EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Remember the cheery voice of the telephone operator, 'Number please'

Remember those days in Chapleau when you picked up the telephone and you would hear a voice say, "Operator" or "Number please" or "That line is busy" or maybe even your name if it was late at night, and the operator was working alone, and calls were slow.

When I was away at school in the Sixties, and even after I started in the newspaper business as a reporter, on occasion I would call home late at night to catch up on the local news from the operator. Our home number was 188 as I recall. Do you remember yours?

Michael and Alison (McMillan) McMullen brought those memories back to me when I received a copy of a brief history of Chapleau written by the late Wilf Simpson in the Seventies from them recently.

Wilf, who was the deputy township clerk for 23 years, wrote the history in the Seventies and I wrote the foreword to an updated version of it in 1977 when I was reeve but had lost my copy somewhere along the way.

Back to telephones in Chapleau. Wilf noted that Chapleau "was the first location in Ontario, if not in whole of Canada, to have an automatic (dial) telephone system."

It was completed and in operation in 1924 under the name Chapleau Telephone System. Wilf wrote that it was a P.A.X. System and had a capacity of 400 telephones. The equipment was housed in the basement of the old Town Hall in a room later was used by the Cubs and Scouts.

T.R. "Ron" Serre, the township clerk, was the secretary treasurer of the company and G.L. White, a local druggist was in charge of maintenance. Ross Kemp took over the maintenance around 1930-31 and was on the job for a number of years until he left to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Jim Mclean took over until the system was dismantled in 1951.

Wilf points out that Chapleau went back to manual (operator assisted) at that time with Bell Telephone taking over. For some reason automatic equipment was not available. The exchange was located in a building on Pine Street between Chapleau Public School and the home of Herb Doig. It later became the by-law officer's office.

In 1965, Chapleau again became automatic with the completion of the new Bell building at Young and Pine Street, but operators were still on duty for long distance calls.

In 1976 Chapleau got direct distance dialing and the day of the telephone operator pretty well disappeared.

Wilf commented on this move: "In 1976 'Mother Bell' gave Chapleau direct distance dialing. This may have been an improvement generally, but I still preferred the cheery voice of the operator saying, 'I'm sorry sir, all the circuits are busy' to a three minute session of clicks, bangs and bleeps akin to a chorus by the Bachman-Turner Overdrive -- only to terminate with a 'busy' signal."

For those readers who do not remember Wilf, I wrote in my foreword to his booklet that he had always been a keen observer of the municipal scene over the 23 years he spent as deputy clerk, and his previous experience with the Chapleau Post, our weekly newspaper, which was founded by his father Arthur Simpson. In congratulating Wilf on the revised publication of his history, I expressed the hope that he would continue to share his knowledge of Chapleau history with us in years to come.

Just a touch of irony that I am sharing part of Wilf's history with you more than 43 years later in the Chapleau Express, a successor to the Chapleau Post where he was at one time the editor, and on the Internet, using new media communications. Wow!

For many years Wilf also had a very popular orchestra that was a mainstay at local dances throughout the year in the old Town Hall basement or Legion Hall.

His brief history is a very valuable resource on the history of Chapleau, and I look forward to sharing more from it with you in future columns.

But let me finish by bringing you news about a very important development in the history of Chapleau that occurred in 1950. The first diesel locomotive arrived at the Chapleau CPR station, powering westbound transcontinental passenger train Number 7 (the Dominion) from Montreal/Toronto at 12:30 p.m. on Monday January 9, 1950. It was such an historic occasion that school was adjourned early. I remember it like it was yesterday. Thanks to David McMillan, Ian Macdonald and their friends for this one.

Again thanks for all your notes. My email is mj.morris@live.ca This article appears in the February 20, 2010 edition of the Chapleau Express as my Chapleau Moments column.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

John Babcock, 109, the last known Canadian veteran of World War I dies

John Henry Foster Babcock, born on a farm near Kingston, Ontario, on July 23, 1900, the last known Canadian veteran of World War I, died Thursday.

His death marks the last remaining link to those 650,000 Canadian men and women who served in Canada's armed forces between 1914 to 1918 in World War I as Canada moved from colony to nationhood in the years following confederation in 1867. When I heard of Mr. Babcock's death, I immediately thought of the old Grade 10 history textbook used in Ontario schools at least, 'From Colony to Nation.'

When World War I started, Canada had a population of eight million people, and 67,000 of our citizens were killed during the conflict and 173,000 were wounded.

In a statement following the news of Mr. Babcock's death, Stephen Harper, the prime minister said: “They paid dearly for the freedom that we and our children enjoy every day. Now they are all gone. However, their voices and stories live on. They live on in our commitment to never forget, to cherish their values they fought for and to remember their sacrifices.”

So many of us have a connection to World War I, and coming from the small town of Chapleau, Ontario, many of my friends had a family member who served.

In my own family, my grandfather, Harry Morris, served in the Canadian forces and his brother, 2/Lt. Mansel J Morris of 43 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, was killed and is buried in the Aire Communal Cemetery in France.

Two of my grandmother's (Lil (Mulligan) Morris) brothers Charles Mulligan and Griffin Mulligan also served in the Canadian Forces in World War I.

