Val Gagné, Ontario

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Val Gagné
Unincorporated rural community
The abandoned National Tavern in Val Gagné
The abandoned National Tavern in Val Gagné
Val Gagné is located in Canada
Val Gagné
Val Gagné
Val Gagné is located in Ontario
Val Gagné
Val Gagné
Coordinates: 48°37′1″N 80°38′20″W / 48.61694°N 80.63889°W / 48.61694; -80.63889Coordinates: 48°37′1″N 80°38′20″W / 48.61694°N 80.63889°W / 48.61694; -80.63889
TownshipBlack River-Matheson
Time zoneUTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)

Val Gagné is an unincorporated rural community in the township of Black River-Matheson, Cochrane District, Ontario, Canada.[1][2] It is located 1.5 km (0.93 mi) east of Highway 11,[3] between Matheson and Iroquois Falls.[4] For many years the community was accessible by train.[5] The Ontario Northland Railway's Northlander from Toronto to Cochrane, which passed through Val Gagné, made its final passenger run in 2012.[6] An Ontario Northland bus now stops at Val Gagné.[7]

Previously called "Nushka", the settlement was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1916,[8] which burned more than 3,100 km2 (1,200 sq mi) of forest.[9] The town was rebuilt and renamed "Val Gagné", for Wilfrid "Little Father" Gagné, a Catholic priest who died trying to rescue his parishioners from the fire.[8][10][11][12]


The Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway constructed a line through the area between 1906 and 1909.[13] Shortly after, a Catholic clergyman named Bourassa began settling families from the nearby province of Quebec, at two locations along line, Ramore and Nushka (now Val Gagné). Under the auspices of the church, the settlers established farms around Nushka.[14]

In 1911, the Church of the Immaculate Conception was founded in Nushka, along with a school.[15] A post office, "Nushka Station", opened that same year.[16] The early settlement had a creamery, a store, about 20 frame houses, and a temporary railway station made of a boxcar fitted with a platform.[17][18][19][20]

The influence of the church made Nushka "something of a spiritual centre...more of an extension of northern Quebec than of Ontario".[14]

The Great Fire of 1916[edit]

The railway in Nushka shortly after the fire, where at least 35 bodies were found[21]

On 29 July 1916—at around the same time a large forest fire was reaching Nushka—the settlement's priest, Wilfred Gagné, was arriving in Nushka by train following a clerical retreat. Gagné had been priest in Nushka for just a month, and lived above Nushka's store. As heavy smoke filled the air, the train's conductor advised Gagné not to leave the safety of the train. Gagné instead entered Nushka and led 35 people to the railway line. He then returned to the burning town to save 28 others. Within a few hours both groups had burned to death or been suffocated, the lone survivor a man who used moist clay to filter the smoke.[17][18][19] Nushka was completely destroyed.[11] Of the town's inhabitants, only eight were left after the fire.[11][17]

When Nushka rebuilt, it was renamed in Gagné's honour, and a monument dedicated to Gagné was erected in the Val Gagné Cemetery.[19][22]

Later history[edit]

The Val Gagné post office closed in 1980.[23]

The Church of the Immaculate Conception continues to function in Val Gagné.[15][24] Val Gagné has an outdoor skating rink, a ball park, a community hall, a senior's housing facility, a fire department, and a Caisse Populaire credit union.[25][26][27][28][29][30] The township of Black River-Matheson operates a bi-monthly transportation service to take Val Gagné residents shopping in Timmins.[31]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Val Gagné". Natural Resources Canada. 6 October 2016.
  2. ^ "Black River-Matheson". Statistics Canada. 2 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Page 22: Present Day King's Highway 11 Photographs (Matheson to Cochrane)". Photographic History of King's Highways. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  4. ^ "Val Gagne, Ontario". Roadside Thoughts. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Canadian National Railways system time table April 30, 1961 to October 28, 1961 Timetable Table 38 n" (PDF). Streamliner Memories. p. 25. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  6. ^ "Northlander Train Makes Historic Final Ride". CBC News. 28 September 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Val Gagne". Ontario Northland. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  8. ^ a b Hale, Alan S. (18 July 2016). "Matheson Museum Exhibit Marks 100th Anniversary of Devastating Fire". Cornwall Standard-Freeholder. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  9. ^ Dowson, William C. H. (1916). "A Survivor's Story of Northern Ontario's Disastrous Bush Fire". Popular Mechanics Magazine. 26: 517–519. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  10. ^ "A Century Later, Great Matheson Fire of 1916 Still Deadliest in Canadian History". CBC News. 29 July 2016. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  11. ^ a b c Commito, Mike (28 July 2017). "#Canada150: The Deadliest Fire in Canada's History was in Northern Ontario". Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  12. ^ Pace, Edward Aloysius (1922). The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church Front Cover. [S.l.]: Encyclopedia Press. ISBN 9780840731753.
  13. ^ "Ontario Northland Railway". Canada Rail. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  14. ^ a b Abel, Kerry M. (2006). Changing Places: History, Community, and Identity in Northeastern Ontario. McGill-Queen's Press. pp. 67, 70, 108.
  15. ^ a b "Church of the Immaculate Conception". 19 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Nushka Station". Library and Archives Canada. 27 May 2014.
  17. ^ a b c "The Great Fire of 1916". Iroquois Falls & District Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  18. ^ a b "Eyewitness Story of the North Country Holocaust". The Porcupine Advance. 2 August 1916. pp. 1, 4, 5.
  19. ^ a b c MacKay, Donald (2007). The Lumberjacks. Dundurn. p. 271.
  20. ^ Oldham, W. G. (1916). "Annual Report: Bridge and Building Department" (PDF). Sessional Papers, Vol. XLVIII — Part XL - Second Session of the Fourteenth Legislature of the Fourteenth Legislature of the Province of Ontario. A. T. Wilgress: 63.
  21. ^ Black, Robson (August 1916). "The Searchlight on Ontario" (PDF). Canadian Forestry Journal. XII (8): 663.
  22. ^ Alexander, Martin E. (25 October 2010). "'Lest We Forget' Canada's Major Wildland Fire Disasters of the Past, 1825-1938" (PDF). International Association of Wildland Fire.
  23. ^ "Val Gagné". Library and Archives Canada. 27 May 2014.
  24. ^ "Église de l'Immaculée-Conception". Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  25. ^ "Outdoor Rink Use". Township of Black River-Matheson. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  26. ^ "Playing Fields". Township of Black River-Matheson. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  27. ^ "Meeting Rooms/Auditorium". Township of Black River-Matheson. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  28. ^ "Senior's Services". Township of Black River-Matheson. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  29. ^ "Corporation of the Township of Black River-Matheson - Minutes, Regular Council Meeting" (PDF). Township of Black River-Matheson. 27 June 2011.
  30. ^ "Community Profile 2013" (PDF). Township of Black River-Matheson. June 2013.
  31. ^ "Community Transportation Schedule 2017-2018" (PDF). Township of Black River-Matheson. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
  32. ^ "Décès de l'auteure Hélène Brodeur". Société Radio‑Canada. 18 August 2010.