The steep slope of the turret’s conical roof pokes through the old trees in this park-like corner lot on Oak Street. Tornaveen, the two-and-a-half storey, 10,000 square foot mansion, built in 1893, is still the largest and tallest home in Collingwood. The late Victorian, Queen Anne Revival residence also includes 80 windows of various styles, four ornamental chimneys and a deep, curved and welcoming porch. In 2018, curious members of the community were welcomed into Tornaveen for Doors Open Ontario, an event that also marked the 125th anniversary of this heritage home, the first to receive such status in Collingwood’s downtown heritage conservation district.
But to the current students of the National Ski Academy, the double-bricked, 26-room Tornaveen is home.
The National Ski Academy was founded in 1986 by Jurg Gfeller, Executive Director until 2018, when he shifted his focus exclusively to coaching (not as well known is the fact that the much-loved founder was a one-time ski villain in the ski chase scenes of the 1969 James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Born out of Jurg’s passion for ski racing, his entrepreneurial spirit, and unwavering belief in an athlete-centered approach, the NSA quickly became the top ski school in Canada. In 2010, it also became the only high school credit-granting ski academy in the country. Every year, up to 30 students, from ages 14 to 18, take up residence in Tornaveen where they are encouraged to put their own stamp on the quirky rooms of varying shapes. There’s a fully-equipped gym, a games room, and a dining hall where students eat meals together. Class sizes at the NSA are small and there’s a strong emphasis on academics.
Most of the students come from the GTA, but there are a few international students every year including, this year, from Spain and Japan. The new head of the NSA, Tobin Walsh, explains that, “the National Ski Academy offers a unique experience that gives international students opportunities for language acquisition as well as opportunities to train in a wide variety of locations. In the fall, we spend five to seven weeks training in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. In early winter, we train in the west at Sun Peaks, or Red Mountain, in BC, and in the east at Sunday River, Maine. There’s an annual spring camp in Whistler and, during the competition season, we train for speed and technical events at camps in BC and Quebec when we aren’t at Blue Mountain or a Niagara Escarpment private ski club.”
Known locally as “the escarpment four,” Osler Bluff, Craigleith, Alpine, and Georgian Peaks are private ski clubs located on the escarpment ridge. Along with Devil’s Glen, just 20 minutes south of Collingwood, and Beaver Valley Ski Club, about 40 minutes southwest of Collingwood, these ski clubs offer members, and future Olympians, some of the best skiing opportunities in Ontario.
The NSA has produced a number of Olympic skiers including Dave Duncan (’00), member of the Canadian Olympic Ski Cross Team in Sochi (recently retired), Larisa Yurkiw (’04) and Roni Remme (’14), both Canadian Alpine Ski Team members (Larisa is now retired) and Olympians, and Rodolfo “Rudy” Dickson (’15), a Mexican Alpine Ski Team member and Olympian. Nancy Greene Raine, the most decorated skier in Canadian history, has guest lectured at the NSA to a rapturous audience, aware they were in the presence of skiing royalty.
Tobin Walsh moved to Collingwood with her young family when she took on Head of School in January, 2018. She is enthusiastic about her new home and describes Collingwood as “an incredible community, really a four-season destination, and it’s only a two-hour drive from Toronto.”
Local outdoor attractions include mountain biking, hiking trails, a mountain coaster, paddle boats, swimming, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, rock climbing – and downhill skiing. Tobin says she was surprised by the thriving arts and culture scene in Collingwood – “it rivals much bigger cities.” The historic Gayety Theatre has provided live theatre, concerts and movies since 1911, and the waterfront Shipyards Amphitheatre offers residents and visitors free outdoor concerts and Bard on the Bay Shakespeare plays. In fall, there’s the Collingwood Art Crawl as well as the more competitive Battle of the Brushes. Local libraries mount rotating exhibits of art and photography, and art installations dot the town thanks to Collingwood’s public art program. “We are so lucky to have all these opportunities to connect with the art scene,” says Tobin. “For a small community, we are so rich with art and culture opportunities for people of all ages to engage with.”
Collingwood also boasts a number of award-winning craft breweries, wineries and cideries. Local grapes and apples are used to produce the wines and ciders throughout the area. The Canadian Mist (whisky) Distillery has been in operation within the town limits for 50 years.
Tobin is quick to point out that Collingwood is one of the top entrepreneurial communities in Canada and, in 2016, when the NSA celebrated its 30th anniversary, Collingwood was voted Canada’s #1 entrepreneurial community. A shining example of this spirit is NSA founder Jurg Gfeller’s vision and dedication. The National Ski Academy fosters an environment where students, teachers, coaches and staff come together as a community to support and challenge one another to do their best on the slopes and off, to become “racer ready for life.”
While it’s true that the young athletes and coaches of the NSA must travel to nearby Blue Mountain to hit the snow, in the original Gaelic, Tornaveen means “Hill of the hill.” Appropriate for the tallest residence in Collingwood, and home to Canada’s National Ski Academy.