Anyone who walks, bikes or skis the Ridge Road in Gatineau Park —that’s Trail # 1—knows the intimate little cabin named Shilly-Shally.
It’s located less than half a kilometer north-west of where Ridge Road crosses the Fortune Parkway; Keogan shelter is nearby on the south-east side of the Parkway.
Shilly-Shally is a phrase meaning “unsure” and is thought to have arisen more than 300 years ago from people saying “Shall I? Shall I?” That’s according to The Oxford English Dictionary at least.
But our Gatineau Park cabin wasn’t exactly named for that reason.
Before skiers took to the Gatineau Hills farmers tried to eke out a living along Ridge Road and one of their old buildings eventually became a snug retreat for lucky skiers. At first though as a ski cabin Shilly-Shally was not open to the public but rented out each year for what is reported to have been the princely fee of $15 per season.
There are a few theories as to why the cabin is called Shilly-Shally.
One is that it represents a halfway point along the trail and might be a place where skiers decided whether it was worth going the whole way or turning back.
This would tie into a meaning of indecision but begs the question of “half way to where?”
Shilly-shally occupies a place on the periphery of where Ottawa Ski Club skiers ventured. It seems unlikely to me that it was considered a significant halfway point along the Ridge Road since skiers would have to ski the entire way back along Ridge Road; plus, in the early years, Ridge Road was still a road—in use by sleighs, rutted and not always the first choice of skiers.
As this 1951 map shows, only the Merry-Go-Round Trail (Trail # 11) came near Shilly-Shally (the red dot) and even that passed by at the top of Khyber Pass not exactly beside Shilly-Shally.
Another theory also relates to a meaning of “unsure” and I like this one better. The NCC only stopped leasing Shilly-Shally for private use two or three decades ago and so there are people still alive who leased it and one of these—Sheila Thomson—has her own tale about why the cabin is called Shilly-Shally.
She and several other teenage girls were some of the earlier skiers using the cabin and what they were unsure about was how to get the wood stove going.
Here’s what she says:
“In the 1940s my father repaired this old ramshackled building that was where Shilly-Shally is now for some of our friends to stay and it was a group of teenaged girls who didn’t know how to take care of themselves; the stove smoked and they didn’t know how to cut the wood. So he called the place Shilly-Shally and the name stuck. It was a kind of pun of “chilly chalet” because it didn’t keep warm.”
ADDENDUM- Here’s an image (kindly provided by Michael MacConaill) of an older version of Shilly Shally from 1960 when the place was leased by Rosemary Gilliat. It depicts her annual Shilly-Shally Spring Party, with a showshoe race around that general area.