EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Draining fine Scotch whisky from keg in boxcar provided booze for Chapleau party

My grandfather George Hunt had store here
Chapleau was a "human anthill, a brushed out speck in hundreds of square miles of threatening northern forest" as the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in 1885, according to Jim Poling Sr in his fascinating book, 'Waking Nanabijou: Uncovering a Secret Past'.

I came across an excerpt from Mr. Poling's book while researching another subject, and it looks like a great read.

Mr. Poling, an author of several books worked as a journalist with the Canadian Press for many years.

In 1885 he notes that Chapleau "offered little in terms of natural beauty, plopped down on the lowlands beside the slow moving Chapleau river surrounded by swamp and tracts of funereal black spruce and emaciated jackpine."

He contends that the "town went up in too much of a hurry to allow for anything beautiful in planning or significant architecture adding that most houses were "wood frame two storey boxes the shape of the hotels in a Monopoly game".

"Buildings usually were clad in clapboard because sawn lumber from the bush was more readily available than manufactured brick." Zap, but true in Chapleau's early days.

He refers to Chapleau in its earliest years as a "bleak place" aside from railroading "especially during the long winters of snowdrifts, icy winds and freezing temperatures that could kill anyone without heated shelter".

By this point, in the excerpt, I was not too sure I liked Mr. Poling's description of Chapleau, but continued anyway.

Moving to early Chapleau families - LaFrance, Tremblay, Burns and Aquin specifically, - he became kinder and writes about the importance of family and church.

He notes that many families, French and English, were Roman Catholic and they "built themselves what probably was the finest building in town", Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church.

At this point I stopped reading and went to the public library web site, originally founded by Hugh Kuttner, which remains an incredible research tool. After looking at the church built in 1891 and other buildings from early years, I agreed with Mr. Poling.

For many citizens, the church was the "main entertainment place" adding that it was bicultural and bilingual "right down to the stained glass Sacristy windows -- St. Patrick on one side and St. Jean-Baptiste on the other

I did not know that one, and smiled to myself, thinking about all  my Irish and French Roman Catholic friends.

Mr. Poling notes that in 1911 a "young, energetic and personable priest" Father Romeo Gascon arrived who quickly became involved in many aspects of community life  --- for example, in 1916, my grandfather Harry Morris played on a baseball team called the Young Elephants, coached by Father Gascon. Grandpa was Irish for sure, but an Anglican!

I will leave you with one anecdote that likely involved the LaFrance, Tremblay, Burns and Aquin families who became close friends, and in fact, there were some marriages between the families.

Mr. Poling writes that "booze, not often openly used in conservative families made an occasional appearance.

"One memorable appearance was during Christmas holidays when family celebrations broke out all over town. These people then tied to the railway knew all the train schedules down to the minute and the contents of every car.

"One night, one of the Tremblay boys, who had married into the LaFrance family led a party to the tracks with a brace and bit and several buckets.

"It was a bitter night with the white of one's breath barely visible in the fog of blowing snow. One of the boxcars contained a shipment of fine Scotch whisky that was headed west.

"They drilled through the boxcar's wooden floor into an oak keg and caught the whisky in pails as it drained through the hole."

'Waking Nanabijou: Uncovering a Secret Past' by Jim Poling Sr. is available at www.amazon.ca My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Monday, October 13, 2014

FMCC Holds Thanksgiving Breakfast on a Ranch in the Mountains

Joel, MJM, Brian, Ron, Mark, Jim with Gordon, Bill seated
The Friday Morning Coffee Club, aka FMCC, launched Thanksgiving weekend with Breakfast on a Ranch in the Mountains, a huge change from its usual meeting place at Starbucks in the Cranbrook Target store.

Organized by Jim Roberts and Mark Spence-Vinge, with Joel Vinge and Bill Nightingale as the chauffeurs, off we went to the Fort Steele area where Jim lives. Others along for the special occasion were Brian Passey, Ron Mcfarland, Gordon Ingalls and of course me.

On a bright sunny clear Fall day, it was the ideal place to spend a morning with good friends, and has left me listening to and humming  "Climb Every Mountain" made famous by Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" by Rodgers and Hammerstein ever since.
Jim Roberts

When I arrived in Cranbrook for the first time in 1988 to look around, on the first morning I was here, I looked at those very same mountains, and said to myself, "I think I would like to live here," Just over 25 years later, I am still here, and have always lived where I could see "my mountains".

This time, as Joel pointed out, we were looking from the "other side" from Cranbrook and what a spectacular, humbling experience it was. No wonder I stayed here.

After enjoying a mountain breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages, toast and coffee prepared by Jim with Mark as "overseer", we went up to a higher level from where we were and looked far and away at "the back" of Fisher Peak and the Steeples.
Justin (Jim's nephew and assistant)

Joel, Brian, Justin and I walked up while Jim drove Bill, Mark, Ron, and Gordon in an ATV.

Then, because of my bragging about the two times in my life when I was on a horse, it was time to visit the corral to meet Winston. Justin looked after the visit. To be honest Winston did not like me very much -- for some reason, horses, (ponies) don't, although Cinammon, one of the ranch dogs became my instant buddy.  However, for the historical record, Joel did manage to get a photo of me with Winston. Joel was official photographer.

What a wonderful place to spend some moments with good friends, for some laughter, good food, fellowship and spectacular scenery. Thanks so much guys and here are some familiar words from "Climb Every Mountain".

"Climb every mountain,
Search high and low,
Follow every byway,
Every path you know.

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
'Till you find your dream."

May all climb their mountain and find their dream!  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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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE