Monday, 6 December 2010

Repealing Rapelje

A little item in the Free Press notes that Rapelje Avenue in St. James will likely be renamed Jack Blick Avenue this week.

Jack Oliver Blick was a Manitoba media pioneer, (he's the J-O-B in CJOB), who is credited with innovations such as FM simulcasts and news-on-the-hour. (More about Blick and CJOB at my This Was Winnipeg post about him).

I am all for remembering our pioneers but, as One Man Committee - not the Free Press, asks: what about Rapelje ?! The name rang a bell for me so I thought I would go back and look him up.

I can't find a direct reference for whom the street was named but it certainly has to be one (or both) Rapelje brothers of Fort William, (now Thunder Bay), Ontario.

Rapelje, Montana (source)

Older brother Jules M. Rapelje led the very first train west from Fort William to Winnipeg, (circa 1882), but soon left the CPR for Montana to work on the Northern Pacific Railroad's Yellowstone Park Line. A smart man, he soon climbed the ladder to be a supervisor, and eventually Vice President, of the NP.

Rapelje, Montana is named for him.

Winnipeg Free Press, Jan. 21, 1925

J.M. died in 1925. A few days later the Free Press interviewed Joseph Fahey, a friend since their CPR days. J.M. returned to Winnipeg every year or two to inspect the NP's Winnipeg properties, which included their repair shop - now the Children's Museum at The Forks, and always visited Fahey.

J.M. was well liked by his men and had a knack for remembering names. Even thirty years later, if he spotted someone who he had worked with he would go over for a chat. Fahey summarized:
"He will be a great loss to the railway and a very heavy loss to the employees of the road".

It does not appear that J.M. ever lived in Winnipeg. His connection to the city would have been driving that first CPR train into the city.

Port Arthur train ca 1886 (source)

The other brother was Charles Park (C.P.) Rapelje (1864 - 1942).

He also worked for the CPR, starting off as a brakeman in 1885. His very first run was the
Fort William to Winnipeg leg of the CPR, the route his brother took and the route that he would work exclusively throughout his career. One exception was his first arrival in Winnipeg. His crew was sent on a special mission - to go west to pick up soldiers returning form the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.

C.P. married Agnes in Fort William in 1890, became a passenger train conducto,r and by 1906 settled in Winnipeg. For a few years 445 Elgin Avenue was the home of C.P., Agnes (b. 1872) and children Muriel (b. 1891), Etta (1895) and John (b. 1897). Newpaper accounts indicate that he lived in Winnipeg up until his retirement.

Manitoba Free Press, June 29, 1928

C.P. retired in 1928 after an amazing 43 year run with the CPR ! He and wife Agnes retired in Winnipeg but wintered in California where their son and daughter Muriel had moved. In 1940 the two celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and relocated to California full time.

On July 11, 1942 Charles Park Rapelje died of a stroke. He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial park, Los Angeles.

(circa 1910, click image for source)

What of Rapleje Avenue, then ? As I mentioned above, I cannot find a direct reference to the naming of the street. The land would have been part of the R.M. of St. James, not the City of Winnipeg, which usually makes it harder to trace street name origins.

The name first appears in a "land for sale" classified in the Winnipeg Free Press on May 20, 1907:

" St. James - ON RICHMOND between Rapelje and Calder,
three hundred feet; want offers BOX 884 Free Press."

The first mention of the street in the Henderson Directory comes in the mid 1940s as a marker for a section of Empress Street. It seems nothing lists a Rapelje Avenue address until Moffat Communications in the late 1970s.

Looking at McPhillips' map of 1910, the major streets in the vicinity don't indicate any local flavour: Richmond, Surrey, Dundas, Empress, St. James. Some of the small cross streets, though, may show a local transportation link.

There is Calder. That could be named for
Alexander Calder, the first merchant on Portage Avenue. After a few years of retailing, in 1883 he went to work for the CPR as one of their first ticket agents. He eventually spun that off into a successful travel agent business.

Griggs - could that be for Alexander Griggs ? He, too, was a transportation pioneer but in the steamship industry. He carried cargo up and down the Red River for the HBC and convinced a couple of partners to introduce steam-powered boats to the route. The group soon had a dozen steamboats that ran from lake Winnipeg down to the Dakotas. Griggs, who captained the S.S. Selkirk for a time, is considered the founding father
Grand Forks, N.D..

Given the 1907 reference, it would likely be J.M. Rapelje that the street was named for. He would certainly fit in with that group.

This again brings up the question that always comes up when a street gets renamed: what's the criteria ?

In this case one of the difficulties with changing a name - appeasing landowners that must change their address - is not an issue as the applicant is the only addressee.

There is a difficulty that didn't exist with recent name changes. This isn't
"Water" or "Arena", this street has already been named for someone. If it can be renamed by because of a request from a new building owner, can others get the same treatment as well ?

A Fleeting Tribute, Indeed - One Man Committee


John Dobbin said...

Good work on this. I had wondered if there was a connection to Montana and alas, there is.

One Man Committee said...

Those are some interesting historical accounts... thanks for looking into this, mr. c.