EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Chapleau Fire Brigade officially founded in 1910 providing excellent service for over 100 years

Fire Chiefs Ad Andrews, George Collinson, D.O. Payette
Officially the Chapleau Fire Brigade came into being on May 25, 1910, as the community's water works system was being installed, but "quite primitive" fire protection had been provided from the earliest days following the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885.

In a report written when he retired as fire chief in 1946, D.O. Payette noted that prior to 1910, fire fighting equipment was "quite primitive and consisted of two hand reels of two and a half inch hose, 500 feet on each reel."

It was first  housed in a small shed in the vicinity of Birch and Young streets, and when a fire occurred water was pumped from a well below the building -- with four men at a time pumping, much like on a hand car on the railway.

However, in 1910, 43 hydrants and 10 alarm boxes were installed in conjunction with the installation of the water works system. and the fire brigade was established, complete with a constitution and bylaws. 

They obtained more equipment but it had to be hauled by hand or behind a horse and wagon -- the first person to arrive with a horse received $4.00 and the second $2.00.

Then a fire hall was built at Pine and Lorne streets with a hose drying tower, equipment storage on the first floor and club room on second, with a bedroom where two firefighters slept. There was a hole in the floor with a pipe to slide down. In the basement was the town jail.

J. B. Dexter was the first fire chief, and the brigade had 20 members. Other officers included: T.J. Godfrey, captain; G.J. Collinson, first lieutenant, and Mr. Payette, captain hook and ladder.

Mr. Payette noted that the first fire after the brigade was established was at a bakery near Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church. he added that it was a "spectacular fire" and although it was about three a.m,, "most of the town was up to watch it,"

Apparently there had been significant opposition to the waterworks project in the community and G.B. Nicholson, Chapleau's first and only reeve since the community was incorporated in 1901 was on the scene. 

The fire department got the blaze under control quickly which prompted Mr. Nicholson to comment to the crowd on hand: "What's the matter with the waterworks now?"  The reeve was very happy.

By 1916, the fire brigade had its first truck which immensely helped. 

Regular practices were undertaken for the firefighters who received $4.00 per call if the water was turned on and $2.00 otherwise. In later years this was changed to a point system.

It was difficult to get firefighters to sleep at the fire hall so the upper floor was turned into an apartment and the town clerk also became the fire truck driver. T.R. Serre was the first to live there and Vern Goldstein the second.

An auxiliary brigade was formed with Chapleau High School boys who undertook regular training, and later many became regular fire brigade members.

Mr. Dexter, who was also town foreman, retired as chief in 1934, and was succeeded by Mr. Payette. As an aside, Mr. Dexter was one of Chapleau's well beloved citizens, arriving in 1885, and contributing greatly to the development of the community. 

He was instrumental in the founding of the first town band and served on council from 1901 to 1912. He died in 1936, and is buried in the old Protestant cemetery on Birch Street,

In 1943, the new fire truck was purchased, and about 1960 (I think) was given to Chapleau Hydro.

Fire prevention activities became an important part of the brigade's activities and a highlight in its history came in 1942 when it won second prize for its program for municipalities under 5000 population in Ontario. Mr. Payette. modest as always, wrote that it received many "honourable mentions" over the years.

When Mr. Payette retired as fire chief in 1946, after serving on the department since it was established, he received a letter of thanks signed by Reeve Frank Edwards, members of council, and firefiighters.

It read in part: "Whether night or day you answered the call so that you might not only be  a good fireman but help to save lives and property of others..." 

He was succeeded by Mr. Collinson, who was also a member of the first brigade. When Mr. Collinson retired in 1958, Mr. Payette was present and paid tribute to his successor who had also been a member since 1910  but with a break during World War I when he was overseas in the Canadian armed forces.

Adam Andrews succeeded Mr. Collinson as fire chief. Other chiefs included Conrad Tremblay, Pete Barbour, Harold Casson, Dan Lemieux, Ron Fortier, Ken Groves, and Graham Bertrand, from 2005 to the present.

I have only scratched the surface of the outstanding contribution made to Chapleau by the fire brigade from its earliest years until today providing excellent fire protection, as well as being involved in fire prevention activities.  A more complete history can be found on the Chapleau Public Library web site, compiled by Doug Greig. 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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