History of the Municipality of St.-Charles
The history of St.-Charles began over a century ago. Over the years, many of the memories have been recorded to allow us to look back at the beginning of this town with great pride.
It all began with the arrival of the first settlers from Quebec and Eastern Ontario in 1890 via the C.P.R. railway. These settlers were attracted by promises of readily available large parcels of good farmland and also the dream of building a sound catholic community where they would be able to raise their families and in the hopes of attaining a prosperous life. Some of the first pioneers to settle in the ‘Grand Brûlé’ were Pierre Savary, Perpétus Lapensée, and Frank Dupuis to name but a few.
As is the case in many small towns, the Catholic religion has always been a very important part of the community. The first two churches were built in the year 1900. In 1904 a third church was built named ‘St.-Charles Borromée’ and is still being used by the community to this day. The structure stands proudly on top of a rock as a very pleasant reminder of the beginning of the town and its religion. Priest Nayl was the first priest to hold a mass at the new church on October 20th, 1905. From then on, the settlers would gather the family, harness their horse and buggy and attend mass Sunday. Not only would they attend mass but they would also listen eagerly to the latest news of the area which was announced by the ‘yeller’ who would be standing on the steps of the church following each service.
In 1899, the first French Catholic Separate School was established on the outskirts of St.-Charles. At this time every part of town was responsible for building a school for their own children to attend. There were many schools in the different regions during this time due to the fact that transportation was difficult especially during the winter months. Another factor was the steadily increasing amount of children, which were coming into the different areas.
Since the beginning of their settlement within the community, the farmers of St.-Charles have been raising animals such as cows, sheep, chickens and horses. During this time the women would take care of the work inside the barn while the men cleared, ploughed and cultivated the fields.
The first tractor to arrive in the area was seen in 1918. In the spring this machinery had to be driven with great care, due to the fact that it had steel wheels and would easily rust. In 1919 the first cultivating machine arrived. It was bought in a group effort by many of the farmers from within the community; this machine went from farm to farm to beat the grain that the farmers would cultivate individually. To begin the development of farms the community would hold what they called a ‘bee’, which was when a group of men from the surrounding areas would gather together to help build new barns and homes and also help in the fields. It was very important for neighbors to work together and help each other during these hard times.
In the winter months, the pioneer farmers would become lumberjacks, cutting wood in the vast neighboring lands. With ropes, pulleys and other primitive tools, they would load their sleighs to their fullest capacity and the horses would proceed on the long haul back to the sawmills. They would use this wood for heating and of course for building. Bringing the wood to the mills was a good source of income for the pioneers during the harsh winter weather. There were many sawmills situated around the area, yet it was a very long haul for those farmers who came from outside of the region. All of the lumber had to be hauled by horses due to the fact that there were no rivers or lakes for log drives in the spring. Some of the first proprietors of local sawmills were Jack Bowers, Frank Dupuis, and Zothique Gauthier. In the later days, Tom Hill was the first to have an actual log drive pass on the West Arm of lake Nippissing. This log drive ran as far as 19 km.
The winter was always a hard time for the pioneers. Therefore, it was very important that they work together in order to survive. Due to the fact that they didn’t have any snow ploughs, during the winter months after every snowfall the people of the community would gather to shovel the main streets of the village.
In 1917 Mr. Jos Desgroseilliers built the first cheese factory of the parish. During this time there were many other cheese factories built, from Eugene Gour’s in Dunnet to Joe Lapointe’s – Maple Leaf – in 1919. All of the cheese deliveries were transported by horse to Warren and were then loaded onto trains to be sold in larger centres. Warren was the central location for the delivery and pick up of goods for the town. In later years the community of St.-Charles saw the construction of many new modernized buildings such as La Caisse Populaire, Canada Post, the Community Centre, the Co-op store (Foodland), the St.-Charles Tavern, the Fire Station, the St.-Charles Arena, the Library and the Medical Centre. All the local sawmills and cheese factories have since been closed and no longer exist in the area. The closet sawmill is situated 20 km away in the Town of Noelville.
Today, agriculture has become a secondary activity for many of the farmers. The close proximity to Sudbury, North Bay, Sturgeon Falls and clear highway driving makes it possible for residents to work in the city while still enjoying the benefits of life in the country. St.-Charles is home to a population of 1,294 with many more spending the summer at one of the many trailer parks, lodges and cottages along the shores of Lake Nepewassi and of course, the ever popular West Arm of Lake Nipissing. The town covers an area of more than 250,000 kilometers, much of which is not yet developed.
The Municipality of St.-Charles has maintained a modest but steady rate of population growth over the years and in fact ranks among one of the few municipalities in Northern Ontario to have experienced a population growth from 1996 to 2001. Perhaps it is the allure of a bilingual (mostly francophone) population (71%). However, it could be the family spirit or perhaps the numerous community services or even the fact that it’s an ideal environment for raising a family.
For whatever reasons, the residents of St.-Charles have always been very proud of it’s history dating back to 1890 and continue to be optimistic about it’s future. The residents of St.-Charles will be forever grateful to those first pioneers who founded their town.