The consuming passions of Doug Smith

The consuming passions of Doug Smith

Manitoulin Transport founder finds Gore Bay the best place to be

Nestled between two high, prominent ridges of the Niagara Escarpment on Manitoulin’s northwestern coast and approached down gently sweeping hills, the town of Gore Bay and its namesake V-shaped inlet slowly reveal their enduring allure on these sheltered shores of the North Channel of Lake Huron.

  Incorporated in 1890, Gore Bay’s development had proceeded quickly after the Treaty of 1862 opened the Island to settlement. Homes, stores, hotels, a blacksmith, liveries, sawmills and receiving docks for the steamships that brought passengers, mail and supplies and took lumber and fish to southern markets were established – at the turn of the twentieth century, the growing settlement was a boomtown of industry.

  Enterprise built this town. When Fred Smith arrived here in 1898 at the age of 23, leaving his parents and siblings behind in eastern Ontario, Gore Bay was prospering and the young entrepreneur saw it as full of opportunity. Fred immediately started a creamery on the waterfront with local businessmen, and Fred’s brother William arrived a year later, at age 15, to help out. After the great fire of 1908, the brothers took over a general store that became Smith Brothers’ General Merchants, for decades selling everything from groceries and bulk supplies to clothing, hats and footwear for the whole family, right on the main street. 

  It was a series of prescient business acquisitions, from the Merchants’ Dock Company and the creamery to the general store in the 1920s that propelled Fred and William’s retail business into wholesale by the 1950s. Wholesaling became the means of expansion for Fred’s son, R.W. ‘Bill’ Smith, in the 1920s and for Bill’s son, Douglas, who joined his father’s business in 1955 after becoming disillusioned with a budding banking career in Toronto. By 1960, Doug Smith had founded Manitoulin Transport, now the most extensive transportation network in North America, still headquartered in Gore Bay sixty years on.

  “When I started Manitoulin Transport, the head of some big accounting firm told me I didn’t have a chance,” smiles the tall, slender and soft-spoken businessman sitting across the table in a wooly plaid shirt. “It was a struggle, sure.” 

 “When I started Manitoulin Transport, the head of some big accounting firm told me I didn’t have a chance,”

The company continuously had to adapt in very challenging environments for transportation. When their wholesale grocery trade began to flourish in the 50s – customers included every commercial outlet on the Island and in Killarney, Espanola, Whitefish Falls and Cockburn Island –   they “had to” slash their competition. National Grocers, a big supplier that brought produce to the Island as well as groceries was cutting into the Smiths’ business. 

  To compete, Doug Smith bought a Ford F-900 truck in 1957, custom built and insulated to transport perishables – the first of many transport innovations pioneered by him —  and began driving down to Toronto’s Ontario Food Terminal, heading back north overnight with produce fresher than National Grocers’. Upon delivery in Gore Bay, the truck would be loaded with fresh-killed frozen turkeys from the Manitoulin Turkey Co-Operative and driven to Toronto’s Royal York Hotel and Eaton’s department store restaurants. After the acquisition of local Hill’s Transport got them a couple of trucks and a Class A license for the Toronto-Manitoulin Island run in 1960, the new company, Manitoulin Transport, was born.

  The myriad rules imposed by the Ontario Highway Transport Board that regulated the trucking industry until 1988 required endless applications, hearings and witnesses to prove the ‘necessity and convenience’ of each route. “When trucking was de-regulated, the competition was so fierce, many companies couldn’t survive and chose to sell,” says Mr. Smith. “We chose to expand: we acquired more terminals and partnered with more brokers and owner-operators, lessening the competition for our services.” 

  Manitoulin Transport is now within the Manitoulin Group of Companies – whose CEO is Doug Smith’s son, Gord – encompassing global transportation services worldwide from supply chain management, warehousing, forwarding, customs brokerage, crating and packaging to time-critical deliveries. Two hundred and fifty employees work in the sprawling Head Office in Gore Bay, 700 tractors (those familiar red trucks with the iconic Manitoulin logo) and 1500 trailers operate out of more than eighty terminals in Canada, with partners and brokers in the U.S., Asia and Europe. In 2008, Doug Smith was invested into the Order of Canada, this country’s highest civilian honour, in recognition of his work as a pioneer and innovator in Canada’s trucking industry.

Two hundred and fifty employees work in the sprawling Head Office in Gore Bay, 700 tractors (those familiar red trucks with the iconic Manitoulin logo) and 1500 trailers operate out of more than eighty terminals in Canada, with partners and brokers in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

Nowadays, Doug Smith has other interests: in addition to his lifelong passion for advancing the family business, the founder of Manitoulin Transport has an abiding love for his hometown of Gore Bay and a keen interest in its wellbeing. At 86 years of age, Doug Smith has not given a thought to retirement, perhaps harkening back to his grandfather Fred’s words: “Keep going til you’re ninety and success will be yours!” He maintains his office at headquarters in town where today he is engaged in reviewing the town’s plans for new docks in the marina and some Swing Bridge replacement ideas sent by a friend; Maureen Dumond, his executive administrative assistant for the last twenty-five years, is his right hand.

  The zeal that has driven Doug Smith’s business success also informs his ideas about Gore Bay. “We want the town to survive,” he says. It’s been a long haul from the boom days of lumbering and fishing, milling and shipping, to the Island’s present-day tourism-driven economy. The priorities of the town have changed. “Tourism is a good direction for the Island; small towns have been suffering, tourism is the only thing we’ve got left.” 

  So, Mr. Smith, who was born and raised here and was only ever away for a couple of years, started to partner with town council on improvement projects. “I love it here,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place, there’s hunting, fishing, and I know most of the people in town.” An avid boater “since age five,” he’s particularly partial to the waterfront and anchors his boat in the marina. “We motored our boat down to Florida one year and I looked around and thought: the North Channel is so much better.”  

  Ron Lane, former mayor of Gore Bay (2010-2018), remembers partnering with Doug Smith on town projects during his eight-year tenure. “We had a close working relationship,” he says. “We’d talk about the town together; we’d find ways to fund ideas for improvements; we talked about how the town should look good.” 

  The first partnership rebuilt the marina’s old shower house. The new breakwall that juts into the bay at a cost of $1.4 million was next, and the Community Hall renovation project that transformed the imposing limestone building into a more accessible public space that is also able better to accommodate the Gore Bay Theatre’s award-winning annual presentations. The Arena, built after WWII, needed refurbishing. By the time of the town’s 125th anniversary in 2015, many of the town’s historical exteriors had been restored, the main street and the waterfront spruced up. The town’s prized boardwalk was rebuilt and extended; two walking trails were established on the East Bluff with spectacular views of the town across the bay. 

 “I love it here,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place, there’s hunting, fishing, and I know most of the people in town.” An avid boater “since age five,” he’s particularly partial to the waterfront and anchors his boat in the marina. “We motored our boat down to Florida one year and I looked around and thought: the North Channel is so much better.”  

