EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reflections on Chapleau councils from George Brecken Nicholson taking office in 1901 to Andre Byham becoming mayor 110 years later

As Chapleau prepares to mark its 110th anniversary of incorporation as a municipality in Ontario in 2011, Andre Byham will become the 22nd mayor (formerly called reeves) when he takes office on December 1.

The newly elected mayor is actually the 20th person to hold the office as Frank Edwards, a CPR engineer, and Kenneth Russell, Technical Director of Radiology at the hospital, each served again after a break in terms.

G.B. Nicholson
On February 15, 1901, George Brecken "G.B." Nicholson, took office as reeve, and served until 1913, never facing an opponent as he was returned by acclamation for one year terms. Looking at the history of Chapleau, Mr. Nicholson and his councils created the basic infrastructure for the community in the 20th century. By the time Mr. Nicholson retired as reeve Chapleau had a water works system, cement sidewalks in some residential areas, two schools with a high school under consideration, and a Town Hall considered most modern at the time. Mr. Nicholson was in the lumber and other businesses and later served as a Member of Parliament.

The railway YMCA with its rooms, restaurant and programs was called one of the best institutions of its kind anywhere in Canada, while the Lady Minto Hospital under the Victorian Order of Nurses opened in 1914. The major employer was the Canadian Pacific Railway while the business section contained a number of special, general and department stores. The population had reached about 2,500 people.

Before I go any further, let me extend my most sincere congratulations to Mr. Byham, and Lisi Crichton. Laurent Lacroix, Doug Greig and Rose Bertrand on their election to Chapleau council. All the best to each of you.

Doug Greig has been researching Chapleau councils and sent me the most recent results of his efforts. Just reading the names is a journey into history, so I decided to share some of the information about those who have served their community on council over the past 110 years, adding a bit here and there mostly from the mothballs of my own memory. This is really just a starting point, and I hope Doug will have time to continue his efforts. Perhaps others will volunteer to help.

Lisi Crichton, who will be serving her first term has a direct family connection to Chapleau council. Her great grandfather Vincent Crichton, who was a plumber and proprietor of the Regent movie theatre, was a Chapleau councillor in 1921. (Full Disclosure: Vincent Crichton was my great uncle)

But, as I reviewed Doug's research, it became apparent that the family of Earle Freeborn, the retiring mayor, has had the most members who served on council. His grandfather, J.D. McAdam, a CPR engineer, was the third reeve of Chapleau, holding office from 1917 to 1919, while his father Earle Freeborn, a CPR freight agent, died in office while serving as the 7th reeve in 1938. Earle's brother Elmer was a councillor for several terms, while Earle, who was a CPR engineer and recreation centre manager, has been in office as mayor since 1998.

During World War I, T.J. Godfrey, who was Indian agent, entrepreneur and major force over the years for the construction of Highway 129, finally opened in 1949, was the second reeve from 1914 to 1916, followed by Mr. McAdam.

Max Brunette, elected in 1920, a CPR conductor, served as reeve until 1929 to be succeeded by Mr. Edwards who was in office until 1936 and then returned from 1943 to 1947. In 1937, Edgar Pellow, the sixth reeve took office, held it for less than two months the resigned to be succeeded by Mr. Freeborn.

It should be noted that elections were held yearly, with the first council to serve a two-year term elected for 1969-70. Later they went to three year and now a four year term.

George Fife, the manager of the Chapleau Electric Light Company became the 8th reeve and was in office until 1942. Mr. Fife is reportedly the only Chapleau reeve to meet a British monarch. When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were on their Canadian tour in 1939, the Royal Train stopped in Chapleau apparently in the night and the King got up to meet Mr. Fife.

While the reeves from Mr. Nicholson to Mr. Edwards saw Chapleau through two World Wars and the Great Depression,all of which presented huge challenges to the community and are stories in themselves, it was the election of 1947 that saw B.W. "Bubs" Zufelt, owner of Chapleau Bakery, as the 10th reeve that marked the emergence of Chapleau from its relative isolation and set the stage for a somewhat different community. Mr. Zufelt (who in the interests of full disclosure was my uncle) served as reeve until 1955.

In 1948, a disastrous forest fire resulted in new lumber companies coming to the Chapleau area providing an expansion of the employment base. By 1949, Highway 129 was finally completed although the celebration was marred by the death of Mr. Godfrey during the official opening just as his dream became a reality. With the end of World War II Chapleau citizens returned from overseas and many stayed to work, gort married and started families. The baby boom was underway.

On the local scene, some of the major projects included a sewage plant and system, the first road paving project and the completion of the new Chapleau Memorial Community Arena. In the early Fifties, Smith and Chapple Ltd. expanded to the "other side of main street". and many may not be aware that Chapleau had two soft drink bottling plants -- Coca Cola and Pepsi.

Residential areas were also expanded in the Fifties and it seemed like Chapleau boom times would continue. A Brewer's Retail store arrived in the Fifties too.

Mr. Zufelt was succeeded by Leo Racicot, a CPR conductor, who served from 1956 to 1959, then James "Jim" Broomhead, of the Algoma Dairy, from 1960 to 1962. Arthur Grout, president of Smith and Chapple Ltd. became the 13th reeve in January 1963 but resigned after two months to be succeeded by Fred A. "Nick" Card, a CPR engineer, who held office until 1966. William J. Card, Mr. Card's father had served as a councillor for eight years between 1922 and 1934.

In 1962 Highway 101 linked Chapleau to Timmins.

T.C. "Terry" Way-White, a CPR conductor, became the 15th reeve serving from 1967 to 1973. Major projects undertaken in those years were the new water plant and new bridge and pedestrian overpass. I succeeded Mr. Way-White in 1974 and major projects included the recreation centre, civic centre and Cedar Grove Lodge.

William Howard , of CPR, became the 17th reeve in 1980 and was in office until 1986 when Kenneth Russell took over. Mr Russell served as reeve until 1997.  However, he resigned and  from December 1990 until December 1991 he was  he was out of office and Claire Charron was reeve. Mr. Russell returned to office.

Earle Freeborn became the 21st holder of the office, and the 19th person to do so.

It has not been my intention to provide a detailed look at projects undertaken over the past 110 years. Those mentioned are simply to provide a context for what was happening at certain times in Chapleau's history.
Just a couple of more mentions of Chapleau people who have served on council.

J.M. "Jack" Shoup, the long time principal of Chapleau Public School, appears to hold the record for longest serving councillor -- 16 years of one year terms - starting in 1946 and ending in 1968.

Before Dr. G.E. "Ted" Young served on council, his father George Young and his brother Dr. William "Bill" Young had been members.

Mrs. Maud Hands, elected in 1947 was the first woman on Chapleau council. It appears that only eight other women have been members in 110 years.

Thanks to Doug Greig for sharing his research. As I put together this column, I could not help but reflect on all those who have sat on Chapleau council. They were also most active in other areas of community life too.

Andre Byham
Now Andre Byham, the newly elected mayor and his council, embark on a journey to take Chapleau into its second 110 years as a progressive community facing the challenges of the 21st Century. Godspeed! My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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