Friday, May 14, 2010

Mount Royal snowshoe vs ski race - and bike!

In the quite amazing Gazette archive (1880-1985) on google news, the Gazette in the late 1800s reported on a race between the traditional form of personal winter travel/recreation in Quebec, the snowshoe, against that newfangled scandinavian invention, the ski (Ok, the ski has actually been around for 1000s of years, but it was newly introduced to north america).

Snowshoers had been traveling over and around Mt Royal for centuries, and snowshoe clubs of all sorts were very popular at the time (what else was there to do in the winter before electricity, tv, birth control, indoor plumbing and the habs?).

So someone asked, probably over some beers, which is faster, skiing or snowshoeing. A race was organized. A starting point at McGill university gates, and a destination at a tavern over where St-Joseph's Oratory now stands. A crowd gathered and the race was off. The snowshoes took the early lead, on the uphill section. Cheers went up, tradition would win! But when the incline turned to downhill, the skis moved faster, passed the snowshoers, and won the race.

And thus the popularity of snowshoeing as a winter activity began it's decline. And skiing rose to became the popular sport it is today.

Which brings us to last night.

We were on the bike, over near St-Joseph Oratory, and wondered... where should we ride next?

We thought of this race, and wondered what would a bike do? So we rode from the Oratory over to the gates of McGill. 11 minutes 50 seconds, but this was the downhill version, not representative at all of the race. However, now we were at the starting point, so we reset the timer, and started on what was a non-optimised modern version of the course, although naturally today there are buildings, streets, and red lights today, no wide-open fields! The ride up steep peel street (fresh asphalt!) was a slow low-gear leg burner, but once on Pine Avenue and traversing around the edge of Mt Royal westward the speed picked up, we passed the wet cold rock wall (Brrr!) near the Montreal General hospital, got onto Cote des Neiges and crested the high point and began the descent to the finish line. To avoid lights and cars we hopped on to the 90% finished new bike path along cote des neiges (the first-built part of the new northern "boucle Mont Royal"). After we traversed some road construction we arrived at the entrance of Oratoire St-Joseph (we did NOT race through the grounds) and finished the race course in 16:05.

I didn't check the time in the gazette news archive (i read a while ago) but I got a fun after-supper workout with a bit of historical flavour.

An interesting 1977 Gazette local history column looking at a related event and other snowshoe racing activities in Montreal is here.


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