EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chapleau High School 90th Anniversary Reunion: 'The binding that holds the town book together'

Members of CHS 60th Committee, Names below

I was telling my good friend Derik Hodgson about the Chapleau High School 90th anniversary reunion festival recently, and, as always, in the 46 years since we first met at the Kingston Whig-Standard as young reporters, he had a great line that summed it all up and caused me to reflect on the "town book" of Chapleau.
Derik, one of Canada's best investigative reporters of my generation, observed that people in cities, don't always understand what reunions at "old-tyme high schools mean to smaller centres....they are often the binding that holds the town book together."
What a great line, among the many that I have seen Derik write, and immediately I started to think about how CHS reunions are the binding that does hold the history of Chapleau together -- at least from 1922 on when the high school doors first opened.
A school reunion gives us something in common, memories of a shared experience before we were all growed up and headed off in different directions to lead our adult lives. The reunion brings us home again as part of the binding that holds the town book together.
Over the years, whenever two or three of us meet who attended CHS, invariably the conversation turns to school days and memories of the students, teachers and activities that made up so much of our high school life. Today we even have virtual meetings by email, or Skype, Twitter and Facebook, but come 2012 it will be the real thing, and once home, stories will be told and while much regret will be expressed over those who are no longer here, the emphasis will be on those things that bring folks together, centred on  life either at the "old" school on Pine Street or the "new" school on the hill.
It just struck me that the new school has now served the community longer than the old school, and many more students have attended it than ever went to the building on the banks of the river.
In my life I have been most fortunate to have attended CHS as a student and to have returned and taught there for almost 20 years. But in fact, like many of Chapleau's old families, my connection goes back almost to the beginning of the high school in Chapleau in 1922. For example my mother, Muriel E. (Hunt) Morris and her sister Elsie (Hunt) Zufelt were students there in the late 1920s while my father Jim Morris and some cousins attended in the 1930s, his sister Marion by 1940, and other cousins in the late 1940s early 1950s, then me,  and then more cousins through the years.  Our family history, perhaps like yours,  is tied in to the school.
When CHS celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1982, I wrote an article about the changes to the physical face of Chapleau that would have occurred since many who came home for the reunion would immediately notice.
It was called 'Yes Virginia, there is a Chapleau', and details Virginia's walk around town after an absence of 30 years. Here are some of the highlights from her walkabout. With apologies to the 'Virginia' in the Christmas classic, 'Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus'.
She noted that here it was the sixtieth anniversary of her school, and they had moved it "into the bush" and it was one of "those modern buildings all on one floor."
Virginia was especially concerned about where students drank their beer, for according to the old song "Give a shout, give a cheer for the boys who drink the beer in the cellars of old Chapleau High" and now there was no cellar.
The Lady Minto Hospital had disappeared and "they put the hospital out behind the high school. Am I ever glad they also built a new road to serve these buildings. When I was a kid there was nothing more than a trail. And sometimes it was impassable in the Spring".
She also noted the "new" Chapleau Civic Centre, Cedar Grove Lodge Chapleau, Recreation Complex, water plant, and of course the replacement of the horsehoe bridge with a new bridge and pedestrian overpass, among other changes. Yes, the physical face of Chapleau changed dramatically in the 1970s -- more than 30 years ago. And, of course there have been more changes since.
However, after her walkabout, 'Virginia' accepted that while the physical face of Chapleau changed, "... the greatest resource of Chapleau has always been its people. I look forward to seeing all my old friends, those who are still here and those who have come for the reunion. I am simply glad to be home where it all began for me", and I added, "Yes Virginia, there is a Chapleau. The physical face has changed, but not the hearts of the people."
I wrote Virginia's story almost 30 years ago now for the souvenir newspaper marking the CHS 60th reunion, and was living in Chapleau at the time and teaching at the high school. I have not changed my view one bit about the community and its people.
Let me go back to Derik Hodgson for a moment and give him the last word. At one time Derik worked for Canadian Press and came to know Lloyd 'Sparrow' McDonald, who was with CP for many years, born in Chapleau, graduated from Chapleau High School, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Here is Derik's comment on one of Chapleau's greatest resources: "Lloyd McDonald. Legendary. Remember him working the rim at CP Toronto. Gruff. No nonsense and wonderful."
Small world. Thanks Derik for helping me share a bit about the binding that holds the town's book together! My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Members of the 60th CHS Reunion Committee in 1982 showing off reunion caps: Front from left Olive Warren, Margaret Rose Fortin, Frances Corston, Elaine Martel, Helen Delaney, Kathleen Broomhead, Marguerite Levesque. Back from left Tim Collins, Erik Collings, Alex Babin, Don McEachren, Terry Bryson

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Michael J Morris

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


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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE