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Thursday, February 11, 2010
Chapleau boomed and emerged from isolation in the Fifties
In 1948 disastrous forest fire struck and the provincial government made available opportunities to lumber companies which brought J.E. Martel and Sons Lumber Ltd. and A and L Lafreniere Lumber Ltd to Chapleau, and others to the area. A highway became essential and Highway 129 essentially a turkey trail through the bush was completed to Thessalon in 1949. But a highway was a highway and it was a first step in improving Chapleau's transportation links with the outside world -- and provided adventure stories for years from those who travelled Highway 129. Maybe it stlll does!
By the Fifties, the "other side of Main Street" between Young and Lorne Streets was being developed led by A.J. Grout, the president of Smith and Chapple Ltd, and by 1958, the downtown had a new look. Smith and Chapple expansion was the major factor but Cecil Smith opened the new Fox Theatre replacing the Regent Theatre which then became the Royal Bank of Canada branch. By 1955 the Bank of Montreal had arrived and was located at Birch and Young Streets across from the Algoma Hotel. Simpson's (now Sears) opened a catalogue store and so did Eaton's. The Dominion store moved down the street after BMO arrived to Birch and Lorne to a relatively new building that had been built by Charles W. Collins first as a car dealership then a bowling alley and pool room.
And Chapleau got its new post office, considered a gift from Lester B. Pearson, our member of parliament for Algoma East later to become prime minister of Canada. The township council was also busy at this time bringing Chapleau a sewage system, paving some of the roads and building the Chapleau Memorial Community Arena. My Uncle Bubs, mentioned above, was the reeve of Chapleau while most of this activity was taking place between 1948 and 1955.
The CPR had built a diesel repair shop at Chapleau, and the economic future looked bright.
Wow! I gave you that glimpse of Main Street Chapleau mostly from my memory and referrals to my 1984 book Sons of Thunder ... Apostles of Love, the history of St. John's Anglican Church.
Let me return to Smith and Chapple expansion in the fifties to provide one example of the type of economic confidence there was in Chapleau during the Fifties. In the Mid-North News of December 11, 1958 there was a two page spread on the company revealing that it employed an estimated 130 people, making it a large employer.
The original store was founded by A. MacNeice Austin in 1886. In 1958 it housed the pharmacy, jewellery, ladies wear, men's wear, groceries, hardware,restaurant, gifts and general office. Mr. Grout was president while Gene Bernier was assistant general manager, Earle Sootheran was vice president, Ron Serre, credit manager and R.L. "Bob" Warren was the secretary treasurer.
On the other side of the street in the new building a garage and car dealership, furniture, plumbing and heating, electronics, and wholesale hardware were located. And the company was using one of the forerunners of the internet to connect to Toronto wholesalers and its locations in other communities using a teletype machine. Marie Chambers was in charge of this operation.
Some of the managers of the day were Joe Shannon in men's wear, Mel Ennis in furniture and funeral director, Dick Lapp in the ladies wear, Dave Johnson in hardware, Bill Payette in sporting goods, Marion Ennis in the restaurant, Colin Barlow in the garage, Adams Andrews in plumbing and heating, William Walker as advertising manager, Larry Downey as wholesale manager and Norman and Lauretta Veit in meat and groceries. Roy May was managing the store by the CPR station.
Ian Macdonald advised that his father was manager of the hardware department at S and C from 1947 to 1957.
"You may recall Andy Anderson as one of the more affable salesmen in that department who worked alongside him. Another important member of the Smith and Chapple group was Ross Whitney who managed tourist operations including the Nemegosenda Cabins across from the old powerhouse. He also left Chapleau in 1957."
And yes, I am a Smith and Chapple alumnus. I worked in the men's wear, furniture, garage and meat and groceries part-time while attending high school and university.
Smith and Chapple Ltd closed its doors on April 30, 1987.
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