Looking Back

Capreol’s history is both long and fascinating. We plan to celebrate the town’s past here, in our new ‘Looking Back’ feature. You will find stories about the town: brief biographies of prominent people; notable sporting accomplishments; and yes, even a few accounts of Capreol’s dominant industry, the railroad.

So, sit back, make yourself comfortable, and read up on the people and places that made this town great. (Thanks to Alex and Helen Nepitt for collecting and editing these stories.)

Capreol’s “New” Arena

1975 Arena opening ceremonies huge success

This is a picture of Capreol’s first artificial ice arena as it appeared on its grand opening. Probably circa the 1950s.

The turnout and response to the official opening of the new Capreol arena was called just fantastic by one of the local Lions who helped organize the day-long event.

Benny Benedetti, chairman of the Hockeyrama Day, said everything went perfect Saturday from the early afternoon parade which kicked off the day’s events, to the dinner banquet in the evening.

About 400 people attended the $5-a plate dinner held in the Capreol arena, he said. These and other funds raised will go towards the payment for plexiglass around the ice surface.

About 15 cars, carrying Capreol natives who have played in the National Hockey League, and the Copper Cliff Highlanders marching band wound their way around the town before returning to the arena for the official ribbon-cutting.

This duty was shared by the town’s current mayor, Frank Mazzuca, and his
predecessor Harold Prescott, under whose administration the project began.

An open house in the arena rounded out the afternoon entertainment as the kids chased their heroes for autographs and others played games of chance or paused for some refreshments.

Capreol native, Jim Farelli, former coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, was master of ceremonies at the banquet.

Here we see the ‘old’ arena just prior to the addition of the town’s second ice pad (known locally as ‘Side 2’ or ‘the good side’).

If anyone knows more details of the Capreol arena(s) timeline please share. It would be nice to put dates to these photos and add others.

Mrs. Murphy’s Class

With September’s arrival and the 2020 school year about to begin we thought it might be fun to showcase a snapshot or two of how Capreol’s classrooms once looked. The first photograph, originally posted on Capreol Online a decade back or more, is of Mrs. Murphy’s class.

The Blackboard on the left shows the following: I have only one mouth but my ears are two / I’ll tell all the good and the sweet and the true / But the rest I will try to forget; Wouldn’t you?

April Honour Roll:

8. Harold McLaughlin
2. Mildred Stewart
3. Harold Mohns
? Fred Johnson
2. Billy Rivers
3. Dorothy Way
1. Jack McDonald
2. Doris Sadick
? John Polawick

If you have any idea when this photo was taken please post in the comments section. The following responses were sent to the old Capreol Online website when Gary Biesinger first post the above for public consumption.

Ray Boudreau wrote: I cannot be positive, Gary, but I think this photograph may have been taken in 1944 or 1945. From left side in the row marked 17…the third student up is me, Raymond Boudreau, and I am certain that the picture was taken in 1945… I also had a brother Joseph in that class but cannot locate him. His face was badly scarred from an explosion and it’s difficult to distinguish in the photo…For the picture we were told to sit up straight with arms behind our backs so that our posture was more presentable…Should comment arise, the Raymond in that picture (me) is son of Joseph Cleophas Boudreau…My cousin named Raymond Boudreau was son of Joseph Donat Boudreau, also living in Capreol. However, Raymond was a few years older than me and he was in the classroom across the hall…I have emailed the picture to my oldest brother and sister to learn if they can place faces also…Have a nice weekend, Gary. Ray Boudreau

We have another picture, most likely taken in the same classroom (though many were build from similar designs). If you are able to enlighten us as to the who, when, where, and what, we would greatly appreciate it.

Dr. Edgar H. Niebel, Dentist

Back in the 1930’s when the Town of Capreol was struggling through a depression and growing at the same time, there was also a dark force in its midst. Children would cry and try to run away to no avail. Adults cringed when they merely walked by this place. Stories abound of screaming children and adults leaving Capreol’s most dreaded locale holding a handkerchief over their sore and bleeding mouths.

Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded visit to Dr. Edgar H. Niebel’s “Chamber of Torture” dentist office. Dr. Niebel was a good man and an excellent dentist (for the time) but just the thought of seeing him would send a shiver down your spine.

Judy and Vernon Nepitt pose, smiling, outside of Dr. Niebel’s office. We imagine they smile because they’re just passing by and not either going to or coming from an appointment.

For many years Dr. Niebel was a regular at the Anglican Church, always sitting at the back, during Sunday services. Catherine Sweezey recalls that when the congregation were saying the Lord’s Prayer and came to the part that said and deliver us from “evil”, the congregation—especially the children—were convinced that they were saying and deliver us from “Niebel”.

Dentistry in the 1930s tended to be “crude”, especially compared to modern standards. Visiting any dental professional meant pain and discomfort but somehow Dr. Niebel took things that little bit further. Just look at some of these photos—be warned they’re not for the squeamish:

It’s approaching a century since Edgar Niebel began practising in our town and yet memories of him still linger…unhappy memories. Payment “in kind” became the norm during the Great Depression and it was soon commonplace to offer see a man or woman walk into the dentist’s office with a live chicken under their arm and walk out a while later, bird-less but with a shiny new filling.

To end we’re sharing an especially horrifying anecdote about Capreol’s own Dr. Niebel:

A Patient’s Dilemma!

In the 1930’s, there was a patient of Dr. Edgar H. Niebel who purchased a set of dentures from him. From the start the dentures did not fit properly and they kept on falling down. The patient decided that he should not have to pay for the dentures until they fit properly. Unfortunately, the patient died before the denture issue could be settled.

Dr. Niebel, who (rumour had it) liked to inflict pain on people when they were alive, was now about to do the unthinkable: he now inflicted pain on a dead person! “How’d he do that?” you ask. By sending a bill for the dentures to the patients estate. The man’s estate could not be settled until the bill for the dentures was paid, so, the estate paid the bill. The patient who refused to pay the bill in life must have turned over in his grave. Maybe the patient should have given Dr. Niebel the dentures back before he died but he probably needed them for his funeral!

Frederick Chase Capreol

There’s one thing all cowards hate and that’s a hero. No one person more reminds us of our failings than someone brave. So, as an inveterate coward, it is just my luck to live in Capreol. What’s Capreol got to do with heroes? Well, beyond the many citizens commemorated on our town’s Cenotaph (and the hundreds of others who served honourably in Canada’s military or as first responders over the decades), there’s this:

Treachery in the darkness, gunshots and screams ring out through the night, the peace of a lavish estate house is shattered, and corpses are left to rot in a dingy basement. Add in robbery, betrayal, murder, lies, and a thrilling, nation-spanning chase … and Capreol has it all.

The man Frederick Chase Capreol, that is.

It’s strange that our town was named after Capreol — since the man himself had nothing to do with it. He didn’t found it (that was local businessman, and Boer War veteran, Frank Dennie) and never visited (Capreol, the man, was long dead by the time of our official 1918 incorporation).

Frederick Chase Capreol was a moderately successful auctioneer — he ran an auction house from 1833 to 1850 — but his only tie to the namesake town was his dream. FCC was a railroad man … of sorts. He played a pivotal role in launching the Toronto, Simcoe & Lake Huron Union Railroad (which later became the Northern Railway of Canada before becoming part of the Grand Trunk Railway and, ultimately, the Canadian National Railway) only to be booted from the company one day before ground breaking.

Well, as is often the case, it turns out there’s more to the story than most would think. Capreol, the individual, just wanted respect. Something he never got. At least not in the ways he wanted … or deserved.

