Editorial: Manitoulin thrives with a common sense approach

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For the past half-century, it has been customary for this newspaper to consider some highlights of the year that will soon end and to thank and acknowledge all of the many people whose efforts help to keep The Expositor as popular as ever on Manitoulin Island and beyond, in digital format as well as the traditional printed version.

Manitoulin people have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic stoically and, until recently, with minimum infections.

The current high numbers on Manitoulin (120 active cases as of this past Monday afternoon’s reporting by Public Health Sudbury and Districts) date from as recently as two weeks ago and, in the scheme of things, since we realized that the pandemic was a reality in March of 2020, these high Island numbers are an anomaly.

A feature common to Manitoulin Island’s unique cultural diversity is the common sense approach to that is a shared characteristic.

To use the example of COVID-19, physicians and medical teams from all of Manitoulin’s First Nations and municipalities quickly came together nearly two years ago to plan for the eventuality of a major infection rate on Manitoulin and this led to the establishing of a field hospital (should it ever be required) in the upstairs community centre of the Northeast Town’s recreation complex.

The COVID-19 threat led to the establishment of a leaders’ forum where representatives from Island municipalities and First Nations meet virtually every two weeks to discuss areas of common concern.

Manitoulin’s common sense approach meant that all of the residents of the Island’s three nursing homes remained safe and free from infection as vaccines were introduced and administered to residents and staff.

We have gone through two busy tourist seasons, 2020 and 2021, without COVID-19 outbreaks here as people heeded the advice of public health officials, chiefly about wearing masks in public places, social distancing, hand sanitizing and receiving vaccinations to help individuals avoid becoming infected or, if they do, to mitigate the disease’s worst symptoms.

We have done all of this and it has served us well, so it is predictable that the same common sense that has served us to date will also serve to bring the current numbers of infections back down to the low numbers we have experienced since March of 2020.

Common sense must, and will, prevail.

For this old newspaper, this has also been an eventful year for in the spring, The Manitoulin Expositor and her sister publication, the Manitoulin West Recorder, amalgamated with the Manitoulin West Recorder’s flag now flying at the top of Page 3 every week as part of the process.

There were internal changes as well: long-time Manitoulin West Recorder Western Manitoulin news editor Tom Sasvari assumed the role of editor-in-chief at The Expositor, Michael Erskine is associate editor and Alicia McCutcheon, who had been both editor and publisher for many years, is focusing her energy on the publisher’s job, in addition to her new role as mother of Julia Helen McCutcheon-Case, who celebrates her two-month birthday today (Wednesday). The newspaper continues to have offices in Little Current and Gore Bay. 

A year ago, this newspaper acknowledged the end of an era with the sad passing of long-time country correspondent Pat Hall of ‘Tehkummah Talk and Times,’ The Expositor’s last rural news writer.

The amalgamation of the Island’s newspapers has restored that tradition though, thanks to Manitoulin West ‘Friends and Neighbours’ correspondents Karen Noble (Silver Water) and Lillian Greenman (Barrie Island), Elaine Bradley (Meldrum Bay), Willie Munro (Millsite) and Team Fergmeijer, the talented duo of Jill Ferguson and Heather Theijsmeijer, who wittily pen Kagawong’s and Billings Township’s news each week.

Thanks to you all: it is a fine thing to have this tradition of rural news writing carried on in The Expositor’s pages. The newspaper is now well into its 143rd year of publication and, during that long time, rural news has remained a staple of its offerings to the community.

Once again, our thanks. Yours is a significant contribution to Manitoulin’s sense of community.

In that same vein, it is important to acknowledge the 15-plus years of Petra Wall’s ‘Now and Then’ columns that have appeared without fail for publication the last issue of each month.

Petra’s interviews with older people give us as readers an important perspective as to how things have changed on Manitoulin during their lifetimes here. Keep up the good work, Petra.

On Manitoulin, as everywhere, “time” is a relative concept and so while the majority of Island folks Petra speaks to have spent the entirety of their lives here, or close to that mark, there is an increasingly large number of people who are “Manitouliners” by choice and have moved here fairly recently. Heather Marshall, who lives in the Sandfield area, is one of these people herself, as well as being an accomplished and prodigious writer, and so it has evolved that Heather introduces interesting people to readers who, just as the column is titled, are ‘Newish to Manitoulin.’

Things are changing here, bit by bit, as Manitoulin Island is increasingly the new home of choice to current generations of people who have either (or both) chosen to somewhat retire on Manitoulin Island and/or are able to do the work from here that once required them to live closer to a large urban centre.

Thank you, Heather. You were spot on in coming up with this idea and suggesting it to the paper. It has already become a valuable way for other people to get to know their ‘newish’ neighbours.

Rose Diebolt was, a long time ago, one of those ‘newish’ people here. But by dint of her enormous spirit of public service over many decades, together with founding and operating Garden’s Gate Restaurant for nearly 30 years, she is now firmly a Manitoulin institution (so is her husband, John!). One of those volunteer roles is to research, test and author the interesting recipes she provides for readers each week in ‘Rose’s Recipes,’ often challenging cooks to try something new and different and always with an eye firmly on good health and nutrition.

