Back Roads Bill looks at the many merits of one of our smaller communities. Its slogan is "The Best Little Town by a Dam Site!"
Latchford, located on the Montreal River, has about 400 people and is rich in heritage. There are a number of gems relate to the town 34 km north of Temagami and 20 km south of Temiskaming Shores. The congenial George Lefebvre, is the long-time mayor, he has been in and around politics for 50 years and knows his “stuff,” he is a Latchford “lifer.”
Their Museum of Memories, like many community museums, has some real finds. There is a compelling photo of an Indigenous family taken circa 1890 hanging on the south wall on the second floor. The inscription is from the late Chief Gary Potts of Bear (Makominising) Island, Lake Temagami, describes this as a "smoking tent" for wild game. It originally hung on the wall of the A.B. Gordon Mill taken by C.C. Farr founder of nearby Haileybury. Check out the fossils from Dawson Point and the light bulb inventor, Thomas Edison’s presence as a nearby mine owner. Next door is the Loggers Hall of Fame.
Go for a short walk you’ll find the world’s shortest covered bridge on Mowat Avenue. “It came to be because we utilized excavated fill from the trenches recovered during the installation of water and sewage in 1975. It was previously a swamp. So utilizing a winter works program grant and local unemployed workers, we created the World's Shortest Covered Bridge designed by then Councillor Cecil Conroy.” Nearby is the Latchford waterfront with a covered pavilion.
Then there is the dedicated highway bridge.
“The Sgt. Cosens Bridge was completed in 1960. Up until that point Highway 11, beginning with the original Ferguson Highway in 1927, went across the deck of the original dam and there were some pretty amazing accidents on the sharp corner at the north end of the dam,” George said. “Queens Own Rifles Branch 344, Royal Canadian Legion Toronto and Sgt. Aubrey Cosens Branch 629, RCL, Latchford supported by the Town of Latchford lobbied the government of Bill Davis to name the bridge after Sgt. Aubrey Cosens who had enlisted from Latchford and won the Victoria Cross (one of 16 won by Canadians in WW2).”
George said, “That government refused because no provincially owned structure was ever named for anyone other than a politician, but when the David Peterson government took over, Legion Branch 344 President Gus Goutowski was determined. They lobbied Transport Minister Ed Fulton, whose father was a member of the Queen's Own in WW1. The Peterson government acquiesced and Sgt. Aubrey Cosens VC Bridge in Latchford became the first provincially owned structure ever named for anyone other than a politician. The crowd that day was estimated to be in the range of 3,000!”
The naming was precedent-setting as you will see many provincial structures, such as bridges, named after fallen OPP officers. "As I recall, it was in the $1 million range. The new one came in north of $30 million.”
You might remember when the Highway 11 bridge collapsed?
“It was Jan. 14, 2003, and Latchford CAO Lynn Godden heard a loud bang and looked out her office window to watch the southbound truck, the last to drive over the bridge. After traffic was re-routed through Quebec and down Highway 144, in a couple of weeks there was a temporary bailey bridge in place but it was into 2006 before the Sgt. Cosens was open to traffic. The cost of the repairs exceeded the original price of the bridge.”
George says he is in communication with a researcher from Brite Spark Films in London, England.
“They are preparing to do a documentary on the failure of the Sgt. Aubrey Cosens VC Memorial Bridge in 2003. I am helping to assemble contacts from this end to aid in the story, from a driver that was crossing the bridge when it failed.”
There is also the re-constructed water control dam spanning the Montreal River.
“The original dam was completed in late 1911 and somewhere I have a copy of the original contract. As I recall, it was in the $1 million range. The new one came in north of $30 million but getting real numbers is difficult. The original dam was completed in time for navigation season in 1912 which was the last year the big boats carried freight and passengers between Latchford and Elk Lake. The dam was intended to aid navigation through Pork Rapids and the old dam and the dredging of Pork Rapids (included in the contract) cost a little north of $23,000 and the contract was signed by Wilfred Laurier, later to become Sir!“
What is the story behind the community’s slogan?
“My Grade 1 teacher, Edith Rabillard entered the slogan in a contest in 1967 and was the hands-down winner. We have used it ever since and were one of the first towns to add a slogan to our entry population signs when the province allowed that.” Go for a tour and call George at 705-648-8298 – he is an ambassador for good reasons.
“I was first elected to Council in 1965, clerk-treasurer for three years, elected mayor in 1969 and since then, with the exception of two years as councillor and six and one-half years away from office altogether, I have been mayor for more than 44 years. I am especially proud of the fact that no matter what office I contested here in Latchford, I have always topped the polls. Latchford has been good to me and I hope I have been good for it!”
He is not finished. “I am hoping to bookend my career as a small-town politician with the installation of natural gas in the round of expansion that is to be announced next month. That is unless COVID delays that announcement further. Here is the ...video promoting that and it demonstrates how a small town tries to convince the senior government of their needs.” See 3:33” for a good visual of all of the town’s assets.