W-Hill and Suicide Hill


In the fall of 2011 the Township of Georgian Bluffs changed the “No Winter Maintenance” signs for the W-Hill and Suicide Hill to “No Maintenance”. After residents made the Township attent to the fact that it made no sense to have a road open and then not maintain it, the Township closed both hills altogether and blocked them off with ugly concrete blocks, which prevented all but hikers and ATV-ers from using the hills. Long time resident Keith Davidson took it upon himself to argue for re-opening of the hills by writing letters to council and by attending many Transportation Committee meetings. The following are three of his letters, the most recent one first, preceded by his address to the Transportation Committee on June 24, 2013.





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Address To The Georgian Bluffs Transportation Committee by R.K. Davidson, June 24, 2013

Subject:  Preservation of  The  Kemble Hills Roads

HillsSignI started organizing Canada Day  five years ago because our Municipality of Georgian Bluffs had done  nothing  over the years to celebrate Canada and our Heritage on Canada Day.  One of the things that I said to the 1,000 people assembled at The Big Bay Dock on Canada Day last year after I had them look around at the natural beauty we are so blessed with in Georgian Bluffs at historic Big Bay was “out here in North Keppel we love our old gravel roads and old hills!  They are Canadiana at it’s best!  I use them all the time – Georgian  Range Road, The Kemble By-Pass Road, The North Kemble Rock Road, The Cape Road – it’s like going back in Time 150 years ago when our forefathers traveled these same old roads and hills in their horse and buggies.  The past is important and thankfully Georgian Bluffs has preserved them.  I will let you in on  one of the best kept  secrets in Canada.  If you travel from here a mile and a half  up the Kemble Rock Road and go up  The W Hill (Dodd’s Hill)  a North Keppel/ Kemble landmark and the only remaining “W” hill in Ontario for vehicles  – right now it is  temporarily closed awaiting some guard rail repairs – park at the top of the Hill  in a little pull off I have made over the years – walk back on the Bruce Trail on  the west end of my Great Grandfathers old farm  and you will look down in awe at an inspiring scene that will stir your emotions.”

A few days after Canada Day our Mayor invited me to meet him in his office. That day was one of the happiest days of my life.  Alan told me that the work on the repairs and renovations to The W Hill and The Suicide Hill  WILL GET  DONE not in 2012 but in 2013.  It was like a a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders knowing I would now not have to  attend any more Transportation Meetings advocating for the preservation of The Kemble Heritage Hills.  I sent the good news out to all kinds of  my contacts in Kemble & North Keppel.  Everybody was so happy to hear the good news that the Hills roads would be made operational again. So this spring I am  patiently  waiting to see the work start on Suicide, the road the Mayor said would be done first.  Fast forward to May 13 and The IVDAARA calls me to say the Transportation Committee was meeting that day and there was nothing in the 2013 roads budget for the repair to The Kemble Heritage Hills roads.  I was so shocked – could not believe it!  So after a hiatis of of all most a year I attend another Transportation Meeting and find that yes there was nothing in the budget as promised for The Hills roads  with the exception that they had $60,000 left after their priority roads were taken care of – the $60,000 was up for grabs  for various road repairs (didn’t tell me where these roads were.)  They asked the new Operations Manager to bring in a report on the cost of Suicide Hill  – don’t think they asked the same of The W Hill.  So I keep wondering what road(s) trumps putting the 150 year old Kemble Hills roads back in to operational mode.

It’s obvious something transpired with the Mayor – he tells me the work would be done in 2013 and it’s not even in the budget.  What happened?  I know Alan would not have lied to me. March 13 2013 was one of the worst days of my life.  I have been depressed ever since.  I have been  low-balled!  I thought we had a done deal!  It sucks having to tell all my friends and special aqauintances what came down on Black Monday.

