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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Churches quickly established as Chapleau founded in 1885 with services in partially completed CPR station and tent during bitterly cold winter

St John's Church with Rev Robert Warrington
As Christmas approached for the residents of Chapleau in the Winter of 1885, from reports of the time, it was bitterly cold and disease was rampant. 

The population of about 400, ninety-five percent of them men, had arrived earlier in the year after the Canadian Pacific Railway issued instructions to make Mileage 615.1 on its transcontinental line a divisional point, by placing a boxcar on the exact spot. The boxcar became the first station, office building, and train dispatcher's office but before the end of the year a roundhouse and water tower had been built.

NOTE: Ian Macdonald provided photo of the 'boxcar' to which I refer. It was actually a passenger car. See below.

A station and office building were under construction and Chapleau had become a community of surplus boxcars and tents.

As Ian Macdonald noted in his monograph 'Mile 615.1: Building a Northern Community', the major churches of the day "quickly established themselves in the earliest stages of the community's development." 

The car used as station 1885. CPR Corporate Archives

But the partially built station played another role than meet the needs of the CPR. In December 1885, it was used for meetings by members of the Church of England, later called the Anglican Church of Canada. to establish a presence in the fledgling community.

Archdeacon Gowan Gillmor fondly called 'The Tramp" who on one of his journeys to minister to the CPR construction crews walked from North Bay to Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay. Archdeacon Gillmor was instrumental in the founding of St. John's Church, and it is quite possible he conducted Christmas service in 1885 in a partially completed railway station while attending meetings to plan the church building.

First CPR station at Chapleau 1886
St. John's almost didn't happen as a motion was presented to drop the matter as it was impossible to raise the sum of $500 needed to build the church. A grant of $400 was available.
St John's, Bishop Tom Corston photo

Mrs. R.V. Nicholson preserved an account of the meeting where it all changed when Annie Nicholson, just 17. and her friend Minnie Richardson, volunteered to go out and raise the funds. Off they went canvassing from Cartier to White River, and at the next meeting they said a "really strong box" would be needed as they had raised slightly more than one thousand dollars. The first St. John's Church was opened and dedicated on July 1, 1886, and Christmas services were held there in 1886.

CPR Yard Chapleau 1886 with wood burning engine 231
It was located on old tennis court at Pine and Young. The present St. John's was completed in 1908.

Mrs. Nicholson's account was made available to me when I wrote 'Sons of thunder ... Apostles of Love', marking the 100th anniversary of the parish.

As an aside, when St. John's celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1985 when Rev. Jerry Smith was rector, Linda Tebbutt and Sharon Henderson played the roles of Annie and Minnie in an historical re-enactment of the really strong box. 

Meanwhile, in 1885, there was also a Roman Catholic presence in Chapleau which had been established by the Jesuits, according to an account by Father Albert Burns, s.j., of Chapleau. 

Father Burns wrote that the Jesuits followed the CPR construction gangs and many of the order were dedicated to opening new parishes along the way. Once established, they would be turned over to the bishop and Chapleau benefited from the work of the "zealous missionaries" of the Jesuit order. 

Father Edward Proulx s.j. was a most beloved priest in Chapleau and was responsible for a heating system in the church as well as the construction of the rectory and establishment of a separate school.

In fact the Jesuits were in charge of the Roman Catholic presence in Chapleau from 1883 to 1911 when Father Romeo Gascon arrived. Father Burns noted that Father Louis Cote s.j conducted the first Roman Catholic baptism in Chapleau on April 12, 1883.

For Christmas services in 1885 it would appear that they would have been held in the first Roman Catholic Church in the community built that year  where Collins store at the intersection of Birch and Lorne streets was later located.

As another aside, it is quite possible that Patrick A. Mulligan, the first of my ancestors to arrive in Chapleau would have attended the Roman Catholic service at Christmas 1885. In a family history, my cousin Michael McMullen writes that Patrick was an early Chapleau pioneer arriving in late 1885. He built a store at the northwest corner of Birch and Young Streets and it opened for business in 1886 as Murrays and Mulligan, General Merchants. Patrick was the uncle of Michael's grandmother, May (Mulligan) McMullen, who arrived in Chapleau about 1900, and mine Lil (Mulligan) Morris, about 1910.

However, by 1891, Sacred Heart Church was built on its present location and expanded in 1898. It was destroyed by fire just before Christmas in 1918, but the present church was built during the following year and Father Gascon celebrated mass in it on Christmas Eve, 1919. On Christmas Eve, 2011, the present church will celebrate its 92nd anniversary.

A history of Trinity United Church in Chapleau notes that "when construction was being pushed westward by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880s, the Methodists were not slow in sending their missionaries along to minister to the spiritual needs of the men engaged in the construction business".

The church history says that one of the first of these missionaries was Rev. Silas Huntingdon, who arrived in Chapleau in June 1886. It adds that his first services were conducted in a partially finished store on Birch Street.

Trinity United Bill Groves collection
Mr. Huntingdon returned to Chapleau bringing with him a young student minister  who conducted services for a time in a large tent near the corner of Lorne and Birch Streets. He began the erection of the first Methodist church on the site of the present Trinity United Church at Lorne and Beech Streets. He organized the first Methodist congregation in Chapleau.

However, the history also mentions  that Rev. Ralph Homer also came to Chapleau and during the winter of 1885-86 held services in a tent approximately where the Boston Cafe/ Redwood Restaurant was located. Possibly the Methodist congregation held its Christmas service in a tent.

Life was tough for the founders of Chapleau, as they had left their homes to make a new life for themselves and their families in the bush of Northern Ontario, and by 1886, the tents, boxcars and shacks were being replaced with permanent structures, and this included their churches. 

I started thinking about the establishment of the respective churches in Chapleau in the 1880s while in Florida a couple of weeks ago while out for a walk in beautiful sunny weather, and decided to share a glimpse at those moments in the history of Chapleau at this Christmas time. I know. I know. Only someone raised in Chapleau would think about bitterly cold winters while in Florida!

My very best wishes to all for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 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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