EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nicholson generosity left Chapleau with 'most elegant and distinctive of all Royal Canadian Legion properties in Canada'

Royal Canadian Legion hall Chapleau
Lt. Lorne Weller Nicholson was killed in action just one week before the armistice that ended World War I on November 11, 1918.

The Toronto Star of November 26, 1918, in his obituary said, "Lieut. Nicholson went overseas with the 227th Battalion, 'Men-of-The- North. He was transferred to the 4th C.M.Rs and went to France in 1917. 

The Star story continued: He was wounded with shrapnel in January of this year (1918), but recovered quickly, not leaving his battalion. He was wounded again in April, and was in a Canadian hospital in France when it was bombed and more than 300 lives lost.

"He was transferred to the Prince of Wales Hospital in London, where after three and a half months, he fully recovered, returning to his battalion on September 29. He was in the lines continually from that time until just one week before the armistice was signed when he made the supreme sacrifice".

Lorne Weller Nicholson was the only child of George Brecken and Charlotte (Weller) Nicholson On April 19, 1920, the St. John's Memorial Hall, first called Parish House, which his parents had built, was officially opened.

As George Evans once wrote "It is significant that the donors of the building did not put their names on the monumental inscription: they were content that the world remember them simply as the father and mother of Lt. Lorne W. Nicholson."  

It reads: "St. John's Parish House. In memory of Lt. Lorne W. Nicholson and all those who with him voluntarily gave their lives in the Great War. Erected by his father and mother A.D. 1919", and at the bottom of it, the words from the Gospel According to John, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". (John 15:13)

Mr. Nicholson was the first reeve of Chapleau serving from 1901 to 1913, and at the time the hall was opened was the Member of Parliament for East Algoma , and Mrs. Nicholson had been one of the first school teachers in Chapleau.

Some of those participating in the memorial service at St. John's Anglican Church and official opening at the hall included  Rev. John Nelson Blodgett, Rector of St. John's Anglican Church; Rev. Dr. Robert John Renison, later Bishop of the Anglican Church diocese of Moosonee; Rt. Rev. John George Anderson, Bishop of Moosonee; Reeve Max Brunette, Township of Chapleau; Rev. George Prewer and Rev. White.

Lt. -Col. C. H. LeP. Jones , the commanding officer of 227th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and Major D.M. Brodie also participated.

Ian Macdonald, retired head of the department of architecture and professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, who has researched and written extensively on Chapleau buildings kindly agreed to let me share some of his thoughts about the building, now commonly referred to simply as "The Legion".

"A building as distinctive and prominent as the Nicholson Hall accurately reflected the public honour for war sacrifice, military service, veterans and the Union Jack that the World War I vets fought under. The Victorian gothic revival style of the building, which is closely associated with monarchism, reminds us of the significant cultural role of architecture and the British Dominion that we were at the time," Ian wrote.

"The Canadian Parliement buildings were also built in the same style to echo the architecture of Westminster and provide a permanent reminder of our British heritage."

"The Legion Hall is formally organized around a central axis, and the gothic revival windows, doors and details are what most individuals would associate with a religious building," Ian noted.

In fact, when I googled Chapleau Legion Hall recently, a photo popped up on a web site and whoever posted it, thought it was a church. A Chapleau person had posted a correction in the comments section.

Ian also speculated on what the Legion in Chapleau might have built, had it not been for the philanthropic act of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson, albeit that it was first given to St. John's Anglican Church as a parish house.

"There are plenty of examples of other Legion facilities in small Canadian communities to provide an idea of what might have been", Ian wrote, adding that the Nicholson generosity "has left Chapleau with what is probably the most elegant and distinctive of all Royal Canadian Legion properties in Canada. It is clearly the most sophisticated building of its time in Chapleau."

By the 1930s and the onset of the Great Depression, St. John's was no longer able to maintain the hall, and it was subsequently closed and turned over to the municipality. Branch Number 5 of the Royal Canadian Legion rented it for some years until 1955 when B.W. "Bubs" Zufelt was reeve, the Legion took ownership of the building. Mr. Zufelt was made a life member of the branch for his efforts.

On November 11, Remembrance Day, Chapleau will once again "remember them" including Lt. Lorne Weller Nicholson and all those who gave their lives in World War I, World War II, Korea and NATO service.

My thanks to Ian Macdonald and Doug Greig for their assistance. 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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