So it is De Ja Vu all over again as Yogi said. Here we go again!  Want to talk to you about The W Hill. . .  with only 10 minutes allotted to me I don’t have time to talk about Suicide Hill. You will note that I have brought my Canadian flag for emphasis. The W Hill (Dodd’s Hill) is the best Canadiana symbol we have in North Keppel, Kemble and Georgian Bluffs and probably one of the few remaining  W Hills in Ontario and probably Canada.  Dodd’s Hill Road goes back over 150 years – it was built by my Great, Great Grandfather Francis Dodd, one of the very earliest settlers – it goes back  before Confederation in 1867, it was here  during WWI,  here in the Depression, here during WW II and has been used as a road linking North Keppel  to The Kemble Rock and The Highlands until  2 years ago when this Committee put up a “temporary” blockade on it because the Operations Manager wanted it shut down  – the  tail wagged the dog! This Hill is a unique link to the past. The Hill meanders up the Niagara Escarpment and across the BruceTrail in a perfect “W”.   It shows people what a hill in the old days looked like before cars could power up a hill.  When people drive up or down The W Hill it’s an experience  – an experience of local history!  History is important and we should not forget it!  Once history is gone it is gone forever! As Joni Mitchel sang – “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.”  Shutting  down The W Hill is akin to Waterloo County shutting down their famous Mennonite Covered Bridge! The  W Hill should have had an Ontario Heritage designation plaque at the brow years ago for all the hikers and motorists to witness.  As Willy Waterton said in a letter to me October 19 2011 “we think the W Hill should be maintained to allow people to experience a local piece of history!”  I say Amen to that!

It will be absolutely shameful and tragic when Canada’s Sesquicentennial rolls around four short years from now and we celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday big time in Big Bay, the oldest settlement in the former Keppel Township and we can’t use the W Hill for history reenactments letting people ride up and down the historic Dodd’s Hill in horse drawn vehicles  and in old vintage cars, trucks and tractors. Let people take a journey through the past – let them  experience a true, living Canadian history lesson!   We should be paying homage to our past – not shutting our heritage down!  The W Hill is a jewel in the crown of Georgian Bluffs natural amenities  – a connection to our storied past in North Keppel and Kemble.  I  implore you to please have some sober second thought.

HISTORY  MATTERS!  Save our Hills!  Surely after 150 years you don’t want the closure of Dodd’s Hill to be on your watch and your lasting legacy? Since black Monday May 13th. I keep hearing my ancestors saying ” the Kemble Hills Are  A ‘Callin’ – Davidson  – save those Hills – they are a living testimony & symbol  to our pioneering spirit in Kemble and North Keppel!”

The K.W.I. Lookout and Cairn is a celebration of Rural Women’s  heritage in Kemble & District. The W.I. founder Clara Gardiner used both the The  S and W Hills extensively in 1897 when she hooked up her horse and buggy to  visit other women in Kemble and North Keppel in her original membership drive. Shutting these Hills down is a slap in the face of Clara’s memory and to the the oldest active Women’s Institute  The K.W.I.  Clara is one of my heroes – I wish she were here today to  give The Transportation Committee and Council a piece of her mind re shutting The Hills down.  Shutting the Hills down is also a slap in the face to all the  pioneers  who used and maintained the roads on them.  It’s a slap in the face of Wayne Henry who for 35 years maintained the Hills roads in such an expert fashion – perfect banks on the corners, wide run-offs  for vehicles, perfect road grading etc.  I walked the W Hill on Saturday and it’s a testament to Wayne’s maintenance that even after 2 years of non use  you could easily drive a car down or up the hill if the barriers were removed  – it is in amazingly good shape – just needs a bit of gravel here and there and some T.L.C. in a few spots by the grader.

My Municipality can spend  $150,000 on a brush cutter, mega bucks on a Bio-Digester and its operating costs and we are about to take over the Wiarton Airport  that will need tens of thousands for run way repaving  – I am fine with these progressive ventures but I really resent the fact that my Municipality  after  two years can’t scrape up  $25,000  (2nd. last Operation’s Mgr. quote)  to u grade The W Hill  (3 wire cable guides, anchor blocks, signage, labour and equipment cost, culvert etc .)

I have strong feelings that my Municipality should keep working towards the future but respect and preserve our past up here in Kemble and North Keppel! Chatsworth  along with our  Provincial,  Federal and County Governments are  spending $600,000 to save their historic/heritage railway bridge. What we have to fork out on our equally historic  landmark pales with this.  If raising $25,000 is so tough for Georgian Bluffs why can’t my Municipality go after the same Governments and maybe Bruce Power and The Trillium Fouindation for heritage grants on a heritage hill?   $1,000 is big money for me but I will  put my money where my mouth is and donate this to my Municipality to go towards the preservation and operation of The W Hill Road.

I have been a 15 year volunteer in Georgian Bluffs for various and sundry programs and projects trying to make a difference.  You would just laugh if I said you owed me a favour – so I won’t ask it.  But I want my lifestyle back where I can circle drive from our cabin up Suicide, then up the Kemble Rock, down  to the brow of The W Hill  to play my pipes then go down The W Hill and on down to The Cape Road then to The Big Bay Sideroad and back to our cabin like I did for 15 years (less two because of the barricades).  I love driving back in time.  I like living historically!

If you won’t give me my lifestyle back by re-opening The Hills  I won’t be going away! I will be putting an obituary in the papers on the anniversary of their closing every year.    As well I will fly my big Canadian flag at half mast and place a wreath at the top of The W Hill in remembrance of its final death knell every year on the anniversary date of it’s passing. But . . I am still hoping that you will save The Kemble Heritage Hills and get them operational again.  I hope as you stand on The Big Bay Dock on Canada Day celebrating Canada’s heritage you will look up towards Dodd’s Hill & remember that not only is The W Hill the greatest piece of Canadiana  we have up here in Kemble and North Keppel but it is the greatest piece of Canadiana in Georgian Bluffs and should be protected, preserved  and made functional again as we approach Canada’s Sesquicentennial  with great pride and spirit.

Thank You

Letter of May 27, 2013, by Keith Davidson expressing disappointment about the missing funds for the Hills in the Township’s budget.


May 27, 2013 .

Subject:   Update & Status Kemble Heritage Hills (Roads).

                Read And Weep!

The I.V.D. Ratepayers Assoc. monitor Georgian Bluffs Council minutes and agendas  via the web.  Edith Galloway called me (thankfully) on the day of the last Transportation Committee meeting May 13th. to say that the Assoc. had noted that in the Operation Mgr’s report there was nothing in the 2013  roads budget for the repair to  the Kemble Heritage Hills.  To say that I was shocked  would be an understatement because I had the word of His Worship Mayor Barfoot  back  last July  that  the work on repairs and renovations to The W Hill and Suicide Hill would be done in 2013.  He gave the good news to me in his office  – it was one of the happiest days of my life – I was as happy as a little pig in poo – YES –  no more  having to attend  Transportation meetings trying to hold  the members feet to the fire re preserving the 130 year old historical landmarks that help define us in such a unique way in Kemble and North Keppel.  In the second attachment you can read  what I sent out July 21st 2012 about the status of the hills  with  my meeting with  Alan.

So after a hiatis of  all most a year I attend the May Transportation meeting and find that they have $150,000 left over in their capital budget  – they have assigned $90,000 to four of their priority projects and have $60,000 left over  for “other” roads projects.  They were prepared to  look at  repairing Suicide , operative word  “look at”  along with other roads that needed work (didn’t tell me which ones).   They kept going round and round and didn’t get  to the nitty gritty  and farmed things out to the new Operations Manager (3rd. one in  last three years)  and asked him to come in with a new report and estimates on the Hills and present same at the June meeting.