A man ahead of his time, Frederick Chase Capreol dreamed big in a small world. And often failed because of it. One grandiose plan failed when the court ruled his purchase of a tract of land null and void (Capreol had, apparently, plied the owner with drink). Another time, in need of some start-up cash for a business endeavour, he attempted to launch a fundraising lottery — a notion quickly squashed by the church (they thought it sinful for someone to gain wealth without having to work for it!). Even running for political office — a sure-fire road to respect and influence — didn’t work. His several attempts at Toronto City Council ended in defeat (he generally finished last). After numerous failures he, finally, won a single by-election but served only two months. Provincial politics proved no better, he came in last in 1842. Following Confederation he attempted to win a seat in the Ontario Legislature and distinguished himself in 1872 by failing to earn a single vote! 

Described as “impetuous” by straight-laced contemporaries — who called him “mad Capreol,” sometimes to his face — Frederick Chase Capreol leapt when opportunity arose. Business deals occasionally fell through because of his eagerness, but he never gave up … once writing, “I have scarce time for the necessary calls of nature.” Another correspondence, this one sent to Sir John A. MacDonald inquiring after a potential knighthood after five decades of great projects, boasted of having “crossed the Atlantic 23 times.”

Not one to rest on his laurels (real or dreamed of) Capreol served as the first president of the Metropolitan Gas and Water Company, co-incorporated the General Manufacturing Company of Peel, built Port Credit’s first lighthouse, promoted the failed Huron and Ontario Ship Canal, and started an ambitious hydro-electric generating plant on the Credit River only to run out of funds and sell what would become the Erindale Power Company (that plant, made redundant by the massive Niagara Falls hydro-electric station, is now a park name after Capreol).

Those missteps, and many more, were offset by one stunning success. It occurred in July of 1843: that was the day Thomas Kinnear of Richmond Hill was found brutally shot to death in his own cellar.

Kinnear’s home had been stripped of its valuables and his three servants — Nancy Montgomery, James McDermott, and Grace Marks — were missing.

The police, who weren’t notified of the death until late in the day, were slow to react. Frederick Chase Capreol, a close friend of Kinnear, was outraged by the constabulary’s slow response. Rather than stand around waiting for the authorities to sort themselves out, Capreol acted. With no investigative training, using nothing but instinct and determination, FCC questioned those gathered around the police station and learned of a horse-cart that was seen racing through town. Convinced this was the murderers’ attempting escape, he set off in pursuit.

With no official authority (the Toronto police were unwilling to usurp jurisdiction — or take on the costs associated therewith) he set out at his own expense. It didn’t take Capreol long to discover that the cart fled Toronto in the direction of the border. Intuitively certain of the murderous servants’ destination, the erstwhile detective did what any sane man would do — he broke into a friend’s home.

Burglary was not Capreol’s intention. He needed money to fund his pursuit. When knocking on his friend’s door didn’t wake the house, naturally Frederick Chase Capreol scaled the wall and climbed in through an open window. The friend, woken from a sound sleep, groggily offered a loan and Capreol left via the front entrance.

Commandeering a ship (at the cost of one-hundred dollars — a great deal of money at the time) he crossed Lake Ontario and apprehended Dermott and Marks in a hotel near Lewiston, New York. James McDermott blamed Nancy Montomgery. Unfortunately for him the housemaid’s body was found dead, hidden behind some debris near to the homeowner’s remains in Thomas Kinnear’s cellar.

Of Capreol’s achievement an influential publication at the time wrote: “As a piece of detective work and executive ability it has never been approached by a civilian, and it is doubtful whether it has ever been equaled in sagacity, directness, triumph over obstacles and expeditious execution by any professional detective or officer.”

The criminals, McDermott (age 20) and Marks (16), each ultimately blamed the other. Both were found guilty. He hung and she was sentenced to life in prison at hard labour, serving more than twenty-eight years, and earning a great deal of notoriety. (Read Margaret Atwood’s intriguing novel Alias Grace for a fictionalized account of the Grace Marks’ case or watch the acclaimed Netflix series of the same name.)

Frederick Chase Capreol’s heroic exploits are captured in Susan McNicoll’s collection of historical who-done-its, Toronto Murders: Mysteries, Crimes & Scandals. His chapter was by far the most thrilling — but then, as a citizen of the town bearing his name, I might be a bit biased. Read it yourself and see if history has been fair to Capreol … a brave, if impulsive, man. 

