Disposing of the Big Lake Schoolhouse would be a big mistake

To the Expositor:

I’m writing this letter to indicate to the residents of the Municipality  of Central Manitoulin what a huge mistake it would be to dispose of the Big Lake schoolhouse as was indicated in the previous council meetings:

The Big Lake schoolhouse was always the centre of our community. Not only for school, but for church, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, baby and wedding showers, elections, crokinole and euchre nights and many other community oriented events. This building also housed the Women’s Institute, a well-known and respected historical group. They held their meetings and activities in the old schoolhouse and they cared for the building during this period. These women made donations to many worthwhile causes on the Island, and this fine group of ladies showed their support for community, home and country.

Through the years, the township of Sandfield was amalgamated with the township of Carnarvon and the Big Lake/Sandfield Association was formed. They took over the care and control of all building improvements and upgrades with money raised from their fundraising activities. Over the years many donations were made from their profits to the hospital, for school bursaries and many other meaningful causes. One of their bigger fundraising goals was to buy and install a brand new playground and equipment for our children, and grandchildren to enjoy. 

When COVID-19 hit, like many other things, our fundraising events had to come to a halt. The Big Lake Community Association (BLCA) continued to keep the utilities and general upkeep up to date on the building, while during this time the Central Manitoulin building and maintenance supervisor inspected the Big Lake schoolhouse and found ice and water damage to the roof. This incident was never reported to their insurance company and was never fixed. This damage caused the roof to leak, and then mold, something that should’ve been handled in a timely manner was not, and therefore the damage has gotten worse.

Now the council of Central Manitoulin is asking the BLCA to decide how they will pay for the repairs. Because of this damage, we are not able to use the building. The association is in no financial situation to come up with $80-100K they claim to need for engineers and contractors. The lease signed in 2018 ends in 2035. This lease does not mention capital costs incurred just the general maintenance on the building.

In the past, BLCA has made donations to others in the community in the amount of $23,000 over the past 20 years. Had we known what we would face today we may have not been so generous and saved those funds to do these repairs that face us. The only costs to the municipality has been the insurance on the property which they have advised is approximately $3,000 per year.

As members of this municipality, we pay taxes to the township, and should we not have a say in what happens to those tax dollars? Only one of our two delegates on council support us in our pleas to save this cherished community building. 

The events hosted at the Big Lake schoolhouse were not only fundraisers, they brought our community together to fellowship and share a meal, listen to music and cherish the historical building we chose as a community centre. People came from near and far to attend our events. We were able to meet new neighbours and welcome them to the community. Young and old were brought together at these events. We were able to share our history and most importantly our heritage that our parents and grandparents built and worked hard for.

The BLCA has a growing membership and hope to continue to serve in our community.

How can we put a price on history, heritage, and community? We plead with the council to reconsider their proposal to dispose of the heart of our community.

Freida (Middaugh) Tann

A former student and taxpayer

Central Manitoulin