I was given an opportunity to speak at the question/answer segment of the meeting.  I felt bad that  I had to read off the paragraph  in the attachment letter pertaining to the Mayor calling me in to his office last July and telling me that the Hills would be repaired  in 2013 but I had to do it.    The Mayor squirmed and  tried to tell me that  he didn’t think he had said anything about the W Hill being repaired.  I had to correct him –  he told me The Suicide Hill would be repaired first and then  The W Hill.  I have always liked and respected our Mayor – I  have  done him quite a few favors over the years  re  community projects and he has done a few for me.  I know that he would  never  have told me what he did  unless he knew the work would be done on the Hills in 2013.   It’s obvious that something has transpired  between him telling me last July the work would be done and now eleven months later The Hills were not budgeted for.  Councilor Carol Barfoot  made the statement that The Mayor  is just one person and can not make decisions for the Committee.  Sorry . .. it has to be something more than that.

Things are  not unfolding  the way I had envisioned.  I am always an optimist but things don’t look too good now.  I think  some of the Councilors have their own agendas  for road repairs  in 2013  – they won’t tell me where  – I would like to know what trumps not preserving  heritage roads that have been used non stop for over 130 years?   Councilor Ryan Thompson  now says “I wouldn’t say I am convinced that The Hills need the construction dollars more than some of our other roads, but I would like us to be open and honest about the process and get on with a decision rather than keep kicking it ahead and deferring or avoiding a tough decision”.   I like the part about  wishing  for  openness  and honesty.

Anyway  . . . . I have lost a lot of sleep over how things have come down after thinking we had a done deal.  I am depressed!  Having to  now communicate to you  that  we are now back to square one – de je vu  all over again after almost 3 years.  This really sucks!

I  don’t think  Georgian Bluffs knows just what it  might be shutting down.  Purchasing/trading for airports and  maintaining them; developing bio-digesters and maintaining them, buying $200,000  high hoe “maulers” for bush work is progressive( and costly)  but we should also be paying homage to our past – not shutting heritage down.  The repair of both Hills can be done for $75,000 (last year’s estimate).  History is important – we should preserve it!  Those two Hills are a big part of the history of Kemble and North Keppel. Of the two Hills – the W  Hill is my favorite.  It should have been designated an historical site years ago.  It’s a treasure, a well kept secret , a hidden  heritage  that must be close to 150 years old.  For $25,000 it can be brought back to spec.  Work that should have been done years ago.

The  K.W.I. Lookout and Cairn is a celebration of  Rural Women’s heritage in Kemble.  The W.I. founder Clara Gardiner used both these Hills extensively in 1897 when she hooked up her horse and buggy  to visit other women in Kemble and North Keppel in her original membership drive.  Shutting these roads/hills down is a slap in the face of Clara’s memory and to the oldest active Women’s Institute in the world – The K.W.I.!   Clara is one of my hero’s – I wish she were here to-day to give The Transportation Committee and Council a piece of her mind re shutting  The Hills down.

The next meeting of The Transportation  Committee  is set for  Monday June 24th.at 3:00pm  at  The Georgian Bluffs  Council Chambers at Springmount.    I would really appreciate it if you would support me with your presence at the meeting if you are free.  It would mean a lot and it would be sure to get the attention of the committee members.  If history & heritage is important to you like it is me  then maybe  some of you might consider speaking in  the Q & A segment?

Sorry  for  having to be the bearer of  this  sad news in the status of the Hills.  As Yogi said – “it’s not over until it’s over”.  The Hills are going, going . . . . BUT  not gone!  Remember when  the wrecking ball  was about to come down on The Kemble Arena?  Ratepayers saved it!  If enough people besides  me  speak up about saving/preserving  our Heritage  Hills  then the Transportation Committee  may have some sober second thought?

I still have faith that our Mayor and Deputy Mayor will do what they can do to save our Hills   it’s the other five Councilors that will need convincing.  Will Hills be their lasting legacy?

Slainte Mhath!

R. Keith Davidson

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