EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Joseph Adolphe Chapleau a key player in making Canadian Pacific Railway a reality honoured by having Mileage 615.1 divisional point named after him

Sir John A and Sir Joseph A, 1880 cartoon
Joseph Adolphe Chapleau, born November 9, 1840, in Sainte-Thérèse, Lower Canada, became a lawyer, politician, office holder, and a major supporter of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, in bringing about the successful completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. He was also a journalist.
Vince Crichton wrote in his book 'Pioneering in Northern Ontario' that Chapleau was named after him by Mrs. Noel de Tilley, the wife of one of the first CPR engineers when requested to do so by R. Duschene a CPR civil engineer in 1885. I have been unable to discover any further details about the naming of Chapleau, and whether or not Chapleau ever paid a visit to the community that bears his name. Chapleau was Mileage 615.1 on the main line of the transcontinental railway.
However, Mr. and Mrs. Noel de Tilley were certainly early Chapleau citizens and family members have lived in the community ever since. 
Ian Macdonald, professor emeritus and former head of the department of architecture at the University of Manitoba, who has also done extensive research into the CPR, wrote that "Chapleau was a key player in making the CPR project a reality and it was certainly appropriate to honour his contribution by having a major divisional point named after him." 
Writing in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online Andrée Désilets noted that "While still a child, Joseph-Adolphe showed himself to be intelligent, lively, and curious. He had a taste for learning. His parents found the means for him to study at an advanced level" , and by the time he was 21, was called to the bar of Lower Canada as a lawyer. 
Chapleau CPR Shops and Engine circa 1886
He started practising law in Montreal and during 15 years of practice he had 22 murder cases and won 21. "In the court-room he spoke with intelligence and sensitivity. He also made good use of dramatic effects, which were commonly employed at that time.
 “His pale, attractive face framed by the long hair he let hang loosely about his shoulders, the manner in which he draped himself in his gown, his melodious voice, and his touching, passionate appeals for pity, for mercy, had a miraculous effect on the jury", one writer said of him. 
Perhaps his most famous case was in 1874 when he was selected  as the lawyer to defend Ambroise-Dydime Lépine  and his Métis companions, who had been arrested in connection with the death of Thomas Scott in 1870 during what has been called the first Riel Rebellion in Manitoba in 1870. Chapleau had known Louis Riel when he attended college in Montreal. It was also important to Chapleau's career as a politician.
It would have undoubtedly been a most difficult trip.
Andrée Désilets wrote in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online that "No sooner had Chapleau returned from Winnipeg than he married Marie-Louise King, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles King, a distinguished soldier who had been born in England and had come in 1860 to live at Sherbrooke, where he became a wealthy land speculator. Marie-Louise was an accomplished young woman who had been educated in a convent although she was Protestant. She spoke excellent French, was a musician, and had a fine voice trained from early youth. Chapleau had met her the year before at a concert in Montreal. It was thus music that first brought them together, for Chapleau himself was a musician when he was in the mood and sang 'the old songs of France delightfully.' Through this marriage he acquired the means both to pay for his pleasures in life – always numerous – and to win 'the favour of important people.'"
Joseph Adolphe Chapleau
Chapleau became a  leading Quebec and, later, Canadian politician: "devoted, loyal, firm, proud, sometimes abrupt and irritating." as well as being a very talented orator.  which was the talk of political circles and of the legislature before he even entered it.   Andrée Désilets gives us a quote from his address in reply to the speech from the throne on December 30, 1867 as he called for unity as an example.  “We stand at the cradle of a new constitution; around a cradle passions are stilled, divisions vanish, giving place to feelings of love, to plans for glory and for the future.” He was 26 when first elected and 38 when he became premier of Quebec in 1879.
 Désilets added that he would repeat this appeal often in the course of his political career, which was played out in three acts: from 1867 to 1882 he sat in the Legislative Assembly of Quebec, where he became the fifth premier of the province; from 1882 to 1892 he was in Ottawa as the member for Terrebonne and a minister of the crown; from 1892 to 1897 he served as lieutenant governor at Spencer Wood.
In 1880 when he was premier of Quebec, Chapleau greatly assisted John A. Macdonald, the prime minister in ensuring that plans for the CPR, not that popular a project in Quebec, went ahead. The Illustrated News of July 24, 1880, carried a cartoon of a triumphant John A. and Chapleau as the prime minister was leaving for London to negotiate the Pacific railway contract.
Sir John A Macdonald 1878
After leaving office as Lieutenant Governor of Quebec in 1897, Chapleau, according to  Désilets "returned to Montreal, which had been at the heart of his life in politics, with a well-defined program: 'To abstain from active politics [and] to attend to my own affairs and very little to those of others.' An annual income of between $5,000 and $6,000 assured him of a comfortable living, and he could still count on his profession. But illness defeated him. He died on 13 June 1898. Three days later, after a state funeral that brought out as many former opponents as friends, he was buried in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery in Montreal."
Back to Chapleau and the CPR. In 1885 as the railway was completed, and Chapleau, the place named after him at Mileage 615.1 was becoming a divisional point, Chapleau gave a 64 page speech in the House of Commons in defence of the railway project on June 10, 1885. The CPR still had enemies, and Chapleau said in part that those who want to destroy the good work of the CPR will not succeed. "They will be like loose winds, blowing smoke and sand, and carrying dark things with them... The Pacific railway will remain solid as if those winds had not passed over it."  
Thanks to Anne (Zufelt) McGoldrick, Michael McMullen and Ian Macdonald for their research assistance and to  Andrée Désilets who wrote Chapleau's biography for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.  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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