Why I Wrote Chapleau: Retrospective on Life in an Isolated Northern Community

by Bill McLeod

When I completed the book on the Klapouschak murder I thought I had pretty well exhausted my store of Chapleau material. But that turned out not to be the case.

After the Game Preserve book was published I reconnected with Ian Macdonald. Ian had spent many of his growing up years in Chapleau. He was a couple of years ahead of me in high school. I knew him reasonably well in those years but did not realize that he had become an architect and ended up as the Head of the School of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. Ian retired in 2005.

In one of our e-mails Ian told me that if I ever wrote another book about Chapleau he would like to contribute a chapter on the architecture of the town.

I filed Ian's request away and when it looked like I would produce one more Chapleau book I invited him to write that story about Chapleau's architecture. When he was finished Ian's piece was simply magnificent. It is a document for the ages. Michael Morris, Harry Pellow and Earl Freeborn all contributed. Michael was the Reeve of Chapleau in the 1970s when Harry Pellow an architect and Chapleau native was designing and building a number of stunning new buildings in Chapleau including a new high school, hospital, municipal building, recreation centre and senior citizen housing complex. Earl Freeborn was the Reeve of Chapleau for many years until his retirement at the end of 2010. Among other things, Ian wrote about the Y.M.C.A., the churches, schools, railroad buildings, personal residences, Hudson's Bay structures, the Chapleau Legion Hall and the Post Office which has become a Federal Heritage Building. Ian included numerous photographs and drawings, some of which he created himself.

For two reasons I wrote up sixteen anecdotes about Chapleau, some of its interesting characters and a little of its history. My first reason was the reaction to a series of similar anecdotes I included in the Game Preserve book -- people simply enjoyed them. The second reason was to write about things light, humorous and whimsical to offset some of the tough chapters on the schools, churches and the Masonic Lodge that were not very funny at all.

With an eye to my legacy and as a gift to future Chapleau researchers and writers I cobbled together twenty reviews of books written about Chapleau and Northern Ontario. For a small town there certainly has been a lot written about it over the years.

When I was growing up curling was a big part of my life and also the lives of my father and grandfather. There was more than enough material on the old natural ice rink, the game as it was played and many of the characters who played it. I decided the permanent public record should contain some of that material.

I finally decided to write about some matters that had been troubling me for many years. Growing up in Chapleau wasn't always easy. Although there were a few good teachers in the public and high schools, many were incompetent, more than a few were sadistic monsters and some were more than a few fries short of a Happy Meal. The operative word for education in Chapleau was survival and that's what a lot of us did -- in spite of very long odds.

The Anglican Church, which, as a child, I had no choice but to attend, was another unhappy place. The Bishops had a habit of sending their problem priests to Chapleau. The final episode that convinced me to write about St. John's Anglican Church was the conviction of the Rev. Kenneth Gibbs for sexual offenses against young children while he ministered in Chapleau from 1966 to 1971. I expected a barrage of criticism about the chapter on St. John's but none materialized.

Since about 1920 there had been stories about Roman Catholic priests abusing young boys in Chapleau. Digging into the matter I was able to identify five priests who were pedophiles. Two were convicted and jailed. Two were run out of town and one was never prosecuted.. I thought the matter should be put on the public record and so I went ahead and did that. Again, no bad feedback.

In the Spring 2010 Edition of the Journal Canadian History a man named David Calverly trashed the creation of the Chapleau Game Preserve. His piece was riddled with errors and I decided to set the record straight in a rebuttal to Calverly's rather irresponsible article.

All in all, the three books were great fun to research and write and I am so glad I took on and completed the projects.

One very unexpected benefit to me personally was re-connecting with dozens of people with whom I attended public and high school. On top of that nearly fifty men and women who were taught by my mother in Grade One in Chapleau in the 1930s came forward and wrote, phoned or e-mailed.

As they say, "It sure was a slice!"

Why I wrote The Chapleau Game Preserve

Why I wrote Murder in the Schoolhouse