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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tiny population created lively community of Chapleau by beginning of twentieth century

Although isolated the self reliant early inhabitants of Chapleau came together quickly after 1885 to give themselves "a few of the signs of the outward signs of 19th century civilization", George Evans wrote in one of his articles in Snapshots of Chapleau's Past.

George, who so many will recall, was a long time teacher and assistant principal, wrote that "Chapleau became a community with a future because CPR needed places at regular intervals along its tracks where crews could change, locomotives could be refueled and watered and mechanics could do maintenance work."

I am fascinated as most of you know with Chapleau moments, and as I thought about this column, turned to George for help with getting the words right -- something Ernest Hemingway advised us to do!
C A Bill Pellow on delivery circa 1910

In his article 'In the Beginning', George notes that a "basic need for the community was a cemetery which had been provided for in 1885. The CPR deeded land for the "Chapleau Protestant Burying Grounds" to Thomas Nicholson. If my memory serves me right, there is a small plaque at the entrance to the cemetery.

Across the road on Birch Street and along Grey Street is the Roman Catholic Cemetery but I was unable to find out when it was established --- help someone please?

In no time at all Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, St. John's Anglican Church and Chapleau Methodist Church (later Trinity United Church) had been established.

Sometimes when writing about early Chapleau, it is difficult to get exact dates but it seems that curling and hockey were underway, on outdoor rinks located on Lorne Street near Cedar Street. In fact that is where hockey was played first in the "old old rink" and Chapleau Memorial Arena until 1978 when the A W Moore Arena opened in the Chapleau Recreation Centre.

Vince Crichton wrote that the Chapleau Curling Club was formed and the first sheet of ice was available that winter, but he was unable to confirm who was responsible for making it happen.

Nonetheless by 1929 with a now enclosed curling rink/arena in the same location the Northern Ontario Curling Association bonspiel was held in Chapleau, and again in 1932. A rink comprised of Leo Racicot, Harry Morris (my grandfather), Vince Crichton and A. Kinahan reached the finals in almost all events.

We also know that a Chapleau hockey team made a road trip to Sudbury in 1893, and lost. Have no idea who the players were as I found out about the trip on a Sudbury hockey history site.

The Chapleau Brass Band held its first meeting on December 6, 1888 and as George wrote "thus establishing the tradition of a Town Band that lasted for over a century. No parade or official event was complete without its presence."

By 1890, fraternal organizations made their appearance -- the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in 1886 and the Oddfellows, Missanabie Lodge 266 in 1888.

By the 1890s, the first "pleasure boat" arrived and "going down the lake" became a popular pastime with the Old Fort in Mulligan's Bay being a popular place for gatherings  before camps were built.

From the earliest years, Dominion Day was a major celebration in Chapleau, and by 1900 baseball teams had been formed.

By 1893 a volunteer fire department had been formed but George related that prior to 1901 when Chapleau was incorporated as a municipality, "policing seems to have been a hit and miss thing with a succession of local men being commissioned by the provincial government to keep the Queen's peace." (The Queen being Victoria!)

Fast forward just a bit. I have included a photo of C.A. "Bill" Pellow with his  wagon circa 1910 to show how deliveries were made in the community's early years. As well I have included a photo of the "Pig Pen" from the early 1930s to show the boathouses which dotted the shore of the front river, and a few on the back river as an increasing number of people got boats.
Pig Pen note boathouses

This is just a glimpse at part of what was happening in Chapleau between 1885 and 1901. George summed it up: "In the sixteen years that had passed since the railway had cut its way across the Canadian Shield, the tiny population had created a lively community complete with churches, schools, a Mechanics Institute, a volunteer fire department, and a town band. Finally endowed with its own municipal government, Chapleau was ready to take on the 20th Century".

And it sure did. I deeply appreciate the work of citizens like Vince Crichton, George Evans, Hugh Kuttner and most recently Doug Greig, who have devoted themselves to the history of 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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