Thank you, Rose.

There must be something in the water in that Sandfield-Tehkummah area: that is where Heather Marshall lives, as already noted, and so does Rose Diebolt and so does Dr. Janice Mitchell, another talented writer and one of Manitoulin’s invaluable veterinarians.

Janice also pens a mostly-monthly column, ‘Paws for Thought,’ with practical tips on pet care that are much appreciated by Manitoulin Island’s large community of people who share their homes with cats, dogs and a myriad of other species.

Andre Leblanc’s sports column, ‘Ice Chips and Canoe Quips’ has been a fixture on Page 7 every week for many, many years. Andre keeps track of Island people, and teams, who have notched a recent ‘W’ in their respective athletic endeavour and also those who have played well.

It is an excellent feature thanks to Andre’s vast network of folks who get information to him. Thank you, Andre: your work is very much appreciated.

Rachael Orford’s high school career is in its third year and that’s also the number of years she has brought us news from Manitoulin Secondary School through the column ‘Kids in the Hall.’

Rachael is a keen observer of the many, many good things that take place at her school and it is important that this information is shared with the wider community. Thank you, Rachael.

The paper’s other MSS correspondent, Aspen Debassige, profiles a Mustang athlete each week in the Page 8 column ‘MSS Player Profile.’ It’s a nice companion to Andre Leblanc’s sports news column as often the young athletes featured in ‘Player Profile’ are also noted in ‘Ice Chips and Canoe Quips’ for their accomplishments. Thank you very much, Aspen.

No matter what the current wisdom has to pronounce on the future of books, on Manitoulin, books, and the libraries that house them, remain important to individuals and to the community.

Two of our Island librarians, Claire Cline from Mindemoya and Debbie Robinson from Assiginack/Manitowaning, continue to recommend good reads from their collections in, respectively, the monthly columns ‘Mindemoya Book Mice’ and ‘Assiginack Library News.’

Well done and much appreciated, Debbie and Claire.

Although the hospital auxiliaries associated with each of our two Manitoulin hospitals have seen many of their fundraising opportunities curtailed by the pandemic, their work goes on in the interests of adding ‘a little something’ to patient care. Laila Kiviaho, from the Little Current auxiliary and Judy McKenzie from the Mindemoya auxiliary, continue to share news of their groups’ important work through the periodic columns ‘Hospital Auxiliary News.’ Thank you both.

Dr. Joe Shorthouse, emeritus professor of biology at Laurentian University, is a summer resident of Manitoulin and his stories and excellent photos of features of Manitoulin’s amazing natural world are showing up with increasing frequency in The Expositor.

Thank you, Joe. You do an excellent job of making us more aware of our surroundings.

The Manitoulin Expositor, and its companion flyer distribution product, The Manitoulin Extra, rely on Canada Post for timely and efficient delivery on Manitoulin. This reliable service is something that is very much appreciated so our thanks and best wishes go out to the myriad of Manitoulin Island postmasters and rural route contractors.

The editorial staff, in fact all staff members, appreciate the paper’s loyal readers as they go about their business of recording the passing of time in this unique corner of the planet.

Thank you for your support, and also to the myriad letter-writers who take advantage of the opinion forum in the paper to add to the conversation about any number of important topics.

This past year hasn’t all been about the pandemic, thankfully.

The historic Michel’s Bay townsite is now safely in the hands of the Michael’s Bay Historical Society after more than a half-century of effort to bring this about.

The debates on the future of the historic school buildings in Central Manitoulin (the Mindemoya Old School and the Big Lake School) have been important ones and have likewise been meaningful to the organizations trying hard to preserve built history in their respective communities.

In Wiikwemkoong, through the Wiikwemkoong Heritage Organization, elders fluent in Odawa and Ojibwe have an ongoing project to keep their languages current and appealing to younger people.

This spring, The Expositor published ‘Out of the Shadows,’ a 20-page supplement that gave an in-depth snapshot of the current state of the opioid epidemic on Manitoulin Island at that moment. The project was an epic one and was researched and authored by Expositor writer Warren Schlote. It is balanced with success stories and contact information for help and support. It was meant as a helping document and has its own website, designed and built by Expositor production manager Dave Patterson with original art by photographer Giovanni Capriotti. The website is manitoulin.com/opioid-crisis.

These are just a few examples of stories that your paper has been tracking, in one case for over half a century, and will continue to report on until, like Michael’s Bay, there is a final outcome. The ‘Out of the Shadows’ project is meant to be a community service and to help people find their ways in this other crisis. That is what newspapers like this one do. Thank you for staying with us.

Our very best wishes for a safe and happy Christmas from our families to yours, and may we all look forward to positive news on the pandemic file in 2022.

Sincerely,

Alicia McCutcheon
Kerrene Tilson
Marilyn Harasym
Dave Patterson
Robin Anderson
Michael Erskine
Tom Sasvari
Warren Schlote
Debbie Bailey
Kendra Edwards
Lori Thompson
Al Dionne
Linda Rutenburg
Brianna McGregor
Rick and Julia McCutcheon