EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Chapleau like a 'western town with a frontier attitude' in 1937 but George Theriault returned to set up air base

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 mj.morris@live.ca

Monday, June 15, 2015

'Chapleau Boys Go To War' puts "human face" on Canadian war efforts, according to Ian Macdonald

Ian Macdonald says that "The Chapleau Boys Go To War" puts "very human face on the Canadian war efforts" In World War 1 and World War 2 by the community of Chapleau.

Ian,  retired head of the department of architecture and Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba, has written extensively on buildings of Chapleau. In the interests of full disclosure, Ian contributed to the chapters on the Legion Hall and 1181 Chapleau High School Cadet Corps. Ian was an officer in the high school corps in the 1950s.

The following are his comments on "The Chapleau Boys Go To War".  Thanks Ian

"The Chapleau Boys Go To War
One can hardly imagine a more appropriate way to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the War to end all Wars.  The book ventures beyond the bronze plaques, memorial windows  and cenotaphs to put a very human face on the Canadian war efforts.

"Casualties of war are devastating under any circumstances  but are perhaps never felt as broadly or deeply as in a small village where everyone knows each other or at least knows of each other. The book, because it focuses on one small community,  is able  to dedicate an entire  page to each  individual  to honour their ultimate sacrifice and provide an important  historic record of the many others who served  on the multi faceted fronts of the various war efforts.  

"The authors (Michael K McMullen and Michael J Morris) are commended for effectively recording this legacy of honour and revealing what we like to think of as the best of the Canadian character."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Chapleau Beach Day raised funds for lights on ball field with activities from "tadpoles" to square dancers in 1954

From "Tadpoles to Teeners" and everyone else in Chapleau, the annual Beach Day held on the first Monday in August ranked as a highlight in the life of the community for many years.

After Dr. G.E. Young returned home to practise medicine, and used his own money created the beach which had been a garbage dump at one time, Beach Day emerged, along with Dominion (Canada) Day celebration as a major summer celebration. It was sponsored by the Chapleau Recreation Committee which was established after B.W. 'Bubs' Zufelt became reeve in 1948.

Dr. Young was a great swimmer and became famous as a kid for swimming from town to his family's camp at Mulligan's Bay. To him it was no big deal. When I asked him about it one time, He shrugged, and replied, "I just started swimming and kept on going."

Beach panorama.. Ian Macdonald collection. CLICK TO ENLARGE
The parade led by the Town Band got the program underway, with J.M. Shoup. longtime principal of Chapleau Public School, organizing the children's section. Mr. Shoup also looked after the children's races.

I was reminded not too long ago that following the parade, all the children who participated received a dime to spend at the beach canteen. A dime may get you a small bag of chips and a pop  -- or maybe a hot dog in the early 1950s.

Just to put the spending power of the dime into perspective, in 1966 I was the bureau chief of the Saskatoon Star- Phoenix in North Battleford, and one day the owner of a local restaurant took me aside and whispered strictly off the record, "The price of a cup of coffee is going up to 15 cents." It had been 10 cents "forever."  I could use the information but no way could I use the name of my informant.

My story on this shocking news made the front page of the Star-Phoenix.

But, as I often do I digress. Back to Beach Day. Charlie Purich recently sent me a program for the 1954 Beach Day which mentions the tadpoles to teeners swimming races. Tadpoles was a race for "non-swimmers".

Water sports were most popular and cash prizes were awarded to the winners. For example, in diving competitions first prize was $5, second $3 and third $2. Dives included swan, jacknife, backflip, torpedo, somersault and handstand.

Mr Shoup on far right
If you won the three lap motor boat race you would receive a $10 prize.

There were canoe races as well as canoe tilting competitions, and although I don't have a list of the winners, William Memegos and his brothers dominated those activities for many years.

In the afternoon, there was always a fastball game at the field behind the Chapleau High School on Pine Street. In fact, the 1954 program says that the "present ambition" of the recreation committee was to install lights on the field. That ambition was realized and for years, fastball was played "under the lights" in Chapleau.

One year, Turk Broda, a famous goaltender with the Toronto Maple Leafs brought his ball team to Chapleau for Beach Day. I don't remember much about the ball game, but I recall getting autographs from the players at the Boston Cafe.  

There was also a concert by the town band at the beach.

In the evening, the day ended with a dance in the Town Hall basement, but for at least part of the evening there was a square dance competition.  Thanks for the program Charlie. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE