From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
In my youth, Harper’s hill was all that could be desired as a spot to spend an afternoon on. At first the big hand sleigh at the farm was the only means of conveyance, but many times, unless the snow was pretty well packed and frozen, the runner would cut through and you usually got a tumble and a skinned nose in the bargain.
My first toboggan was a very crude affair – just three or four barrel staves laid flat and cleats nailed across at each end. This was very speedy but it was a problem, as it would turn around on the hill and carry you down backwards. Later on I secured a thin board about fourteen inches wide and four feet long. The front end was thinned down and the half of a cheese box band was nailed on the under side with a cleat across the other end of the board. Another cleat was nailed across the back. This toboggan proved very satisfactory and would carry two or three quite comfortably.
Through the winter, the road in front of our farm house would drift high with snow, and teams passing over it often got stuck or tipped their loads over, and we were called out to help them. On one occasion a team from MacIntosh Mills got stuck and we boys took shovels to help them out. The mills at that time were doing a big business making toboggans. After we had helped him through the banks. Tom Stevenson, the driver of the team said “Well boys, I have no money but if one of these toboggans happens to slide off my load I guess it will be yours.” And it slid off!
These toboggans were well constructed of narrow slats, steamed and bent to the proper shape, with cleats across the rawhide thongs binding the slats to the cleats. A little grove was cut underneath so that the cords would not be damaged when used. Our toboggan proved very satisfactory but was not big enough. Harper’s Hill by this time had become very popular and young folks gathered nightly to enjoy the sliding. As we had packed the snow and made a good track clear to the creek, we could cross over it and go up the bank, usually at a pretty good speed.
Sometimes, unfortunately the toboggan would leave the track and carry us to a point on the creek where the ice was not solid. On one occasion I was steering, at the back, when this happened. As we neared the edge of the ice, I fell off, the toboggan and the two in front passed over the creek, but did not go clear up the bank, and slid back with the end of the toboggan going through the ice. Of course the water was not deep and the girls waded to the shore. When they missed me they had thought I had gone under the ice and they started to yell. But I was safe and they were wet!
Te foundry man in Lyn, a very handy fellow who could do wood work, said he could make us a good strong toboggan. Instead of making his of narrow slats he made it in three sections, each seven inches wide. The cleats were securely with screws, countersunk in the boards, and the boards at the front as usual steamed and bent, and secured with wire to the first cleat. This proved a very satisfactory process and we gave the speedy new toboggan a good trial on Harper’s Hill.
One night a couple of my uncles came over with their families and decided to take a ride down the hill. I still have a vivid recollection of Uncle Bidwell Billings, who always wore a felt hat in the winter. As the toboggan gained speed his hat blew off, and I can still see his long hair and whiskers as he went past me down the hill. That same night my other uncle, Herb Billings, decided to have a ride. He was sitting up on the toboggan near the back, and as the toboggan gained speed down the steeper part of the hill he got scared and put his feet out to stop it. When they caught in the snow he was lifted clear and landed face downward and hands outstretched, the result being a skinned nose, forehead and chin. We had to take him to the doctor for repairs. About this time the boys decided to build a slide in Lyn, and in the fall of 1887, cedar posts and lumber were donated and the slide erected, on the hill just west of where the Storey barn now stands. It was a splendid structure and on down the hill the boards were put on their edge to form a channel for the toboggans and their surface was well ice. You could go up the steps at the back of the slide, assemble your load at the top, get a push from the starter and in a second you were down in the flat and across the pond, even to the edge of Cornell’s woods. Sometimes though after leaving the boarded side of the slide, your toboggan would jump the track and head for the cat-tails which covered you with the fluffy tops until you looked like as if you were in a feather bed. The foundry man did a big business making these toboggans for a while. Nearly every family in the neighbourhood secured one.
Another slide was erected on Schofield’s Hill, Brockville, just behind where a gasoline station now stands. This was a splendid structure with two slides; at night when it was lighted with torches beside the track it was a gorgeous sight to see boys dressed in blanket suits and toques, swiftly speeding down the hill and across the pond. I enjoyed one night on this hill, my cousin, Eck Kilborn, had a good toboggan and we four, my cousin Joe Clark, later a prominent politician in the West, Bob Geddes, and I had a wonderful evening. Another slide in Brockville was built on what was known as the Lacrosse Grounds.
The slide in Lyn did not last long. In 1889 this district was visited by a severe windstorm. Roofs were blown off barns, trees uprooted, and the Methodist Church, not then in use, was blown down and the slide a few rods from it, was levelled to the ground and never rebuilt. The posts and lumber afterwards were used to build sidewalks in the village of Lyn. The wrecked church was rebuilt at Glen Buell, with the brick and other material that was salvaged and fit for use. This church still stands, with a record over its door stating it was erected in 1890.
The natural slide at the farm is gone. The demand for building sand has meant that trucks have been hauling for four or five years from he hillside, and now only mounds of earth show where we raced down on our toboggans many years ago.