||August 10, 2001
Heritage Days celebrate Brentís history
|The abandoned Hawkesbury Lumber Company depot, used by the park ranger
Brent, 30 km east of Kiosk on Cedar Lake in Algonquin Park, is the other
major stop I want to look at on the abandoned CNR line in northern Algonquin
Park. There are other stops that I might profile later, but Brent will
celebrate its history next week-Wednesday and Thursday, August 15th and
16th. Brent was not only a lumber town, but also a railway, MNR, and tourist
village in its prime. Like the other stops on the CNR, it suffered from
economic expediencies, and again, the people took the brunt of it.
Today I will look at Brent's early history, and next week its later
years, and current and future status. Cedar Lake and the surrounding rivers
and lakes, along with the remarkable Brent Crater make it an outstanding
Algonquin Park stop for visitors and the few cottagers that remain.
Alexander Shirreff (1829), William Hawkins (1837), and Alexander Murray
(1853) made trips through Cedar Lake long before it became Algonquin Park
in 1893. Murray noted the existence of squared timber logging there almost
a hundred and fifty years ago. Early maps show Thistle, Carswell and Francis
as an early logging company, followed by the Hawkesbury Logging Company
(1890-1914). Jim Hughes lived in the abandoned main Hawkesbury Lumber Company
house and was one of the main players in the early days, as Brent developed
as a division point on the CNR.
The railway heightened logging activity (McLaughlin 1920, Brent Lumber
Company 1925-29 and Gilles lumber Company 1933-1946) and boosted the population
and importance of Brent. The Brent Lumber Company had a full depot with
a sawmill, boarding house, general store, etc.
Little is known of the early days at Brent, after the railway went through
between 1912 and 1915 when Brent became a division point-a halfway point
on the CNR. There was a Roundhouse, turntable, water tower, coal chute,
bunkhouse and cookery for men on change of shift. There were also several
CNR families living there in customized boxcars until several homes were
built for them by the CNR.
||Rebecca Nolan (on left) with friend, in front of her boxcar
home in 1915. The railway began as the Canadian Northern and soon became
My son and I had the pleasure of meeting 86 year old Rebecca Atkins,
the daughter of Fred Nolan, the Brent superintendent in Brent's first six
years. Rebecca had a remarkable memory of her early years there, before
she left at the age of nine. She also had numerous photographs of those
early days. We interviewed here several times and worked with her to produce
our recent book, My Childhood in the Bush.
The book, in Rebecca's voice and accompanied by 50 photographs, tells
about her life in Brent, as it evolved into a community that eventually
had a school, store, restaurant and upwards of 300 people in the years
ahead. Rebecca died at age 90, just before the book was published. Her
family and friends see this story as a memorial to this passionate and
articulate woman. At a recent book launch at Gulliver's books in North
Bay, Rebecca's daughter, two granddaughters and one great-granddaughter
attended, and one of the granddaughters read from the story.
In the book Rebecca describes the family's close relationship with park
ranger Jim Hughes and the other families, as Mr. Nolan struggled to have
the divisional point provide the service required. Rebecca was there during
the war, the flu epidemic, and the making of a movie, all of which had
an impact on the young girl. Rebecca tells the touching stories of her
effort to find friends, her dog, learning to read and write, and the early
experiences that led her to become a nurse later. The book has been popular
with young people and seniors, but has been enjoyed by all. My Childhood
in the Bush is available in many locations where books are sold in the
North Bay area.
||Rebecca (on right) with her mother and a friend, waiting
for a train at the original Brent Station.
The Brent Heritage Days in the Ranger cabin at Brent will include, along
with a book signing, a display of photographs and other artefacts from
some of the several families that spent long periods there in the decades
that followed Rebecca's departure. Many former residents still have leases
and visit Brent regularly. Our thanks to Jake Pigeon, the manager of the
Algonquin Outfitter's Store at Brent, for his interest in Brent's history
and his support of this Brent event. Material will be collected at the
event for a full future publication on the history of Brent. The display
will be open from 1 to 4 and 7 to 9 on Wednesday the 15th, and 10-4 and
7-9 on Thursday the 16th of August. There will be a talk and discussion
from 1:30- 3:00 pm on Thursday. Everyone is welcome.
Brent can be reached by road by travelling 40 km south from Deux Rivières
off the Trans Canada Highway (17). There are 29 campsites, an outfitters
store and good beaches. The access point is 16 km from the Trans Canada.
For further information on the Brent access point, and on the Brent Crater,
check with your local information centre. Next week I will look at the
later history of Brent, and at the Brent Crater discovered in 1951.
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