As with many of the towns in this region, Nipissing sprung up due to lumbering and pinned it hopes for survival on a railway that never arrived. Nipissing Village is located on the South River which heads to Lake Nipissing and was the largest commercial center in the area before the railways planned sealed the the town’s fate. The village still has a few old buildings and several new – many of the farmsteads have either burned or fallen into ruin. What’s more they are very difficult to access and much of the trail has also been left to decay.
I visited the Nipissing museum and met the curator, Joe Steele, whose own roots go back to the earliest days of the town. He gave us an extensive tour of the collection and was full of the most interesting stories.
Nipissing has played host and home to some remarkable characters in its history – particularly around the first world war. Jean Cameron Smith was one of those and an unusual woman for her times. Well traveled and worldly, she had spent some time in Japan and lived there for many years. She joined the few women who went into Europe during World War I as a field nurse. She was posted with the famous poet, John McCrae (In Flander’s Fields). He was quite ill at the time and they became close. She returned from the war with all of his manuscripts.
Ms. Cameron Smith was awarded the Royal Red Cross by King George V (Queen Elizabeth II’s father). The dress below was the one she wore. There is also a winter photograph of her homestead, where all of the McCrae manuscripts were kept. Unfortunately shortly after she passed away, the homestead and all of its contents were lost in a fire – including the manuscripts. The photocopy in the museum is one of the only remaining images of the famous poem.
Nipissing also played host to Amelia Earheart in the weeks before her trip around the world. She had a friend with whom she relaxed and spent time at the nearby South Bay of Lake Nipissing.
Below is an image of the old cash register from the late 1800’s general store. When the store burnt down, the cash register was saved and remains at the museum.
I highly recommend a visit with Joe at the Nipissing museum. It is open 11-5 until Labour Day except Mondays. For more information on Nipissing and the museum there is a great article here.