It’s customary in this space at this time of year to look back through the year that has nearly ended and reflect on trends and unique events on which The Expositor has reported and, in so doing, has chronicled aspects of the evolving story/history of Manitoulin Island, possibly for future generations to read and, perhaps, to marvel at.
This year on Manitoulin, reflective of the rest of the world, the big story has been the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manitoulin’s response to the universal threat to public health has been typically unique and resourceful.
In the early days of the pandemic, we learned that people hard hit by the disease to the extent that they required hospital care sometime required apparatus to assist their breathing and to keep their airways open while they fought off the infection. This apparatus is called a ventilator and, at that time on Manitoulin, ventilators at the Mindemoya and Little Current sites of Manitoulin Health Centre were nearing the end of their service lives.
But in the early days of the pandemic, and reflecting what was the news from other parts of the world that had already been hard hit by the virus, would up-to-date ventilator systems be necessary for proper patient care?
M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige took a leadership role in getting these new ventilator units into the Island’s hospital system and her community pledged $10,000 towards a fund to purchase additional ventilators, at the same time challenging other Island communities, individuals and businesses to contribute to this fund.
Typical of Manitoulin’s response, the fund grew to just over $200,000, more than sufficient to purchase the ventilators, with money left over to help fund other health initiatives at the hospitals.
The pandemic conditions stirred ingenuity into action in other ways.
Bill Cranston of Mindemoya, a retired paramedic and former owner/manager of the Island’s paramedic system, put his thinking cap on and devised a way to adapt snorkel masks for medical personnel in pandemic conditions.
Mr. Cranston, concerned about the availability of N-95 masks in the early months of the pandemic, began tinkering in his shop with the idea of adapting snorkel masks, used ordinarily for near-surface underwater activities. His friend Dr. Mike Bedard was a fellow tinkerer.
The adaptation Mr. Cranston came up with involves the retrofitting of snorkel masks with a replaceable filter on the end of the air intake pipe (the part of the mask that, for underwater explorers, protrudes above the water to ensure the wearer a continuous air supply) and another filter at the exhaust end of the apparatus, where the wearer breathes in and out.
This innovation is the reusable equivalent of the N-95 mask and combines the advantages of the snorkel mask’s large window for face shield protection as well as the air filtering capacity.
Mr. Cranston’s innovation led to a partnership with Ontario snorkel mask manufacturer Cobra Mask and the first units the company produced were appropriately purchased by Manitoulin Health Centre for use at its two sites.
In addition to these good news stories, the pandemic has produced a good deal of hard news as well.
M’Chigeeng First Nation, concerned about its own citizens’ safety and the possibility of a general spread of COVID-19 on Manitoulin, and because two of the Island’s main highways (Highway 540 and Highway 551) traverse that community, undertook in the early spring a survey of where passers-through were bound.
Disturbed by the fact that sufficient numbers of the travellers were from ‘off-Island’ and were passing through M’Chigeeng on non-essential business, the ogimaa-kwe and council made the controversial decision to limit highway traffic to only essential traffic and to discourage M’Chigeeng citizens from leaving the community.
Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territories made a similar decision with respect to people entering and leaving its community via the one road in and out.
In both M’Chigeeng and Wiikwemkoong, security personnel were posted at entry/exit points to ensure the travel in/out/through was “essential.”
While these measures were eventually relaxed, an ongoing consequence of the controversy surrounding the slowdown of traffic through arterial highways has been the creation of an Island-wide leadership committee where First Nations and municipal leaders meet, virtually, every other week to share information and then to report developments and best practices to their respective councils. A crisis often brings people together.
Manitoulin people adapted fairly quickly to the necessity of mask-wearing in public places, seemingly without the controversy that some Canadian communities have experienced in this regard.
Manitoulin Island’s citizens have done a good job, one that we need to keep on doing: as of this writing (December 14) there have been 13 reported COVID-19 cases on Manitoulin since the beginning of the pandemic and this includes a couple who contracted the illness while on a winter cruise and returned home to recuperate and self-isolate as well as one case that further testing proved as a ‘false positive.’
But 13 cases are still 13 cases: better than 25 or 100 but worse than none and the fact that people have simultaneously adapted to mask-wearing and have also tangibly thanked (and continue to do so) front line workers by means of window signs, heart-shaped cut outs (in various symbolic colours) also prominently posted in windows as well as through a community-driven ‘thank you to front-line workers’ supplement to this newspaper.
The fact that front-line workers put themselves in the path of danger by the nature of their work came into the sharpest-possible focus when Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Constable Marc Hovingh succumbed to gunshot wounds he received in the course of serving and protecting during a police assignment on November 19. To say it was to have been a “routine” assignment simply wouldn’t be true for, after Constable Hovingh’s death, it is clear that civilians should understand there is nothing about police work, even on Manitoulin Island, that can be assumed to be “routine.”
The circumstances of Constable Hovingh’s death, which also involved the tragedy of a civilian death, and the ensuing Island-wide tribute to the officer that culminated in a funeral attended by Premier Doug Ford, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Anishnaabe Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare as well as the OPP’s commissioner and deputy commissioner stands in parallel to Manitoulin Island’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic: in both situations, the community’s responses were appropriate and universal. We are an Island with our own institutions and community customs, and generally we think that because of our separateness and relative isolation that we are somewhat immune to the ills that plague other Canadian regions.
We may be somewhat immune, but clearly what aids society in general, both in terms of public health and mental health issues, impacts on our secluded bit of Ontario as well.
This is underscored by the opioid crisis that is claiming the lives of Manitoulin people at an alarming rate and is indenturing many more of them to lives of misery and dependence.
Similar to the response to COVID-19, ordinary Manitoulin citizens are beginning to see the need for concerted action to eliminate the sources of illicit drugs and to seek help for people who have become a slave to this other pandemic and to demand that this issue be a local priority.
This has been a year of reporting the news unlike any other in recent history. Who knew we would need a field hospital on Manitoulin? Who could have imagined all of Manitoulin’s summer festivals and activities would be eliminated from the 2020 calendar? Who knows what will be the case for all these things in 2021.
Manitoulin people, like anyone else anywhere else, can be quirky. But as all of these references have hopefully indicated, at a critical moment our diverse communities, from Rabbit Island to Meldrum Bay, are fully capable of rallying to a common cause, whether assuming a joint defensive front as in the case of the threat of COVID-19 gaining more than a token foothold here or a common expression of empathy and such as in the death of Constable Hovingh or in awakening to the need for a grassroots response to the scourge of opioids.
These are the themes that have been most prominent in the pages of The Manitoulin Expositor this unusual year, proof that “Manitoulin Strong” is not only a slogan, but rather something that is real.
This 141-year-old newspaper comes together every week with the core support of those who toil at The Expositor Office. But they do not work alone. The community is very much a part of Northern Ontario’s oldest newspaper.
In fact, a new feature penned by Heather Marshall of Sandfield runs every few weeks and introduces people who have chosen Manitoulin as their new home. The columns is titled ‘New-ish to Manitoulin’ and echoes the experience of its author: Ms. Marshall is herself a relatively new resident and, as she puts down her own roots, thought it would be edifying to tell the tales of other folks’ recent encounters on the Island as well as their motivations to relocate here.
We’re glad she did. It’s a great idea. Thanks very much, Heather.
At the other end of the spectrum Petra Wall, for over 15 years now, has been treating readers every month to stories of the youth, young adulthood and life experiences of Manitoulin people now in their senior years.
‘Now and Then’ is a fascinating look at how the grandsons and granddaughters of pioneers kept faith with their ancestors and (largely) remained here as Manitoulin people.
Thank you for your perseverance, Petra. You have a devoted audience!
Rose Diebolt, after 28 years as owner (with her husband John) and chief chef at Garden’s Gate Restaurant, retired last year. (The restaurant has new owners who look forward to reopening as the pandemic eases.)
But what Rose hasn’t retired from, thankfully, is the authorship of the paper’s eating well column, ‘Rose’s Recipes.’
Thank you very much, Rose. All the kitchens we know of have clipping files of your unique suggestions tucked away.
We love our pets and we want to keep them healthy. Dr. Janice Mitchell pens ‘Paws for Thought’ monthly with helpful suggestions for pet care gleaned from her own experience and research as a veterinarian.
We are all that much more enriched when professionals like Dr. Mitchell willingly share their insights and knowledge with the public. Thank you, Dr. Mitchell. It’s a great feature.
If you want to know who’s accomplishing what in youth sports, you only have to consult Page 7 and the deep double column feature on the left side (the ‘gutter’ side, in the trade!) of the page where ‘Ice Chips and Canoe Quips’ appears.
Everyone referenced in Andre Leblanc’s column is a standout player, as evidenced by the boldface names that define the column. Lately, Andre has been including a feature, ‘From the Desk of Dad,’ where his father Larry (the column’s first author) retells tales of past Manitoulin sports standouts.
Thank you, Andre. Yours is a big job and clearly you have a big network of contacts.
Rachael Orford is in Grade 10 now at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS). In Grade 9, she signed on to write the MSS ‘Kids in the Hall’ weekly feature and we want her to know that we hope this will continue to be part of her high school experience right until she graduates.
Excellent reporting, Rachael. School news is always important.
This year, the MSS ‘Player Profile’ feature has had two excellent authors: Mackenzie Cortes for the first part of the school year (and until she graduated) and, as of September, Zoe Redmond took over the file. Thanks to you both. It’s great reading every week.
Our literary types, also known as Assiginack librarian Debbie Robinson and Mindemoya librarian Claire Cline (Assiginack Library News and Mindemoya Book Mice, respectively) bring authors and their creations from their libraries’ shelves to life in their monthly columns. Thank you very much, Claire and Debbie.
Our hospital auxiliaries in Little Current and Mindemoya are constantly working to help their respective hospitals maximize high-quality patient care. Representatives from the two auxiliary groups post accomplishments and events in periodic columns which we are pleased to publish. Thanks to authors Laila Kiviaho and Judy Mackenzie.
Talented nature photographer John Savage continues to send photos of birds he encounters with his keen eye. Thank you, John.
Dr. Joe Shorthouse, Laurentian University professor emeritus, spends a large part of his summers on Manitoulin and notices things that simply pass most of us by. Who knew monarch butterflies gather in enormous flocks near South Baymouth before taking off on the next leg of their journey? Dr. Shorthouse knows and has shared that, and a great deal more, with this paper. Thanks very much, Dr. Shorthouse.
At one time in this year-end reflection, The Expositor would have thanked up to a dozen rural correspondents. This year, sadly, we said a final farewell to Pat Hall, intrepid (and popular) author of the paper’s last country column, Tehkummah Talk and Times. Ms. Hall passed away in mid-July and we feel her loss each week.
On Manitoulin, our particular business relies heavily on the postmasters/postmistresses at our Island post offices and the contract rural route delivery cadre to deliver the papers in a timely way. They deliver, literally. Thanks for jobs well done, year after year.
And to you all, dear readers: thank you for your loyalty and suggestions. Thanks as well as to the myriad of letter writers who utilize the letters to the editor space in the way it’s intended.
This has been a year of the unexpected and the paper’s editorial staff have done their best to ensure that it is represented accurately and for the record in these pages. We’ll see what 2021 brings us!
Best wishes to all for a happy Christmas and all the best for 2021.
Rick and Julia McCutcheon
And from our Western Manitoulin office,