Municipality of East Ferris
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The Community of Corbeil

Dan Corbeil has generously contributed the following historical account of the town of Corbeil.

The History of the Town of Corbeil As It Was Told To Me

By Dan Corbeil

The name is pronounced CORBAYE, however, most people pronounce it as CORBEEL.

My Grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Corbeil was born in 1845.  In 1888, he along with three brothers, Joseph, Felix  and Ferdinand left the area of Orleans near Ottawa seeking new opportunities to earn their living. They were heading for Dane, Ontario - a small community near Kirkland Lake.

Loading their equipment, their tools, their personal belongings and their families in a boxcar on the Canadian Pacific Railway, they headed west towards North Bay, on route to Dane in Northern Ontario. It's not clear why they chose Dane. Perhaps because someone had told them that the timber was plentiful in the area. We don't know, their reasons are a mystery today.

As fate would have it, the train broke down in a remote area about ten miles east of North Bay, known by the name of Grit. Grit was the name of the Station Agent or Postmasters wife, (Marguerite) although the name Grit was not official, all mail was sent to "Grit" Ontario. It took several days to get the necessary parts to repair the train and during this time they walked around. The brothers saw what seemed to be a good stand of timber. (Actually, records show that they were in the middle of a thriving red and white pine forest.) My Grandfather, Jean-Baptiste, decided that he would stay.

When the train finally left, one brother headed for Western Canada, the other to the Abitibi area of Northwestern Quebec and Joseph went to the United States. One source says he went to Bay City, Michigan. Another claims he went to Seattle or Tacoma, Washington, where his knowledge in the lumber industry and being a good carpenter enabled him to get good work at good pay.

Jean-Baptiste settled on a piece of land, which is now Reg Gravelle's farm on Highway #94. He set up his sawmill by the railway tracks and went to work. I believe the plan was to cut and saw enough lumber to build his own home with what they could harvest from the land.Then one day the railway started buying the slab as fuel for their steam engines. Slab is the outside of the log when they square the log to cut boards. This was a good business, provided a good income but the work was too much for Jean-Baptiste alone. So, he wrote his brother Joseph explaining the situation saying that he needed help. With Joseph's business knowledg and perhaps some cash, they could build a larger sawmill and earn a good living. When Joseph received the letter postmarked Grit, Ontario; he read it, thought it over and decided to come back to the area arriving in 1890.

Recognizing the business potential, he immediately decided to build a larger mill on the same site next to the railway tracks. As predicted the business was a success. A sure sign that the business was growing came in 1893 when the community decided to build a church devoted to the sacred heart. Corbeil's Mill donated the timbers. The two brothers asked the railway to install a track (siding) to park or spot boxcars so that they could ship their lumber. The CPR agreed, built the track and called it "Corbeil's Mill".

In those days the mail traveled exclusively by train, soon most of the mail arrived addressed "Corbeil's Mill"; the name Grit was being used less and less.

In 1897 (the year my father, "Georges" was born) the government recognized the community and the town officially became known as "CORBEIL, ONTARIO"

Twenty years later in 1910 the price of lumber dropped drastically. They had bought their logs as standing timber at a higher price than what they could sell the lumber. Competition from the lumber giant J.R. Booth may have played a role; perhaps poor business practices or maybe bad luck. Couple this with the fact that a large fire destroyed much of the timber in the area. The mill was forced into bankruptcy (if there was such a thing in early 1900).

I'm told that Joseph headed for Sudbury. My Grandfather stayed and concentrated on farming his land. He was there until his death in 1931 at the age of 86. With the closing of the mill there was no other industry around other than farming. Unless you owned land there was no work, no way to earn a living. People were forced to leave the area and go where they could find work.

My father left home at the age of 17. He was driving team of horses in the Kirkland Lake (Dane) area. Returning from the North, he went to work first in Foss Mill near Powassan, then to Bonfield contracting and working for Martin Lumber.

