Biography for Dr. Wm. Murray Leatherdale
(May 25, 1927 to June 11, 1984)
For 25 years Murray Leatherdale took a very active role in many community projects. His passion for the outdoors, and his interest in the history and people of the Nipissing area, led him to become an avid sportsman, conservationist and researcher. His ability to pilot a plane, guide a canoe, drive a dog team, and survive the most northern of woods, allowed him to witness the solace and beauty of our land, lakes and forests.
In 1953 Dr. Murray Leatherdale received his chiropractic degree and moved to North Bay and set up practice. With a desire to relieve suffering and promote wellness, Murray extended his practice to Thorne and Mattawa, Ontario. He founded the Northern Ontario Chiropractic Association in 1954 and was the president of this council during the 1950’s. He received life membership in the Canadian Chiropractic Association – 1980, Ontario – 1980, and Northern Ontario -1978.
The City of North Bay was the beneficiary of Murray’s deep sense of civic duty and seemingly boundless energies. He recognized the ecological wonders of the area and, although he had no desire to change or re-make the city, he endeavoured to make it more prosperous, and a “must visit” place on the map. To this end, in 1965 and 1966 Murray served as president of the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce and director from the 1960’s to 1978. He was awarded in 1980 the Chamber of Commerce Award of Merit for his achievements in bringing honour and recognition to North Bay. He further brought attention to the indigenous peoples and early explorers by restoring and maintaining some of their routes through the area. He was instrumental in verifying the LaVase Portages in 1960 and annually brushed these trails and placed markers upon these portages. He was recognized for the installation of numerous provincial plaques locally depicting significant historical and geographical points of interest – the La Vase portages 1961, Ontario Northland Railway 1962, Nipissing Lookout and Champlain Trail, late 1950’s. He received the Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award, November 21, 1975 – for local historian, conservation and dedication as a civic promoter. Murray was also recognized in 1967 for his work on the Chamber’s Centennial Committee.
Murray was president of the North Bay Historical Society during the 1970’s, and member of the Ontario Historical Board from 1953 to 1978. As his historical research progressed he became convinced that a fort had existed at the mouth of the La Vase River. In 1963 he founded The Restoration Society for Fort Laronde and was dedicated to and strived for the reality and erection of Fort Laronde at the mouth of the La Vase River, Champlain Park. He even arranged for the first logs to be delivered to the site.
Murray encouraged archaeological verification of this site, as well as other sites located around Trout Lake. Since his passing the site has been verified by an archaeological dig. In 1980 he received the highest honour of the society – life membership in the North Bay Historical Society for outstanding contributions to the preservation of North Bay Heritage, by the Ontario Historical Society.
He was a founder of the North Bay Area Museum. He served as president in 1974 and in 1977 he promoted the formation of the North Bay Area Museum (now Discovery North Bay). In 1980 he was awarded the first honorary life membership.
In 1955 he was president of the North Bay Hunters and Anglers Association. It was within this organization that he lobbied Queen’s Park to pass the “Safe Gun Handling” course into law. As well he was an instructor of this course for many years throughout the North Bay area.
Murray was awarded the ‘Dorothy Walford Memorial Award’ from the North Bay – Mattawa Conservation Authority in 1980 in recognition of his beneficial and environmental work. He served with this organization as a board member from 1975 to 1978. During these years and preparing for the opening of the Eau Claire Gorge he was quite often found busy working at brushing these trails for public use.
Murray had the opportunity to combine his love of nature and sporting activities with his historical research when, in 1966, he was a founder, member and promoter of the “Ville Marie to North Bay Canoe Race,” reviving the old voyageur routes – one of the most rugged and challenging races in Eastern Canada. This event attracted teams from all over Canada and the United States. He was president of the Race Directorate in 1974.
In the late 1960’s, Murray’s sporting activities branched into dog sled racing. At one point he could claim ownership of 60 sled dogs, including Alaskan, Siberian and even Greyhound mixes. In 1966 he co-founded and promoted the award winning North Bay Winter Fur Carnival of which the Towers International Sled Dog Derby was a part. For 13 years he was the prime motivator of this event. He served as president in 1969. Murray was presented with one of five national awards for sustained effective effort in promoting tourism for the annual North Bay Winter Fur Carnival in 1969. The award was presented in St. John, New Brunswick by the Canadian Tourist Association. Continuing to bring further recognition to North Bay, in 1970, he drove a 13 sled dog team through the carpeted lobby of the posh Statler Hilton Hotel in Buffalo, New York
carrying the Mayors of Buffalo, New York - Frank Sedita and of North Bay - Merle Dickerson. He further brought notoriety to his community by taking the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau on a dog sled ride around the tarmac at North Bay’s Jack Garland Airport while the then Prime Minister was on a visit to North Bay. Murray and a group of fellow “mushers” brought international attention in 1975 to this community when a Guinness World Record was attained with the formation of a hitched sled team of fifty dogs!
Murray encouraged the growth and development of tourism to this area; he was an avid supporter of the North Bay Lakeshore Resorts Association and later the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters. He promoted this area numerous times at the Sportsmen Show in Toronto. In 1980 Murray received life membership in the North Bay Rotary Club and had been a member in the years preceding this. He was a member since 1953 with the Kinsmen Club and served as their president in the late 1950’s.
Most would say, however, that Murray was at his best when enlightening others about our historical past through his many lectures, media interviews and stories. His rare gift for making the past come alive made him a noted lecturer throughout Ontario. His passionate rhetoric, vision of bygone eras, and dedication to his community culminated in the publishing of Nipissing from Brulé to Booth in 1975. He presented the original manuscript in honour of the City of North Bay’s 50th Anniversary. Sponsored by and dedicated to the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, it was meant as a fund raising project, and indeed it was, as the volume had three printings.
While focusing on finding the actual site of Fort Laronde and researching and planning for his second book, Murray suffered a massive stroke. December 1, 1978, brought an end to the diverse and enriched career of William Murray Leatherdale, Doctor of Chiropractic, community leader, sportsman, conservationist, pilot, storyteller and author. But, however diminished, the man remained. With the right side of his body paralysed and communication severely affected, Murray’s need to express the storyteller within led him to take up painting, perhaps providing a connection with others that he could no longer achieve through conversation. Murray painted and traveled until his death on June 11, 1984. How fitting it is the inscription on his memory stone “In loving memory of one who dedicated his life to the suffering of others and to the betterment of the community in which he lived”