Connaught Hill Park – Did you know?

Ever wonder how Connaught Hill got its name, why it rises higher than the surrounding Prince George bowl, what structures have — or could have — graced its top, and how it figures in First Nations’ legend? Read on for 10 fascinating facts about our city’s highest downtown park.

1. Royal namesake

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Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, in 1915. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

Connaught Hill is named after Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, who served as Canada’s 10th Governor General — and its first Governor General of royal descent.

The Duke was third son of Queen Victoria. He served 40 years in the British military and first visited Canada in 1869 as a young officer with the British Rifle Brigade’s Montreal detachment. During that posting, the young prince earned a medal fighting in the Battle of Eccles Hill and was appointed the 51st Chief of the Six Nations Iroquois tribal council — a special honour given that the council had until then traditionally consisted of 50 chiefs. The Duke served as Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916, during which time he travelled widely throughout Canada. His daughter, Princess Patricia, lent her name to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), an infantry regiment that is still active in Canada today.

2. Caine Drive

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Martin Caine (left) and A.B. Moffat in 1952. (Photo: The Exploration Place)

The road that winds up and around Connaught Hill Park is named for Martin Caine, a prominent local lumberman and Rotarian who oversaw construction of the hilltop park and loop drive in 1950-51.

Martin Caine arrived in Prince George in 1919, after leaving his native England to work the Klondike Gold Rush. His varied local business ventures included supplying railway ties for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, constructing sections of the highway south to Quesnel, and supplying pilings for the original Cameron Street Bridge over the Nechako River. In 1939, Caine established Caine Lumber, one of Prince George’s first planer mills. Caine served as president of the Prince George Rotary Club in 1950 when the club adopted a project to create park space atop Connaught Hill. He and other Rotarians spent countless hours slashing, clearing and grading land for the road and grounds as we know them today. Connaught Hill Park officially opened on September 7, 1951.

3. Olympic ski-jump glory

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Looking up and down from the ski jump. (Photos: The Exploration Place)

Connaught Hill once housed a 65-foot-tall, Olympic-quality ski jump – the first illuminated ski jump in North America, and the second in the world. 

The wooden trestle jump, built by local ski enthusiasts, opened in February 1931 — just in time to host the Western Canadian Championships and the Olympic trials. Several big-name skiers slid down the jump’s 100-foot surface, sailed through the air above Connaught Hill’s northwest face and swooshed to a stop among the spectators clustered near the site of the present-day Bob Harkins branch of the Prince George Public Library. Total vertical drop from the top of the jump to the base of the hill: nearly 225 feet. The jump hosted regular competitions until it collapsed under strong winds in October 1938.

4. Once an island

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The confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers circa 1793. The red arrow shows the Fraser’s original course; the blue arrow shows its current course. (Map © Rev. F. E. Runnalls; coloured arrows and Connaught Hill label added)

When Alexander Mackenzie passed through the Prince George area in 1793, Connaught Hill was an island surrounded by the waters of the Fraser River.

In Mackenzie’s time, the waters of the Fraser River were in flux. The river’s main channel looped around the west side of Connaught Hill, then flowed through present-day downtown Prince George, the VLA subdivision and the Hudson’s Bay Slough (see map) before turning south along the current course at South Fort George. But the swiftly flowing waters had recently cut a new, more direct, southerly channel east of Connaught Hill – one that the river still follows today. Connaught Hill and the lands of the present-day Millar Addition were thus island-bound — as described in Mackenzie’s journals — until the original western channel dried up

5. Made of tough stuff

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Connaught Hill (top) and Carney Hill (bottom) rise above the Prince George bowl. (Photos: top – The Exploration Place; bottom – Caroline Ross)

Connaught Hill is made of a harder geological material than the surrounding Prince George landscape, which is why it is one of the only high points of land in the “bowl” area.

Some ten thousand years ago, surging glacial meltwaters began washing softer rocks and soils from the valley in which Prince George now lies. Connaught Hill remained standing – as did Carney Hill, located at the junction of Highways 16 and 97. Both hills are formed of the same hardy rock and therefore withstood the glacial erosion process.

6. 4000+ flowers

Connaught Hill in bloom (Photo: City of Prince George)

In an average year, City of Prince George garden staff plant approximately 500 shrubs, 600 perennials, and 3000 annuals in the gardens atop Connaught Hill.

Visitors can expect to see between five and 20 varieties of each plant type in bloom throughout the season, including hydrangea, nine bark, begonia, nemesia, salvia, allium, tulip, crocus and iris. The main terraced gardens (photo at right) are a popular setting for wedding photos, but smaller beds throughout the park also bloom with splashes of colour throughout the summer season.

7. Lamb Sons flywheel

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Lamb Sons flywheel. (Photo: City of Prince George)

The large piece of machinery on the grass near the look-out is an iron flywheel from a steam engine used to power W. Lamb Sons mills, one of Prince George’s original sawmill operations.

