Photo of Devil's Elbow from bethanyontario.blog
Friday, 05 February 2021 19:00
Estonian Life No. 5 2021 - Vincent Teetsov
In the February 1938 issue of Eesti Spordileht
(Estonian Sports Magazine), there's a lively collage of photos, from when “ski jumping took place for the first time in Estonia.” Crowds of spectators were forming along the barriers, looking high up at the ski jumping hill that had been constructed. In between events, the athletes guzzled hot drinks, adjusted their number bibs, and waxed their skis. Even with an artificial hill and that year's sub-par snow quality, these Eesti Suusapäevad
(Estonian Ski Days) were a success, with events happening in Narva, Tallinn, and Tartu. The publication's piece about the events tell of a record number of spectators at the events, and athletes performing at the top of their game, proving “that skiing has become a mass sport for us.”
Consider then the Kiviõli Seikluskeskus
(Kiviõli Adventure Centre) in Ida-Virumaa. As suggested by the name of the town, refining oil shale was a big part of the area's economic activity for decades. It also devastated the local salmon population and the river fishing that had benefited from that fish. Starting in 2001, Janek Maar and Kaja Kreisman worked together to take one of the old waste heaps, sometimes referred to as the “ash hill”, created by the nearby refinery and turn it into a ride-worthy set of four slopes, between 400 and 700m in length, with lifts. In a town facing post-industrial decline, the hill has since restored a sense of pride in the community and created a destination for visitors and locals.
Around the same time as when that slope opened up, in Bethany, Ontario, Devil's Elbow was approaching its 50th anniversary as a ski resort. The late Velfrid Holmberg founded Devil's Elbow in 1963. Holmberg was born in Hiiumaa in 1928 and arrived in Canada in 1949. In Toronto, he started Holm Construction with Martin Reigam. The two of them found the plot of land and developed it in their off-time; cutting trees and thick shrubs, and making trails that would become part of the resort. Down the line, Velfrid and his son John obtained full ownership of the resort. It was a family business, supported by Velfrid Holmberg's wife Elizabeth; and later, his daughter-in-law Sandra. Another instance of Estonians shaping their interests into well-loved businesses.
There were six lifts to the top, 14 runs, a ski instruction program, equipment rentals, and a chalet with a comfortable cafeteria and balcony on the second floor, situated in the picturesque Kawartha Lakes area. Guests and families would spend countless consecutive weekends learning to ski here (and snowboarding when that became popular), putting in their hours of practice, all within reach of the GTA. It was a social hub. Maybe some readers were even present at Devil's Elbow when it hosted the Toronto Eestlaste Suvepäevad on Saturday June 20th, 1970? Or in 1971 or 1973?
Velfrid Holmberg passed away in 2014. Devil's Elbow was in turn closed and sold in 2018. But when this happened, there was some indication that it could still be opened as a resort in the following years. The Bethany community has been hopeful, and no doubt, there are many who miss going there from far and wide, for all that winter sports, like snowboarding and skiing, give to us.Eesti Suusaliit
(the Estonian Ski Association) describes Estonian skiing as something that was reborn as a sport in the late 1800s, after having been lost over the centuries. It rose from the embers of a practical ancient method of transportation, including when hunting and tracking in the wilderness. This wasn't Olympic jumping or super giant slalom. Yet, with each new season, Esto Ski Day, or individual rider, winter sports continue to enrich us and make fun memories.
Winter sport enthusiasts will find any suitable surface they can, down a gradient or across flat ground. I wouldn't call it “making lemonade out of lemons”, as there's no citrus involved. But you might be able to call it “making mountains out of mole hills.” In a positive, literal way, that is. Next to working on crafts and other hobbies, winter sports are how Estonians survive the winter and glide through the seasons.
Written by Vincent Teetsov
Photo collage from dea.digar.ee of Estonia's first ski jumping event in 1938 at Mustamäe Ski Jumping Hill, Tallinn