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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Patriotic energy and enthusiasm needed to keep community potential constantly before public, Chapleau Headlight writer says in 1915

Some things  have surely changed in the past 100 years but challenges and opportunities face Chapleau much as they did in 1915 when a writer with the Chapleau Headlight commented on the state of the community.

Browsing through the Richard Brownlee papers, kindly loaned to me by Margaret Rose and Bobby Fortin, I discovered a brief history of Chapleau, which appeared in the first edition of the Headlight on December 3, 1915. It covers the years from 1885 when the community was established  after the arrival of the CPR to 1915.

By 1915, a waterworks system had been installed, a fire department and electric light system established as well as the Lady Minto Hospital and Town Hall both opened in 1914. There were two schools and three churches -- Roman Catholic, Methodist (United) and Anglican (Church of England.

The population was apparently well over 2,000 and there was a bustling business community with five general stores operating by 1887.

World War I had started in 1914, and as Michael McMullen and I note in our book 'The Chapleau Boys Go To War', Chapleau produced 283 volunteers, a very significant number, given the size of the community.

But, the Headlight writer, who is not identified, posed the question, "What about the future?'

It would seem that the question would seem as important today as it was in 1915 -- in fact, not only for Chapleau, but for all communities, especially in rural Canada.
First Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church

What are the possibilities as well as what is the attitude of local citizens? 

In 1915, the writer commented that "There are a large number who look upon Chapleau as just about having reached the zenith of its development , it being contended that as a railway terminal it has practically nothing else to look forward to. That, however, seems to the writer to be the view of the man who looks at the surface and does not try to find out what lies underneath."

The writer continued: " How is Chapleau located for further possible development? The town is situated on the headwater sof one of the chief streams flowing into James Bay and stands about on the southern boundary of the great clay belt.

"North and east of the town is an unlimited acreage of of agricultural land equal to the best in New Ontario.

"It is surrounded in every direction by immense forest.
CPR Yards and Monk Street circa 1915

"Its location marks it out, if its position is taken advantage of, as being the centre through which a large volume of the business that will necessarily develop in the north will find its way to the markets of the south and west"

(As an aside, Chapleau vigorously pursued being located on the Trans Canada Highway, and a bit later community minded citizens like Gene Bernier and Yvon Martel led the campaign for an airport.)

In conclusion, the Headlight writer issued a challenge.

"What Chapleau requires is a little patriotic energy and enthusiasm on the part of its citizens to keep the natural advantage of its situation and the resources of the country surrounding it constantly before the public. 

"With this done, what is now one of the best towns in New Ontario can be made the centre of a very large and prosperous country. 
Main Street circa 1915

"Are we willing to do the hustling necessary to bring this about or are we going to pass it off to another generation? That is the question for present day citizens of Chapleau."

One hundred years later, "plus ca change; plus c'est la meme chose" for Chapleau. 

Here are the names of some of the "Citizens League" members who founded the Chapleau Headlight, all famous citizens: T.J. Godfrey, G.B. Nicholson, J.D. McAdam, all reeves); Rev. Father Romeo Gascon, Dr. J.J. Sheahan, V.T. Chapple, Edgar Pellow, J.O. Stanley, W.R. McAdam, Rev. P.R. Soanes and Rev G.W. Lynd.

I have used some photos from the Chapleau Public Library collection, compiled in large measure by Doug Greig to provide a glimpse of Chapleau, circa 1915. I highly recommend a visit to the library site. 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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