It’s a big weekend for the Masson family, as members far and wide reunite to celebrate a significant milestone—100 years since the first generation settled in Callander. A big family picnic takes place this Saturday, August 6th, and Lucien Masson expects about 336 people to sit down for dinner, “and that’s not all of us” she said, adding with a laugh how “some of my cousins couldn’t make it.”
There are five generations coming to town, and many still live in Callander, or not too far away. It all began when Henrie and Eugiene came to town in 1922. The couple were leaving St. Bruno de Guigues in Quebec because the logging opportunities weren’t going too well for Henrie. They heard word things were better in Callander at the time so with the clothes on their back and a sewing machine they hit the road.
There were nine children to bring as well, including one on the way, so it was imperative that work would be waiting. Thankfully, Henrie started right away at the J.B. Smith and Sons Lumber Company, which is where the Osprey Links golf course is now. The family of 11 (with one on the way) settled into one of the company’s boarding houses, and so began the first and second generation of the Masson family in Callander.
That boarding house served the family well, but in 1943 they had enough to buy a home on Main Street North, and the house is still in the family today. The roots run deep along Main Street, Lucien Masson explained, and she knows the family will have much to reflect upon at their 50th family reunion.
Festivities kick off at the St. Alphonsus Church at 9 with a pancake breakfast and continue at the Legion on Lansdowne for the rest of the afternoon and into the night. There will be the usual family picnic activities—horseshoes, a watermelon eating contest, and a baseball game—but there will also be a slide show commemorating the centennial milestone.
The family’s history is intertwined with the history of Callander, and if you visit the Callander Bay Heritage Museum, you will find some artifacts from the Masson’s—particularly from Lucien’s father, Michael “Mac” Masson. Like his father, Mac worked at the mill—and according to his obituary, “he was born at Smith Mill.” He began there as a logman, but eventually captained the S.S. Sea Gull towing logs from Sturgeon Falls to the mill in Callander. He worked this route from 1955 to 1961, and the Sea Gull was the last commercial steamboat on Lake Nipissing. The museum has his captain’s jacket, and some photos of the Sea Gull as well.
Lucien remembers these days well, and fondly, because she would get to help her dad. The mill would use flat bottom boats to get into the shallow areas near the shore where some stray logs would end up that floated away from the tugboats. They called them alligators, and at times Lucien could be seen helming the boat, and “how many 12-year olds get to drive an alligator? That was my job because I was the oldest.”
She’d collect those stray sticks and bring them back to dad’s Sea Gull, to make sure not a board foot was lost to the lake. It “was a childhood that will never be seen again,” she noted. After Mac’s tenure on the Sea Gull, he served a brief stint as the first mate of the Chief Commanda, and for many years, he and his brothers operated the Callander Garage.
At one time, “there were 24 of us in four houses on Main Street from my generation,” Lucien recalled, and after Main, a lot of the family moved to King Street. “They say it takes a village to raise a child, well I had 18 mothers growing up,” she laughed, “if you did something wrong downtown, your mother knew by the time you walked a mile home.”
Lucien doesn’t live in Callander anymore. She found a smaller place in North Bay to call home, but she still loves the town and would move back if she could. Looking back at her youth in 1950’s Callander, she remembered how the neighbours’ hayfield across the road would flood, so the kids could play hockey there throughout the winter. Hockey, ice-fishing, and a little later, her eldest cousin Annette and a few of her friends started the Teen Town dances which took place about once a month at the old Legion or Orange Hall.
There wasn’t much money for entertainment with $53 dollars weekly coming in from the mill, “but we made our own fun,” Lucien said. And much like Callander kids today, summers were spent at the lake. Movies were always a draw, and if you had a dollar from “selling blueberries of cranberries,” you could pay the 15 cents to take the bus to North Bay to catch a show. Admission was a quarter, “and if you were lucky” you also had enough for a Coke, “just don’t forget the 15 cents to get back home,” Lucien joked.
Main Street didn’t have a drug store when she was a kid, but pharmacists in North Bay would send your prescription by bus, so you could get by without a car, which was good, because the family didn’t have one until the early ‘60’s.
Madam Legros—internationally famous for helping to deliver the Dionne quintuplets—had a store on Main Street, which Lucien and her friends would frequent to buy their penny candy. Across the street there was a log cabin, “where Lucky 13 used to be, and we’d go there and it would cost you five cents for a small coke, and seven cents for a large bottle.”
Times were good back in 1950’s Callander— “it was a special time,” Lucien said. Television signed off at 11 p.m.—if you were lucky enough to know someone with a TV—and the early sounds of rock and roll were creeping along the airwaves. It was a fun time to be a kid in a small town, Lucien said, noting with a laugh that her and her crew “weren’t vandalous, we were just mischievous” when filling those long summer days.
The decades fly by, and recently the fifth generation Masson was born. This weekend family members will gather for their 50th reunion and celebrate 100 years of calling Callander home— “we’re very blessed to be so close.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.