Arriving in Chapleau in 1904, by the time he became president of Smith and Chapple Ltd. some 26 years later, D.O. (Ovide) Payette had seen many changes in the community.
When Mr. Payette took over the store with Arthur J. Grout in 1930, from V.T. Chapple and Stuart Smith, he wrote a major article for the Chapleau Post. It is a fascinating insight into Chapleau in its early years.
Here are some of the highlights from the article which is included among the Richard Brownlee papers, kindly loaned to me by his daughter Margaret Rose and her husband Bobby Fortin.
Having arrived in the Fall of 1904, "I have seen great changes in the town...," he wrote in 1930.
"Those were the days of smaller engine power on the CPR, with more though smaller, trains and consequently a greater number of crews... The crews did not 'get over' the road as quickly as now (1930), and the enginemen carried huge lunch pails capable of holding sufficient food for three days, while the train crews practically lived in the vans."
"At least one-half of what is now Chapleau was bush. Besides the doctor's residence there were some five or six houses across the track and, instead of the present overhead bridge (referring to the horseshoe bridge), one got to the station by a level crossing at the west end of Birch Street.
"There were no electric lights, and coal oil was used almost exclusively for lighting purposes. The stores and hotels used acetylene gas. As this was before the advent of water works the water supply was had from pitcher pumps which drew the water from well points driven into the ground at varying depths."
Fire protection was provided from a hand reel and some 500 feet of hose while the fire station was a small shed at the rear of the St. John's Anglican Church rectory (now being used as a second hand store), water being drawn from a well there with a four-man hand pump.
Wow, sure not much fire protection if you happened to live very far from the "fire station".
There was a four-room public school which in later years was transformed into Chapleau High School on Pine Street. St. John's church was small wooden structure on the tennis court while Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church was at its present location but burned down in 1918, and was replaced within one year by the present building. The Methodist church was located on the site where Trinity United Church is today.
"The sidewalks, where there were any, were of plank and the service drainage was nil except what nature provided."
However, Chapleau had been incorporated as a municipality in 1901, just before Mr. Payette's arrival and he pays great tribute to several citizens with "great foresight and enthusiasm" for the community.
He referred specifically to G.B. Nicholson, J.B. Dexter and V.T. Chapple who "by their persistent efforts, succeeded in getting for the town a good system of water works, a fine town hall, three fine schools, a good system of fire protection including the present fire hall (replaced in 1978), and several miles of sidewalks."
Mr. Nicholson was Chapleau's first reeve serving from 1901 to 1913; Mr. Dexter, a member of Chapleau's first council worked for the CPR, then became a businessman, and later town superintendent as well as chief of the first volunteer fire brigade. Mr. Chapple was a businessman.
As an aside, all these developments took place between 1901 and about 1922 when the high school was opened.
By 1914, after Dr. J.J. Sheahan had arrived, the Lady Minto Hospital, the the only hospital between Sudbury and Fort William was opened.
Mr. Payette also noted that the CPR also "kept pace with the progress of the town" by enlarging the shops and roundhouse, building a new station, freight sheds, a large ice house and several dwellings.
J. McNiece Austin "also did his share in modernizing the the town by putting in an electric light plant and a power house on the sight of the former saw mill operated by Mageau LeBlanc Lumber Company. George Fife, who served as reeve of Chapleau from 1938 to 1942, and the grandfather of Robert Fife, the CTV News Ottawa Bureau Chief and host of 'Question Period' arrived to become manager of the electric light company.
Mr. Payette was not only involved with Smith and Chapple over the years, but was very active in community activities. By 1906, he appears in a photo of a Chapleau hockey team and he later managed teams. He also played in the Town Band and was bandmaster. In the 1930s, he was referred to as "the catalyst" behind the founding of Chapleau winter carnivals. He also served as fire chief, member and chairman of the high school board, manager of the Chapleau Memorial Arena, member of the Knights of Columbus, choirmaster at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church member of the Chapleau Rotary Club, and he also golfed and curled..
Mr. Payette also wrote about Smith and Chapple in its early years but that is a story for another day. My email is email@example.com