No.13

Why Live in Chapleau

By George Evans
Index


On a spring day, there is a view from the overpass that takes the breath away. The eye looks eastwards and follows the Kebsquashashing River past the town, into the green wilderness of the Canadian Shield. You know that the water in this river will flow into James Bay. This river was once, in the days of the “gentlemen and traders” of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the only way in and out of this place. It has always been a distant, challenging place.

Over a century ago, the railroad that lies beneath the overpass was built to stitch together sparsely populated pockets of North America that had, for one reason or another, escaped the “Manifest Destiny” of the ambitious Republic to the south. At the place where river and railway intersect, people settled and the place got a name: Chapleau.

After World War II, a forest-based industry established itself on the edge of town. In the 50s and 60s, highways were built. Thanks to these latter, tourists can now drive to Chapleau and the people of Chapleau can shop in Timmins, Sudbury, and Sault Ste-Marie.

Through decades of change, Chapleau has endowed itself with an admirable collection of public assets. These include three elementary schools (English Public, English Catholic, French Catholic), two high schools (English Public and French Catholic), a Recreation Centre (with arena, curling club and community hall), a General Hospital with attached Extended Care wing, a vigorous volunteer fire department, and an excellent Public Library. At the most essential level, the town has an up-to-date water purification plant and sewage treatment system.

But, seriously, why live in Chapleau? Let’s return to the view from the overpass. To its permanent residents and to visitors, a major attraction of Chapleau is its immediate access to the pre-Cambrian wilderness of boulders, lakes, forests, and a huge Game Reserve. Even in the town the call of the loon is heard and occasionally an unwelcome black bear ambles through backyards. Summer smog-alerts are not announced in these parts: the air is always breathable. Even in deepest winter, skis, snowshoes, and, most recently, snow-mobiles, make the wilderness a handy playground.

More than the natural beauty that laps at its edges, Chapleau’s underlying sense of community attracts and holds the affection of its citizens. Though much less isolated than once it was, the town is still a town of very self-reliant people who care about each other.

Volunteers emerge from Chapleau’s small population to keep hockey, figure-skating, curling, and a ski-hill operating in the winter months. Volunteers put on an arts and crafts show in the fall, a carnival in winter, a sport and trade show in the spring, and a celebration of July1. Each of these offers an occasion for the whole community to come together.

On the night of June 20-21, 2008, Chapleau held its first Relay for Life. This was the most recent and most spectacular instance of the town rallying around to be together and to do things together. Volunteers organized the complex event on the grounds of Chapleau High School. Toddlers to seniors came out in hundreds to remember victims of cancer and to celebrate survivors. Over $30,000 --an astonishing $10 plus for every man woman, child, and dog in Chapleau—was raised in that one night for the Canadian Cancer Society.

It is good to live on the solid granite base of the Canadian Shield among the lakes and forests and it is the people of Chapleau who make it so.

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