It wasn't until 1934, with the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets, that the town of Corbeil and East Ferris started to grow. This world famous event created jobs and brought tourists to the area. People were working, building and paving roads and working as security guards. Many jobs were created related to the birth of the Quints. This was instrumental in putting the area on the map so to speak. With all the traffic and publicity, it also brought settlers and the population grew.

Corbeil Elementary School

As the city of North Bay grew, so did Corbeil. It developed not only for good farming but also with Trout Lake and Lake Nosbonsing within the boundaries of the Municipality of East Ferris; cottages gained popularity in the late 1950's and 1960's. During the 1970's these cottages became permanent homes making East Ferris, Astorville, Corbeil and the surrounding area a bedroom community of the City of North Bay as more and more people preferred the country living.

Today the town of Corbeil and the town of Astorville make up the bulk of the population of the Municipal of East Ferris, with the township offices in Corbeil. Astorville is the site of our Community Centre; the ice surface is used for hockey, a figure skating club and an excellent minor hockey program. The Centre also houses a successful curling club, a library (which has since moved behind the arena), a hall to host such events as the East Ferris Winter Carnival, dances and recently the East Ferris Exhibition, Sportsman Trade and Craft Show.

The Corbeil site has an outdoor rink, two ball fields and tennis courts and the Corbeil Park Hall, which is, home to the Golden Age Club for their activities such as card games and line dancing for exercise. It's also home to the Knights of Columbus Council 6664. They hold many activities in the hall such as Mother's Day Breakfasts, Parish dinners, dances and recently a televised telethon with the proceeds going to the local food bank. The North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority owns the land behind the Park Hall, which are the headwaters of the LaVase River. They host interpretive trail tours throughout the summer.

From its small beginning in 1890, the town of Corbeil and the Municipality of East Ferris continues to grow.

My father, the youngest son of Jean-Baptiste hated the farm. He wanted no part of farming preferring to work in lumber and machinery. After he married he moved to where he could find work. First he worked in Foss Mill, a lumber mill settlement near Powassan. Then he worked for Martin Lumber in Bonfield. The year I was born my father owned and operated a truck contracted out to the federal government during the construction of the Trans Canada highway (Highway #17) between Mattawa and North Bay. Losing the federal government contract forced him to sell his truck and return to the mill at Martin's Lumber. In 1943, he was hired on as a boilermaker until he retired from the CPR in 1962. He then moved to Chippewa Street where he lived until his death in 1977.

My maternal Grandparents also played a role in the history of the Corbeil area. At the time of it's establishment, my maternal Grandfather Stanislaus Moreau sailed the Great Lakes from Pointe A Gatineau arriving in Parry Sound. Why he headed for this area is not known. He had to walk from Parry Sound to Corbeil. Once he arrived at the Corbeil Mill, he met the Corbeil brothers. They told him to head Northwest until you arrive at a big lake (Trout Lake), you would find a good stand of pine. We assume he also wanted to harvest the white pine. He checked it out and settled on the shores of Trout Lake, an area called "Grassy Bay" on MacPherson Drive today.

Following the death of his first wife, (Marie Latour), he met my Grandmother Heloise Hurtubise in the Sturgeon Falls area. They were married in the community of Desaulnier, between Sturgeon Falls and Field, Ontario. They settled on their property on Trout Lake in Corbeil where my Mother was born in 1899.

What he did in lumber is not known, but we do know that he was the first clerk for the town of Corbeil. I'm told that some of his notes are still in the archives in the East Ferris Township Office. Around 1928 he left the area, moved to Field, Ontario where he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the surrounding districts working in that capacity until his death in 1950.

I can still remember the funeral procession during a snowstorm, November 7, 1950. An awful trip traveling from Field Ontario to the Corbeil Cemetery, where my Grandfather was laid to rest. I lived in North Bay until 1989 when I moved and made Corbeil my permanent residence.

Although we wandered away, I am the third generation of Corbeil's proud to call Corbeil home.

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Municipality of East Ferris, 390 Hwy 94, Corbeil, ON. P0H 1K0
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