Mr. Pearson, who also served as Member of Parliament for Algoma East which included Chapleau, wrote in the telegram to Mrs. Mary Bowes, acting chief operator, "I shared in the relief I know all of you must have felt when the winds shifted and the rains finally came averting the destruction of Chapleau.
"May I congratulate you personally and the members of your staff for your coolness and bravery.
"You have every reason to be proud of your role in a situation which proved the fortitude of the citizens of Chapleau."
While many Chapleau citizens were being evacuated, the telephone operators remained and were working 24/7 handling a record number of calls on the system which had been in use since 1951 when operator assisted calls replaced the dial system.
The Chapleau Sentinel reported that the telephone operators were "unsung heroes" throughout the fire that ravaged the area and seriously threatened the town.
|Operators busy during fire|
In turns they "took an hour off here and an hour off there and grabbed something to eat whenever they could" and then rushed back to work.
Mrs. Bowes, who was replacing chief operator Mrs Myrtle Delaney who happened to be out of town on business commented that the operators "seemed to realize there was a crisis and it must be met".
The newspaper reported statistics for the weekend showing that ordinarily the system would handle about 3000 local calls --- they rose to a "staggering 32159" within the community.
Outgoing long distance calls would usually be less than 500 on a weekend but rose to 3695 with almost the same number incoming during the forest fire threat.
However, the days of the operator assisted system were numbered as construction was being completed on a new facility at the corner of Pine and Young streets and the community would be returning to a dial system, although long distance operators would still be on duty. The operators worked out of a building on Pine Street at one time the Orange Hall and later the by-law office.
|Marcel Bourgeault on left Bonnie (Babin) Desbois shows new equipment|
After midnight on December 4, 1965 a switch was thrown and the new system went into effect.
At the official opening Councillor Marcel Bourgeault, the acting reeve, brought greetings and extended congratulations to Bell on the new system and facility.
I have been receiving messages since my column last week from folks sharing their telephone numbers, and from operators and family members who worked in Chapleau during the 1950s and 1960s. Thank you all so much.
The telegram from Prime Minister Pearson pointed out the importance of the telephone operators during a major crisis in Chapleau. In fact, on a personal basis, their efforts to keep lines of communication open, affected me too. I was working as a newspaper reporter In Toronto, but my mother Muriel E (Hunt) Morris and my grandmothers Edythe Hunt and Lil Morris were in Chapleau. I was able to get through to Mom, and even though they did not evacuate, I was able to stay in touch by phone.
All these years later, I am able to share the story of the "unsung heroes" -- the telephone operators in Chapleau! HAPPY EASTER TO ALL!! My email is email@example.com