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Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Chapleau Game Preserve established 85 years ago 'brainchild' of pioneer Chapleau merchant and fur dealer William McLeod
In a paper titled 'History of the Chapleau Crown Game Preserve' written about 1964 by Vince Crichton, he says that the game preserve was "the brainchild of the late William McLeod, pioneer merchant and fur buyer of Chapleau."
As I was thumbing through William 'Bill' McLeod's book, 'The Chapleau Game Preserve History, Murder and Other Tales', looking for ideas for Chapleau Moments, while reading about the game preserve, I realized that it was now 85 years old, so immediately contacted Bill, William McLeod's grandson, to get permission to refer to his book in this column, Bill immediately agreed.
Bill writes that his grandfather lived in Chapleau from 1899 until he died in 1940. "On his letterhead, he described himself as a 'Dealer in raw furs' and 'A general merchant who sold groceries, boots and shoes, dry goods, canoes and trappers' supplies.'"
Mr. McLeod's store was located on Lansdowne Street, and after selling it in the 1920s to Edgar Pellow, he moved to a long one-storey building that had once been used as a warehouse. BIll's father Borden McLeod used the building when he was in the fur business between 1940 and 1960.
Bill discovered a letter that his grandfather wrote to the Ontario Minister of Mines Charles McCrea, who had responsibility at the time for fur trapping, dated July 23, 1923, outlining the game preserve concept.
It reads as follows: "First, as a protection for the fur bearing animals in this north country, nothing better could be done than to set aside certain areas where no trapper would be allowed to hunt. This could be very easily accomplished owing to the country being sub-divided by railways running east and west and rivers flowing north and south, which would serve as boundaries if such a plan was adopted. To protect such areas it would be necessary to have men as guardians permanently employed."
Mr. McLeod had submitted a 3100 word submission on the fur trade in Northeastern Ontario to Mr. McCrea, divided into three specific areas: objectives, problems and solutions. The game preserve concept was not included in the brief, but was in a letter.
For anyone interested in the fur trade I highly recommend that you read Bill's book. His grandfather made an immense contribution to having laws made regarding the trapping of fur bearing animals in Ontario. Vince Crichton noted in his 1976 book 'Pioneering in Northern Ontario' that almost all of Mr. McLeod's recommendations were eventually passed into law.
Once established. the game preserve was bordered on the west by the Canadian Pacific Railway, on the north by the Algoma Central Railway, on the east by the Canadian National Railway and on the south by the Kebsquasheshing (Chapleau) River. The four small communities on each corner of the game preserve were Franz, Oba, Elsas and Chapleau. Bill notes that the total area is roughly 2,000,000 acres and Elsas was not one of the original corner communities. Agate was.
Bill shares details on the major issues to be addressed after the preserve was established including what to do about people whose lives would be changed forever by it; secondly to get some idea about the extent in which the animal population had been decimated within its boundaries and how to enforce the hunting and trapping prohibition inside the preserve.
While Mr. McLeod was most assuredly the major proponent of the game preserve, it appears that he was assisted by G.B. Nicholson, who was the first reeve of Chapleau from 1901 to 1913 and then served several terms as a member of parliament as well as being a prominent Chapleau businessman. Bill suspects that Mr. Nicholson may have opened doors and made contacts for his grandfather. They were good friends as well.
Bill also writes about how impressive the accomplishments were give the isolation of Chapleau in the 1920s, and access to the outside world was limited to the railway. "It was impossible to do a day's business in Sudbury without staying there for two nights. Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins might just as well have been in another province, it took so long to get to either of these cities from Chapleau."
But his very determined grandfather was greatly responsible for changing the face of an industry. Bill admits that "it is still hard for him to comprehend" but Mr. McLeod did it, joining those other great Chapleau pioneers who made such a significant impact on the history of Northern Ontario. I highly recommend Bill's book, and thanks to him for letting me share some of it in Chapleau Moments.
Photo od William McLeod from the McLeod family collection