“Doug never wants credit,” says the former mayor. “The only time he gave in was allowing his name to appear on a plaque at the breakwall. His support has helped tremendously to beautify the town; it’s not just about beauty but also about having a working town with attractions and facilities for residents, visitors and the young families who move here to work at Manitoulin Transport, too, our biggest employer.”

  The Smith Family Foundation supports the communities of Manitoulin and Northern Ontario with donations to the Gore Bay health centre, the Fish and Game Club, to charitable organizations and for a future fitness centre in the town. More recently, there are discussions about new park space on the waterfront, new tennis courts, expansion of the marina and last year a splash pad and playground were installed by the boardwalk. 

  “Doug is a numbers guy,” adds Mr. Lane. “He thinks long-term in his projects – twenty, fifty years from now – planning for the future, how to keep the town viable, a great place to live. He looks at what services are lacking; he’s a philanthropist with a sense of importance about Gore Bay. We’re very lucky to have him.”

  “I first played in a band in 1947,” says Mr. Smith, musician. “It was at the annual Sailors’ Ball for workers on the Great Lakes. A band from Wiky was going to play, but there was a big storm, they didn’t make it so I played in the replacement band. I was fourteen.” Doug Smith, on clarinet, and Bob Wiseman, on trumpet, started the Manitoulin Swing Band in 1948 and played dances until 1965: “1948 to 1965 we had sheet music, after 1965 the sheet music wore out and the band had to learn to play by ear.”

  Recently, the Swing Band, with additional players, has performed locally, such as at last summer’s opening of Doug Smith’s newly acquired and refurbished resort, stunningly positioned below the East Bluff. The old lodge, a classic of its era but sadly neglected, had been up for sale since 2016. “I wanted to maintain the resort that I’d known since I was a child,” explains the clearly sentimental buyer, who has renamed it the Inn at Gore Bay. 

  If a beautiful old town property is at risk of losing its longtime character, its old-fashioned appeal, Mr. Smith might very well decide to buy it, out of respect. 

  www.gorebay.ca; also on Facebook 

  ‘The Early Years of Gore Bay,’ by John McQuarrie, is available at Gore Bay’s two pharmacies and at the Expositor Bookstore. 

  www.manitoulintransport.com 

   ‘Manitoulin: A Canadian Trucking Trademark,’ by Josephine Griffith, a detailed history of the Smith family businesses and of early regional transportation, is available in the Gore Bay library.

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

M’Chigeeng: Ojibwe Cultural Foundation Honours Traditions Old and New

M’Chigeeng:

Ojibwe Cultural Foundation Honours Traditions Old and New

  Fascinating and important encounters await visitors to M’Chigeeng: the First Nation is a vigorously forward-thinking community that honours its traditions while forging educational, cultural and health and wellbeing institutions to serve its community with standard-setting schools, cultural spaces, social services and businesses.

  To experience M’Chigeeng is to learn the ancient history of the First Peoples of the Great Lakes Region of Northern Ontario, the traditional crafts still practiced today, contemporary artistic expression and the grace and welcome of the summer powwow – all within a growing commercial hub of restaurants, gas stations and shopping choices nestled among the Lakeview and Kenjgewin Teg schools (including a new trades school), the health centre and the impressive cultural institution that is the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF).

  At the crossroads of Highways 540 and 551, in the heart of the community, the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation’s evocative circular building houses the Museum, a beautifully curated space that displays ancient scrolls, porcupine quill boxes, ash and sweetgrass baskets, jingle dress regalia, pottery and antler carvings, pieces of historical significance and spiritual meaning. The Healing Lodge is a tranquil, circular wood-lined chamber with seating around a fire; a carved wooden tray holds the sacred plants of sweetgrass, sage, tobacco and cedar for smudging ceremonies and healing circles.

 “We have a mandate to represent the culture, and the Museum presents culturally authentic interpretations of Anishininaabek history, cultural practices and beliefs,” says Anong Migwans-Beam, OCF’s executive director

The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation began life in 1974 as an educational and cultural resource centre in a tiny wood frame building. Through the efforts of Mary Lou Fox, James Debassige and others who led the fundraising, the spacious new building was constructed and opened in 1999. Sophie Corbiere, finance officer, started working with the OCF as a summer student “in ’77 or ’78,” she says. “We brought people together around the culture, and ceremonies.”

  “Each director has brought different strategies into the OCF, but bringing back traditional teachings is what they have in common, and what works. Alan Corbiere brought people in to learn about history with important presentations. Anong [Migwans-Beam] brings her art experience, and shares the culture on a regular basis.”

  “We have a mandate to represent the culture, and the Museum presents culturally authentic interpretations of Anishininaabek history, cultural practices and beliefs,” says Anong Migwans-Beam, OCF’s executive director and an accomplished artist and educator. “The OCF represents the culture through language, art, stories, food, crafts and books.” The gift shop offers intriguing art, jewelry, posters and t-shirts for sale.

  The OCF is building an extensive archeological collection, originally placed there at the request of the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM), moved from storage in Sudbury, and recently received Canadian Heritage funding for a geothermal heating and cooling system for the growing archive. A teaching kitchen for traditional foods is another project on the horizon . 

  The children’s Ojibwe language immersion school is run by M’Chigeeng’s Kenjegwin Teg Educational Institute and hosted at the OCF. “It’s nice to hear kids learning the language,” says Ms Migwans-Beam, “and the ceremonies, to hear them singing and drumming.”

The OCF is building an extensive archeological collection, originally placed there at the request of the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM), moved from storage in Sudbury, and recently received Canadian Heritage funding for a geothermal heating and cooling system for the growing archive. A teaching kitchen for traditional foods is another project on the horizon . 

Consulting on cultural or clan teachings and traditional foods and medicines, Leona Nahwegahbow is the Elder in Residence, available to meet with anyone who asks. She speaks with visiting university students, with the immersion school students and she gets “translation requests from all over.” Ms Nahwegahbow attends when requested in the Healing Lodge.

  A small studio houses M’Chigeeng’s Ojibwe-language radio station, GIMAA Radio, host to CHYF-FM, 88.9 on your radio dial.  “The radio station was founded by my dad,” explains Ms Migwans-Beam, whose late father, Carl Beam, became the first artist of Indigenous ancestry to have his work purchased by the National Gallery of Canada as contemporary art; his much-photographed ‘Bringing the Family Together’ painting is incised into the stone gates that  adorn the OCF’s front entrance.  

  Steve Radulovic is the new Director of GIMAA Radio, with a vision for “implementing more live radio, bringing in more people to engage our audiences.” Previously, programs were pre-recorded then played on air. 

  “One of our largest groups of listeners are learners of Anishinaabemowin, so we will have a bit of English, a bit of Ojibwe, to learn vocabulary. The radio is great too for those who just need to hear the language spoken more.” OCF’s sound archives are being digitized to provide a wealth of information, ideas and history for GIMAA Radio podcasts in future. While the station only has an 8km broadcast range, programs are available online at gimaaradio.com and there’s a Facebook page. 