My father, Flying Officer James E. Morris, of the Royal Canadian Air Force was killed on active service in World war II. He is buried in Ripon Cemetery, Yorkshire, England.

Although Mr. Babcock was the last known living Canadian veteran of World War I, we shall remember all of them who served this nation, Let us never forget as the prime minister said, they paid dearly for the freedom we enjoy today.

May John Babcock now rest in peace.

G.B. Nicholson, 'the leader of life in Chapleau' during its early years

In about 1913 Guy Rogers visited Chapleau and wrote in a report that while there he made a friendship with "the real leader of life in Chapleau, a Mr. G.B. Nicholson, a fine Christian, and able man of affairs."

Rogers had been sent to Canada from England by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Church of England to travel on the Canadian Pacific Railway to observe the work being done by the church as well as the lifestyle. He gives a glimpse into life in Chapleau at the time in the following statement: "How the early settlers stood the monotony and hardship of life is known only to them and God."

However, G.B. Nicholson, who was born on Prince Edward Island in 1868, and came to northern Ontario to work for the CPR with whom he worked for 17 years, where he also served as general secretary or general chairman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers on the CPR eastern lines for 10 years. He turned down promotions as the man who came to be called "the father of Chapleau" had other plans for his life and the community.

In 1901, largely because of efforts by Mr. Nicholson, Chapleau became incorporated as a municipality in Ontario, and he became its first Reeve -- serving until 1913, and being returned by acclamation in the elections then held yearly for council. Chapleau experienced a remarkable period of growth during his time in office. A water works system was built with hydrants throughout the community. Two schools had been built and the high school was being planned. A town hall, described as 'a most moden building for the times' complete with theatre opened in 1913. Sidewalks were laid throughout the town, something that always amazed me as a kid seeing how early in Chapleau's history they were built. Go for a walk and take a look!

In 1910, the very efficient Chapleau Fire Department was created.

The railway YMCA with rooms and a restaurant received compliments and in 1914 the Lady Minto Hospital opened under the gudiance of the Victorian Order of Nurses. The business section contained a number of special, general and department stores and the population had reached about 2,500 people -- about the same as in the last census numbers in 2006.

In 1917 he was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative member for Algoma East, lost in 1921, then won in 1925 but lost in 1926, but regained his seat in 1930. While the House of Commons was sitting, Mr. Nicholson, a staunch member of St. John's Anglican Church in Chapleau would travel home from Ottawa on weekends to teach his Adult Bible Class. He conducted the class for 25 years, assisted by P. J. Collins.

While Mr. Nicholson was busy building Chapleau he entered the lumber business with J. McNiece Austin of Chapleau in 1901 with Mr. Nicholson as the operating head of the company. In Chapleau Trails, edited by Dr. W.R. Pellow, A. MacNiece Austin wrote that his grandfather entered into partnership with Mr. Nicholson and "...(they) carried on a substantial operation which grew to include not only tie cutting but logging and timber milling..." He adds that mills were built and operated for varying lengths of time at Sultan, Devon, Nicholson, Dalton Station, Dalton Mills, and Bertrand.

After Mr. Austin died in 1922 a company was formed with Mr. Nicholson as president, Allan Austin as first vice president, Bill Austin as second vice president and Reg Thrush as secretary.

Busy as he was, Mr. Nicholson and Chapleau residents also took time for an active social life. In a family history written by Michael McMullen, about his grandparents William and May (Mulligan) McMullen and their families, he includes an article from the The Chapleau Headlight of April 21, 1916. His grandparents hosted "a delightful progressive military euchre party" at their home attended by many Chapleauites including Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson. The report says in part: "After a superb luncheon had been served the rooms were cleared and dancing indulged in. the party breaking up about 2 a.m., a most delightful and entertaining time being spent by all."

The end of World War I did not come soon enough for Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson as tragedy befell them on November 4, 1918 when their only son Lorne was killed in action. As a result Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson built St. John's Parish House, which is now the Chapleau Royal Canadian Legion Hall, in memory of their son and and all his son's comrades who had fallen in the war. You will not even find their names on a plaque saying that they built Chapleau's historic landmark building.

You will find tributes to Mr. Nicholson, and his wife Charlotte in St. John's Anglican Church. At Easter 1918, a letter was presented to Mr. Nicholson which shows the esteem in which he was held, and it remains on a wall in the church. Mr. Nicholson had not only taught his adult Bible class but had been a church warden for 22 years, and had helped immensely to build the present St. John's opened in 1908. There were windows dedicated in his memory in 1938 and there is a plaque honouring Mrs. Nicholson for her work.

George Brecken Nicholson died on January 1, 1935, and of course the people of Chapleau mourned his loss, cancelling all New Year's celebrations. St. John's was packed for his funeral. He is buried in the Protestant Burying Grounds.

From the day of his arrival in Chapleau, it seems he set out to make a difference in Chapleau and as his obituary notes, "he did not allow his business interests prevent him from doing his part in the general, social and industrial life of the community.

Email me at mj.morris@live.ca

Michael J Morris

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


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