Remembering David Dunlap’s Mattawa Connection

Remembering David Dunlap’s Mattawa Connection

Leo Morel in his book Mattawa the Meeting of the Waters (1980) notes that David A. Dunlap (1863-1924) was an astute lawyer in Mattawa in 1903 when he got wind of silver being discovered in the Cobalt area. In one of Ontario’s great mining stories full of “romance, truth & fiction” Fred Larose an employee of the Temiscaming and Northern Ontario Railway , cutting through the rock near Cobalt, dropped his hammer and saw some silver ore. Morel tells about an employee of the Ontario Bureau of Mines in Mattawa going to Cobalt to check it out when David Dunlap found out. He went along with Mattawa friends and businessmen Noah and Henry Timmins who joined the employee heading to Cobalt. They invested and soon became millionaires.

David A. Dunlap from his book Shahwandahgooze

Lawyer Dunlap did the legal paper work and was involved in Cobalt until the silver was depleted. They then moved on to Porcupine, Hollinger, Timmins (named after the Timmins brothers) and Noranda. When Dunlap died in 1924 at age 61 he was a multi-millionaire. There is little in Mattawa to remember him and his Timmins friends but research provides some additional information on David A. Dunlap.

David Dunlap’s wife Jessie Donalda donated the money for a David Dunlap Astronomy Observatory in his memory in the 1930s in Richmond Hill to the University of Toronto. David was an amateur astronomer. It was Canada’s largest astronomical observatory for generations of astronomers. Many discoveries including proof of black holes took place there.

The University did a lot to adjust to the necessary light pollution from a burgeoning local community but eventually closed it. Recently the U of T saw the value of the acreage and decided to sell it. Recent reports in the Globe & Mail and the CBC etc. objecting to the sale prompted my attention. Apparently the sale will go through. The developer at least has plans to keep the observatory and other buildings including an administration building and old farm house, where the director lived, for public visitation. (For further information on the Observatory Google David Dunlap Observatory).

Leo Morel’s book also makes reference to the Donalda Experimental Farm, another early Dunlap project. The farm was established in 1914 and made many advances in agriculture. The farm was eventually sold. The original farm house is now the clubhouse for the Donalda Golf Club.

There is also another coincidental connection with the U of T and David Dunlap. David built a beautiful family home in 1908 at 63 Highlands Avenue in the posh Rosedale section of Toronto where the family lived until it was sold privately in 1946 after Jessie Dunlap’s death. The new owner later sold it to the U of T as a home for their president and it remains today with dozens of university functions taking place there each year.

A Mattawa Connection

At mileage 12 on the railway to Temiscaming north of Mattawa, Snake Creek flows into the Ottawa River from both the Quebec and Ontario sides of the Ottawa River. On the Ontario side there is a fascinating lost village store. In anticipation of the railway going along the Ontario side of the river a small community developed with a church and school and several families. When the railway went on the other side of the river most of the people dispersed except the Smith family and their 10 children.

Hap Wilson, well known author, artist and activist and his then wife Trudy became friendly with one of the Smith sons Doxy when they worked in Temagami. The Wilsons leased and later bought land at Snake Creek and lived there for years. Hap Wilson produced some remarkable art and several outstanding canoe route books there. Hap’s former wife and her mother Betty Card still live there in the beautiful river side setting. Hap Wilson wrote about Snake Creek at length in his recent book The Cabin: A Search for Personal Sanctuary (2006). I recently visited Snake Creek with Mattawa historian Vic Tremblay and spoke to Betty Card about the history of the location and the enclave that developed on the other side of the Ottawa River on Snake Creek.

(While visiting Snake Creek we visited a unique lodge “Nature’s Harmony” (547 Snake Creek Road). It is an off-grid, log lodge on 485 acres overlooking the Ottawa River. It is run by 2 young people who are developing it as a centre for interesting lodgers and activity. For details check their web site or phone 705-223-4340.)

Vic Tremblay had a camp on the Quebec side for 16 years until recently where an old (Morel) farm existed. There was a famous multiple murder there in the summer of 1917. I began to hear about a remarkable social club Shahwandahgooze that existed further up the Creek in the early part of the century. The main force in the club was David Dunlap and his wife. They had a 9-hole golf course, a huge log lodge, called the Dunlap’s Castle by some, and people came by boat and plane for years.

Woodprint by Thoreau Macdonald from the Dunlap book

While discussing Shahwandahgooze with Mattawa’s Jack Whalen, former history teacher and chair of the Mattawa Museum board we looked at a copy of a book on the Club written by David Dunlap. It told the fascinating history of the Club and had several beautiful woodcuts by Thoreau Macdonald (1901-1989) the son of J.E.H. Macdonald (1813-1432) founder of the Group of Seven. It mentioned that the Club had an annual meeting in Toronto at 63 Highland each winter – the U of T house mentioned above.

Jack said that when he was a docent on the Timber Train he met David Dunlap the grandson of David A. Dunlap. He gave Jack a copy of a fascinating video made of old 8mm movie film of the old days at Shahwandahgooze showing golfing and other activities by the guests. It also showed footage of the Dunlap family after they moved nearby to Lake Memewin after the original camp closed. I later met Bob and Isabelle Butler and found that Isabelle was from the Petrant family that worked for the Dunlaps for years and she had photos and stories of the patriarch’s three grandchildren Donelda, Moffat and David, on her time there each season as a child. Moffat became a famous Canadian Equestrian competitor.

Dunlap Fairchild Husky plane with Donalda Dunlap, David Dunlap and   Isabelle Petrant in the early days on Shahwandahgooze Lake (now Lac Marin).

I also contacted and met Richard Watson who now owns and operates Memewin Lodge (the original Dunlap Memewin Lake property) on the Quebec side and knows the history of the area intimately. He put me on to Jean Racicot of Rouyn-Noranda who has written a history of the area and has since shared it with me. He is part of the Chevrueil Club another group operating on the Quebec side. I recently contacted David Dunlap and an excursion to the area in Quebec including a visit to the current Shahwandahgooze and Memewin Lodges is planned for the fall with David and some of the people mentioned above. I will report on this trip into the unknown here later.