W. Lamb Sons was located on 110 acres of land on the southeast portion of Cottonwood Island Park. The operation consisted of a sawmill and a planer mill producing lumber from spruce and fir trees stored in log booms on the Nechako River. The mill was originally owned and operated by Alexander Sawmills, which, in 1929, became the first active sawmill within city limits. Walter Lamb purchased in the mill in 1946, operating it with his four sons until 1957, then later selling it to Lakeland Mills. The flywheel on display atop Connaught Hill would have spun at rates of over 1,000 rpm in order to ensure a steady supply of power to the mill’s cutting and planing equipment.

8. One big beaver dam

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Carrier Sekani Beaver Clan motif
© Peter George

In Carrier legend, Connaught Hill is known as a large beaver dam, possibly associated with the story of the origin of the beaver.

According to the origin story, a woman built a dam across a stream to keep busy while her new husband was away hunting. When her husband returned, the dammed waters blocked his way, and he knocked the dam down to return home. The woman continued to build dams, and her husband continued to knock them down. Angered, the woman built the largest dam yet, along with a lodge in the middle of the water. When her husband returned, she leaped into the water, her breech-cloth trailing behind her. The man destroyed the structures but could not find his wife. When he returned the next day, she had repaired the damage but did not look like herself. Fearing that her people would say he had killed her, the man brought them to see her. When they arrived, they saw a large beaver on the beaver lodge. It was his wife, whose breech-cloth had become a tail. She called, “My husband did not kill me, but I changed into a beaver. Now go back home, for I cannot live with you anymore.”

9. What could have been . . . and what was

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The old water tower (right), and the water tower standing on Connaught Hhe hill above City Hall. (Photos: left – The Exploration Place; right – Trelle Morrow)

Imagine scaling Connaught Hill to find a replica Hudson’s Bay Trading Post, a Greek-columned coffee shop, an astronomical observatory, or open-air water reservoir at the top.
 
These are just a few of the imaginative projects proposed for the hilltop site over the years. To date, only two structures have actually graced the hilltop: a wooden trestle ski jump (see item 3 above) and a 100,000-gallon gravity-operated water tower, pictured in the photo at right. The water tower supplied areas of the city for nearly 30 years until it fell out of use and was demolished in 1958 — but not before it brought its own share of excitement to the city. In 1950, the tower overflowed and caused a mudslide down the hill’s south slope, dumping two feet of sludge across present-day Connaught Drive and stranding a hapless American tourist in his car for several hours.

10. A 360-degree perspective on PG

Connaught Hill offers a unique 360-degree perspective on Prince George and the surrounding bowl area.

Check out Connaught Hill Park – What can I see from up here? for an illustrated description of the view in every direction.

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Looking southwest from the main grassy viewing area atop Connaught Hill.

Sources:

1. Royal namesake:

2. Caine Drive:

  • Canadian Federation of University Women – Prince George, Street Names of Prince George: Our History, 3rd Edition (Prince George, BC: 2005, Papyrus Printing), p. 52.
  • Prince George Citizen:
    • “Naming our streets,” 14 Sept. 1983, p. 34.
    • “Whopping birthday party for octogenarian Martin Caine,” 30 Nov. 1959, p. 1.
    • “You’re invited to take a walk into city’s history,” 5 July 1984, p. 26.

3. Olympic ski-jump glory:

  • Bev Christensen, Prince George: Rivers, Railways, and Timber (Burlington, ON: 1989, Windsor Publications Ltd.), p. 72.
  • Prince George Citizen archives.
  • Prince George Downtown Walking Tour sign, “Connaught Ski Hill,” located on 7th Avenue at Canada Games Way.

4. Once an island:

  • Rev. F. E. Runnalls, A History of Prince George (Prince George: 1946, Fraser-Fort George Museum Society), pp. 17-18.

5. Made of tough stuff:

  • Rev. F. E. Runnalls, A History of Prince George (Prince George: 1946, Fraser-Fort George Museum Society), p. 4.

6. 4000+ flowers:

  • Email correspondence with Dave Bradshaw, Manager of Parks, Transit & Solid Waste Services, City of Prince George, 24 November 2015.

7. Lamb Sons flywheel:

  • Trelle A. Morrow, The Big Smoke (Prince George, BC: 2014, Talisman Publications), p. 46.
  • Mike Evans, Lisa Krebs, et al. A Brief History of the Short Life of the Island Cache. 2004. p. 26.
  • “Never too old for golf,” Prince George Citizen, 1 August 2014.
  • Personal phone conversation with Mr. Delmar Lamb, January 20, 2015.
  • Explain That Stuff!: Flywheels
  • Wikipedia: Flywheel

8. One big beaver dam:

  • Canadian Federation of University Women – Prince George, Street Names of Prince George: Our History. 3rd Edition (Prince George, BC: 2005, Papyrus Printing), p. 92.
  • Diamond Jenness, “Myths of the Carrier Indians of British Columbia,” The Journal of American Folk-Lore Vol. 47 No. 184-185 (April-September 1934), pp. 202-203.

9. What could have been – and what was:

2 thoughts on “Connaught Hill Park – Did you know?

  1. Any ideas or info on the large ski jump that came down cranbrook hill north end in to where the helicopter base is now?
    Thanks Marty

  2. Pingback: Local history article: 10 things you didn’t know about Connaught Hill Park – Caroline Ross Creative

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