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Saturday, February 20, 2016

J.T. Serre known for 'happy, jolly, good natured manner' at work and play in Chapleau

J.T. Serre, who arrived in Chapleau in 1886, was well known for the "happy, jolly, good natured manner"  he always maintained.

When he arrived Chapleau consisted mainly of a group of box cars in which lived a number of families as well as 'Old Chapleau' about where the Lady Minto Hospital was located on Queen Street, and where Richard Brownlee had his barber shop in a tent.

It didn't take these early pioneers long to lay out the community on the "other side" of the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks.

Mr. Serre first worked for the CPR but the Hudson Bay Company was looking "for a smart young man who could talk French and English",  so he moved there, according to a Chapleau Post article in 1930.

"Telesphore was everything on that job. He rassled barrels of pork, kegs of molasses, bags of flour, cases of salt pork and bags of beans around until an ordinary fellow would have been glad to call it a day. But not him".
Chapleau party Mr Serre standing on right

The article noted that after the work day, which ended when the manager said it did, Mr. Serre, along with the rest of the young bloods of the town" enjoyed a good time, and would head to the "Indian reservation, and there they danced to the music of an accordion or a fiddle until the wee small hours."
Mr Serre on right

The reservation to which the article refers would have been what is now generally referred to as the Memegos Property on the Nebskwashi River where the Hudson Bay store was located before moving into Chapleau. Just imagine, they would walk along the CPR tracks in the pitch dark, and cross the river about where the Highway 101 turnoff is to Timmins today. And return home!

In 1891 Mr. Serre started working  for J. McN. Austin and as hardware became more important, he was put in charge of that department. By 1905, when it became important to have someone as an undertaker, he took a course and assumed this position too.

After joining what soon became Smith and Chapple Ltd. he became hardware manager there.

 Top items in the hardware department included rifles and shotgun shells, toboggans, axes, canoes, tents, and tin and iron cooking wares. 
one department

He saw changes in the store from "flickering old coal oil lamps, acetylene lamps, then unsteady electric light to fine lighting equipment" by about 1930.

"From the old cast iron stove in the middle of the store on to the hot air furnace then to the modern hot water electric blower, thermostatically controlled blower now installed."

The article also noted that in the early years of business no one ever saw an apple, orange, grapefruit, any fresh vegetables, ice cream and other items seen in the store by 1930 or so.

"Fast freight trains coupled with good refrigeration played a great part..." in bringing them to Chapleau.

I wonder if anyone today can find Mr. Serre's name inscribed in the cement in the cellar of what is now Chapleau Village Shops.

The article notes that "some cement work was being done in the cellar of the main store ... and this young fellow scratched his name in the fresh cement and it's still there (circa 1930)" Maybe Lucy Bignucolo could take a look!!!

T.R. Serre, became known as the "Grand Old Man" of the store in work and play. 

Thanks again to Margaret Rose and Bobby Fortin for loaning me the Richard Brownlee Papers. A treasure of information about Chapleau.  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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