meal plans – Continental (breakfast only); Modified American Plan (breakfast and dinner); and full American Plan (three meals). The rooms were different in size and glamour and lucky was the guest who had his own bathroom, balcony and television.

The main lodge, which also housed three dining rooms, the lounge, and the bar in the basement, was built sometime in the 1940’s when visitors would travel by train and be met at the station by the inn’s owner, Max, greeting them in a horse drawn sleigh. The Hotel was the oldest edifice but the most in demand because all the happenings were centralized there.

The Chamois was an enormous four tiered A-frame chalet which dominated the valley. The restaurant was located on the main floor and boasted a four sided open fireplace, a dance floor and the outdoor heated balcony where one could dine al fresco. It contained only twelve rooms but each had a balcony, two queen-size beds, a private bathroom, a refrigerator and a colour television. Two rooms. 41 AND 42, formed a suite and two corner rooms, 30 and 35, held a loft with yet another double bed. Le grand luxe.

On the other side of the mountain was “the motel” – never known by any other name. The corner double room featured a floor to ceiling grey fieldstone fireplace. The other five units, numbered 1 through 5 A and B, contained two simple twin bedded rooms with a shared bathroom. It was there that my father, mother, two sisters and I stayed on our first New Year’s at Sun Valley. After burning down many years later, it was rebuilt across the street from the main lodge and was known as “the new motel”. It consisted of six luxurious double rooms in a unique Canadiana style with old brick fireplaces.

Two large cottages were named after alpine flowers – l’Edelweis and les Gentianes – and had eight bedrooms, living room with fireplace, dining room, kitchen and two bathrooms. Six other chalets on the east side of the valley featured two bedrooms with bath, an open concept living room dining room and kitchen. Three more cottages of varying country style alpine architecture exuded the same European charm and ambience as existed elsewhere in the resort.

But much of all this I would learn over the next twenty years.

It was actually summertime when our family first met the proprietor, Max. I can’t remember the year but the day was August first, the Swiss national holiday and the Swiss National Society’s annual schutzenfest. Every year all six members of our clan took prizes in our various events of target shooting a 22 caliber long rifle. We couldn’t help but win – after all, we did have a shooting range at our own cottage in the Laurentians a few miles away.

But back to the hills during that first winter. One amusing storey comes to mind of my two high school age siblings, Diane and Elsbeth, who looked much older and more sophisticated than their years. They had been invited to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of one of the regulars. Father, in an effort to be the ever diligent chaperone for his two young daughters, checked out the people who had invited them and felt that both Jacques and Ben must be honourable young men – after all, the former was the Head Ski Patroller and the latter was the resident Ski Instructor!! I was left on my own, that crazed bomber who, for the sake of mountain safety, really should have been receiving the ski experts’ undivided attention.

Diane ended two of her ski winters very abruptly. During one, she took a bad fall and Jacques, the Ski Patroller Leader along with now girlfriend Elsbeth, came upon her struggling to get back on her feet. Despite her severe situation, but presuming a prank in the making, they skiied off. It was only later that the doctors diagnosed it as a badly torn A.C.L. and prescribed six weeks in a cast.

Over time, Elsbeth and I began to embrace the call of the mountain and enrolled as volunteers in the Canadian Ski Patrol System to check out its reputation of honour and altruism (?). After two seasons, she became the head Ski Patroller and I became a Ski Instructor – both at Sun Valley.

By then, Ben was Director of the Ski School and his good looks, highlighted by the most brilliant blue eyes imaginable, were forever a magnet for the ladies. It was always a tossup who was the more handsome and eligible of the two bachelors, Ben or Gerard. The latter was Max’s son who had assumed the managerial helm after his father’s death earlier in the sixties. Gerard was smart as a whip and had been born with skiis on his feet and a wicked, enticing smile in his eyes.

Other family members included Gerard’s mother, Genevieve; his brother, Guy; and his sister, Catherine; but they were there mainly on weekends and holidays. As was Uncle Albert, Max’s brother who acted as a mentor to his young and impressionable nephew. Albert often arrived with his three daughters. Mimi, Mireille and Monique. Gerard’s cousin, another Gerard, with whom he attended Hotel School in Switzerland, also visited occasionally.