  During the summer, the OCF holds weekly public events: fish pie and scone making, storytelling, sweet grass picking and introductory art studio sessions, such as in etching and ceramics.   “It’s a traditional open studio. We’re open to everyone,” says Ms Migwans-Beam, “even those who just come to observe. It’s a place where contemporary ideas and traditional crafts come together.” 

  Surrounded by her beads, quills and tools, Darlene Bebonang has been making and beading deerhide moccasins, gloves, dresses and vests and teaching the craft for 25 years.  She took her first crafting course at OCF “in ’94-’95,” she says. “I was a student then, now I’m a teacher.” Aspiring beaders are taught by Ms Bebonang in OCF’s studio.

“One of our largest groups of listeners are learners of Anishinaabemowin, so we will have a bit of English, a bit of Ojibwe, to learn vocabulary. The radio is great too for those who just need to hear the language spoken more.”

There’s much more to explore in M’Chigeeng: Aboriginal Experiences at the Great Spirit Circle Trail across from Lillian’s Crafts and Lillian’s Museum’s collection of quill boxes and baskets made by renowned weavers and artists. Many art practitioners exhibit at the OCF and others in their studios and galleries. Neon Raven Art Gallery is a treasure trove of art by Ann Beam, Carl Beam and Anong Migwans-Beam. At the crossroads is the working studio of Blake Debassige and up the hill is Blair Debassige’s Nimkee Gallery. Further east is Weengushk Film Institute, a film and television training centre dedicated to Indigenous youth founded by filmmaker Shirley Cheechoo, currently Chancellor of Brock University. Weengushk is organizing an Indiginous film festival at several Island venues this July 13-15.

  For refreshment there’s Maggie’s Café, Bear Spirit Café, Seasons Restaurant and Abby’s Sunday Brunch; there are several snack bars and convenience stores, a large hardware store, and coming soon, a large grocery store. The quiet tree-lined sand beach behind Lillian’s, with a day pass and a picnic, beckons with an expansive view over West Bay and there is a beautiful Niagara Escarpment hiking trail behind the ball park. The West Bay beach, a community place, is just beside the street leading to Manitoulin Secondary School from the main intersection.

  The annual powwow is on the Labour Day weekend, officially ending the Island’s powwow season in grand style. It’s a cultural feast of dance and drum, food, crafts, colour, sound and community spirit, a welcoming celebration of the timeless and vital culture of M’Chigeeng First Nation.

  Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, 15 Hwy 551, M’Chigeeng. Telephone 705- 377-4902. https://ojibweculture.ca and on Facebook.

M’Chigeeng First Nation: www.mchigeeng.ca

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Saving the Cup and Saucer

Saving the Cup and Saucer

Community Resilience and Ingenuity at Work

Almost everyone who knows Manitoulin Island, residents and visitors, has trekked the Cup and Saucer Trail, one of the Island’s most well-known natural attractions, its twelve kilometres of woodland paths leading to 70 vertical metres (230 feet) of Niagara Escarpment cliffs and spectacular views which were visited by over 20,000 hikers last year.

But hearts sank on May 22, 2017 on reading The Manitoulin Expositor’s online headline announcing the unimaginable: “Cup and Saucer trails closed for now; future of the attraction in jeopardy.”

Minds boggled. Not only is the C and S famous, it is beloved. Previously, the trail had been made available through the efforts of the Manitoulin Tourism Association and the donation of the use of part of their properties by Don Eadie Construction Ltd., Randy Noble, Meredith Chandler and the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC).

A company that had hosted the entrance and the parking lot announced “with a heavy heart” that they where going to repurpose that property and it would no longer be suitable as the Cup and Sauce trailhead.

While readers were still processing the grim announcement, they heard the very next day from the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands’ (NEMI) Mayor Al MacNevin, in whose jurisdiction lies the Cup and Saucer. Via press release, the mayor declared: “Council is going to take immediate action to find a solution to this problem … We intend to work closely with our community partners and the parties directly involved to see if we can broker a solution, or find an alternative trail entrance and parking area.”

“An emergency meeting was held by the mayor and council of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands Tuesday night in which a partnership was formed between the municipality and the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) to create a new access to the Cup and Saucer hiking trails.”

Just one day later, on May 24, the newspaper reported: “An emergency meeting was held by the mayor and council of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands Tuesday night in which a partnership was formed between the municipality and the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) to create a new access to the Cup and Saucer hiking trails.”

“We hope to have the trail re-opened by early summer,” Mayor MacNevin concluded.
The Town of NEMI and the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy – which owns 300 acres of land at the Cup and Saucer, including most of the cup, a large portion of the saucer and most of the adventure trails – immediately began putting into effect a contingency plan they’d drafted together in earlier discussions.

Dave Williamson, NEMI’s Chief Administrative Officer, remembers well that May long weekend: “We found out about the closure of the trail entrance on the Friday, and immediately contacted the other landowners, Randy Noble and Meredith Chandler, who assured us of their continuing support for the trails on their properties; we contacted EBC’s Bob Barnett and I met with Roy Jeffery [EBC’s Manitoulin trails steward] on Sunday. The MTO (Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation) was contacted for temporary approval of a trail entrance off Highway 540, on EBC property.”

Dr. Jeffery’s first concern was to acknowledge the traditional lands on which the Cup and Saucer is situated, and to that end, Norman McGraw and other Elders from Aundeck Omni Kaning and Elders from M’Chigeeng First Nations were invited to carry out a ceremony to ask permission of the spirits of the land to create a new trail.

Bob Barnett, EBC’s director: “When emails started coming in the day the trail was closed, it was laudable that NEMI was able to jump in and get things moving right away. I called Roy and we agreed to just get it done.” 

Dr. Jeffery’s first concern was to acknowledge the traditional lands on which the Cup and Saucer is situated, and to that end, Norman McGraw and other Elders from Aundeck Omni Kaning and Elders from M’Chigeeng First Nations were invited to carry out a ceremony to ask permission of the spirits of the land to create a new trail.

“It’s a very beautiful site,” says Dr. Jeffery, “that goes through several ecological zones.”
When the news of the trail closure hit, “Facebook groups and all kinds of people emailed wanting to help out. The new trail was created by volunteers and EBC members who did intense sessions to create ways up steep embankments; we replaced ladders with stairs, widened the trail, mitigating dangers to the ecology,” Mr. Barnett recalls.

Dave Williamson: “Public Works from the Northeast Town then installed culverts and removed trees for the parking lot while EBC volunteers blazed a new trail to connect with the old. In about a week and a half we had re-opened access to the trail.”

The collective sigh of relief was heard Island-wide and far beyond.

