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Valley Lives - Don Chartrand

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the May 29, 2013 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Chelsea man's adventurous spirit rides across Canada

by Trevor Greenway

Don Chartrand loved to travel on his big BMW motorcycle, winding up and down many of the streets in the provinces across Canada. And when his family is finished their work this summer, Chartrand will be resting in every one of the provinces he rode through.

His family is spreading Chartrand's ashes across Canada, after he died May 6 from Leukemia complications. He was 76.

"He loved his bike," said daughter Andrea, remembering when her dad went on a cross-country trip at age 70. He went as far north as you can go in Canada on a bike and ended up in the Northwest Territories.

Valley Lives
Don Chartrand loved travelling across the country and made several cross-Canada trips on his beloved BMW motorcycle. Photos courtesy Andrea Chartrand.

It was on his way back, when he took a nasty spill and banged up his face pretty bad. Chartrand's nose bled for seven straight days - but he finished the trip. "He was a big tough guy. He was insane," she added with a chuckle.

It's the way Andrea always remembered her dad and the "crazy" things he would do with his family - like pack 12 people in a small fishing boat and go camping for the weekend.

Those camping trips and fishing excursions are what Andrea remembers most as a kid, made even more special because her dad would always bring hot chocolate and marshmallows with them on every adventure.

Chartrand was born in Sault Ste. Marie in the 1930s, before he moved to Burnett and started a family. As a kid, he had a knack for fixing things and a strong work ethic. He tinkered a lot before landing a job as a fix-it man for Bell Canada. He worked there for 30 years, before rheumatoid arthritis got the better of him. Chartrand took almost a year off, but couldn't handle sitting still. So, an old friend by the name of Art Mantell, former publisher of the Low Down, encouraged him to take out an ad as a local repairman.

He did so, but quickly had to remove it because he got too much work.

Valley Lives
Don Chartrand.

"There are still messages on his machine for him to fix stuff," said Andrea, adding that word- of-mouth kept her dad busy in his later years. Although Chartrand's arthritis kept his hands clenched, he was a whiz with a screwdriver; he could fix almost anything: from dishwashers to lawnmowers. He also cut grass and ploughed snow - anything to keep busy.

Chartrand also volunteered a great deal of his time in Chelsea, leading the 1st Chelsea Cubs, then Scouts, for seven straight years in the late 70s. He even took a troop of 14 boys to Europe to meet their "brother troop" in Scotland. Chartrand was a social guy, especially in his later years, when he had a coffee club with Mantell and former Low Down editor Martti Lahtinen.

The three would meet several times a week at La Vallee Restaurant, where Chartrand would sip tea, while the other two grumps would toss back copious amounts of coffee and chat about the changing world.

"He was just an intelligent and inspiring guy to be around and that's how I will always remember him," said Lahtinen, realizing how different the coffee club may be without Chartrand on one of the chairs.

"We are going to bring tea cups every week so that Don is always with us," he added.

Chartrand is survived by his former spouse Katannya, his sister Louise and his brothers Gene, Gordon and Leslie.

He leaves behind his daughter Andrea, his two sons Chris and Jodi and his five grandchildren Marielle, Nicolas, Naomi, Evan and Alex.


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