|Earle Sootheran, Tom Godfrey, Oliver Korpela|
Since 1885 when Chapleau was founded as a divisional point on the Canadian Pacifc Railway, train travel was the only viable way of getting to and from the community. In 1947 the longest drive anyone could take was about 35 milles from town and the motor vehicle was considered a luxury. As a youngster I recall them arriving by rail at the old freight sheds on Lisgar Street.
A highway had been promised for many years and activity would begin around election time but after the votes were counted, it would cease. However, in 1948, a disastrous forest fire changed the dynamics as the provincial government offered opportunities to lumber companies.
Therefore, Highway 129 was completed to Thessalon, and turkey trail it may have been, but a highway was a highway, and it was a first step in improving Chapleau's transportation links with the outside world.
One of the major proponents for a highway over the years was Thomas Godfrey Sr. Mr. Godfrey, who was one of the early builders of Chapleau, played many roles in community life. He was reeve from 1914 to 1916, and at various times owned the pool room, the old as in "old old" arena on Lorne Street, as well as being an insurance agent, Notary Public and Indian Agent. He
was also an inventor and long time member of the Chapleau Town Band where he played the euphonium.
Writing in Chapleau Trails, edited and published by Dr. W.R. "Bill" Pellow, Betty (Good) Godfrey, the wife of Thomas Godfrey Jr.
wrote the following about her father-in-law and the completion of Highway 129.
"Tom Sr. lived to see his beloved Chapleau highway completed in 1949 and he was a member of the party that drove the first automobile across those last one hundred yards to join Chapleau to the outside world bu uniting two primitive bush roads. It was winter. The snow was heavy and deep. It was bitter cold day. The drive had been long and arduous, excitement was high, anticipation of this moment was trying on the healthiest and bravest, however it proved too much for Tom Godfrey and on that day when he was experiencing fulfillment, ultimate pleasure and satisfaction, he had a heart attack and died."
Interestingly the first car that made the trip over the new highway was not one from Chapleau it was a a northbound car from Thessalon owned by Frank Korpela and driven by Tom Carter. The Chapleau group heading south had turned back to Chapleau after the death of Mr. Godfrey. The car was new and was equipped with chains and snow tires.
According to a report in the February 3, 1949 Chapleau Post, there were bad road conditions and it was heavy with snow.
The report said that snow was measured on several occasions and was 8-10 inches on the highway and it was often necessary to stop and clear the snow from the grills of the car. On a few occasions it was necessary to shovel drifts in order to get through.
The two men did not make the trip in one day. They left Thessalon about 9:30 a.m in the morning but stopped at Lessards Camp along the way and finished the drive into Chapleau the next morning.
For some reason after the highway opened, the department of highways paved about a twelve mile stretch in the middle of nowhere near Aubrey Falls. I think they said they wanted to check the durability of pavement ina harsh climate.
Over the years Highway 129 was improved, but to me at least, it was always an adventure to travel it. By the Sixties, Highway 101 had been completed between Chapleau and Timmins and Wawa. However, the Ramsey Road continues to be a project unfulfilled for at least the past 50 years as promises are made and then broken to finally complete it.
However, Tom Godfrey Sr. and all those pioneer community builders deserve much credit, even to this day, on their efforts to open Chapleau to the outside world.
Just a note to express my thanks to all those who have been sending me emails about Chapleau Moments. So much appreciated and I am delighted to hear from all of you.My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.