With interest in the Cup and Saucer intensifying, parking is deemed adequate for now, says NEMI’s CAO: “The first parking lot, for 35-40 cars, has been enlarged with a second that accommodates a further 40-50 cars, so there’s more parking than before. The MTO has installed more ‘No Stopping’ signs as people will no longer be allowed to park on the highway.”

 “We have secured the land as public domain, available to the public in perpetuity,” Mr Williamson noted.

The new entrance is located about 3 km west of the Highway 540-Bidwell Road intersection (or about 4 km east of the M’Chigeeng boundary on Highway 540).

  “The EBC,” says Roy Jeffery, “is interested in conservation. We need a management plan for maintenance and safety so we’re seeking funds for that. A plan will identify groups that can help maintain the trail, fundraise, and so on.”

  “What we need now are more indications of how to get around and stay safe while keeping Nature the preeminent experience,” says Bob Barnett.

  At the beginning of 2018, NEMI received support from the MTO for a permanent entrance permit, and a FEDNOR application was approved that covers 43 percent of NEMI’s initial costs for the parking area and signage. “We now have federal support for the trail,” says Dave Williamson.   

  “People come to Manitoulin for the opportunity to enjoy and experience Nature first-hand – it’s part of what makes us a destination. We have a certain feel over here, you can reconnect with nature, the vistas, the beauty. We value the lifestyle here – low key, relaxed – that’s the environment we have. We connect with the land.

  “We have secured the land as public domain, available to the public in perpetuity,” Mr Williamson noted.

  www.townofnemi.on.ca

The Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy’s ‘Hiking Trails of Manitoulin’ map highlights their twelve Island trails and twelve more that are maintained by municipal, First Nations and private owners. It’s available from May onwards on the ferry and in many Island businesses or by contacting the EBC: http://escarpment.ca. To donate to the Cup and Saucer Trail, visit https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/escarpment-biosphere-conservancy-inc/p2p/save-the-cup-and-saucer/

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Lillian’s Museum

Lillian's Museum

M'Chigeeng

A stone’s throw from the OCF, around the corner and east on Hwy 540, is the unmissable Lillian’s Museum, a dedicated space attached to Lillian’s Crafts’ large shop that holds owner Lillian Debassige’s prized 70-odd-year-old collection of Anishinaabe arts and crafts.

A big room is arrayed from floor to ceiling in unique pieces of local Anishinaabe art dating back to the 1940s: rare ash baskets woven with consummate dexterity and intricate quill boxes with lifelike animals and plants tufted in quills by artists Anne Pangowish, Rose Williams, Josette Debassige, Mildred and Melanie Aguonie and many others whose work is preserved here for posterity.

The distinctive and highly collectable paintings of Wiikwemkoong artist Leland Bell line the back wall; ceramic bowls, beaded hide moccasins with fur trim and skillful carvings of antler and bone, going back many decades, line glass cases. Lillian’s collection is far reaching but intimate, inviting viewers to appreciate the age-old techniques, materials and designs used in the creation of these cultural treasures.

Lillian’s Museum: 5950 Hwy. 540, M’Chigeeng, Tel.: 705-377-4987. Hours: Monday to Friday, 9 am to 6 pm; Saturday 9 am to 5 pm; Sunday 10 am to 5 pm. Admission by donation. http://lilliansindiancrafts.com

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

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Ojibwe Cultural Foundation

Ojibwe Cultural Foundation

M'Chigeeng

The modern architectural form of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF), fully situated in the present, pays homage to the everlasting traditions of the Anishinaabek–the Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi of Manitoulin Island and the Great Lakes region.

Light permeates the open circular atrium that forms the heart of the entryway and of the building itself. Towering cedar poles buttress the room’s soaring canopy, lifting the spirit in the upward gaze. Activities radiate likes spokes from a wheel in offices, a large workshop and activities area, a Healing Lodge, also circular, that holds a sacred fire for ceremonies, Ojibwe language radio station CHYF-FM and a museum that reflects on the inexorable links between traditional creative expression and modern manifestations of Anishinaabek art.

Upon entering the OCF’s museum, a large dreamcatcher bathed in soft spotlight compels the visitor to consider the meanings it conjures. Originally crafted by Ojibwe mothers to protect sleeping children from harm, the dreamcatcher still acts as a symbolic filter, trapping evil and letting good flow through wherever it is hung. This dreamcatcher, in forged steel by M’Chigeeng steelworker artist Kathryn Corbiere, evokes the traditional uses and construction of this beloved cultural emblem, but seems imbued with even more than the usual resistance in its use of materials, perhaps in response to increasing modern threats to the environment, and thus to identity and way of life. A beautiful work of art, Ms. Corbiere’s Dreamcatcher is hung near the museum’s entry doors, a powerful sentinel, a steely reminder of what endures, its metal web perhaps shredding malevolent spirits to bits, allowing only positivity to pass into the museum experience beyond. It’s immediately the sort of cultural encounter that is repeated throughout the exhibits in myriad inspired forms.

“Anishinaabek art history is one of incorporating new materials, of playing with materials in continually re-interpreting traditional art forms,” says OCF Executive Director Anong Migwans Beam, who is a member of M’Chigeeeng First Nation and a widely exhibited multi-media artist.

We pause before two glass cases, each displaying an elaborately beaded1870s ‘bandolier bag’ gifted to the OCF; with a flat bag in front conceived “to show off a big panel of beaded design,” according to Ms. Beam, the bandolier has a wide beaded strap diagonally crossing the chest to one shoulder.  

Anishinaabe bandolier bags, modeled on rifle bags worn by Europeans, “evolved with increasing trade in the Great Lakes region and the acquisition of new materials such as cotton and wool cloth, beads and ribbons.” The tiny glass ‘seed beads,’ sewn densely in elaborate patterns onto cotton, wool or hide backing by the women, carpeted the bags in symbolic imagery and dazzling colour to be worn ceremonially by the men. “Beads allowed for curves in patterns where before, the use of quills did not,” says Anong Beam. “The signature floral patterns on these bags were made possible by the flexibility of the newly available materials.”

Beyond the antique bags, another bag is displayed close by, ‘beaded’ by contemporary artist Barry Ace, using salvaged computer components and copper wire to form complex floral motifs based on traditional designs. Says the artist: “I am referencing Anishinaabeg beadwork as a metaphor for cultural continuity, bridging the past with the present and the future, and as a demonstrable act of nationhood, resistance and modernity. My contemporary practice intentionally, yet respectfully, transcends and moves forward conventional Anishinaabeg cultural boundaries as a confluence between the historical and contemporary.”

Confluence is felt in all the Museum’s exhibits: in the art of Christian Chapman, entitled ‘Kings and Queens,’ that fuses silkscreen onto Woodlands-style paintings, in the traditional jingle dress side by side with one silkscreened all over in small faces, in the quill box made by Mamie Migwans and designed by Carl Beam (“she was the first to use toned-down colours in quill work,” says Anong) and in the large display of contemporary quill, black ash and textile art by members of today’s community next to a wall-size interactive introduction to Anishinaabe life precepts.

