masthead image

Tophet

History

Town site photo

Shell of a former dwelling

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) built a line through the dense bush of northern Ontario. After completing the line to Chapleau in 1885, the CPR established sidings and small section villages. One of many insignificant sidings that lined the track was given the name of Tophet, which is Hebrew for the word Hell. In 1942 the Kalamazoo Vegetable and Parchment Company (KVP) established a spur and loading station at the little siding. A bunkhouse and depot were also constructed.

During the same decade the federal government decided to entice the Oji-Cree population to settle on a reserve so that they could improve management of the northern native population. The new band would be called New Brunswick House Indian Reserve. The "New" would later be dropped.

In 1948 the government established a town site of 24 homes neatly constructed as a crossroad. It was laid out in the isolated township of Mountbatten. The township was set aside as a reserve for the exclusive use of the Oji-Crees. Although lacking water and sewage service, the little community took root, and nearly 100 residents called Tophet home.

Around the same period a schoolhouse and band office were constructed. The school counted a dozen children and was headed by George Young who also resided in the school. In 1968 an Anglican Church was constructed to enhance the social atmosphere. It was officially consecrated the following year by Reverend Hoover of Onaping Falls, however it closed two years later.

One major stumbling block was employment. While a few lucky residents trapped or were employed by the CPR, KVP on the other hand, reneged on their promise to offer employment to the local band. In 1958 after years of litigation, the government cancelled KVP's timber rights for the township and transferred them to the band. However, by the time the band began lumbering, most of the prime pine and pulpwood was already harvested, leaving very few employment opportunities for the community.

By the late 1960s numerous problems plagued the little settlement such as unemployment, lack of basic services, and the utter remoteness of the community. The band opened negotiations with the government for a possible land swap. The residents wanted to relocate nearer to Chapleau so as to have access to nearby businesses and government services. Negotiations were completed in 1972 and a land swap was arranged. A parcel of land in Mountbatten Township reverted to the crown and another parcel, just south of Duck Lake on the newly completed Hwy 101, was resurveyed into a new village site for the band. The 60 or so remaining residents left for a better life nearer to Chapleau.

By 1976 only a handful of residents remained. The school, band office, church and depot had all closed. As homes stood empty other natives either moved in or stripped the homes down for firewood. Little by little the town site fell. Today there are only three partial homes remaining, one of which is still standing. Close to Duck Lake, at Mulligan's Bay, an old CPR name board dated 1930 still stands.