Abandoned building©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
By the 1890's, Charles Alfred Paradis had established numerous French Canadian settlements on the unusually rich fertile tract north of Lake Nipissing. As Verner, one of the early small communities began to grow, Father A.L. Desaulniers, a rival, decided to start another settlement farther north in Gibson Township and east of the new French Canadian community of River Valley founded by Paradis.
The first wave of settlers arrived in 1895. They built and forged the beginnings of their new settlement, naming the community after Father Desaulniers. Technically the village held the name of Sainte-Anne-de-Desaulniers, the same as the future church. Homesteaders cleared their land in the summer, and worked in the lumber camps in the winter. Others found employment in the many small mills scattered throughout the area.
The post office first opened in 1895, along with a general store. After the Canadian Northern Railway arrived in 1913, the unexpected rail link helped solidify local lumbermen and farmers. In an instant, the town added a siding, station, water tower, a station agent's home, and section houses. Around this time a cheese factory, operated by Lionel Vallières, also began production. Deasaulniers supported two schools; a public school, and a French Separate School. For a few years a second store was in operation.
During the prosperous years of 1915-16, the proud villagers erected a large, wooden church. It included a confessional, an altar, as well as a statue of the church's patron, Sainte Anne. Unfortunately there was a serious problem. The new house of worship was never consecrated and technically never an official church. The reason for this was the bishop of Sault-Sainte-Marie Diocese, Monseigneur Scollard.
Scollard was an Irishman who despised the recent influx of French Canadian settlers in Nipissing District. The bishop thwarted every effort at French speaking colonization, to the point where it became a major deterrent to the development of future settlement schemes. Francophone parishes in and around North Bay had first hand experience with Scollard. Even though the francophones formed the majority of Catholics, and contributed over 80 percent of its revenues, more than half of the resources were allocated to Anglophone parishes.
As the joyful residents celebrated their new church in 1916, they set off to receive Scollard's praise and benedictions for the church. However instead of praise they received nothing but fierce opposition. Scollard liked to know and control everything. Initially the bishop stated that since he wasn't personally consulted on the church's construction, he would simply refuse the residents' request. Eventually Scollard partially came to his senses and officially "opened" the structure on September 11th 1916, but it was still not consecrated.
In the end the burden fell on the priests. The 25th of that same month saw the first mass celebrated by Father C. P. Thériault of the nearby community of Field. On July 29th 1917, a benediction ceremony was held for the statue but the structure still was never consecrated. Scollard was to hold his grudge until his death.
In its heyday, Desaulniers was a busy place. The streets that led to the Canadian Northern Railway Station, were lined with a store and hotel/rooming house. The station, and water tower which sat alongside the tracks while a sawmill sat in a nearby gully.
In 1947 Wilfred Philippe, purchased the general store and expanded it, selling groceries, hardware, pharmaceuticals, gas, feed and seeds. It also contained the post office as well as the town's only telephone. The store was sold to a local co-op in 1951 and lasted until sometime in the 60s.
As the community gradually declined in the 50's, homes and lots were replaced by pasture. Soon most of the main street was abandoned and the buildings torn down one by one. The post office closed in 1960. A new school had been built in 1960 but closed in 1970. Later on the highway was realigned, erasing some of the town plan. The only business left was a small, lone chip stand.
Today the once busy road is empty and there's almost nothing left. The station, store and sawmill are long gone. A few original homes remain occupied. All that remains are the foundations of the water tower and the 'new' school, an unoccupied 'hotel' and the collapsed shell of a cabin by the station.