Anong Beam scans the visually evocative space: “With Anishinaabe art, there is a constant push for new expression. The push comes from a desire to build bridges between traditional and contemporary expressions, to show them together in a continuum of creativity.”

Ojibwe Cultural Foundation: 15 Hwy 551, M’Chigeeng, Tel: 705-377-4902. Open Monday to Friday 8:30 am to 4 pm; Saturday 10 am to 4 pm. Admission by donation. https://ojibweculture.ca

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from​ #ojibweculturalfoundation​

Centennial Museum

Centennial Museum

Sheguiandah

Two museums within easy access to each other, in Little Current and Sheguiandah, each distinctive, tell of prehistoric peoples, of the settlers of large homesteads, the builders of towns and villages, the entrepreneurs and their struggles to establish a foothold on largely forested Manitoulin Island beginning in the 1860s when the land was first opened to settlement.

Up the wide, old staircase to the second floor in Turners store on Water Street in Little Current, tucked into a far corner, is the tiny one-room museum dedicated to the Turner family and mercantile history of the last 140 years. A bit like stumbling upon a cache of treasures in great- (or great- great-) grandfather’s attic, the museum’s collection is stacked here and there throughout the little space in and on old glass store cases and counters; an ancient typewriter collects dust beneath the stern gaze of Turner ancestors whose framed photos cover the walls; yellowed newspapers proclaim achievements, wins in boat races and milestones in the business and political life of the town. 

When Isaac and Elizabeth Turner arrived in Little Current in 1877, they had only stopped to rest for a few days before continuing on their journey west in pursuit of advantageous land prices, but the aspect of the flourishing Manitoulin town pleased Elizabeth and she refused to move on. Two years later, Turners was established as a dry goods store, selling everything from flour to rubber boots, pots and pans and cloth by the yard.

Little Current was booming in 1879, having been surveyed in 1864-65, after the Treaty of 1862 removed the Indigenous residents, who had been living on their lands and operating businesses there since the 1850s, to the small nearby reserve of Sucker Creek (now Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation).

On the steamer route, Little Current became a market town, boosted by the huge trade in lumber. In about 1874, the first small sawmill was built, then the larger Red Mill in 1886 and two other large mills shortly after, hiring hundreds of men and sheltering them in boarding houses along the waterfront.

Later, Turners became widely known for its fine British china and wool; it was the place to shop for mohair sweaters, coats of camelhair, cashmere shawls, linens for table and bed and clothing for the whole family, all imported from England. “Canada’s oldest nautical chart dealer” still sells charts, reflecting the family’s passion for boating of Grant Turner who founded the Great Lakes Cruising Club, and of Jib Turner, a sailor of some repute. The iconic Turners map of Manitoulin was developed by Barney Turner in 1949 after he took a course in cartography; that map, with some improvements in the 1960s and in 2006, has been a big seller for seventy years, its vintage look a favorite of souvenir hunters.

Debby and Jib Turner are the owners of Turners today, in the same building the store has occupied since 1913 when it was built by George Strain, after Turners had occupied two other town locations. “We’re the fifth generation of Turners to carry on the family business,” says Debby Turner, “and we’re waiting on the 6th and 7th generations of customers who have shopped here since the doors opened in 1879.”

“Since the high import tariffs of British Trade Act were imposed in the 1970s, Turners has moved toward becoming wholly Canadian, specializing in more Canadiana and local art in the upstairs gallery,” adds Ms Turner. “Turners of Little Current is still in small part a department store but is mostly focused on quality Canadian products while our new store in Elliott Lake is truly a department store. In a way, Turners has come back to its roots.”

Turners of Little Current, 17 Water St, Little Current. Tel: 705-368-2150 Open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5:30 pm; Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm. www.turners.ca

Just 10 kilometres south of Little Current on Hwy 6, the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah offers a sweeping survey of this area’s origins, beginning with the earliest human activity. Artifacts on display, excavated from a quartzite outcrop nearby known as Sheguiandah Hill and carbon-dated by archeologists to 10,000 years ago, are evidence of quarrying by the first humans on Manitoulin Island after the last Ice Age. In 1954, the Sheguiandah archeological site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada, along with the habitation area that encompasses today’s village of Sheguiandah.

Large descriptive panels outline the anthropological periods here and the two excavations of the 1950s and the 1990s that definitively confirmed the age of the findings; glass cases hold the ancient spear points, hide scrapers and other prehistoric tools that define this museum as unique on the Island.

Like its neighbour Little Current, Sheguiandah was a lumber boomtown at the turn of the twentieth century, with three water-powered mills in operation by 1902: a grist mill (for grinding grains into flour), a sawmill and a woolen mill. A map available free at the museum takes visitors on a historical walking tour through the village of Sheguiandah, highlighting the mills, cheese factory, milliner’s shop, blacksmith, school, post office and hotel of olden days.

The luxuriant grounds of the Centennial Museum are filled with several log cabins furnished in period detail and turn of the century farm machinery; picnic tables and lawn chairs invite visitors to relax and soak up the history of this ancient place.

The modern building housing the Museum itself opens onto a hallway lined with photographs of the area’s first settlers, introducing visitors to the Heis, Nicholson, Skippen, Batman and Lewis families that arrived here over 150 years ago. A family feeling pervades the museum, with an authentic recreation of a cozy bedroom with beautifully hung starched cotton nightdress; other vintage clothing in rich-coloured, well-preserved fabrics dot the room among a selection of antique musical instruments: an elaborately-carved Newcombe piano, a violin and a concertina that enlivened homesteaders’ long winter evenings.

The Museum hosts a wide range of events each year: the annual Heritage Alive Art Exhibition runs from July 18 until August 15, and the Manitoulin Fine Arts Association Members’ Art Show from August 20 until September 8. The full line-up of summer and fall events is listed on the website.

Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah, 10862 Highway 6, Sheguiandah. Tel: 705-368-2367. Open 9 am to 4:30 pm every day from May to October. www.townofnemi.on.ca/places/museum

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from​ #sheguiandah

Mindemoya’s Pioneer Museum

Pioneer Museum

Mindemoya

On Manitoulin, as each new township was surveyed after the still-controversial 1862 Treaty between the Anishinaabek and the Crown, the first settlers, mostly from the Collingwood and Coldwater areas of Ontario, homesteaded the land of Campbell (1867), Carnarvon (1867-70) and Sandfield (1870), former townships now amalgamated into today’s Municipality of Central Manitoulin.

The pioneer days of Central Manitoulin’s proud heritage of farming, fishing and lumbering are carefully recreated in the historically evocative outdoor settings and local exhibits of the compact Pioneer Museum, conveniently attached to the Welcome Centre on Highway 551 in downtown Mindemoya.

