“This is a wonderful journey into the history of railroading”
Northern Ontario is rich with history
School on Wheels
The school on wheels began as an experiment, a joint venture between the Department of Education and the railway in 1926. Both CN and CP co-operated with this venture and there were a number of routes throughout Northern Ontario, each one having about six one-week stops at each designated siding. The children of that area would attend school for 3 to 6 days. They would be given enough studies to last until the school car returned the following month.
They travelled by foot and by canoe and on skis and snowshoes. The people of the north loved the school car. They were eager for their children to learn.
Fred Sloman was the teacher on the school car that ran from Capreol to Foleyet making two other stops along the way at Westree and Tionaga. After returning from the war he became a teacher and eventually taught in a small school in northern Ontario.
He then served on the school car for 40 years during which time he and his wife Cela raised 5 children. The Sloman’s dedication to the people far exceeded that of being just teachers, they became part of each settlement and friends to hundreds of people.
They welcomed the people into their home on wheels and often provided free meals and medical care, as well as the only source of entertainment around often in the form of a bingo. Mrs. Sloman helped the women by writing letters and sending orders to Eatons and Simpsons. She taught sewing and dressmaking and talked to them about hygiene and childcare. The Slomans became explainers and interpreters of the Canadian way of life.
The school car education came to an end in 1967. Fred Sloman’s car was found years later in a Mississauga, Ontario rail yard, burned out and terribly vandalized with a tree protruding through the roof. It has since been restored and is now on display in Clinton, Ontario.
The Town of Sellwood
Sellwood’s history begins in the early 1890s and the discovery of iron ore at Moose Mountain. The Moose Mountain Mining Company was established by 1901 work began to establish the mine and town site. The mine opened in 1906 and by 1908, 300 men were employed. Like most mines, there were numerous ups and downs, however by 1916 the mine was employing over 600 men. Additional work could be found at the Warren Lumber Company, which opened a sawmill around 1910
The town became the northern terminal of the Canadian Northern Railway by 1908 and two trains serviced Sellwood daily. There was a roundhouse for the steam locomotives, a railway station and waiting room. The town also had eight stores, two bake shops, four poolrooms, a bowling alley, two hotels, three boarding houses, two restaurants and a Chinese laundry. A two-room school was built which also served as a place of worship. The Warren Lumber Company was also active in the town.
By 1915, the closure of the mine was imminent. A briquette plant had been built at great cost at a time when the market for low-grade ore was in a slump. When word came that the mine had closed, all the single men left the next day. Families soon followed leaving behind their homes, and in some cases, many of their belongings assuming the mine would re-open.
Two company men were hired to guard against vandalism where they remained until the late 1950s. Eventually the houses were bulldozed and all that remains are several small grave sites.
In 1959, the mine was reopened as Lowphos Ore Ltd. and the mine was renamed Moose Mountain Mine. The iron was removed by open pit method rather than by tunneling and sunken shafts. The company later changed its name to National Steel, and in 1979 the mine closed due to the declining demand for iron ore. Approximately 170 workers who lived in Capreol were affected by the closure.
Today the site is off-limits and closed to the public. An interesting geological note is that Moose Mountain is outside the Sudbury Basin in a totally unrelated geological formation.
The City of Sudbury
Like Capreol, Sudbury’s early beginnings are also linked to the coming of the railway. Hired by the Canadian Pacific Railway, William Allan Ramsey was tasked with mapping out a more suitable route for the railway through northern Ontario in the early 1880s. Canadian Pacific had originally surveyed the railway line to run along the southern shore of Lake Ramsey but during an expedition, Ramsey and his crew got lost as a result of heavy fog which resulted in a new survey route to the north, where the present day tracks lie, parallel to Howey Drive. As a result of the experience, Rasmey thought it fitting to designate the body of water as Lost Lake. Ramsey’s new survey, however, was well received by his superiors and proved to be a more efficient route for a railway line through Sudbury. Acknowledging his efforts, the lake was renamed in Ramsey’s honour.
During construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883, blasting and excavation revealed high concentrations of nickel–copper ore at Murray Mine on the edge of the Sudbury Basin. This discovery brought the first waves of European settlers, who arrived not only to reap the benefits of the mines, but also to build a service station for railway workers.
Mining began to replace lumber as the primary industry as improvements to the area’s transportation network, including trams, made it possible for workers to live in one community and work in another. Sudbury’s economy was dominated by the mining industry for much of the 20th century. Two major mining companies were created: Inco in 1902 and Falconbridge in 1928. They became two of the city’s major employers and two of the world’s leading producers of nickel.
Through the decades that followed, Sudbury’s economy went through boom and bust cycles as world demand for nickel fluctuated. Demand was high during the First World War when Sudbury-mined nickel was used extensively in the manufacturing of artillery in Sheffield, England. It bottomed out when the war ended and then rose again in the mid-1920s as peacetime uses for nickel began to develop. The town was reincorporated as a city in 1930. The city recovered from the Great Depression faster than almost any other city in North America due to increasing demand for nickel in the 1930s making it one of the wealthiest cities in Canada for most of the decade. Many of the city’s social problems in the Great Depression era were not caused by unemployment or poverty, but due to the difficulty in keeping up with all of the new infrastructure demands created by rapid growth. Another economic slowdown affected the city in 1937, but the city’s fortunes rose again during the Second World War. After the end of the war, Sudbury was in a good position to supply nickel to the United States government when it decided to stockpile non-Soviet supplies during the Cold War.
