Capreol’s Water Tank

By Gary Kibsey (originally published in CapreolOnline)

It all began in a small Northern Ontario railroad town called Capreol. I lived at 10 Shaw Street, on the edge of that small town, in a wonderful, whacky family with one jealous brother, two sweet sisters and, of course, a Mom and Dad. We had a few pets from time to time… but never any gold fish. 

This huge silver colored water tower that measured about 10,000 feet high was in full view out my front picture window… well… it looked that high to me at the time, anyway. It was actually only 100ft tall. However tall it was doesn’t matter, but one thing for sure is that it was a very important town icon and fond memory of my childhood. Every once in awhile on my way home from a trek downtown, I’d look up at that big tank and then suddenly break out into a 100-foot dash race against God… I’d always win, of course. God was never too busy to play with one of his kids, I reckon. That water tank was a sort of security blanket to me while growing up. As long as it stood tall and strong there whenever I’d glance out my big front window then it meant another day of sun and play on Shaw Street was to follow. 

But one day it up and disappeared… yup… up and gone. The tank was removed long after I had moved away. I reckon the town finally came to the realization that they no longer needed it since all of the Shaw Street kids had all grown up and moved on. To us kids, it was a perfect rock-throwing target and a great home base for hide-and-go-seek or game of team tag. To the township of Capreol, it was just a boring ol’ water tank.  

And so there it stood shiny and tall from sunrise to sunset and of course, we kids were sternly warned to never… ever… even think of climbing the ladder that was bolted on to the side of it. It would have been like attempting to climb up to heaven itself, warranting a penalty too harsh to even imagine. And so all we could do was fantasize about reaching up and grasping that initial ladder rung that hung there out of reach at about the 10 foot high level. It was kinda like putting a bowl of jelly beans smack in the middle of a day care centre with a ‘Do Not Touch’ sign on it, in my opinion. Anyway, it may have been out of reach but it was never out of mind… that’s for sure. 

Then one day, it happened. Pat G, one of Capreol’s rowdier kids, defied the oracle and did it. He actually climbed to the very top of that water tank. You can bet that he wasn’t from our street. It turned out to be a pretty big town event, hosting our one and only policeman, Constable MacAtee, the fire truck, and of course a large crowd of curious bystanders. We didn’t often get to see much criminal activity in our town so this was a very exciting day indeed. It was a long stand-off but Pat eventually surrendered and climbed down the ladder from heaven, all of the way back down to earth. We never did hear what ever did happen to him but you can bet rumors were flying… higher than that tank. [Note… the girl in the photo had no connection to the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ crime nor was she even related to constable MacAtee but rather was just an innocent bystander.]

Hess and I had the scare of our lives one evening, when we spotted Knobby Clark, the new police chief… better known as Sneaky Harry, slowly cruising the back lanes in search of a couple of kids, suspected of throwing stones at the water tank late one evening… that would have been us. I guess an irritated neighbour or two must have phoned down to the law enforcement department complaining… baaad neighbour. Anyway, we were throwing stones at the nighthawks that often flew around the water tank in the evenings and whenever a stone would hit the tank, a deep ring would echo out, shattering the quiet of the night. Hess and I, sensing that we were in big, bigggg trouble, went into hiding under his dad’s car, inside of his garage. There we lay trembling like a couple of threatened lab rats intently listening to the slow motion crunch of gravel under the police car’s tires in between our deep gasps of breaths. We could even smell the smoke from Sneaky Harry’s pipe that he always had a hangin out of his jaw. We knew for sure that Sneaky Harry was hot on our trail and it didn’t look good. Suddenly, Hess broke. He began sobbing uncontrollably and then spewed out a schwack of bad things that he had done in the past. It’s called confession… it’s a Catholic thing. It seemed more like Hess’s last confession by the way he was spouting off. He was convinced that we were soon to be captured and cruelly tortured down there in Harry’s dark jail. We kids were petrified of that place, to say the least. Anyway, I finally managed to calm Hess down as Sneaky’s cruiser faded off into the night… oh, the innocence of youth.

The following photo shows the actual laneway and scene of the crime… minus the water tank, of course. I took the photo like 50’ish years later… oh, what memories!

The white shed in the picture is what’s left of George Crackenbush [Quackenbush]… 50 years later. He was a quiet old fella who always seemed to be tinkering in his garage located right next to the water tank. He was always fixin up old “Putt-Putt” cars or so we used to call them. He would often take us kids for rides around the block in those 1920 gems, tooting an ‘A-Oooga’ horn every now and then. The town’s people would smile and wave at us, creating a wind of excitement in the neighbourhood… kinda like an unadvertised parade.

And I can never forget those incredibly cold, clear, starlit, winter nights in Capreol when the thermometer dared to register -45 degrees. We snotty-nosed kids would be out playing hockey well into the cold dark night on our home made skating rink in the empty lot beside the water tank. Harald Mohns, the brother of Doug Mohns from the NHL Chicago Black Hawks, prodded the town’s fire department to donate a fire hose and hydrant wrench while my handy-dandy dad wired up some spotlights for those long dark winter nights. The echoing sound of skates digging into the hard ice, hockey sticks slappin’ and the high shrill of passionate kids in hot pursuit of the puck are such memorable sounds still lingerin’ there in my memory bank today. Neither could I ever forget those agonizing moments parking my frozen feet on top of a heat register, thawing out, grasping my numb ears while tears ran down my frosted red cheeks. It was all part of growing up in the frozen north, I guess. Sorry, I have no photos of the actual skating rink. 

Posted on: April 17, 2022, by :