Communities come together for Norton’s Creek rehab

BIDWELL—The large garage at the Pennie Homestead was bustling with activity earlier this month, as school children from Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng joined students from Assiginack Public School, members of the fish and game clubs of Manitoulin, Manitoulin Streams and community members gathered to place thousands of ‘eyed egg’ or fertilized trout eggs, into small racks in preparation for placement into nearby Norton’s Creek as part of an ongoing rehabilitation project involving the creek.

“The brook trout that used to live in Norton’s Creek became extinct,” noted biologist and environmental activist Bob Florean, late of the Ministry of Natural Resources, who explained that years of cattle farming and outmoded agricultural practices had severely impacted the local trout population. “Back in the day, we just really didn’t understand how important some of the modern practices are and what their impact on the fishery can be,” he said.

Mr. Florean explained that the eggs being prepared for planting in the creek come from the closest similar existing stock. “The eggs come from Nippissing, which would be very similar to what used to be found here.”

This year’s activity comes with a bit of a melancholy tint, as long-time Manitoulin Streams and Norton’s Creek benefactor and Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame nominee and businessman Robert Irwin Hutton died in May of this year in a tragic boating accident. Mr. Hutton, who has been described as “a gentleman to colleague, customer and competitor alike…honest, mindful of others and loyal” by Wesley D. Thompson, former president of Thompsons Limited of Blenheim Ontario, was deeply attached to Manitoulin Island, where he spent many of his childhood summers.

“You know how there are places and times in your childhood that resonate in your mind even as you grow older and move on through life? I think this place was like that for him,” said Mr. Florean. “He was a real gentleman and his family has been very supportive as well.” Mr. Florean noted that Mr. Hutton’s son had intended to be at the eyed-egg event, but severe weather interrupted his travel plans.

Although there was less snow this year than last, the temperature was amply frigid outside and plenty of children could be seen warming their hands at several large propane heaters in the shed. “There is nothing like sticking your hands into cold water to wake you up,” joked volunteer and Manitoulin Streams board member Paul Moffat as he set a tray filled with eggs into a cooler, ready for transport to the creek.

Fellow Assiginack Councillor sLeslie Fields stood marshal over the snack table, ensuring there was plenty of warm chili and snacks for the young troops, a role she has been well groomed for following a career as an educator. “You never really lose the teacher in you,” she laughed.

Manitoulin Streams coordinator Seija Deschenes could be seen bustling about, coordinating the various groups and checking to ensure all of the teams had their parts in order—but she found time to hand over a set of letters and the application for Mr. Hutton’s nomination to the Hall of Fame. “Make sure you mention him please,” she said. “He was a truly wonderful man.”

The rehabilitation of Norton’s Creek is nearing its completion, noted Mr. Florean. “Soon there will be another project to sink our teeth into, but it is successful partnerships like this one that makes it easier to get the next one underway. We owe a lot to forward thinking people like Mr. Hutton, people who realize that conservation efforts and successful business can really go hand in hand.”

Michael Erskine