|Chapleau from present golf course|
I had never really thought about it until I was rereading parts of 'Pioneering in Northern Ontario' by Vince Crichton recently.
Vince answers the question: "... all that one would have seen at first glance would have been a virgin forest, many lakes and rivers, and two thin ribbons of steel that had been laid in a cleared section..." which would become Chapleau, a divisional point on the Canadian Pacific Railway.
You may have seen canoes paddled by First Nation peoples -- Cree and Ojibway -- carrying furs from their trapping grounds to trading posts in the area, the only signs of human habitation.
In my 1984 book 'Sons of Thunder ... Apostles of Love', I wrote that in 1885, the CPR issued instructions to put in a spur for a boxcar to be set out at Mileage 615.1 which subsequently would be about the middle of Chapleau. The boxcar would become the first station, office building and train dispatcher's office. A station had been completed by 1886.
I added that Chapleau had become a community made up of surplus boxcars and tents with a population of about 400 people by the end of 1885, 95 percent of them men.
Vince noted that "... a few crude homes were erected on the hill in the vicinity" of where the Lady Minto Hospital was located on Elm Street. This is the area referred to as 'Old Chapleau' and by the Spring of 1886 for example, Richard Brownlee had established his first barber shop in a tent at this location, as was the first Austin store. They had both moved "downtown" by the end of 1886.
I didn't know there had been a huge swamp which extended almost the entire length of Monk Street. Vince wrote that a long board walk from the station was built along Elm Street.
Vince explained that a creek drained the area which flowed across the CPR tracks between the station and th east ice house, across that part of town south of the YMCA, over to Aberdeen Street emptying into the Nebskwashi River in the vicinity of what is now called the Cedar Street bridge.
The CPR diverted the creek and it flowed into the river across from what is now commonly called the Memegos Property.
Notwithstanding the obstacles, Chapleau was established. From all reports I have seen the winter of 1885 was very strenuous for the early citizens on the fledgling community. It must have been for they had left their old way of life to build a new one far from any comforts they might have known. Apparently it was a bitterly cold winter and disease was rampant, and fire was a constant threat.
Vince noted that all the houses were kept warm with "a pot-bellied heater with a large gaping mouth through which the fire was banked for the night with a copious amount of good white birch."
"The kitchen stove on which the lady of the house cooked and was her own pride and joy, also burned wood... There was always a large wood box to the side that was filled each day with split wood to provide heat for those wonderful victuals that were consumed each day".
Actually, as I reflect on growing up in Chapleau, when my mother Muriel (Hunt) Morris, my grandparents Edythe and George Hunt and I moved into the house on Grey Street in 1945, it was primarily heated by a large wood stove on which my grandmother prepared our meals, and my mother used to heat water for washing clothes and Saturday night baths. The house was also not insulated until about 1950. It also heated the house.
Mr. Fortin would bring us a load of wood each Fall, and then bring his sawing machine to cut it into stove lengths which we would store in the "back shed" -- that was a job for me and my grandfather.
Many houses were still using wood stoves when I was a kid. Our house was never cosier!
It seems to me that rapid changes started circa 1950 in many aspects of our lives. Vince called the chapter from which I have a taken excerpts "It was a good town". Indeed it was, and for that matter still is.
Yes, you can take the person out of Chapleau, but you can't take Chapleau out of the person! More to come! My email is email@example.com