Last fall, the Central Manitoulin Historical Society hired the museum’s first curator, Caty Virostek, on a one year contract, recently graduated from the Museum Management program at Fleming College. Ms. Virostek, who is from the Sarnia area, has been cataloguing the collections and the many artifacts that are held in storage. “There are so many artifacts,” she says, “and no place left to put them. We need extra space.” The curator has re-designed the displays and labels to highlight unique items within organized themes, so that each exhibit has breathing room; a carefully curated selection of artifacts evokes the people, places and events of the early days without overwhelming the visitor.

Local farm histories, photos and mementos of early schools and businesses are evidence of the dynamism of the burgeoning community of the mid-1870s. Wagg’s Creamery, founded by A.J. Wagg in 1907, thrived until 1981, when it was sold to the Farquhar dairy family. The former stone creamery’s cornerstone now stands at the front of the Central Manitoulin Welcome Centre and Pioneer Museum. Inside the museum, a display case dedicated to Wagg’s business holds original butter boxes, milk bottles, a miniature Wagg’s delivery truck and a poster for “homogenized ice cream”; another reminder of the Wagg family is the forested parcel of 42 acres with easy walking trails called Wagg’s Woods, east of the town’s centre, around the corner on Highway 542.

One side of the museum’s bright room displays several survey maps of the first land partitioning, and on the opposite wall hangs a most unusual quilt hand stitched by the late author, activist and artist Marion Seabrook, a replica in cloth of a section of the ‘Landowners of Carnarvon Township Survey Map’ that Ms. Virostek found in storage.

For 40 years, from 1928 until 1968, Marion Seabrook’s parents, Joe and Jean Hodgson, operated a popular tourist resort on Mindemoya Island, Lake Mindemoya’s prominent landmark of Ojibwe legend. The Hodgsons bought the ‘largest freshwater island within an island in the world’ and re-named it Treasure Island. A resort brochure describes the fourteen two-and three-bedroom cottages and boasts of “no mosquitoes or blackflies!” Several histories of Treasure Island were written by this literary family, and are available for browsing: Jean Hodgson’s ‘Treasures from Treasure Island,’ and Marion Seabrook’s story of her grandfather’s arrival on Manitoulin in 1874, entitled ‘One Man’s Journey,’ and ‘Once Upon an Island’ and ‘Touched by an Island.’

In the peaceful, leafy park off the museum’s back deck, a dollhouse-like log cabin built by William and Agnes King in 1867, was donated in 1993 to the Central Manitoulin Historical Society by Jack and Marion Seabrook, who had had it moved first from its original site to their new golf course, Brookwood Brae. They spent four summers in the simply furnished two-storey cabin before bequeathing it to the museum.

A large barn with ‘1921’ emblazoned at its peak displays rare early farm machinery, pulled by oxen or powered later by steam, side by side with vintage examples of a ‘utility’ horse-drawn buggy constructed of plywood, of a more upscale ‘courting’ buggy with upholstered seats, and of a ‘democrat’ with a rear seat to accommodate more passengers, all much in use for chores and travel in the late 1800s; there’s a horse-drawn sleigh carriage in the barn, whose smooth, flat “skis” glided over icy roads and lakes in winter.

Across the way is the blacksmith’s log workshop with anvils and woodstove, walls covered in the old tools of the trade for the forging of horse shoes and iron and steel wagon wheel rims, hoes, rakes, nails, hinges and latches.

A covered bridge holds an open-ended gallery of genealogical histories of the first settler families who secured land grants for farms, established first a general store, then the saw and grist mills, wagon and blacksmith shops, school and churches of the growing community. Here, papering the inside walls of the bridge, are the long lineages of the Love, Kay, Fletcher, Wedgerfield, Galbraith, Hutchinson, Williamson and Bock families and of many other ancestors and descendants of the original folks who settled these swaths of land bordered by magnificent Lake Mindemoya, with a storied island at its heart.

Central Manitoulin Welcome Centre and Pioneer Museum

2207 Hwy. 551, Mindemoya

Tel: 705-377-4383

Open 9 am to 5 pm every day in July and August.

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from #mindemoya

Old Mill Heritage Centre

Old Mill Heritage Centre

Kagawong

Island community museums are filled to bursting with mementos of collective histories, gathered by dedicated volunteers and local families keen to foster appreciation of their area’s past. Kagawong’s Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum collections are housed in the former pulp mill, built of stone in 1925 at the edge of Mudge Bay to process the products of the booming logging industry; the atmospheric limestone enclave with its soaring ceilings and tall windows is a perfect showcase for the Billings Township memorabilia contained within.

Curators, by and large, are an enthusiastic lot and Rick Nelson, the Kagawong Museum’s curator, is a prime example of the kind of fervor that marks a successful collection. Quick to praise Billings council’s museum board volunteers’ initiatives and hard work, Mr. Nelson has been the face of the museum for the last 10 years, greeting visitors and orienting them to the treasures awaiting.

Immediately upon entering, the sound and images emanating from a film on the Indigenous origins of Manitoulin Island grounds the museum experience in earliest inhabitation. Further on, a little room holds the delicate line drawings of talented local artist Jenna Carter, each featuring one of the many intact historical structures within the village of Kagawong, with an accompanying map that describes the genesis of all the buildings–for a walkabout later. In the corner, a 1930s wooden radio cabinet plays WWII broadcasts, surrounded by sepia toned photos of local men and women who contributed to the efforts of both World Wars, their uniforms, medals and stories now behind glass.

A highlight in this section is the story of Don Freeborn, the Chapleau-born Manitoulin resident who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Lancaster Bomber pilot, attached to Britain’s Royal Air Force during WWII. His log book on exhibit documents his successful mission to bomb Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in the mountains of Bavaria. Next to his father’s log book is the log of Peter Clarke, the son Don Freeborn did not know, until the end of his life, he had fathered in England during the war, and who also had a distinguished military career in Afghanistan, Burma and undercover elsewhere for the British Special Forces. The uniforms of father and son are displayed crisply side by side.

Early settlers to the area, the Graham, Gray, Thompson, McGuiness and Lloyd clans, are posed in the stiff attire and settings of late 19th century photographs. New this year is the realistic recreation of a blacksmith’s shop from the days when horses were essential to settlers’ daily lives. The boat building activities of the Berry family are displayed in authentic period examples of their fine work for over a hundred years, renowned for the sturdy construction of commercial fishing boats, timber tugs and launches powered by steam boilers. Still located in Kagawong and operated by Oliver Newlands, great-grandson of founder Oliver Berry, Berry Boats carries on the family boat building tradition today.

One of Rick Nelson’s favorite museum exhibits recounts the tragedy of the scion of Detroit’s Dodge automobile empire, Danny Dodge, who, in 1938, suffered grave wounds in a spectacular dynamite blast at his Dodge Lodge in Kagawong, then drowned on a desperate rescue mission to Little Current by boat with his wife. Married just 14 days to “Gore Bay beauty” Laurine MacDonald, a romance and fantasy wedding that were trumpeted in local and US media, the unfortunate Mr. Dodge died at 21 but was destined to live on in local legend.

The 80th anniversary of the accident will be commemorated by the Old Mill Heritage Centre on Thursday, August 9 in the annual History Day presentations at 3:30 and 7:30 pm. Each presentation features two parts: a talk by guest speakers on the founding Henry brothers and their role in the birth of Kagawong will be followed by the story of the gripping disaster at Dodge Lodge.

Another ‘ghost story’ depicted in the museum and endlessly fascinating to Mr. Nelson is the one about Harbour Island. Off the coast of Kagawong and nestled in a bay of Clapperton Island, the 30-acre island was home to a luxurious resort in the 40s, 50s and 60s that berthed the yachts of Hollywood stars and hosted the likes of Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and countless sports figures and business tycoons. Clippings of the goings-on of the celebrity guests cover the wall near photos of the resort in its heyday; underneath is a photo of the sad state of the resort today. “There’s a happy ending!” crows Mr. Nelson as we gaze at the overgrown site and the derelict mid-century modern building. “The new owner of Harbour Island is a descendant of the original owners who is committed to restoring the property to its former glory. The Museum may consider perhaps partnering on a ‘living museum’ concept down the road.”

To whet the appetite for such a restoration project, the Mudge Bay Mystery Tour, a partnership between the Museum and North Channel Cruise Line, will lift anchor on Saturday, August 25 from Kagawong for a two-hour cruise to Harbour Island with dinner, bar and curator Rick Nelson’s onboard “stories and slides” of the famed resort’s past grandeur.

After a tour of the Museum, pause at the Billings Connections Trail Interactive Map on the wall by reception. In English, French and Ojibwe languages, the map shows the locations of historical plaques in the village and of the outdoor sculpture sites commissioned as a Truth and Reconciliation project in partnership with 4Elements and Billings Township “to highlight the local heritage and history of Anishinaabeg and settler residents.” A pocket-sized map is available to take on an exploration that continues well beyond the Museum’s steps.

The Old Mill Heritage Centre Museum, Kagawong

Open every day 10-4 (July-August)

Tel: 705-282-1442

www.kagawongmuseum.ca

Admission is free; donations are appreciated.

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from #kagawong

Purvis Marine Museum

William Purvis Marine Museum

Gore Bay

Overlooking the distinctive V-shaped bay bordered by the lushly-cedared heights of the East Bluff on one edge and the town and the gentler slopes of the West Bluff on the other, the Harbour Centre extends a commanding welcome to Gore Bay’s waterfront.

Within, on two floors, is a warren of light-filled, wood-lined artist studios, galleries and shops offering all manner of Manitoulin-made fine art, glass works, textiles, soaps, jewellery and much else to browse. On the third, topmost floor, up a broad staircase to a bright lobby, is the William Purvis Marine Centre, housing the Town of Gore Bay’s huge collection of nautical memorabilia gathered by historian G. I. ‘Buck’ Longhurst during his long career on the Great Lakes.

Visitors, researchers and boating enthusiasts are treated to a unique display that comprises an impressively thorough history of commercial shipping on the Great Lakes. In the temperature- and humidity-controlled loft space, the lives of the legendary fishing, freight and passenger boats are laid bare in original log books, ships’ wheels, lanyards, flags, photos, shipping company cap and jacket badges and even little plates and coffee mugs decorated with a ship’s name, from a long-ago ship’s dining room; intricate handcrafted model boats dot the room, re-creating all the details, in miniature, of the great commercial sailing vessels of the past.

Mr. Longhurst is the curator of the collection, including an archive room of “17,000 slides and 20,000 prints and the history of practically every company and vessel that sailed on the Great Lakes,” amassed over a lifetime of working on their waters and shores.

But his love of the ships started way before then. “As a kid, I was always at the dock watching the boats unload. I watched all day as the boats came through, the boats I’d read about.”

After high school Buck went into the navy until Canada’s defense forces were amalgamated in 1965, then became a letter carrier and supervisor until 1970 when his life changed on meeting Jack Purvis on the waterfront in Sault Ste. Marie.

The marine museum is named in honour of William Purvis, explains Mr. Longhurst, the Scottish patriarch of the Purvis commercial fishing clan, who was appointed the first lighthouse keeper at Great Duck Island in 1872–13 miles from today’s Purvis Fisheries location at Burnt Island; by 1882, William had started to fish commercially with his five sons  

“The Purvis family is one reason why Gore Bay grew to be a boomtown in the 1880s and 90s,” says the historian. “They built the town, many of their huge old houses still stand today. The boys all were commercial fishermen. William’s son James started Purvis Brothers Fisheries, and he also ran the mail, snowplow and motorcar services, a livery stable and a dairy. The Purvis’s were the prime movers behind Gore Bay’s becoming the judicial seat of the Island. By 1934, they owned the largest independent fishing fleet in the Great Lakes.”

Buck Longhurst started working for Jack Purvis soon after their meeting on the docks, spending years on Jack’s ‘YankCanuck’ as a deck hand, crane operator and second engineer, earning his tug master and marine and hoisting engineer credentials as he went. In the museum, he proudly shows off the ‘YankCanuck’s steering column, wheel and ship’s bell below a photo of the ship as he fondly remembers it.

“I used to see all these old boats out there. With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, all the little canal boats, the small upper lakes boats, were disappearing. I started taking photos and whenever I got a vacation I’d be at Sarnia or the Welland Canal taking pictures or getting rides on boats and taking more pictures. My hobby turned into an obsession.” As he towed ships to their final resting places in the scrapyard, he’d salvage unwanted name plaques, keys, flags, log books and brass railings to add to his growing personal collection.

In the museum, there’s a model of the ‘Gore,’ the ship that got stuck in the ice of the bay until spring and gave Gore Bay its name, built by Buck Longhurst himself, along with his models of the SS ‘Manitou,’ the ‘Mindemoya’ and the ‘Langell Boys.’ The SS ‘Manzutti’ has a miniature crane on the deck, a replica of the very crane Mr. Longhurst operated for 20 years. “This model was built by a professional model builder,” he says, pointing to the fine detail work, “and cost eleven thousand dollars.”

The ‘Avenger IV’ display features a beautiful large model of the tug and the log book of her decommissioning trip to Gravesend, England in 1985. Yes, Buck Longhurst was on that trip, “as a crew member for 59 days. There was no heat on those English tugs.”

Here’s a model of the ‘Edmund Fitzgerald,’ immortalized in song by Gordon Lightfoot, tragically sunk in hurricane-force winds on Lake Superior in 1975, drowning all 29 aboard. “It’s a great song,” says the marine history expert, “but Lightfoot got some details wrong. He says she was fully loaded – she wasn’t. And that she was bound for Cleveland – but she was going to Detroit.” There’s no reason to disbelieve this author of eighteen books and fervent devourer of maritime lore.

