EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chapleau experienced some tough times in 1970s but education was booming and memorial arena packed for Junior "B" Huskies games

Greaser Day at CHS 1975. Can you name the Greasers?

Although a visiting magazine writer portrayed Chapleau as going through tough times in 1971, two very community minded citizens made sure Tom Slater of Canadian Panorama magazine knew it was a "terrific" place to live.

Slater was in town to write about the closing down of the CPR diesel engine repair shops and the possibility that an iron ore mine would open about 22 miles from Chapleau, but its employees would live in town. Kipco Metals and Chemicals Ltd. had announced that it would open a mine, but of course it never happened.

I just have to share how Slater describes his arrival in Chapleau, obviously intended for his readers, most of whom had never been north of Barrie, from Toronto.

Slater writes: "The big train lumbers into the station and pulls up with a deep sigh. Attendants bundled up in heavy parkas and thick gloves breathe clouds of white frost as they struggle to unload baggage for the few passengers.

"The stop is Chapleau ... a spot on the Canadian Pacific Railway's main line... It is 4:30 a.m and the thermometer reads 25 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) Snow is piled higher than man can reach".

After he gets settled, Slater writes that the "sun has replaced the stars, and the hard-packed snow glares under its brilliance and crunches under heavy boots as the natives of Chapleau walk along Birch Street .. for an early morning coffee at the Sportsman Hotel or the Au Cog D'Or Restaurant."

Slater meets Con Schmidt and "it comes as a surprise" to him that Con had lived in Toronto and had settled in Chapleau.

Con, always a great Chapleau booster told him: "There was a time when I thought living in a small place like Chapleau would be terrible. And, my wife (Wilma), she just couldn't stand the thought of coming up here. But now (in 1971), we can't think of a better place to live".

And, Tom Welch, the publisher of the Chapleau Sentinel, adnitting that times were tough for a lot of people, said, "But I'm sure they're going to get better. There's so much for people to do here and the community atmosphere is terrific".

I had returned home in 1969 and started teaching at Chapleau High School, and shortly after arriving was contacted by Jim Hong and Raoul Lemieux to return to refereeing games in the International Junior "B" Hockey League, of which the Chapleau Huskies were a member since 1966-67 when it won the championship in its first year. Tom Welch, along with Keith "Buddy" Swanson and Lorne Riley, were instrumental in founding the team and the Huskies were a major reason for a great community atmosphere.

The Chapleau Memorial Community Arena would be packed for home games, and fans in great numbers would be packed into vehicles to travel to away games. Great fun, and too bad writers from afar who visit for a day or so would not stick around for a real taste of the north. They could describe a trip to Wawa on a cold winter night, or maybe to Sault Ste. Marie along Highway 17 during a blinding snowstorm.

Anyway, in the 1970-71 season, Earle Freeborn was coaching the Huskies and a great season it was with the team winning the honour of participating in southern Ontario.

Although, the Chapleau economy was hurting in some respects, education was booming. For example, the new Chapleau High School had opened on the hill in 1966, and by 1971 an addition was completed. By 1972 it had about 450 students, compared to about 100 when I was a CHS student in the 1950s and 200 plus in the Sixties.

In the 1950s there were six or seven teachers and by 1970 over 20 on the high school staff. Expansion had also taken place at the Chapleau Public School and the Chapleau Roman Catholic Separate Schools.
In fact, there was a shortage of teachers in Northern Ontario at the time and the Ontario Department of Education introduced a summer school program for teachers  at Lakehead University. I attended it with Alex Babin, Wayne Pascoe, Al White and Ron Jackson from CHS.

In 2012, CHS will celebrate its 90th anniversary, and former students and teachers, will come home to Chapleau to join those who still live there, and many stories will be told, out of the mothballs of memory, about the terrific place where we grew up and went to school. Many, for sure, will be very rough drafts of history. Pardon me for mixing metaphors of mothballs of memory and rough draft of history!

To help you get started, the photo this week is from Greaser Day at Chapleau High in 1975 when these senior students posed for this awesome photo. They will remain anonymous for the moment, but if you know who they are, jot down their names. Watch for more news on the upcoming Chapleau High School Terrific Photo Contest.
Thanks to David McMillan and Larry Martel for their assistance. 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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