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.
What about the period before the town’s development? 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 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. The original route of the Canadian northern was across the rapids at Green’s Lake, through the virgin forest, then recrossed the Vermillion River (where the dam now stands), and continued westward.
The “old road” was under construction in 1906. After its completion, it continued to be used until 1915. The section on the other side of the river was known as the “old subdiversion.” During the time that this was in operation, a small station named “Orefield” (because of the finding of ore near the Iron Bridge and the field-like area nearby) was built in the vicinity where the present track meets the old roadbed. It served the needs of the settlers and prospectors who came to this location. With the passing of time it was found that it would be practical to have a branch-line connecting North Bay with this railroad. This necessitated bringing the main line on this side of the river in 1911.
The building of the new roadbed from the “Gravel Pit” to the Iron Bridge was a great undertaking requiring considerable cutting, filling and levelling. The area where the station and the yard now stands was then a wide ravine. It had to be filled in with gravel which was procured from the gravel pit near the Suez. The size of this undertaking can be realized from the fact that over 5,000 men were employed for it.
In 1911, Frank Dennie, John Owens, George Owens and Fred Ranger cleared five acres of land. Messrs. DeMorest and Stull surveyed the land. Cyril T. Young, superintendent of Resources and Development for CNR, managed the sale of lots. The CNR moved its tracks from the west to the east bank of the Vermillion River between 1914 and 1915 in readiness for the east-west link which made it possible to travel east to North Bay. The station was relocated. The roundhouse was built in 1915. That same year, the first CNR superintendent appointed was William R. Kelly.
The east line was under construction in 1914. The coming of the war hurried its completion so that troop and supplies could get through. The west line was in operation during the latter part of 1915. The first grain from the west went through that year.
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 Dennies were no the sort to sit down and enjoy the proceeds of their work. In 1914, Frank Dennie sold his hotel in Hanmer to work as a surveyor in the timber division of the Department of Lands and Forests as it was then known.
Many years ago, when there was talk that the CN might move the shops, Frank Dennie produced certain documents pertaining to the agreement that he and the CN had made. The idea was dropped. Several streets in town will forever honour this man and his family. Some of the names are – Dennie Street, James Street, Lloyd Street, Clyde Street, Glenn Street, Epiphany Street, Randolph Street and Frank Street.
Before Capreol was incorporated as a town in 1918, it was operated as a School Section. Joseph Cather was the Secretary. The school was a boxcar. Irene Vansyckle was the teacher. Quite frequently when the pupils went to school in the mornings, they would have to scout the yard as the car was often moved during the night. In 1915, a school was built in the vicinity of the Baptist Church. Helen Casselman was the sole teacher.
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. Through the successive years, a number of municipal bodies have been elected by the people, and all have applied themselves wholeheartedly to the task of making Capreol a modern town with all the latest improvements for the convenience of the citizens.
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.
One of the chief aims of the citizens had been to create a religious life in the community. Four churches were established to minister to the religious needs of the people. The Trinity United Church had Reverend Edgar Frank as minister. Reverend W.H. Moore was minister of the Baptist Church. St. Alban’s Anglican Church had Reverend Edward James G. Tucker as their minister. Father Fred J. Williams was parish priest of the Roman Catholic Church. This allowed the citizens to worship in the faith of their fathers. The various church organizations assisted in the work of the parishes. CLICK HERE to view additional historic pictures of Capreol and the region.
- Article from the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum & Heritage Centre