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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Philias (Felix) Fortin family lived in old Canadian Pacific Railway boxcar after arriving in Chapleau in 1909

When Philias (Felix) Fortin and his wife Arthamise, along with their growing family arrived in Chapleau on May 16, 1909, there were few places to rent so their first home was in an old Canadian Pacific Railway boxcar by the river near the old pumphouse.

Writing about her family to mark the centennial of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Parish, their daughter Jeanne (Fortin) Morin said the boxcar had no running water or electricity, but they fixed it up and it became a comfortable place to live until they built a house at 25 Grey St, North a bit later.

Mr. Fortin was born on August 17, 1874 in St, Fabien, Quebec, while Arthamise Courturier, who was to become his wife was born on August 9, 1879.

At an early age Arthamise left home to work in a cotton factory in Fall River, Massachusetts, United States. Mrs. Morin wrote that "Mom and Dad were sweethearts before Mom decided to leave home for the States so he was not going to stay in the province of Quebec without her". He went to the United States and they were married on April 28, 1898.

Several children were born there including Emile (the oldest), Amanda (Mrs. Zenon Rioux), Alfred (Tarzan), Eugene (Froggie), Emma (Mrs. J. E. Michaud). They decided to return to Bic, Quebec where two more children Willie and Rosanna (Mrs. Tom Butler) were born.

As Mr. Fortin could not find steady work they decided to move to Ontario and on May 16,1909, he was hired by the Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge and Building department at Chapleau. Later he became a brakeman.

Mrs. Morin also noted that they wanted their children to be fluent in French and English.
Raymond Morin, Louis Fortin, Marcel Morin are grandchildren

After settling in Chapleau the family continued to grow with the births of Edgar (Mick), Romeo (the cook), Jeanne (Mrs, Tony Morin), Bernadette (Mrs. Dome Brillant), Delia (Mrs. Harvey Fortunato),  Cecile, (Mrs. R. Martin), Lydia and Zita (Mrs. R. Mackay)

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Mr. Fortin was laid off from the CPR, so he decided to go into the cord wood business and his three eldest sons worked with him in the beginning. They built a sawing machine to cut the wood.

"They managed but it was hard work," Mrs. Morin wrote.

"Mother had her share of courage with a big family," Mrs. Morin noted but the older daughters helped. "Mom was a good cook. She kept us clean, healthy and happy even though we did not have money."

Mrs. Fortin died on November 23, 1953, and her husband on July 17, 1956.

We moved to Grey Street in 1945 and the house was heated by a giant wood stove, (or at least it seemed real big to me). My grandmother, Edythe Hunt did the cooking on it, and it was also used to heat the water for washing and baths on a Saturday night.

Each Fall for several years Mr. Fortin and his sons would bring us a load of cordwood that was piled in the backyard, and was about six feet high -- a great place to play with my friends.

Then they would come with the sawing machine and saw it into stove wood lengths, which my grandfather George Hunt and I, often assisted by my mother, Muriel (Hunt) Morris,carried into the "back shed" where it was neatly piled before Winter set in.

In 1961, after my first year at university I was working for the Department of Lands and Forests at Missanabie, and on a Friday it was common to catch a ride on a freight train into Chapleau for the weekend.  On one occasion, Eugene (Froggie) Fortin was the conductor on one, and I approached him and asked if I could get a ride on his train.

He glared at me and sternly said, "Why should I give you a ride on my train?" I turned to leave, but before I could, Mr. Fortin said, "You are Jim Morris' son," and I nodded that I was.

"You can have a ride on my train any time you want," he smiled, and proceeded to tell me a story I have never forgotten.

During the depression, Mr. Fortin had caught a freight out of Chapleau, heading for the Prairies in the hope of finding work helping with the wheat harvest. My father was a CPR Police Officer at Fort William, now Thunder Bay, and part of his job was to remove transients from freight trains. On that day he saw Mr. Fortin who of course he knew, and gave him a one train head start on the others, by removing them and as Mr. Fortin told me, giving him "my private train west."

Chapleau folks cared about and helped each other. 

Doug Greig and the public library are working on a huge project to create a web site with the stories of all Chapleau families, and the life and times of the community since its founding. They invite you to participate by making available photos, stories, etc.about your family. Contact Doug or the library for more information. 

I will continue to remind you in Chapleau Moments and on Michael J Morris Reports  that your family is important to the success of the project. They all add to the Chapleau story and bring back  memories like this one about the Fortin family has done for me. 

I also became friends with grandchildren of Philias and Arthamise Fortin -- and in Chapleau, you never really knew who was related. My cousin Leslie Zufelt married Richard Morin, the son of Jeanne (Fortin) Morin and her husband Tony. My email is mj.morris@live.ca





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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
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