Pre-season of my second year there, having already completed one season as an apprentice instructor at Sun Valley, I enrolled in the Ski Instructors’ Alliance certification programme at which point I was offered a job in the States. I wanted to go but alas, I had already agreed to work for Gerard and Ben again. Gerard offered to let me off the hook if I could find him a replacement who knew his clients, was certified, experienced, and bilingual in French and English, and a tall and lanky, beautiful female to boot. Or – that’s how he put it anyway. So difficult the challenge set before me, my second season began.

I’ll never know how I survived those two years, working during the week as an instructor, volunteering as a Patroller on the week-ends and imbibing pretty much constantly. It must have been the fresh air and exercise. I’ll review my drinking – oops, I mean working – schedule. Did I explain that the instructors were also the mandated social directors who, per force, were obliged to attend all the functions?

These started on Sunday, the day the people arrived for their ski-week. OH, let’s go meet and greet the Hotel guests and, of course, get tiddly at the welcoming cocktail party. These new incoming clients were interspersed with the regular, die hard, week-end sportsmen still apres-skiing in the bar. I remember many of them well. There were the two Gilles and their wives; the single Gilles with his many girlfriends; Irene and Marty; Rachel, the local doctor’s daughter; Phil and Michelle; Stan of the heavy Manchester accent; Ben’s younger brother, Francois; Reg, Betty and Pat; Pierre and Diane; and Andy, the Eastern Airlines pilot who fled Atlanta for the friendlier skies of the North along with another pilot, Bob, and his airline attendant wife, Mimi.

Another regular was Jacques, the Patroller…. and who can forget Ernie? Or the tales they all told! The head barman was Werner (pronounced with a “V” ) who led the merriment and excitement every day and well into the night. Werner later married Margot who worked upstairs in the Office. Working with her was Brigitte who married Bruno, the Head Waiter. The Office was run “her way” by an unlikely resort candidate, a French woman of a certain age, Madame Liochon, who reminded me of Edith Piaf. Another individual in the Office was the red haired Scotish lass, Diana. who spoke English and French with an accent as heavy as Sean Connery’s.

All meals were taken in the Hotel dining room under the strict eye of Bruno’s boss, Willi, the Maitre D. and wine somellier. The instructors and the hotel management sat together at one table near the kitchen entranceway from where Gerard surveyed his domain, spotting any person or thing the slightest bit out of place. On the other side of the swinging two way doors, was the culinary artist, Chef P. who was king of the castle and whose word was law. On many occasions did the knives fly when one dared enter his realm or have the gall to return one of his specialties.

The sumptuous five course dinners offered an array of delicious European cuisine either by “table d’hote” (included in the meal plan) or a la carte. One paid extra to eat “outside the box”. Meals were always enhanced, of course, by a selection of the cellar’s finest red and white wines of which we partook in plenty. Where we sat at table #1, the dining room had but seven booths with tables covered by red checkered cloths. Believe me, it wasn’t easy extricating oneself after feasting for two hours.

We would retire once again to the bar for liqueurs and dance the polka to the sound of a trio of German oom-pah-pah musicians. Sepp, the bandleader, deserves a book of his own. He would swill more beer and schnapps than anyone four nights a week and end up chewing and swallowing shot glasses, light bulbs and any other small glass objects that he could get his teeth into.

Now remember, these were the famous nineteen sixties and seventies, the days of the discotheque. So we also had a great jukebox with all the latest hits to which we would dance a go-go. After one particularly costly stint at renovations, Gerard renamed the Bar “L’Hypotheque” – the French word for mortgage. The favourite location was around the fireplace and at the long el-shaped bar itself – great spots to see and be seen.

Monday mornings began with a hearty two hour breakfast of Fresh Fruit or Juice; Hot or Cold Cereal; Crepes; Eggs any style accompanied by Ham, Sausage and/or Bacon ; Toast and Jam; Home Made Breakfast Buns or Croissants; and Coffee to die for.

At ten o’clock sharp, at the enormous bronze bell at the base of the slopes, the hotel guests would be divided into classes with the more proficient being allocated to the most experienced instructors. Switching the pupils around was acceptable to a degree – all in the quest of potential relationships of a personal nature.

The first year, not being certified as an Instructor, I taught all the children, thus curtailing any thought of possible involvement with those guests except as a baby sitter. I also had all the adult raw beginners. My legs started to be pigeon-kneed from all that snow plowing and my knees themselves sounded like castanets.

Each instructor had two hours a morning to teach the both classes some basics; then back to the dining room for a two hour sit down lunch of soup or salad, main course, and dessert and enough wine to fortify us for the chill of an afternoon on the hills.

Classes resumed between two and four o’clock when cocktail hour began. Are you starting to see the routine? But we really couldn’t overdo the alcoholic drinks because we still had to go change in preparation for another two hours of gourmet wining and dining. But the clients were so intent on offering their instructors a libation, it would have been impolite to refuse.

After dinner entertainment began around nine o’clock. Monday night – Gluwein, or Mulled Wine, was served at the ski movies produced by the renowned Warren Miller of Moebius Flip fame. Wine, Beer and Kirsch were the favourite choices at Tuesday’s Swiss Fondue and Buffet Dinner with music provided by the Bavarian band; and Wednesday – Hot Buttered Rhum warmed the cockles of one’s heart at a sleigh ride and sing along. Did I mention that the instructors formed the Entertainment Committee as well?

Early Thursday morning, we left by bus for Mont Tremblant where we would teach our classes their morning lessons. Finally, at noon we, the instructors, were free to go grab a quick sandwich from the lunch box provided by the Hotel and eat it while going up the chairlift on the North Side. There we would let loose and be challenged by the famous Expo trail, a daunting black-diamond run with a dizzying vertical drop and a mountain of moguls. It was always fun showing other ski schools just what hot shots we were.

Sedate afternoon classes resumed from two to four at which point we’d go back to the bus for the return journey. For the most part, we would take this only abstinent time, apart from breakfast, to rest up for the evening’s dinner and festivities – a masquerade party and dance to the tune of Sepp’s accordion and his cohorts’ horn and drums.

Friday mornings provided the last opportunity to coach our fledgling Jean-Claude Killy’s and Nancy Greene’s before their afternoon test, a giant slalom race for the gold trophy. Naturally, all the participants in the ski-week were awarded medallions of gold, silver or bronze at that evening’s medal ceremony – either as a memento of their week or a reward for putting up with their zany instructors.

Saturdays and Sundays provided no rest for the wicked as we all taught or patrolled on week-ends which allowed us priority use of the lift. We had Saturday evenings off. But how could we resist the invitations of our friends to join them in the Bar or fight off the allure of the marching trio?

The season started on the late November’s American Thanksgiving Week-end and quite often lasted through an April Easter. The peak weeks were Christmas, New Year’s, February’s George Washington’s Birthday, March School Break and Reading Week. Guests would return year after year to enjoy Quebec’s warm hospitality and Sun Valley’s sterling reputation in the Laurentian Mountains.

Three sides of the mountain had been developed over the years into ski hills appropriately named the south, north and west sides, each of which consisted of runs of a varying degree of difficulty. Although not the largest of the Laurentian Mountains, it did measure 1900 feet in length with a 450 foot vertical rise. The south side had snow-making equipment which allowed us to extend the season greatly and ski the stupendous granular snow in our shorts. Great for unusual tans too,

The mountain boasted one double chair lift, 3 T-bars and a Poma lift and, in the late sixties, a lift ticket on the week-end cost $8.50 and a private lesson could be had for $14.00. For some reason, a season’s pass cost $150.00 for men but only $125.00 for women??? Maybe because on average men were larger and it cost more in fuel to hoist them up the hill??? I only wish that a similar discount existed in the bar.

The film industry touched us a few times. For one New Year’s ski week, we had received a phone call requesting accommodation for Goldie Hawn, then only of Laugh-In renown. We already had a full house and all the guests were so excited at the thought of meeting her. We somehow managed to switch a number of willing guests around in order to free up a deluxe room at the last moment. When we called her to confirm, Goldie was thrilled as attested to by her famous laugh until, that is, she discovered we weren’t in her California’s nearby state of Idaho.

We achieved another last minute miracle for Michael Caine in a ski movie and only discovered upon his arrival that this Michael Caine was no Alfie, but was a Canadian on loan to the National Film Board. I remember working as his double on the slopes for which, by the way, I was never reimbursed. And, rank novice though I was, I had to cross-country ski as naturally as an expert. Obviously, it was another low budget film even for the N.F.B.’s standards

Another movie involved Ben as a double on the slopes and for stunts for the lead actor whose name did not go down either in history or in my memory bank. The plot surrounded a couple on a ski-week and the romantic intervention of their ski instructor (Ben). One scene had him jumping from balcony to balcony of adjoining rooms 25 and 26 before making a hasty retreat into the snow bank below. Ben was still limping a few days later after all the takes.

I only had one accident skiing at Sun Valley. Midway up the south side, the hill opened up and you could cross over from one trail to the other three if you really crouched down while skiing under the obviously low hanging chairlift. I was patrolling one Saturday and felt I should lead by example – no trick skiing as I usually did– so I stopped dead in my tracks to allow the ascending chair to pass. I forgot to be on the watch out for the descending one which caught me in the side of the head. How ignominious to be carried off the slopes in a stretcher by my colleagues wearing the same brown jacket with its yellow C.S.P.S. cross.

While I lay in a ward for the mentally challenged in a hospital for a week or so being tested for permanent damage, the arguments between Gerard and my father raged on. Gerard insisted that Sun Valley Hotel Suisse be sued for negligence in not putting up a fence and my father being adamant about how dishonourable it would be for one Swiss to sue another. They finally agreed that it was my own darn fault – I should have known better in the first place. No lawsuit.

I had an accident of a different sort after apres-skiing in the bar for hours with David, one of two Scottish brothers from Montreal. He was teaching me to drive a standard shift car on a dark and lonely country road. Once I got a tiny bit adept at switching gears without too much metal grinding, I started to jokingly careen from one side of the road to the other while making the sounds of a race car engine revving at Le Mans. Alas, one tire became stuck in a rut which propelled his brand new Volkswagen up the bowl shaped snow bank onto its roof. Later, he told me that he had sold his car at night.

Sun Valley groomed its own beautiful cross country trails but that form of skiing was less in demand than today. We also had an outdoor skating rink nearby which wasn’t too bad temperature wise because, as usual, we were appropriately adorned to help keep us warm. The leather skinned drinking flasks hanging about our necks, like casks on a St. Bernard, assisted us mightily in achieving that goal.

On the home front, Diane had been married for several years now to Jacques, (no, not the Ski Patroller of earlier mention) a lawyer from the Montreal area. And now it was Elsbeth’s turn. She and Gerard got married on a snowy May 10th, 1969 and the two day reception terminated at the Airport where friends and relatives accompanied them to the gate – led by the omnipresent Sepp and his orchestra in lederhosen. Henceforth, Elsbeth would be known as Madame la Patronne (Mrs. Boss) as she became more and more involved in the Hotel’s day to day operations. Two years later, also in May, Gerard and Elsbeth had a baby boy, Charles, who resembles his father greatly.

After returning from his Honeymoon, Gerard became partners with Ben and they were involved in a new enterprise featuring prefabricated houses and Dolphin Swimming Pools. The model home was located a few miles away in Ste. Adele and I was hired as their representative. For weeks, I sat there forlorn and gray without so much as a nibble. It only lasted a month but I held Gerard to his promise of a full time job nevertheless as he had once held me accountable after an oral agreement over work. Thus began my ten year career in the Hotel industry.

He hired me as a Front Office clerk and secretary at Sun Valley and I couldn’t even type. Madame Liochon and Emile, her counterpart in the Controller’s Office, both thought Gerard had gone crazy. But, then again, so did he. He always said he agreed with me on many matters but it was my pugnacious manner of presenting them that he detested. What didn’t hurt my lasting longer than a day was the fact that I was now his sister-in-law.

I recall one occasion when I thought all the guests were in the dining room and I was showing prospective Honeymooners to Room #6, with its private bathroom and balcony. I had a master key and I threw the door open wide with a grand flourish. “Voila!.” I exclaimed, revealing a newlywed couple in flagrente delecto who had opted out of dinner in exchange for a one-on-one, so to speak.

Another time I had omitted to get a credit card imprint or ask for a prepayment from one particular walk-in – someone without reservations. Not only did he skip without paying, he also absconded with all the linens. But, he looked so very honest.

Eventually I learned the ropes – from reservations to reception, answering the PBX telephone system with its myriad of easily confusing lines. and learning the different culinary terms to write up the daily menus on an old Gestetner mimeograph machine. That devil hated me! Yes, getting the hang of things definitely took quite a while.

Off season was usually dull. The snow and the leaves were either coming or going and the sky always looked gray. The clients were nearly as dour as their surroundings. We hosted corporate seminars during those months. One group was from the Canada Revenue Agency, a jocular group of tax collectors who only left their rooms to eat.

