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January  16, 2014

Colourful characters make for good books

I have a fascination with characters who had remarkable achievements in spite of some serious flaws. I have written about Grey Owl and his muse Anahareo, Father Paradis, and Joe Montferrand who became Canada’s Paul Bunyan as Joe Mufferaw.  (Google Heritage Perspectives and add one of their names to see my articles on them.) There are many other  "characters" too long to list. Some Mayors including Merle Dickerson, the long standing North Bay Mayor and the current Toronto Mayor are examples. Michael Barnes has written about some examples in his book Great Northern Characters. Will Ferguson looked at our Prime Ministers in his 1999 book Bastards & Boneheads. 

One character I had not heard much about came to life recently when Sudbury author Suzanne F. Charron published a scholarly 250 page book on the unbelievable life of animal trainer Joe LaFlamme. There was a book signing of her book Wolfman Joe LaFlamme -at Gulliver’s Books in North Bay recently. 

Cover of Joe LaFlamme book.

I read the book over Christmas and agree with Charron that Joe had “an inner stamina, patience, courage and audacious creativity”. Joe (1889-1965) was born in Quebec and did a variety of jobs including being a policeman before he and his wife left for the logging community in Gogama in 1920. Gogama is now a small ecotourism location on Lake Miniskawa 190 kilometers north of Sudbury on  a spur connection with highway 144. It was established originally in the late 1800s and later became a CNR stop. There was an early Hudson Bay post which is now a Museum with lots of LaFlamme memorabilia. 

Joe was an intelligent, creative, entrepreneurial personality with a handsome 6’2” 225 pound presence. To survive in Gogama Joe worked in the Lumber business but soon became involved in many sidelines including becoming the illegal local booze outlet for which he was charged. 

His claim to fame was his unbelievable ability to train dogs, wolves, moose and other animals. He was famous for the wolves he put into teams, sometimes with dogs and did some incredible things. He is also sometimes called   “Mooseman” because of the things he did with moose. Joe built a large home with rented rooms and a large back yard full of animals. 

 Joe LaFlamme and pet moose

When his skill at wild animal domestication became refined he proceeded on some sensational trips south with his teams. Joe and some helpers took his wolf led teams to Toronto in 1925 and drove down Bay Street. The public adoration was extensive as thousands watched. He then relocated to the Grenadier Pond in High Park where he put on displays. A year later he went to New York City to Madison Square Gardens and was involved in a race with a New York friend. 

In 1939 he took a tour of 11 wolves to the Boston Sportsman show and included an exhibition in Sudbury on the way. As the cover of the book shows Joe dressed the part and was as attractive as the wolves. The book has some excellent photos including one with Joe and one of his moose that he trained to walk up the stairs to a porch on his house. 

There is no question that joe has a negative side, with a short temper and a will to get his own way. After 29 years in Gogoama he and his wife and son returned to Quebec where he rented rooms, acted as a crossing guard and night watchman. He died at age 75 in 1965. 

I have only touched on his remarkable life. The book is in an economical paperback and is also available in French. Suzanne Charron is tentatively scheduled to return for another signing in the new year at Gulliver’s Books where I fantasize Gulliver the traveller and LaFlamme the traveller  swapping tales  


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