Buck Longhurst remembers the long-gone days when “you couldn’t get a semi-trailer truck onto the ferries until the 1960s, and they’d only get as far as Espanola on the north shore. The road from Espanola to Little Current “was impassable in all seasons” for trucks, and was nicknamed the Drunken Snake Trail. “Supplies were hard to come by and costly. Boats got through where cars and especially trucks could not.

“When I look around today I can say, ‘I dredged the marinas at Gore Bay, the Sault, at Spider Bay in Little Current. I put in the helipad at Gros Cap Lighthouse, built the Lafarge docks at Birch Island. In Gore Bay, all the boats in the marina are making use of the work I and others did; it makes the toil and hardship worthwhile. If you helped to shape the face of the area, it’s great to know your work means something.”

William Purvis Marine Centre: Third Floor, Harbour Centre, 40 Water Street, Gore Bay. Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 am to 4 pm; Sunday from 12 pm to 4 pm, admission by donation. https://www.gorebaymuseum.com/marine-museum

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.

Latest on Instagram from #gorebayontariomarina

The Net Shed

The Net Shed Museum

Meldrum Bay

Nearly 150 years ago, Meldrum Bay began to be settled by Scots coming to Manitoulin Island from southern Ontario, attracting fiercely dogged, independent-spirited types drawn by cheap, plentiful land covered in virgin forest and the immeasurable waters of Lake Huron teeming with fish.

Working with the first survey party of 1876 in Dawson township, the original settlers staked their claims, under which conditions they had to clear and fence five acres and build a house (usually a two-room log cabin) before they could own their land’s title. Then, they would venture over the water to Cockburn Island’s land office to acquire their patents–two settlers drowned on that treacherous journey–or by foot in all-weather through bush to Gore Bay’s land office. The hardships, the harsh winters and lack of even the most basic supplies, the isolation and backbreaking work of survival, the innovations and small victories of those days are stuff of legend. No roads, electricity, telephones, doctor or dentist softened the tough, often brutal, way of life.

In the early 1880s, lumbering quickly became a thriving industry everywhere on the Island, with sawmills built in all the feasible ports for easy transport of logs and lumber by boat to the US and England. Meldrum Bay’s fist sawmill was built in 1880, situated where the marina sits today, hiring hundreds of workers to process the huge quantities of wood being harvested up, down and around the Island’s western tip.

Fishing also became big business; fish abounded in these Great Lakes waters and the 1890s saw fishing stations built to supply the boats from Collingwood and Sarnia with as much as 24 tons of fish weekly.

Several net sheds ringed the bay, their rooms and attics large and airy workshops in which to dry and repair nets; the day’s catch was packed for shipping and the fishermen prepared for the next morning’s pre-dawn start on the lake. In a few short years after settlement, Meldrum Bay was a boomtown with stores, hotels, blacksmiths, school and boarding houses to service the flourishing community.

Now home to the Net Shed Museum, the last remaining net shed in the bay, built by fisherman Joe Millman in about 1902, stands resplendent in its lighthouse-red, original cedar shakes. The long, rustic building offers itself to be savoured as a unique historical artifact in its own right.

Inside, small windows on three sides and wide screened doors on the fourth side let in a surprising amount of light through gauzy curtains; the wide plank floors, heavy log rafters and poles supporting the ceiling testify to the handmade origins of the structure.

Founded in 1967 by the Meldrum Bay Historical Society as a Canada Centennial project, the museum is maintained scrupulously inside and out by a dedicated band of community volunteers. Across the road in Joe Millman’s old family home lives the treasurer of the Historical Society, Dawn Marie Wickett, a descendant of Millman’s through marriage into the Millman/Wickett families. She can look out her front windows and keep an eye on the net shed all year long while her husband Mark keeps up with improvements. Nephew Adam George Wickett is this year’s summer museum intern who greets visitors and keeps the place spiffy; a high school student, he lives in Brampton and loves to re-live Meldrum Bay summers and  stay with his grandmother. The president of the Historical Society is Liz Durham, who lives just up the hill and has been active in the museum since its founding, taking part, with other volunteers, in the annual opening of the museum in spring and closing in fall and in dreaming up fundraisers such as the popular annual beef barbecue.

Community members donated all the museum’s artifacts: jewellery, beaded appliqués and sewing baskets, photographs, linens, washtubs and irons, butter churn and moulds, quilts, school desks and blacksmith and farming implements. “Remember,” says Liz Durham, “electric power only came to the village in 1950. Until then, people used coal oil lanterns and phones were hand-cranked.” One donation, from the Joyce family, was of two large steamer trunks full of beautiful clothes and trimmings that had been owned by their “two elegant Irish dressmaker cousins.”

Toward the back of the shed, artifacts from the steam mill, a leather blacksmith apron and tools lead the way into the marine history room, centered by a library table covered in scrapbooks for browsing. Models of Millman’s tugs, named after his daughters, sit in glass cases; memorabilia from the ‘Alberta’ include a hand-fashioned horse motif weather vane and steam whistle.

The vast waters of Lake Huron lapping the rocky shore just a few feet outside the windows provide the nautical backdrop to one of the greatest marine mysteries of Manitoulin Island. Here, laid out in timbers and chains and fascinating found bits, is a display of ‘Le Griffon’–a French ship that sank in the Mississagi Straits in 1679. Or did it? Stories have proliferated over the years, of how the ship, navigating by compass, was drawn helplessly into the infamous magnetic shoals; of the skeletons of crew members found in a nearby cave, including a “very large” skull, said to be that of the pilot, Luke the Dane, known to have a very large head; of the found watch case, buttons and coins stored for years in the Mississagi Lighthouse before vanishing. It is a story that has fascinated people in these parts and abroad for centuries and remains an unsolved puzzle to this day.

Even now, Meldrum Bay retains the spirit of rugged determination that marked its beginnings. The Township of Dawson is officially ‘Unorganized’ – there is no municipal council, nor reeve, to run things. Says Liz Durham, “All public works in the township and the village of Meldrum Bay are done by volunteers. The Dawson Citizens Improvement Association raises money and volunteers to put the marina docks in and take them out every year; we applied for and got grants for the re-installation of gas tanks and pump-out service. A Service Board collects taxes to pay for snowplow and dump contracts; there’s no water department, everyone has their own water. When we need to get things done, we do it ourselves, together.”

The Net Shed Museum is a moving testament to the resolve and perseverance of the generations who pioneered here, and to a very large extent in this faraway outpost, still do.

1 Water Street, Meldrum Bay. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 12 pm to 4 pm and to 9 pm in July and August.

Article by

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry

Isobel Harry is a photographer and writer who has also worked extensively in the field of human rights advocacy. Her photos have been widely exhibited and she has published articles in many magazines; as programmes director and executive director for PEN Canada for twenty years, she worked on behalf of the right to freedom of expression internationally. Now living on Manitoulin Island, Isobel works as a freelance writer and photographer and is a frequent contributor to the weekly Manitoulin Expositor newspaper and the annual This is Manitoulin magazine. Her interests lie at the intersection of arts, culture and human rights.