EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mansel Robinson described as 'history freak' served on Chapleau Board of Education during 'baby boom' years

Mansel Robinson, who served as a member and chair of the Chapleau Board of Education during the height of the baby boom years shared some memories of growing up in Chapleau with Jennifer (Swanson) David after he retired from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1983. 

I also share some of his son's memories.

At the time, Jennifer, the daughter of Bunny and the late Keith (Buddy) Swanson, was writing a column in the Chapleau Sentinel called 'Pioneer Days'. Jennifer later received a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University.

Jennifer's latest book is a fascinating story about a little piece of Canadian history in 'Original People. Original Television. The Launching of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network."

Born in 1923, Mansel said in an interview with Jennifer that he  was raised in a "little house on Grey Street" in a "sparsely populated neighbourhood."

"I remember when they used to have a circus in an open field behind the (Roman Catholic) graveyard". He also recalled "stealing" potatoes probably from his own back yard and "roasting them down by the back river behind the RC graveyard."

Mansel recalled that in those days horses and buggies outnumbered cars and a neighbourhood fence covered the south side of Main street and right in front of barber shop a huge maple tree was a landmark on Birch Street.

"It was a crooked old maple tree right in front of the barber shop and most people were sorry when it was taken down (about 1949)".

A highlight while growing up in Chapleau was to go to the show at the Regent Theatre on a Saturday afternoon for ten cents.

"if you had a cowboy picture and The Three Stooges as the comedy piece it was a big day."

After the show Mansel and his friends would go and reenact it by the river and if it was a movie with the Three Musketeers, there would be sword fights.

As an aside, not much changed between Mansel's growing up years and mine in the late 1940 and early 1950s as we played in the same place with the Big Rock as the central place on the back river.

He also recalled pleasures like going for a drive "down the road" -- which was not very far in those days, and skating on the pond on the back river in the Winter.

Among his chores was getting the wood ready and stored for the winter.

He told Jennifer an interesting anecdote about the fire alarm system. Certain corners had red fire alarm boxes and in the event of a fire someone would run to the box and pull the alarm. It would put the alarm into the CPR boiler room and would blow the CPR whistle..

Every corner had different codes and his was one long and three short -- if you know the codes you would run to the fire.

Mansel attended Chapleau Public School and Chapleau High School, and later worked at Dalton for Austin Lumber and then at the smelter in Coppercliff but returned home and joined the CPR first in telegraph office then as a trainman.

By this time World War II was underway and he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, returning to the CPR at war's end in 1945.

In 1949, Mansel told Jennifer, "I married the postmaster's daughter" speaking of his wife Isabel, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Collinson. Mr. Collinson was Chapleau's postmaster for many years. They had three children Steven (Mansel), Verlie and Wendy.  

His son in an interview with the Klondike Sun in 1999 after he became writer-in-residence at Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon, said he had done many things including working in a lumber mill, fighting fires, running a blast furnace, working the rails and doing a lot of backstage work at theatre adding  "I grew up listening to my father tell stories and his father and great uncles and stuff."

When I read this comment, I immediately recalled the time I first heard his father, Mansel Robinson, tell a story to a group, and sat in wonder as he told it. His father was an amazing storyteller. He  was also not keen on having his son work on the rails. 

Mansel, the son, also related that his father was a "history freak" adding that "his trick was to send me to the library to find some history books he hadn't read. But he had read everything..." He  also gave credit to his mother, Isabel (Collinson)  for creating his interest in stories, saying, "Even as a kid I could sit and listen to my mother and her friends have a coffee and a chitchat".

However, in his own right, Mansel has achieved great success. His  plays include Bite The Hand, Scorched lce, Street Wheat, Downsizing Democracy, The Heart As It Lived, Collateral Damage and Colonial Tongues. He has won the City of Regina Writing Award, Geist Magazine's Award for Distance Writing and the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild Manuscript Award. 
G Evans, M R Payette, Mansel, Jim Walsh 1982 reunion
Mansel served many years on the Chapleau Board of Education during time of the physical expansion of both Chapleau Public and Chapleau High School to meet the demands of increasing enrolment. He was also active in Branch  Number 5 (Ontario) of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Independent Order of Oddfellows.

Retiring in 1983 from the CPR, Mansel enjoyed spending time at the family's camp at Mulligan's Bay. Mansel died on April 19, 1998.

It has been such a delight to share some of Mansel Robinson's memories from Jennifer's story and also from his son Mansel (Steven) and to Doug Greig for bringing Jennifer's column to my attention.  My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Michael J Morris

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


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