EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Beresford Greatheed, aka Greathead, visited 'city' of Chapleau while walking across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax in 1895

Chapleau folk in front of Mechanics Institute (Crichton collection)

William James Percy Beresford Greatheed, aka Greathead, visited Chapleau in 1895 while walking across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax as part of a wager to walk around the world in five years. 

In a letter to the Sudbury Journal of July 4, 1895, he signs it simply as Beresford Greatheed, but by 1904 when he appears to be still on a walking tour he has become "Professor" Beresford Greathead.

The story goes that in 1895 two clubs in Vancouver sponsored the around the world walk with the winner receiving $50,000, an incredible amount at the time, if he completed it in five years. Greatheed was selected and off he went with no money, only the clothes on his back, no luggage except for a leather satchel containing his notebook, and a rifle with some ammunition.

His letter to the Sudbury Journal says he arrived in Chapleau and Mr. Mulligan - the very genial CPR agent welcomed me and showed me the various sights of the city."

"This place has a population of 500 souls and is built on a fine river."

To those who may already have doubts that Greatheed ever was in Chapleau, in 1895, the Mr. Mulligan to whom he refers was John George who was the Canadian Pacific Railway Dominion Express Chapleau Agent, later renamed CPR Express. John was one of the four Mulligan brothers in Chapleau at the time -- Patrick ran Murrays and Mulligan general store: Thomas was the store's accountant; Charles was a carpenter, and John the Express agent.

My cousin Michael McMullen discovered the Greatheed story while doing research into our family at the Sudbury Public Library while we were on our way to Chapleau for the Chapleau High School reunion. Our respective grandmothers were members of the Mulligan family.

Although Chapleau had about 500 residents when Greatheed visited, he called it a city, and commented that it had "fine churches, CPR shops, three hotels, three or four good stores and numerous fine dwelling houses."

He paid particular attention to the Mechanics Institute, "a fine building erected in 1890 and has a hall where 300 persons could easily be seated - membership is 250 and each member paying $2 per annum. Upstairs is occupied by various fraternal societies such as the Freemasons, Oddfellows. Knights of Pythians, Forresters, etc.

"A fine library exists here and most of the principal journals, magazines are ready for use of membership up until 10 p.m."

CPR station where her arrived by foot! (Crichton collection)
He gives great credit to president Mr. Kyle and vice president Mr. Mulligan for the "good order of things at the institute." It is quite likely that they had become the hosts for his visit as Greetheed had to rely on the generosity of people he met along the way.

He added: "I must not forget however, the polite caretaker whose name I failed to note."

The Mechanics Institute in Chapleau, and there were many across Canada and elsewhere was established by 1890 in a building across from the present Redwood Restaurant on Birch street. It had started as a Reading Club by 1887 and had evolved into the institute, according to research undertaken by George Evans. It burned down in 1910, and many files about the early years of the community were lost as it had also been used as the Town Hall.

However, in his letter to the Sudbury Journal, Greatheed is not so kind in his comments about the Canadian Pacific Railway.

He gives praise to the sectionmen who keep the track in good condition in this division of a "Mr. Kennedy" but that "taking into consideration the tremendous heat, black flies, mosquitoes, and a hundred other evils, the poor men deserve an increase in wages or at least their old pay restored. "These sectionmen have as much responsibility hanging over them if not more, than any other offered on the line, and I must say that I consider it very poor policy on the part of the CPR to treat them with such little consideration."

He promises to write more on this matter later.

Apparently Greatheed did walk across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax, a distance of about 4,000 miles in 12 months, and later walked in parts of Europe. I could not find evidence though that he won the $50,000 prize. There is a reference to him as "the great walker" in The Amazing Foot Race of 1921: Halifax to Vancouver in 134 Days by Shirley Jean Tucker.

However, he reappears in the December 31, 1904 issue of The Dispatch newspaper of Lexington,North Carolina, as Professor Beresford Greathead, giving a lecture to a small but interested group about his journeys. It appears that he is now on a lecture tour of the United States.

He is now saying that his walk around the world started in 1898, and that he has walked 40,000 miles. The article says he was 39 years old, six feet tall and 260 pounds, and spoke four languages.

Undoubtedly, William James Percy Beresford Greatheed, aka Greathead, was an interesting character, who shared his moments in Chapleau, on his way across Canada. Thanks to Michael McMullen for discovering the story. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Michael J Morris

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


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