(Note: The following was published in the booster and sent to CapreolOnline by Lawrence MacDonald.)

Erindale Park is the largest park in Mississauga and we have Frederick Chase Capreol to thank. This park may be Capreol’s most welcome legacy, yet it’s the one landmark he never intended to create.

A businessman with more ambition than luck, Capreol came to Canada in 1829 to seek his fortune in the fur trade, only to find himself pushed out by the established firms. Then came his idea for a canal linking Lake Ontario and Lake Huron. Railways put a quick end to this project but instead of acquiescing, Capreol got into the railway business. He started a lottery to raise funds for his Northern Railway but authorities quickly shut down this illegal scam.

Down but not out, Capreol built Port Credit’s first light-house in 1863, both as an aid to navigation and as a sign that Port Credit was open for business. He bought 5,700 hectares of lakefront property and formed the Peel Manufacturing Company to rent this land out to manufacturers. He failed to persuade investors.

Finally, Capreol turned his attention to the power potential of the Credit River. Taking advantage of the natural crook in the river at Erindale, Capreol planned to build a dam north of the crook to create a reservoir, and to tunnel penstocks (directly under the village, no less) to generators at the south end of the crook. He hoped to have the power plant finished in two years but his finances were not up to the challenge. Investors bought Capreol out and finished a less-ambitious dam six year later.

Ontario Hydro acquired the ailing Erindale Power Company but closed the tiny station when its huge power plant at Niagara Falls was completed, rendering Erindale surplus. Capreol’s pond remained a 50-hectare derelict, but a popular swimming hole for Erindale kids. The dam began to deteriorate and, for safety’s sake, was blasted away a year later. The pond drained leaving behind the lush grass-land of today’s Erindale Park

Harold A Prescott

Harold A Prescott was born in Killaloe Ontario, on December 2, 1911. Harold and his wife Esther, moved to Capreol in the 1940’s where they raised their twelve children, Don, Bob, Shirley, Crystal, Haroldene, Heather, Terry, Patricia, Bruce, Reginald, Douglas and Randy (Rags).

Doug Prescott, Harold’s son, and his wife Evelyn along with their grandkids Riley, Brooklyn, Corey, and Savannah. The Prescott family is now far-flung but remain proud of their connection to Capreol.

Harold was employed with the CNR as a locomotive fire man for over 30 years. During his time in Capreol, Harold was very active in local politics and activities of the town. He ran a successful campaign for councillor in 1951 and served two years. Not being satisfied with the results he gained as a councillor, he ran for the mayoralty position in 1955. This was a close election but Harold won the position of mayor which he held for a total of 14 years.

In August 1956, Harold was a major factor in starting Old Home Week celebrating Capreol’s 38th year of being incorporated as a town. A challenge was issued by Harold Prescott, Addie Sweezey, Bob Mazzuca and Buster Cotie to shave your face for Old Home Week. This turned into a great success.

Harold Prescott, Addie Sweezey, Bob Mazzuca and Buste Cotir

During his time as mayor, Harold continued to promote the Town of Capreol as the “Best Town in Northern Ontario”. He designed and promoted our Capreol flag across the country.

Capreol’s flag was unveiled on the town’s 50th anniversary in 1968. Mayor Prescott was the first to raise it.

For many years, Harold fought for a steam locomotive to be donated by the CNR and placed in Capreol as a memory to railroad employees. The CNR would not give the locomotive to the town unless it was paid for. Relentless in his efforts to acquire a locomotive, Harold lobbied the railroad until the CNR finally gave in and donated engine #6077 to the Town of Capreol in 1966. Thanks to his tireless efforts the town honoured Harold by naming the park that was to be the home of engine #6077, Prescott Park.

Here is an early photo of Prescott Park, it has since undergone extensive refinement—including landscaping and more rolling stock.