The city of Sudbury and its suburban communities, which were reorganized into the Regional Municipality of Sudbury in 1973, was subsequently merged in 2001 into the single-tier city of Greater Sudbury.
The Town of Milnet
Milnet, located seven miles north of Capreol, was first established as a watering stop for the Canadian Northern Railway. The arrival of the railway led to the development of the lumber industry and a sawmill was constructed and operated by Marshay Lumber. A post office was also established. At its height, Milnet was home to roughly 200 residents.
The mill had its own small yard engine which transferred loaded lumber to the mainline for shipment. The mill remained operational until the 1930s. The lumber industry was hit hard by the depression and most of the workers lost their jobs. The mill mysteriously burned down in 1933.
The Town of Capreol
At one time, the town of Capreol was only a mile-post on the Canadian Northern Railway Line, but in the minds of its founders, all of the necessary ingredients were present to make a prosperous town. The history of Capreol is deeply interwoven with the history of the railroad. The Canadian Northern Railway had pushed north through this area by 1908, but in 1915 the track was moved from the west to the east bank of the Vermillion River in Capreol. The town was created as a result of the formation of a divisional point.
The town-site was situated in a valley along the Vermillion River. Capreol was surrounded by the rugged and rounded rocks of the Laurentian Highlands. It was believed that this valley had once been a glacial lake. Evidence of the action of the glacier was clearly seen on some of the hills and by the gravely nature of the soil of the town.
As the ice age receded, vegetation developed in the region producing large areas of pine and other trees. Many of Canada’s First Nations peoples travelled and lived throughout this section of the country. With the arrival of Europeans traders, most of whom were in search of furs, numerous Trading Posts were established. A Trading Post was erected on the shore of Lake Wanapitae, about eight miles from Capreol. It was to this trading post that local First Nation groups took their furs. It has been reported that the body of water that is now known as Green’s Lake was named Onwatin. The site on which Capreol now stands was once called Onwatin Junction.
The first record of white settlers detailed the arrival of Frank Dennie. Dennie, proprietor of the Hanmer Hotel, learned of the possibility of a railroad line being built from Montreal joining the line from Torontosomewhere near Hanmer. After learning from a survey engineer that the junction was to be at a “Location Post,” Dennie spent days investigating the area where he eventually found the location of that post. He wasted little time in securing the land from Pierre Poitras. The land was in the immediate vicinity of the Township of Capreol He obtained his patent for the land the following summer. Dennie erected the first building of pine logs about 50 feet from the river, near the current site of the Capreol Foodland parking lot.
Soon after, a meeting was held between Frank Dennie and Sir Donald Mann of the Canadian Northern Railway. Dennie agreed to give the CN the land that they needed, in turn, CN promised to make Capreol a permanent divisional point with shops, a roundhouse and other railway buildings. Several of the streets in Capreol are still named for Dennie and his sons.
When the Canadian Northern Railway decided to provide a transcontinental service, they needed a divisional point every 125 miles. The Capreol Township was the nearest and most suitable centre. Therefore, a station, a roundhouse containing eight pits, car shops and a yard suitable for service were built. The contractors for the roundhouse were Mr. Foley and Mr. King.
Under the supervision of Otto Redfern, the surveyors for the Canadian Northern mapped the route for the railway as far as Gogama in 1902.
In July 1915, Capreol became a divisional point when the first train, operated by a crew from the town, left Sudbury and travelled to Foleyet which was the end of the line at that time. The crew consisted of William Metcalfe, engineer, Paul Gaurrau, fireman, Thomas A. Anderson, conductor, B.J. Barstead, brakeman, and Ernie J. Durand, brakeman.
The inauguration, as a town, took place in 1918, with a population of five hundred people. The following were the first town fathers: Dr. N.F. Shaw (also the first doctor); Councillors James Anderson, William Griffith, Angus O’Connor and James Willard. The town was named after Frederick Chase Capreol, the original promoter of the Canadian Northern Railway.
The tremendous growth of the town necessitated local improvements. In 1920, there were town and one half miles of hydro electric distribution systems installed. In that year, the first sidewalks were laid. This consisted of one and one half miles of cement walks.
In 1928 and 1929, the water works and the sewer system were the next improvements. The sinking of two wells and the installation of pumps had certainly placed this town among the most modern in Northern Ontario. A new Town Hall was built in 1929. It housed the town office, fire station, council chambers, the office of the chief of police and the jail. The opening of the town hall was attended by such notable figures from the district as The Honourable Charles McCrea M.P. (Minister of Mines), Cyril T. Young and representatives of the towns in the district. With one accord, they commended Capreol on is modernity and progressiveness.
In 1973, the boundaries of the town were expanded to include the nearby villages of Milnet and Sellwood.
In 2001, the town of Capreol amalgamated to form what is now the Greater City of Sudbury and is located in Ward 7. The community continues to be a vital divisional point on the Canadian National mainline.