|Photo credit below|
Looking back at Chapleau's early days in 1885-86, after the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway, an unidentified writer of several articles included in the Richard Brownlee Papers, talks about Old and New Chapleau which seem to have had little contact with each other.
Apparently written in 1935 to mark the 50th anniversary of the community (not the incorporation of Chapleau as a municipality in 1901), the writer refers to the time as "those grand old days".
"Old Chapleau was on the hill but a few company houses were built for the employees near the railway." There were also some boxcars.
At first read I could not figure out where the hill was, then recalled that Mr. Brownlee's first barber shop was in a tent on the hill near where the Lady Minto Hospital was built at Elm and Queen Streets.
The writer noted that the "first time a small group of people went to view where the (Roman Catholic) church was to be built ... they thought they would never get there. It was a long tedious tramp through the bush (to where Collins furniture store at Birch and Lorne Streets is now). They were living in tents in Old Chapleau.
Also, at this time they were "doing most of their shopping at the Hudson's Bay store" which was then located at what is now commonly referred to as the Memegos Property near the intersection of Highway 101 to Timmins, and Highway 129.
This meant that during the winter of 1885-86. those living in Old Chapleau would walk on present Elm. but a trail through the bush then, to the CPR tracks, and along them, then crossed the Nebskwashi River to the Hudson's Bay store, and then back home. Amazing.
There has been some dispute by Chapleau researchers over the years about where the Hudson's Bay store was actually located before being relocated into the community, but this article, adds more credibility to the work done by Michael McMullen and Ian Macdonald. They placed it on the Memegos Property. Both Ian and Michael have also written about Chapleau's early years.
Also interestingly, the article notes: "Strange as it may seem, the young people living in company houses seldom went tp Chapleau on the hill, as they were barely acquainted with the residents up there."
Turning to "New Chapleau" the article notes that at the same time, some of the first settlers lived in tents located at about where the old overhead bridge was located, while others lived in two rows of boxcars -- on streets called Godin Avenue and Stovepipe Avenue.
Meanwhile, as I wrote in my 1984 book 'Sons of Thunder ... Apostles of Love' the history of St. John's Anglican Church, by the end of 1885, the CPR had built a roundhouse with turntable, and a water tank. The first station was in a boxcar but one was under construction. "Chapleau had become a town made up of surplus boxcars and tents. The population consisted of about 400 people, ninety-five percent of them men."
I also wrote that the winter of 1885 was very strenuous for the early citizens of the fledgling community. They had left their old way of life to build a new one far from any comforts they might have known. It was apparently a very cold winter and disease was rampant.
Yet, despite the obstacles, folks in Old and New Chapleau came together and created a thriving community very quickly. Just imagine, if you will, early citizens like J.T. Serre, Richard Brownlee and others would also party at the Hudson's Bay store on the Memegos Property walking there and back.
Amazing people. Again my thanks to Margaret Rose (Payette) and Bobby Fortin, who by the way are both members of Chapleau pioneer families. for loaning me the Richard Brownlee papers. Thanks as well to Ian and Michael for their research. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
HBC Chapleau Outpost under Construction (1884) CP Archives and Ian Macdonald