Our Christmas message to readers of The Expositor

Each year at this time on the front cover page of The Santa Claus Book, the Christmas greetings supplement to The Expositor and The Manitoulin West Recorder, we feature a photograph of a Manitoulin Island church and a brief history of the church in its community.

This year, it is Lyons Memorial United Church in Gore Bay. Last year, the featured church was St. Gabriel Lalement Church at Birch Island and the year before that it was the Community of Christmas (formerly the RLDS) Church in Providence Bay.

This is a tradition that goes back to the mid-1980s so this is about the thirtieth Manitoulin Island church to be so featured in this way and at this time of year.

We have chosen these particularly iconic aspects of our various communities to anchor these annual seasonal supplements through the years not so much because of their connection with the Christmas season, although every church community celebrates the Advent and Christmas seasons according to its own traditions.

The churches are featured because, in virtually every one of Manitoulin Island’s rural communities, these buildings and the traditions which they embody are among the most unchanging aspects of our towns, villages and hamlets.

Most of these churches have been here for a long time and the communities in which they are located grew up around them and so their facades of bricks, stonework or boards that they present to passersby have witnessed the growing up and evolution of their communities for churches were one of the very first, in fact often the very first structures, erected by settlers.

In the First Nations communities, of course, the opposite is the case and the settlements far precede the building of the churches.

There is a marked difference in the relationship between the First Nations communities and their churches because of the association these churches have with the European colonizing powers represented quite dramatically by the missionaries who first came to Manitoulin and encouraged the construction of these buildings.

But in both Manitoulin’s First Nation communities and in their municipal neighbours these sound, often old, buildings represent the traditions of history and a sense of the groundedness of the place.

Other public buildings, such as community halls, are subject to change or fall into disrepair because this or that one is simply one too many for the community’s current needs.

Businesses open and close and in virtually every retail business section in each of our communities, the older storefronts have housed a variety of different businesses over their lifetimes. (The notable exception of Turners Store in Little Current must be mentioned because since 1879, in the same family, this store has housed general merchandise appropriate to and answering a changing succession of the community’s needs.)

Churches do close or are repurposed, but not often, and one need only look at this year’s featured church, Lyons Memorial United in Gore Bay or its Anglican counterpart, All Saints further up Meredith Street, to have a sense that this place has been settled, lived in for a long time.

And so it is with church buildings all around us for they are, for the most part, fairly old structures and date from the earliest times of their communities’ settlement; almost always from a time that predates our modern era.

There is an irony in play here for the fact is that in 2014, most people no longer attend church services. The chances are, though, that their parents did, and most certainly their grandparents did and so might they also have had Sunday School and other church group experiences provided for them as young people at an earlier time in their lives. It is in this way the community remains connected to these iconic buildings whether they attend Sunday services or not.

That is why we feature these structures, easily identifiable by those from their communities and often fairly identifiable by those from other local communities, so prominently year after year.

We are a community newspaper and that means that our mandate and mission is also to connect communities and the present with the past as we record the significant undertakings in Manitoulin’s places by way of giving a voice to Manitoulin’s citizens through news stories, photographs and letters to the editor.

Your newspapers, The Manitoulin Expositor and The Manitoulin West Recorder are, like the solid church buildings that somewhat define our communities, also institutions and landmarks.

Churches, whether on the national scale or as individual congregations and parishes, must strive to be always vital and to adapt to the communities’ needs.

And so it is with newspapers for which “being always vital and adapting to the communities’ needs” has come lately to mean having a digital presence through their news website(s) or through social media, including Facebook and Twitter among many others, that are as responsive to the community as possible and provide readers and viewers with as much useful (and sometimes not so useful) information as they can and to keep this stream of digital information coming steadily and changing often.

So that is part of what your community newspaper does now because it is expected of us as the local creators of the content and our ongoing role as the curators of what is happening on Manitoulin Island.

We have met this challenge successfully, to judge from the traffic to our website and the length of time people stay there looking at a whole variety of information on an average stay. By the end of this year, which is to say just about two weeks from now, the paper’s website www.manitoulin.ca will have had 1.2 million page views during 2014.

This only means that, in terms of modern expectations, we are doing our job and for setting us on the right track and for keeping us there we owe much gratitude to Dave Patterson who was hired to be our production manager but then took on the additional roles of webmaster and IT specialist.

Dave’s efforts, besides giving people what they wanted, also earned the paper some awards for it has been named Ontario’s best news website and also Canada’s best news website in the community newspaper world and we deem that Manitoulin Island is the major winner because of the success of these ventures.

There is another person on our staff who must be noted: Kerrene Tilson, who oversees all the accounting functions for both papers, has been on The Expositor’s staff for 40 years. This fall, she began her 41st year.

Of course we are proud of each member of our internal staff but it’s also important to publicly acknowledge milestones like these.

But then there are all of the external folks who do so much to keep your papers vital, year after year and are every bit a part of our Manitoulin community newspaper family.

On Manitoulin, people still like to read their rural news and, thankfully, we have dedicated people who provide them with this information. The veteran among these is Erma McAllister who keeps young, in part, by penning Spring Bay Rural Route week after week. This is also the responsibility of Pat Hall whose award-winning column Tehkummah Talk and Times is wildly popular and is read consistently by some people, so they tell us, who have no idea where Tehkummah is or who Pat is writing about but they like her style, flair and occasional poem. Others in this genre whose work is equally appreciated are Gloria Sandercott (Providence Bay News and Notes), Marilyn Sparham (News and Views from The Slash) and, occasionally, Vicki Collins (Out and About in Sheguiandah). Thank you all for your help in keeping this institution current in a way that is parallel to but quite different from the paper’s digital presence.

