|Austin store Chapleau circa 1886|
The Austin brothers opened their "new" store on September 6, 1886, making it a "red letter day" for Chapleau, according to the Chapleau Post.
Actually, they had moved from "Old Chapleau" where they had pitched a tent near the site of where the Lady Minto Hospital was opened in 1914.
Their store on Birch Street about where the Bank of Montreal was located, and before that Pellow's store, was twenty feet wide and about thirty-five feet long, and had a leanto attached where Richard Brownlee had his barber shop. Mr. Brownlee's first shop was also in a tent near the hospital site. The upstairs was fitted as a lodge room for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and was also the first hall for the Independent Order of Oddfellows.
However, Chapleau seemed to be a very busy place as the Chapleau Headlight reported that five stores were established in 1886-87 or thereaabouts. Along with the Austin store were Murrays and Mulligan, Deland and Kellett, Hudson Bay Company (moved from what came to be called the Memegos property) and P Manion.
T.A. and J. McN. Austin were from Renfrew County and "keenly alive to the possibilities of trade decided when Chapleau was made a divisional point (on the CPR in 1885) to enter into business on their own account.
"They purchased a lot, pitched a large tent and opened up a general business under the name of T.A. Austin and Company. The business was a success from the first, founded on the principle of fair value and service."
The Chapleau Post story on the founding of the Austin store was included in an edition some 50 years later.
"Application was made for a post office and this had a double effect of giving service to the community and bringing every newcomer to their store for mail.
"The Austin brothers were ideal merchants and catered to every need of the community: a car of lumber to build a house; the furniture to furnish it. the wedding suit; the ring, or a reliable time piece, and sometimes the funeral casket"
The Chapleau Post story noted that stores were busy supplying trappers, construction gangs, bridge and building gangs, extra gangs and some small lumber operations with goods.
Supplies were also being freighted from Chapleau to a new railway, which later became the Canadian National Railway, to the north. I was fascinated to learn that as many as 100 teams of horses were working at one time out of Chapleau in the winter on this project, and in the summer boats took "great loads" down the river to the 18 mile rapids, and then on to the new railway line.
However, by 1889, T.A. Austin, "as a result of a stirring evangelistic service" held in a tent where Trinity United Church is now located decided to become a Methodist minister and sold his business interest to his brother.
Soon thereafter J.McN. Austin moved the store to the corner of Birch and Lorne streets. It forms part of the Chapleau Village Shops today. The Austin family lived in rooms above the store.
|Store in 1890s|
Included in the store was a millinery and tailor shop. The Chapleau Post reported that "millinery was a big part of the business in those days and many a Chapleau belle wore a chapeau that cost her $25.00. (Wow, that would have been very expensive)
In the tailor shop there were as many as nine tailors and cutters working at one time.
J. McN. Austin became good friends with G.B. Nicholson who upon arrival in Chapleau worked as a fireman and later engineer on the CPR.
Eventually they formed a partnership to develop the business of supplying the CPR with ties, and Austin Nicholson Lumber became the largest supplier of ties in the former British Empire.
By about 1901 he had sold his store interests to Beamish and Smith, while Chapleau was also incorporated as a municipality and Mr. Nicholson became the first reeve. The store later became Smith and Chapple Ltd., now Chapleau Village Shops.
Browsing through the R ichard Brownlee papers kindly loaned to me by Margaret Rose and Bobby Fortin, provides an insightful look into early Chapleau. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org