EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

'Chapleau 2012' highlighted by 90th anniversary reunion festival of Chapleau High School

Graham speaking, MJ right back committee on left

As I have been reflecting on the year past, perhaps best simply described as 'Chapleau 2012', it struck me that it was Grant Henderson, a 1927 Chapleau High School graduate who summed up so well why so many of us went back for the school's 90th anniversary reunion.
In a poem for the 60th anniversary in 1982, Grant wrote in part, "Perhaps those days through memory's haze take on a richer hue" adding that "perhaps that's true but ... this I know. And I've wandered up and down. Were I to pick my bringin' up place. I'd choose the same old town."

Like Grant, I too have wandered up and down, spending moments and at times much more than a moment in places from Ontario to British Columbia, and in my daily newspaper reporter years, back and forth across this vast and magnificent land with side trips to the United States. In fact, I thought about this column while spending time at Cocoa Beach at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where Michael Pelzer, my good friend, and extremely talented photographer and videographer was doing a shoot.

However, from the moment I learned that  the CHS reunion festival was being planned, I knew as did Grant 30 years ago when he wrote his poem, that I would return to my "bringin' up place" for it. Grant died in 1994.

Soon afterwards I received a message from the organizing committee asking if I would serve as the Master of Ceremonies. Most kind of them to invite me to participate, and I thank them again so much.

This put me back in regular touch with George Evans, my friend, CHS colleague and member of township council when I was reeve of Chapleau in the 1970s. Like everyone, I was shocked and greatly saddened when George was tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident before the reunion.

But, in his memory, Chapleau did the right thing  by naming the library after him. From the day he arrived as a young teacher at CHS, George was a staunch supporter of the public library -- and worked to improve the one at the school which when he arrived in 1961 was located in a tiny room on the second floor of the building on Pine Street.

I was delighted that so many of my growin' up in Chapleau friends also planned to attend, and once we met, it seemed like only yesterday since we  were hanging out in the Boston Cafe, or driving aimlessly around town on a summer evening, never straying far from Main Street, just in case something might happen downtown and we missed it.

It was great to go around town and end up at the Boston Cafe, now Hongers Redwood again, and visit with Yen, Jean and Jim Hong. 

We talked about school and Teen Town dances, going down the lake by one of two rivers to a bay called Mulligan's, or over the gravel road to Racine Lake to awesome get togethers at Martel's.  We reminisced about skating on a Friday night by the light of the silvery moon in the old arena and the old old one, both on Lorne Street, and yes, always so important, hockey, on the ice and on the road and on the rivers.

And the central place for the reunion was at the Chapleau Recreation Centre, opened exactly 34 years ago on June 29, 1978, as pointed out to me by co-chair Graham Bertrand. Earle Freeborn, a reunion committee member and former Chapleau mayor was the arena manager at the time. 

Tom, MJ, Olive McAdam, Bob, Marg Fife, Bill Pellow, Sonia Schmitwilke
For many of us John 'Mac' McClellan, the legendary principal of CHS, and Dr. Karl A. Hackstetter, as teacher, who a few years later returned as principal, defined CHS. We were members of 1181 Chapleau High School Cadet Corps, and for me, it was so great to see Neil Ritchie, Jim Hong, Jim Evans and Ian Macdonald, all of them officers when I was in cadets. I even finally told them how they terrified me, except for Jim Evans, who advised he preferred a "gentler touch."

Regrettably our good friend David McMillan, cadet officer, actor, hockey player and inspiration, who had looked forward so much to attending, died before the reunion.

For those of us in her CHS class, our good friend Pat (Purich) Russell made and presented each of us with a school banner. In my case, she made a special one in the old and new school colours as I had attended and taught at CHS. Much appreciated Pat and it hangs above my desk in place of honour.

While I so much enjoyed spending time with old school friends, I was so pleased to chat with  former students from my years as a teacher at CHS. And yes, we talked hockey and school plays, and "stories by MJ". Great to see all of you again and get caught up.

On a very personal basis, the most touching moments of the reunion were during the wonderful ecumenical service presided over by Rt. Rev. Thomas A. Corston, Anglican bishop of Moosonee, known to so many of us simply as "Tom". Growing up in Chapleau, Tom is the son of Frances (Jardine)  and the late Henry 'Chicken' Corston.

Sitting beside me on the stage was Robert Fife, now the CTV News Ottawa Bureau Chief, but to me simply "Bob" or more commonly "Fife".  Bob is the son of Margaret and the late Clyde Fife. 

As the service progressed, I looked out at the faces of over 400 people, all of whom defined Chapleau in one way and another from its beginnings in 1885 to the present day.

In my remarks near the end of the service I tried to capture it all when I commented that before me I saw the history of Chapleau and I did, but after relating that I had been on a morning walk to the Memegos property, my favourite walking place, I started to lose it -- one of those emotional moments -- and I thank Bishop Tom for rescuing me.

And so, Chapleau 2012, is coming to a close, but for the more than 1,000 who registered for the reunion, the precious moments of once again being home, I am sure,  will remain with us forever.  A school reunion, as my former newspaper colleague Derik Hodgson once noted, is often "the binding that holds the town book together."  This one sure contributed whether we still live there or have wandered up and down, and ended up in some other place.

Like Grant Henderson, I would not have picked another place as my home town, even if I had been given the choice. 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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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE