The history of the Silver Spoon Trails began in the fall of 1972 when Henry Hollo and Aston Eikrem cut the R and D loops using existing hiking trails where possible. The name “Silver Spoon” is attributed to a silver spoon found by Sean Hollo and Andreas Eikrem, who were playing in the bush while their fathers were working. The emerging popularity of cross-country skiing in Deep River and preparations for the Silver Spoon Ski Festival in 1975 resulted in the trail system being expanded in the fall of 1974 to create the X and C loops. Bill Bishop, Bill Taylor, and Mike Watson joined Henry in cutting these new sections. The main obstacle for X loop was Kennedy Creek, which required two bridges. The D, R, X, and C loops then measured 8.5 km, so for the 1975 Silver Spoon Race the golf course was used to extend this to 15 km. Karel Mika, Bob Birse and others then cut M loop and an extension to D loop, bringing the length of trail to 13 km.
It’s easy to see where the letters for the first ski loops came from. The Deep River Cross-Country Ski Club (DRXC) made no further trail extensions for several years, but improvements were needed. The building of the hospital required a section of R loop to be rerouted. The Pont du Pothier and Henry Hollo bridges on X loop were relocated to their present positions. The Bishop and Ormrod bridges on M were also relocated after beaver activity washed them away, the Ormrod bridge requiring a completely new M downhill.
The DRXC Racing Program was moved from the Three-M trails on private west-end land to the east-end Silver Spoon Trails in 1980. This was a strategic move to promote permanent trail development by the many volunteers engaged in trail clearing. Machine grooming of the trails was introduced on a regular basis, and for many years was performed by volunteer teams using old snowmobiles and homemade drags. A used house trailer was bought to serve as an equipment shed. Later a second trailer was purchased and used as a clubhouse, located on the power line up the laneway at ~200 Balmer Bay Road. For several years in the heyday of the local ski-racing program (late 1980s), the power line was floodlit for evening ski practices.
To improve the quality of the racing program and increase the potential of local racers, some more hilly terrain was required. In 1982 Brian Cox began work on the S loop towards Cranberry Lakes from Cox’s Corner. Once Dave Thompson and others had completed it, the M and S loops provided a 5 km trail good enough for provincial championships in 1985. Brian and Dave then marked out and organized the building of the B loop boundary trail, known as the “Silver Bullet.” This increased the racing trail to 7.8 km. Finally the “Horseshoe” or H loop and an extension on the end of M loop were spearheaded by Bernie DeAbreu to give a challenging 10 km course that local racers used every Saturday morning for many years. Several junior national medalists evolved from this.
Minor modifications to the S and B loops were made in the late 1980s. The zigzag on B was replaced with a straight climb to provide an uphill challenge to elite racers, both downhills from “The Top” were moved slightly and realigned, the end of S was brought back to Cox’s Corner, and the whole race course was widened to facilitate ski-skating. In 1987 the bridges on X loop were completely rebuilt in memory of Henry Hollo by teams led by Ross Meadowcroft, Greg Mark and Bill Bishop, using construction-grade lumber instead of bush material. The “Lake Trail,” some of which already existed, was completed as a backwoods alternative route to Cranberry Lakes.
All this development had been done unofficially on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) land. In 1994, AECL announced the land would be sold. Under intense pressure, skiers and other supporters quickly donated a third of the price, and the remainder came from individuals in return for building blocks in the Balmer Bay vicinity. The result was municipal ownership of ~360 ha, excluding the more accessible and developable parts (~55 ha). The Four Seasons Conservancy was incorporated in 1998 to become outright private owner of ~25 ha of this along the access roadways, and holder of access easements across the remaining ~30 ha that was owned by individuals. With the Conservancy’s mandate to preserve the natural environment and trails for public benefit in the Upper Ottawa Valley, the area became known as the Four Seasons Forest Sanctuary.
Minor re-routing of C loop arose from the AECL sale, but bigger problems arose when permission for the D loop, which had always been on private property along Banting Drive, was withdrawn. Several years elapsed before the Conservancy was able to raise sufficient funds and agreement from the owner to purchase this 32 ha “Cooper Property.” As follow-up, the D loop was extended, walking and snowshoeing trails were completed all around Betty’s Marsh (in honour of chief proponent Elizabeth Van Wagner), and the snowmobile corridor to the south of the marsh was secured.
While the Silver Spoon Ski Festival was the driving force behind trail expansion in the 1970s and then the Racing Program in the 1980s, more and more skiers were commuting regularly on the Plant Trail to and from their work and appreciating backwoods terrain. Increased participation in off-track skiing and a very popular Jackrabbits ski program for kids became two driving forces in the late 1990s. Several new sections of backwoods trail were created by Ray Metcalfe and George Doubt to stitch together a complete “Perimeter” P loop comprising 9 km of ungroomed trail around the far reaches of the Silver Spoon area. Ray also enlisted Ron Wensel and Bruce Smith to help plan and direct the work needed to sculpt the F “Fun” loop and to build kiddie hills behind the chalet. In addition, with the land now secured, Ron Wensel and Stephen Eyvindson designed and organized the building in 1999 of the DRXC chalet at 112 Balmer Bay Road to replace the old clubhouse trailer. Karen Colins organized the moving of other facilities from their previous location on the power line.
The eventual 35 km Silver Spoon Ski Trail system caters to both recreational and racing skiers, accommodating all ages and levels. Trails are brushed and cleared each fall by DRXC volunteers. Once snow is sufficient, approximately 20 km is groomed regularly, with 10 km suitable for ski-skating. Improving, maintaining, and grooming the Silver Spoon network is funded by DRXC ski membership fees. There are no fees for Conservancy membership and non-skiers. Sign-up is by returning the form on the DRXC website to confirm agreement with the rules of usage and to exempt the landowner(s) from liability.
A complementary system of snowshoe trails (~25 km) was added in the early 2000s, mostly by George Doubt, Ray Metcalfe and Dave Hunter on behalf of the Conservancy. These are open year-round to walkers or bikers, and in winter to skiers who wish to ski with their dogs. As of 2020, Deep River’s zoning by-law has officially designated the municipally owned 360 ha as land for “conservation” and “passive recreation,” with the sole exception of “active recreation” on pre-existing snowmobile trails.
In this short history only a few names have been mentioned, but trail development and maintenance continues to benefit from the efforts of numerous volunteers. Besides skiing, these trails provide extensive recreational and educational opportunities during the rest of the year. The area has become a haven for wildlife and a treasured community resource. Bisected by Kennedy Creek and bounded by a pristine stretch of Ottawa River shoreline, it is remarkably scenic. Much of the forest comprises mature white pine groves, with trunks approaching 4 m in girth. Ancient yellow birch, cedar swamps, notable glacial erratics, and Ontario’s largest known tamarack are other attractions. Historically, the original roadway up the Ottawa Valley, the Pembroke–Mattawa Road lined with old stone walls and with abandoned fields, fences and machinery, cuts through from Balmer Bay to the Trans-Canada Highway.
For quiet recreation close to home, the Four Seasons Forest Sanctuary with its trails and natural attractions is a key component of a healthy local community—and a gift to future generations. It makes Deep River that much more attractive as a place to live and visit.
Updated by Ray Metcalfe, 2022 March, with original contributions by Dave Thompson and others.
History of the Bass Lake Cabin (Ski Hut)
The history of the Bass Lake trails and ski cabin (ski hut) began in the mid 1970’s. More history to come.
This pdf file (Bass Lake Cabin Letters) includes some early correspondence related to the start up of the ski cabin.