Boler Mountain is a ski and winter sports recreation complex located in London, Ontario. Although it is more accurately described as a bump, rather than an official mountain, it features a full range of winter sports activities and is officially counted as the southernmost ski hill in Canada. Boler Mountain started off as a fairly small ski centre but by 2012 expansions have brought the centre to three quad chairlifts, 16 runs, and a number of tracks for sports other than skiing.
The area that became the Boler Mountain ski club has a long history in the London region. In October of 1813 the area was known as Hungerford Hill. On October 5th, during the War of 1812, the British army was defeated at the Battle of the Thames (near Chatham, Ontario). This battle (famous for being the site where Shawnee Confederacy leader Tecumseh met his end) forced the British to retreat and lose control over much of Western Ontario. On their way to the fallback point in Burlington, the British army came across a group of wounded British soldiers being protected by the Oxford Militia, under the command of Captain John Carroll of Beachville, Ontario (future home of organized baseball). Slowing down to help them caused them to be overtaken by a scouting party from the Kentucky Mounted Riflemen. Captain Carroll chose to make a stand at Hungerford Hill; early in the war the decision would have likely been to surrender into captivity, but incidents on both sides had, by 1813, given both British and American soldiers the impression that no quarter would be given for prisoners. The battle lasted for the span of one charge by the American cavalry; after the British lines held, the Americans retreated and the caravan of the wounded was allowed to continue along its way.
A second battle took place at Hungerford Hill, although this battle is known as the Battle of Reservoir Hill, using the later name of the area. By August of 1814 the war in Ontario had turned into a series of raids across Lake Erie (which, incidentally, accounts for the lack of large settlements on the north shore of Lake Erie today). A group of American Rangers under Lieutenant William G. Service entered the Thames River Valley on a mission to capture livestock and militia officers. A raid on Beachville proved to be successful and the Ranger detachment managed to capture cattle and four officers, including Captain John Carroll, who had held the line in the first battle at the hill. Fearing the idea of being surrounded, the Rangers began to withdraw toward Detroit. At Hungerford Hill, though, the Middlesex Militia had set up an ambush and executed it well. The Ranger detachment broke and three of the prisoners escaped.
Nearly a century and a half later, on the other side of the most major conflict the world had ever seen, Hungerford Hill – by then definitively known as Reservoir Hill – would become an important player in local history once again. A group of soldiers returned from the European battlefield with a need for leisure and an appreciation for a new sport they’d witnessed and tried out while moving through the Alps: skiing. In 1946, after putting together some equipment, the group chose Reservoir Hill to show off the snowy thrills of the sport. The word got out, and over the next few years the collective of people who came to ski at Reservoir Hill grew quite large. Eventually, it grew large enough that it was necessary to scout out a new location to build a ski chalet, like those they had seen in Europe among the destruction of the Second World War.
In 1949, the skiers of London banded together and incorporated themselves as the London Ski Club, which was set out in the articles of it’s incorporation as a non-profit organization. They then surveyed the land along the Thames River, looking for just the right topography to provide exactly the ski experience that they wanted. They found that topographical balance on a spot outside of the village of Byron, Ontario, just off of Boler Road; the hilly area there would provide both good slopes for beginners to learn on and challenging slopes for more advanced skiers. Having found their hill, the London Ski Club set about purchasing it and putting together a volunteer Board of Directors that would oversee a mixture of both trained volunteers and paid employees who would operate the ski club on a day-to-day basis. As a non-profit, any surplus funds generated from visiting skiers have over its history been plowed right back into the organization, in the form of repairs, upgrades, and new equipment.
In the beginning, the location was somewhat remote and it was hard work to get things underway. Byron at that time was its own separate town, well apart from the proper City of London. My own grandparents still refer to going shopping in what is now the commercial downtown of the suburb as “going down to the village.” The quiet residential tracts that surround the ski club now were all fields and waste in those days, and the hill itself was rough and untouched dating back seemingly to antiquity. The original ski trails had to be cleared by hand, which required long, grueling days of heavy labour. The equipment at the start was similarly primitive. The original chair lift started off it’s life as a Bren Gun Carrier, a tracked vehicle that had been used in the Second World War to transport personnel and light machine gun emplacements; its second life ended as a way to get a rope tow for skiers looking to tackle the black diamond-rated Big Dip trail.
The ski club slowly took shape over the years. The old army surplus rope tow was replaced with cleaner, safer T-bar chair lifts between 1968 and 1970. The first clubhouse had been built at the bottom of the black-diamond Hill 55 trail, but that was replaced with the modern chalet in 1972. The London Ski Club became a popular destination, and by 1979 the Board was able to approve expansions to the setup that allowed for new slopes. By 1990 their success allowed them to start replacing the T-bars with modern quad chairlifts, a process that continued until 2003. The beginner learning area (the ‘bunny hill’) was given it’s own area away from the main runs and installed a new lift to service it. More hill expansions and upgrades to the chalet came in 1997, when more trails were added and the chalet itself was upgraded.
The ski club has also spent the years expanding beyond just the sport of skiing. The coming of age of Generation X led to an interest in ‘extreme sports’, which led to the popularity of the X-Games and the sports of skateboarding, snowboarding, and mountain biking. The latter sport gave the London Ski Club the ability to operate year-round; in 1995 the Boler Mountain Bike Centre began operation on the ski slopes during the summer months. It was a huge success; season passes quintupled by 1996 and the London Ski Club hosted a race in the Canada Cup racing series that year as well. Tubing had been a going concern since near the beginning of the club’s founding, but the widespread global success of snowboarding led the London Ski Club to add a half-pipe for snowboarders in 2005. The area with the half-pipe and tubing runs became a separate area in 2006, and a magic carpet lift was added to service it.
More expansion happened in 2012 when the West Hill was opened, adding five more runs; the next year saw the expansion of the Treetop Adventure Park, which added more summer activities to the lineup at the club. Name changes came about in this era as well. While the London Ski Club had always been known by staff and visitors as Boler Mountain, it wasn’t until 2010 that the name of the London Ski Club was officially changed to Boler Mountain, with the Ontario government approving the alteration of the terms of incorporation. In 2017, the newest version of the Boler Mountain chalet opened; the chalet was transformed into a full-feature event centre, featuring a main floor café, an upstairs restaurant and dining area, and a set of conference rooms that look out onto the slopes of Boler Mountain.