In his later years, Harold loved a good joke. He often walked around town with his dog on a leash. The thing about this, is that there was no dog on the leash. A stiff leash and harness proceeded Harold as he walked downtown. When a resident approached him and asked him what his dog’s name was, Harold replied “ask the dog” and he continued on his way.

Another thing that Harold had fun with was making Pet Rocks. He would paint rocks and make them into different animals. Many of these rocks to this day, hold doors open in Capreol. If you look at the bottom of your pet rock, you will see the initials H.P. This is the signature that Harold Prescott put on all the pet rocks that he made.

One of Harold's Pet Rocks

All kidding aside, Harold Prescott did a lot of work for our town and he put Capreol on the map. His tireless and never-give-up attitude to promote Capreol, will live on for generations to come.

Harold Prescott was nominated to the 2003 Railway Hall of Fame.

Adam “Addie” Sweezey

Adam “Addie” Gilmour Sweezey carried a high ranking revenue on the best trains, he was at his best and happiest on the Mixed Train no. 217. The mix ran up and down the 150 miles where all the stations are flag-stops and where folks depend on the railway and the railway men for the necessities of life. Outdated newspapers, a bottle of liniment, postage stamps of the mail order store, maybe a bottle of fly oil or an emergency nipple for a baby bottle.

Addie as he was called had an average of 40 mins shopping to do in Capreol and Foleyet to fill his list. When this facet of his service was pointed out at the party at McKee’s camp five days after his last run, Addie’s comment was, Aw, that’s a lot of bunk. Over 50 years a railroader Addie came to the C.N.R. in 1913 as a trainman, after several years of service with another line. On his final trip, his three sons worked the train with him, Gilmour was assistant conductor, Don and Ron were brakemen

Addie also had his old friend Robert Glasgow, of Time Magazine, with him to record his last run on May 31 1955. When Conductor Adam “Addie” Gilmour Sweezey retired, all the good deeds of his past caught up with him. News-writers notably those of Time Magazine, and the Toronto Star, covered the story of the railroad man who had become a legendary figure on the C.N.R, train no. 217 in Northern Ontario.

Adam Sweezey has been nominated to the 2003 Railway Hall of Fame.

Alex and Mary Nepitt

Alex Nepitt left the Ukraine during a civil unrest in 1909. He worked at lumbering along the Spanish River and also had a brief stint in railroading.

In 1912 Alex went to the site of Sellwood mine where he decided to open a General Store to accommodate the residents of a booming Sellwood. Once his business was established, he wrote home to ask Mary Palewictz his childhood sweetheart, to join him at Sellwood. Alex and Mary were married in 1913.

In 1922 the mine was on it’s last leg and Alex decided to move to the up-and-coming Town of Capreol. When the Sellwood mine closed, Alex had the idea to haul the bricks from the blast furnaces at Sellwood to Capreol where he would build Nepitt’s General Store at 78 Young St.

Bringing all the bricks by horse and wagon to Capreol was no easy task. It took over a year to complete the new store. Nepitt’s General Store opened in 1923.

Alex supplied groceries to residents and he sent supplies up and down the C.N.R. line to tourist camps, section workers, Inco diamond drilling camps and the Department of Lands and Forests in Skead for over 50 years.

Coal and Wood were in great demand and Alex supplied the town for all their heating needs. When Oil became the in-thing, Alex opened an Imperial Oil business and made fuel deliveries by tank truck for the first time in Capreol.

In the winter, Alex supplied the C.N.R with the ice cut from Ella lake and the Vermillion river. Over the years of cutting ice many horses and trucks met their demise in the icy water of Ella lake.

Alex was known as a good and kind man who helped many families through the depression years. Beside every good man is a great woman. Mary Nepitt was known for her giving heart and the smell of cabbage rolls, perahay and borscht coming from her kitchen that was open to all. It is said that Mary sang like an Angel and when she sang the ” Indian Love Call ” at Ella lake the whole lake even the Whip-poor-Wills stood silent to hear her song.