I remember getting chummy with one tax analyst who was there for two weeks with only one day’s break in Montreal. He brought me back an enormous multicolored woven pillow that he had purchased at the artisans’ market in Old Montreal. From his stated expectations, it was then that I learned about this accountant’s interpretation of a balance sheet. Oh, well !!! It didn’t match my decor anyway.

However, we also welcomed groups on seminar from many different companies, one of which was Air Canada. Despite being as studious and serious, the attendees were very convivial – probably a prerequisite to being hired in the Travel and Tourism industry just as it was in the Hotel industry. But Sepp certainly wasn’t needed for dancing.

Then came the Honeymooners starting in June as Gerard advertised in several Brides’ Magazines. The guests were mainly from the province of Quebec and many had never traveled outside their hometowns before. Some people were too shy to leave their rooms and others made friends early in the week. I recall two of the latter couples who had decided on frugality over privacy by agreeing to share one of Le Chamois’ large double bedded rooms. They did request extra blankets to be strung up as a curtain.

There were many summer activities at Sun Valley. A large pool with low and high diving boards was surrounded by lawn chairs and picnic tables. It was centrally located between the Hotel, Le Chamois and the new Motel and was the hub of many activities such as shuffleboard, archery, croquet and lawn bowling. For the more active, the mountain provided excellent hiking trails and we had two tennis courts. Golf could be had in the vicinity and water-skiing took place at a nearby lake.

The stables were in the west, well down wind. We rode the American standard bred horses with Western or English saddle and took them out on the trails or practiced in the ring. I really loved one particularly feisty horse, Champion, who did not suffer bad riders fondly and who was often overlooked for gentler steeds. He was so unpopular, he finally had to be sold.

For more cultural needs, the Summer Theatre presented plays in French by such authors as Racine and Moliere. It was well known and visitors came from quite a distance to catch a play and dine in the Hotel’s renowned, multi-starred restaurant. Four evening performances took place from Friday through Sunday and two week-end matinees were held from May until October.

Sun Valley produced many University alumni. To name but a few, Bruce from Chatham, Ontario was an underage Assistant Barman; Andre, the Theatre Manager, became a lawyer; Gilles, the summer Entertainment Director, and Noel, the bell boy, all earned their degrees through wages and tips at Sun Valley.

I worked longer in the office – 4 1/2 years – than I did on the slopes. My last two were spent as Front Office Manager. Gerard and I still had our battles but by then, we were used to each others’ styles. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there but left in the autumn of 1973 to pursue a five year career in Montreal – first at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel as Sales Manager and then at the Quality Inn as Night Manager and Comptroller.

But, once again I felt the allure of Sun Valley’s unique style and returned for six months as Manager. I left in 1978 after the Quebec referendum along with thousands of other Quebecois who fled Montreal for its arch nemesis, Toronto. I joined the Four Seasons Hotel and had immediate family in Toronto because, well prior to that, Elsbeth and Gerard had divorced and she had moved there with her son, Charles.

So, for years, the ties were severed but we did hear that Sun Valley Hotel Suisse had suffered from bankruptcy. Elsbeth and I went back in August of 2008 and were overwhelmed with grief at the sight of the burned out Hotel, and the vandalized New Motel. Several out buildings were razed to the ground and the landscape had suffered years of neglect to the extent that the overgrown mountain was a ski resort no more.

Only Le Chamois, which had been converted into condos, still stood as a reminder of the years of glory and happiness that had reigned supreme in THE VALLEY.

KGSB

Lift ticket

Have any of you got any lift tickets from your days of skiing. To kick things off I have photographed a clustered set of tickets from the mid-noughties. To submit your tickets for publishing on this site, send photograph with caption to hinterland-productions (at) hushmail.com

liftticket1

1. Chanteclerc: this was a day spent on the now-closed hill one of this resort. A small but enjoyable hill with excellent views of Lac Ronde. Ste-Adele.

2.  Sugar Peak/Gray Rocks: a day at this hill (closed in 2009) involved no waiting in lift lines, great skiing conditions, and a superb ski chalet. Mont-Tremblant.

3. Vallée-Bleue: this hill continues to offer great value. Val-Morin.

4. Parc Regionale Dufresne: not downhill skiing but snowshoeing at this municipally-run park.