Calendars on Manitoulin Island in the summertime are filled with hazy, lazy days of fun and relaxation, but if one is trying to keep up with everything that is going on across the length and breadth of the land and water, life would take on a very hectic pace. But each event being put on provides an opportunity for diversion and entertainment with something for just about everyone, with summertime on Manitoulin, boredom is only an option if you want it to be.
In addition to the regular round of summer festivals and homecoming events in each Island community, this year’s schedule has been particularly packed thanks to the Northeast Town’s Bridgefest festivities and special events such as the christening of a new OPP patrol vessel in honour of retired OPP Commissioner Gwen Boniface.
Bridgefest events have not all been centred in the Northeast Town either, as communities across the Island have joined in celebrating the centenary of the iconic Manitoulin swing bridge in Little Current by linking their own events to this special anniversary.
The visit of the RCMP Musical Ride earlier this summer was one such additional event on Manitoulin made possible by the funding accessed by the Northeast Town through grants provided by the Trillium Foundation and Heritage and Festivals Canada.
Local volunteers stepped up to plan and organize the Bridgefest celebrations, donating generous portions of their time and effort for over a year on the events and history committees to document and organize the historical background of the bridge and to lay the groundwork for the many events taking place.
Once the historical information was gathered and the events were planned, many of those same dedicated volunteers operated events, cooked the sausages, handed out pop and water to thirsty participants, marshaled races, chaperoned children’s games and oversaw the flotillas and parades.
This past weekend saw a penultimate crescendo of bridge-themed events taking place with an official opening engaging local political figures and historical vignettes written (and even preformed) by Little Current historian Sandy McGillivray.
The Bridgefest celebrations reflect far more than simply honouring the oldest structure on a provincial roadway in Ontario, they are a visible incarnation of the power and importance of volunteerism in rural Canada and highlight one of the characteristics that make Canada the great nation that it is.
Many scholarly journal articles and scientific investigations seek to qualify and quantify the importance of volunteerism in rural communities and its contribution to the national gross domestic product. The evidence is clear that no small municipality could bear the financial cost of the countless hours of volunteer effort put into improving the quality of life in our communities, but the true measure of the value of volunteerism, if one can measure the immeasurable, is to be found reflected in bright smiles and unguarded laughter of children carrying eggs across the grass and giggling at the antics of a clown or in the soft nostalgic smiles of onlooking parents and grandparents.
Two words can never be said enough to volunteers and often seem so very inadequate to the task, but we will say them here again, thank you.