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Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Forest fire evacuation of Chapleau in 1967 called 'masterpiece of planning' even though roast found in with the shoes
As Chapleau life returns to normal after after the power outage of 2010, it was in June 1967, 43 years ago, that a forest fire resulted in the evacuation of about 90 percent of the community's residents.
(See end of story for map explanation.)
Charlie Purich, who was working as a purchasing agent for the department of lands and forests recalled that the fire in 1967 that evacuated the town was called 69-8. 69 stood for the District and 8 was the eighth fire that year. The fire started Friday June 2 just north of Montreal Lake and Mosquito Lake in 13G township and its perimeter as of 21:15 June 3 was 3250 acres and On June 4 at 11:00 hrs. it was 3300 acres. Then it spread to 3550 acres by 14:00 hrs. Then to 4450 acres by 17:00 hrs. Then to 5000 acres by 17:30 hrs. On June 5 at 07:15 it was 5800 acres and then it started to die.
Charlie added that it started in 13 G Township and followed the west side of Sideburned Lake and the east side of Highbrush Lake crossing Highway 101 and continuing on a direct path toward the town. The fire broke out about 12 miles southwest of Chapleau on the south side of Highway 101 west.
Reporting on the fire in its June 8, 1967, edition, the Chapleau Sentinel said that tractor trailers loaded with bulldozers and other equipment were rushed to the area to create fire breaks. However, by Sunday morning at daylight the fire aided by higher winds had jumped Highway 101 and was headed to Chapleau.
District Forester Jim Keddie had advised Reeve T.C. "Terry" Way-White of the situation and a meeting was held in the Town Hall at 11 a.m. attended by the council and other citizens as well as lands and forests personnel and Ontario Provincial Police. The decision was made to evacuate the municipality and the order was given by Mr. Way-White. The exodus began on Sunday afternoon with between 800-900 vehicles beginning the trek out of town after the signal had been given to evacuate. There were 90 boxcars in the CPR yard and a hospital train had left Sudbury to assist with the emergency. At its peak, nearly 400 firefighters were on the scene.
The Sentinel reported that even given the awkwardness of the old horshoe overhead bridge the traffic flow was steady and even and no tieups occurred. The newspaper referred to the evacuation as a "masterpiece of planning" with a committee headed by Mr. Way-White with J.M. "Jack" Shoup and township clerk Ollie Carlson assisting with general directions. Other members included Gene Bernier, communications; Roy May, transportation; Jim Broomhead, those in hospital and in need of special care; Con Schmidt, the contact for reception of evacuees in other communities; OPP Cpl. Ron Lewis and Fire Chief Ad Andrews, policing and safety. George Nutkins and Doug Kavanaugh of the CPR and Chief Forest Ranger Lawless Cecile and Deputy Chief Ranger Lloyd Woods also played major roles during the emergency.
For the record, Charlie and others have been providing me with details on this fire for some time before the power outage caused by a forest fire near Wawa.
Charlie also noted that "When the town was evacuated we assisted the OPP with our Lands and Forests trucks, patrolling the streets and it was an eerie feeling late at night."
By Monday, some rain had fallen and the evacuation order was lifted. Chapleau residents began to return home.
I posted a request for memories from the 1967 fire on Facebook and here are the responses:
Hugh McGoldrick "Michael, I will always remember Veda Warren saying,"I'm not leaving town 'til the walls of (her) house get hot." I guess she never did leave, but it sure sounded funny to me that this sweet little defiant lady was going to 'stand up' to the fire. She clearly had a pioneer spirit.
"Meanwhile, the McGoldricks and the two Jardine families on Grey St. (Doug and Don) were somewhat less defiant and we all went to Least Lake. I think we stayed at Mammy and Pappy Jones' camp. When we arrived there was a duck in the camp that had pooped everywhere. So we had to clean the camp and then find sleeping arrangements for the 15 or so of us. It was cozy but fun.
Ann (Card) Morin: "Since I was only 11 yrs old it seemed more like a camping trip, although we a knew that the town was in grave danger. I also remember feeling pretty important that our town was mentioned in the House of Commons. In the end I was just pleased to have an early start to summer and return to town to find that my new bicycle had not perished in the fire...important considerations for an 11 year old.
"I remember we went to Mulligan's Bay, Uncle George and Auntie Olive's (Boucher) Camp ...mass confusion my mother packed me all tops no bottoms ... we found the roast in with the shoes. It was scary because my Dad had to stay home with the fire department... we could see the smoke from the camp."
Suzanne (Comte Weber) "My grandfather said that the wind would change and the town will be ok. So our family, probably one of the few didn't leave town. I remember walking around town , it was so deserted, hoses all over. houses being watered down. What a memory it was."
Kate Laframboise " I remember strong smell of smoke and the sky was gray.My sister Janet drove us to Timmins, with the exception of my two eldest brothers and my father Bucko. We stayed in a hotel for a couple of days and then heard everything was okay to return."
Eugene Bouillon "I remember a bunch of us kids riding around on our bikes, with bandanas on our faces, covering our noses from the smoke. The smoke was so thick, sometimes, you could not even see the Ball park from our place. Embers were falling all over King Street and even over to Elgin Street. We went to Foleyet, and stayed with some people there."
Joan Lapointe Gauthier "I remember the fire very well. We were living on King Street and my grandfasther kept hosing down the house because of the live embers. I had a Uncle Tom who had had a stroke and was in hospital and we took him home with us. My mom Evelyn Lapointe was working at the hospital and they were delivering a baby when the alarms sounded. I packed as much of the personal belongings as possible into our car. I'm not sure as to what happened to Uncle Tom but if my memory is correct I think he was taken to Sudbury by train. My grandfather was adamant about not leaving the house and we stayed that night after the evacutation order but did go to Foleyet the next day and came home that evening. You could hear the bulldozer as clear as a bell cutting a fire break into the bush behind the houses on the bush side of King Street."
Johanne Wilson: "Roger and other men were helping to put people on the trains. I took my Dad's car and loaded the 3 boys along with some valuables, and so did our neighbour at the time and ,we drove to Sudbury. Waited there for our husbands to come... " When it was safe, we returned home, all ended well."
The Sentinel was also reporting that Eddie Shack was in town the weekend following the evacuation as guest speaker at the Chapleau Junior "B" Huskies banquet as part of their celebration on winning the NOHA Junior "B" championship, and the Scouts and Cubs were holding their annual Father-Son banquet. Life returned to normal very quickly. In years to come, I am sure many stories will be told about the great power outage of 2010. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
p.s. I was working in Toronto at the time of the 1967 fire but my mother, Muriel E. Morris was in Chapleau. Mom refused to leave her home.
MAP PROVIDED BY CHARLIE PURICH It is the actual map prepared by personnel at the "Point" during that fire.
Colours showing spread of fire: