The Brownlee Memorial Chapel was erected in the Chapleau Municipal Cemetery in 1936 by Richard Brownlee in memory of his first wife Ellen.
Mr. Brownlee had arrived in Chapleau in 1885, and established a barber shop. In 1887, he married and he brought his wife Ellen to Chapleau. She was one of the few women there at the time. Both were 19. Mrs. Brownlee died in 1936, and in 1938 he married Marie Jeanne Leclerc.
In the Brownlee papers which have been kindly loaned to me by Margaret Rose and Bobby Fortin, Mr. Brownlee, in his own handwriting explains why he had the chapel built in memory of his wife..
"This building was erected in memory of the one who was so loving, loyal and congenial; a companion all our married life of forty-nine years. To her kind and intelligent sympathy in my work and welfare, I owe a debt which can only be acknowledged but never adequately repaid. R.B."
Following his wife's death, Mr. Brownlee applied to the municipal cemetery board to build the chapel, and T.R. Serre, the township clerk and treasurer, also secretary-treasurer of the board replied on August 25, 1936.
The letter read in part that the board authorized him to proceed with the building of the vault in the centre of the roadway... according to the plan submitted.
The Chapleau Post reported that the building would be about 14 feet by 18 feet. The basement would accommodate 10 caskets equipped with one of the "latest models of lowering devices for lowering the caskets into the basement.
"The main part of the building will be a chapel with an altar in the centre and a vestment room on the side." There would also be a furnace.
The architect was W.C Sylvester and the contractor Albert Tubbe, both of Ottawa.
On November 11, 1936, Mr. Brownlee, in a letter to the cemetery board reported that the project had been completed. "I now formally turn it over to you to be held in perpetuity by you and your successors in office as a gift from me to the Citizens of Chapleau."
He attached two conditions:
"First that it shall be known as the 'Brownlee Memorial Chapel', and
"Second that you and your successors in office shall always permit the use of the Chapel by all persons, regardless of Race, Religion or Creed, who may desire to be buried in the Chapleau Municipal Cemetery."
His letter added: "I trust that these simple conditions will always be fulfilled, and that the Chapel will prove to be a benefit to the community in which I have lived so long, and a fitting Memorial to my dear Wife in whose memory it has been erected."
In replying to Mr Brownlee in a letter dated November 14, 1936, Reeve Frank Edwards, also chair of the cemetery board wrote.in part "... I wish to convey.. warmest thanks and deep appreciation of your munificent gift of the Brownlee Memorial Chapel.Such a gift is and always will be a visible token of the great regard which you and your wife had for the community in which you resided so long and where you were so greatly esteemed."
Reeve Edwards added that the municipal cemetery board "unhesitatingly accepts the conditions of your gift as outlined in your letter and will loyally and gratefully observe them".
Perhaps the Chapleau Post summed up Mr. Brownlee best in a comment on his service to Chapleau. "If a man be judged by the extent of the service he renders then Mr. Brownlee deserves special commendation, for during his half century of residence in Chapleau he has always shown keen interest in the welfare of the community and by his enthusiastic and optimistic endeavour he has helped bring success to every undertaking and has promoted a spirit of good fellowship among the citizens."
On a very personal note, Mr. Brownlee also took time for a little boy who would wander over the Brownlee Block on Main Street to chat with the men who would gather in front of the barber shop. My father Jim Morris had been killed on active service in the RCAF in World War II, and of course Mr. Brownlee was aware of it. Mr. and Mrs. Brownlee (his second wife) would take me for rides in their car --- what a thrill as there were few cars in Chapleau circa 1945. He became my good friend.
Richard Brownlee died on August 6, 1951, and is buried in the Chapleau Municipal Cemetery. My email is email@example.com