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Murray Leatherdale's passion for history helped put North Bay on the map

'He just wanted to really share the information and make sure people could access it and be educated about North Bay and what's in our backyard'

This is one of a series of articles, as part of the feature called "Helpers", which focuses on people and organizations that help make our community better.

Promoting what’s in our backyard was Murray Leatherdale’s passion. So much so that when he was asked to do a project for the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce in the early 1970s, he gave them more than they expected.  

“The Chamber came to him originally and asked him to produce a brochure for tourists in the area,” says his daughter Lauran Larade. 

“My dad said ‘I think I can offer more if you’re interested.’” 

That turned into the book Nipissing: from Brule to Booth which was published in 1974.   

 “It became a fundraiser for the chamber for about ten years. When it first came out, the Nipissing District School Board had it as part of their grade eight history curriculum. I had to study it as part of my school work, but so did everybody else who went to Silver Birches or Centennial. It was in every library in North Bay and it was at Nipissing University.” 

Larade says it is filled with information that Leatherdale had accumulated over years of self-exploration, research and a genuine interest in the history of North Bay and its surrounding area.  

“He was always in the forest and traveled a lot through the area and always had a love for First Nations people. He kind of combined all of those stories together and put it into a book. In fact, that book was originally only supposed to be a pamphlet,” says Larade.   

“He would just light up when he would talk about the history of the area, especially when talking about the time before North Bay became the city it is known as today. He was often asked to speak about his book and it was something that was a passion for him. Whether it was a school group or the Rotary Club, he just loved doing that stuff. And he fully donated the book over to the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, there was nothing to be made off the book. He just wanted to really share the information and make sure people could access it and be educated about North Bay and what's in our backyard.” 

It was an ideal that Leatherdale carried in both his personal and professional life. 

“He was a chiropractor by trade and if people didn’t have the money, he would just treat them for free, or they would offer him cucumbers or pickles or something from their garden, but he was never out to make a profit or a name for himself. He wasn’t that kind of person. He was very community-minded and he was big on tourism.” 

There were several tourism initiatives that Leatherdale had a hand in creating, and some are still enjoyed by North Bay’s residents to this very day. One of those is the North Bay Museum.  

“In the 1960s the Chamber had a historical board which he sat on, then he became the Chairman of the Chamber for a couple of years, but he always knew the history of Samuel Champlain and Étienne Brûlé and when he moved to North Bay, from Orillia, he just found it a little bit surprising that some of that information wasn’t as widely known,” says Larade.  

“So, he felt that he needed to start something to share all of that and that idea eventually grew into the North Bay Museum. It took years and years and going through council to make that happen, but he was very proud when it came to fruition.”  

“I actually worked there the first three years it was opened,” Larade says.  “I was only 13 and my dad came home one day and said ‘how would you like a summer job at the museum?’ and I said ‘oh sure why not.’ I wasn’t really aware too much about what my dad was doing at that time, other than knowing he was always off to different meetings, but I thought working at the museum would be better than babysitting, and it was the most rewarding experience I think I ever had.” 

Leatherdale also helped develop the North Bay Winter Fur Carnival in the mid-1960s.  

“A big drawing card for it became the Towers International dog-sledding competition which featured teams from the United States. That carnival was actually the largest in Ontario, and the third-largest in Canada at the time. It's really neat to see people who still live here that were around during those years, and they all seem to have really fond memories of those carnivals. I see them post about it online and say things like ‘I remember going with my mom and dad’ it seems like every family attended that event. There were so many events going on at the carnival so there was something to please everybody.” 

Larade says her father enjoyed these projects as a passion for himself, but also because of the connections he made during this time.  

“He worked with a bunch of great people. I don’t know if it was just that time or the people of that era, but that group he worked with just wanted to get things done and make things happen in North Bay. They all seemed to come together and he was here at the right time, with the right people to promote North Bay.” 

Larade continues, “The city really seemed to be growing in leaps and bounds in that time and the people he worked with during those 20-30 years they were just real go-getters. From what I can recall, none of them were out for money, they were all volunteering their time to put these events together to make the city better.”  

Larade says she has a tremendous sense of pride when talking about her father and the accomplishments he made.  

“I was only 21 when he passed away so unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with my father, but just to go through his belongings and his old photographs and looking back on everything he did, I’m certainly proud to be his daughter. And that being said my mother was certainly behind him in everything he did. She helped type up the manuscript and made sure his suits were ready or his shirt was pressed before whatever meeting he may have been going to. She was certainly behind him 100 percent.” 

Leatherdale was recognized as an important figure in North Bay with a plaque on the Kiwanis Downtown North Bay Walk of Fame in 2019, inducted through the Author, Historian Category and solidifying his place as someone who helped put North Bay on the map.  

If you have a story suggestion for the “helpers” series, send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com.