This commentary began with observations about the important role our churches and church buildings play in proclaiming the history and heritage of their host communities.

This is a role, within these pages, that often falls to the two Manitoulin historians who provide us with original material and who are also are a ready source of accurate historical information and clarification when these are needed by a reporter in the course of doing his or her job. These people of history are, of course, Alexander (Sandy) McGillivray of Little Current who last year completed and published the extremely useful reference book ‘The Little Current Story’ and Mr. McGillivray’s colleague Shelley J. Pearen who, although she resides in Ottawa, has an endless supply of information, especially about Manitoulin’s earliest days of European settlement and their relationships with the First Nations communities. This year, we have been pleased to publish four installments of an ongoing series we have called “Survey Says” that is drawn from the written observations of the men who had the job of surveying Manitoulin into townships for settlement following the 1862 Manitoulin Treaty.

Rose Diebolt runs a very busy fine dining establishment, Garden’s Gate Restaurant in Tehkummah, but for nearly 20 years now she has also provided Expositor readers with a prodigious number and variety of tasty dishes through her column, “Rose’s Recipes.” If you visit her restaurant, and in the unlikely event she isn’t in the thick of things in her kitchen, you could perhaps find her outside labouring in one of her large gardens. If she isn’t there, she could well be researching a “Rose’s Recipe” item or doing something else for the benefit of the community.

Talk about creating and maintaining institutions that define a community: that is what Petra Wall has been doing every month since 2003 in her wide-ranging interviews with people whose connections run deep, wide and long. The illustrated interviews are presented (usually) in the last paper of each month under the heading “Now and Then” and they are successful in accomplishing what Ms. Wall set out to do over a decade ago: give a sense of history and continuity through Manitoulin citizens’ personal experiences as told in their own words.

More than a quarter century ago, the paper asked Larry Leblanc if he would consider penning a weekly sports column. Mr. Leblanc is great guy to say “yes” to just about any reasonable request in the sports line so he took this on with a vengeance under the heading “Ice Chips.” About a decade ago, Larry’s son Andre took over the column and amplified the title to mirror some of his own interests so now it’s called “Ice Chips and Canoe Quips” and carries on in the same fashion but is completely focussed on Island athletics and athletes. Each generation has done a superior job and Larry still makes cameo appearances in these pages as he did last week with a full-page obituary feature about the great Montreal Canadiens playmaker and captain Jean Beliveau from the team’s (1950s and 1960s) glory days.

Claire Cline now manages a much enlarged library in Mindemoya and Debbie Robinson will soon be moving her Manitowaning library into a spacious new presence where it will have its own building. All of this work, however, has not kept Ms. Cline and Ms. Robinson from making good reading suggestions to us through their respective monthly columns, “News from the Mindemoya Book Mice” and “Assiginack Library News.” Both libraries and reading are very important community institutions and in both their cases, as in all Manitoulin libraries, patrons are being offered a wide variety of media experiences and opportunities for learning.

There are a wide variety of community contributors who provide the paper, and now also our website, with useful, vibrant content. John Savage, retired educator turned photographer, must of course be noted here for the enormous variety of photos of wildlife (mostly birds) that he has provided to the paper.

Another of these community contributors is brand new: that is Cassie Kuntsi who just recently took over the Manitoulin Secondary School column “Kids in the Hall.” In fact, last week we published Ms. Kuntsi’s debut offering and we are looking forward to four more years of school news from this very talented young woman and MSS student.

Kieran Cooper is the author of the weekly column that profiles MSS athletes, “Player Profile.” Great job, Kieran.

On Manitoulin Island, the arts scene is a growing phenomenon so we are fortunate that Nancy McDermid takes the time to provide a detailed monthly interview with an Island artist in the column “The Creative Isle.” Just like churches and community newspapers, art, in all of its forms, is foundational so we appreciate being able to publish this ongoing inventory of talent.

And of talent, The Expositor is fortunate to have an abundance by way of freelance writers including Lori Thompson, Betty Bardswich, Sharon Jackson, Heather Pennie and Isobel Harry. These people very often mean that the paper can be in the right place at the right time and for this we are very, very grateful on behalf of the community.

Manitoulin Island, with a population of just over 13,000 people, is served by three police forces, each with its own mandate.

For reports of activities in which the police are involved, we are grateful to Constable Al Boyd, veteran Community Services Officer with the Manitoulin Island detachment of the OPP, to Sergeant Brad Mack of the UCCMM Tribal Police and to Chief Gary Reid of the Wikwemikong Tribal Police. Your assistance means we get police news correctly and in a timely way and all of this is also about community building.

Like churches and the community press, the post offices in our communities have also stood the test of time and it is through them and their staff and our rural route contractors that we are able to deliver our newspapers to you from Wikwemikong to Meldrum Bay in a reliable time frame, week following week. Thank you everyone. It’s a good cooperative model.

And now to you, gentle readers: thank you for your tips, feedback, letters to the editor, Facebook shares, story and photo re-Tweets and lively commentary on the paper’s interactive website.

You subscribe to or otherwise acquire the paper through a store purchase or see it at the library and you use it for the purpose for which it was intended: information sharing.

Thank you all very much for making 2014 another memorable news year, whether as newsmakers or consumers.

We wish you all a blessed and happy Christmas and all the very best for 2015.

Sincerely,

Rick, Julia and Alicia McCutcheon

Kerrene Tilson

Robin Burridge

Michael Erskine

Dave Patterson

Mitch Harasym

Marilyn Harasym

Kayla Karn

Rosemary Debassige

Karen Doughty

Steven Richards

And from the Gore Bay office:

Tom Sasvari