After retiring from the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1953, George Theriault was looking for a place to set up an airbase, run a flying service and establish outpost camps for fishing and hunting.
Although he would have liked to return to his hometown of Timmins to establish it, the existing air services had sole rights to fly commercially in the area.
Chapleau became a possibility, Mr. Theriault wrote in his wonderful book 'Trespassing in God's Country'. He had first flown into Chapleau in 1937 when gold mining camps were active in the area.
He describes his first impression: " In 1937 the community of Chapleau was like a western town with a frontier attitude: even the stores had fashionable false fronts. The highlights of the main street were the Chapples (Smith and Chapple Ltd, now Village Shops) and the Queens Hotel. The hotel had little balconies on the front where the airmen sat and socialized after they finished flying for the day,
"All the famous bush pilots of the time - including Matt Berry, Phil Sauve and Punch Dickens - came to Chapleau at some point because aircraft supplied the mines in Swayze Township for at least five years."
Mr. Theriault, and his wife Joan, had two young children in 1953, were looking for a community with schools and a hospital.
He noted that Chapleau was "prospering" as a major centre for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Highway 129 had been completed and the town had become easily accessible for American sportsmen from Michigan and other states.
He arrived in Chapleau in 1954 with a Stinson Stationwagon on skis and a set of floats to change over in the Spring. He "bunked down" at the YMCA, and bought an old boathouse on the Chapleau River.
He brought his wife and children to Chapleau on May 5, 1954, "in a snowstorm".
He sums up his decision to set up his business in Chapleau: "The town of Chapleau proved to be a perfect location for an air service. There was plenty of charter work as well as many excellent fishing and hunting possibilities.
"The walleye and northern fishing was highly rated and the speckled trout fishing was better than I expected.
"As I entered my first year of operation, I was certain that I had made the right choice. Despite the long hours of work. it was a fulfilling experience to create something of my own. I was doing everything I enjoyed -- flying, exploring and fishing. Every moment was worth the years it had taken me to get there."
Over the years Mr. Theriault established outpost camps throughout the area, and he noted that all his children grew up "reading maps. Each took their turn sitting in the co-pilot seat acting as the navigator."
'Trespassing in God's Country: Sixty Years of Flying in Northern Canada' is a must read for anyone interested in our north country..
George Theriault died on May 26, 2015 at age 95. I leave you with the final paragraph from his book: "That's the most amazing thing: life just goes on -- with us and without us. None of us are permanent fixtures on this landscape; we are all trespassers in God's country." Rest in peace George.
My sincere thanks to his son John for providing me with a copy of the book. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org