Little Current District Fish and Game Club celebrates 50 years of successes

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin presents Little Current and District Fish and Game Club President Bill Strain with a plaque commemorating 50 years of service. The same plaque will also be installed at the fish viewing station at Sheguiandah’s Bass Creek.

LITTLE CURRENT—The Little Current and District Fish and Game Club (LCDFGC) can be credited with accomplishing many things over its 50-year span, but perhaps most notably is its great successes in the education of the public in caring for the environment. In particular, the club has led the way in rehabilitation and has used this as a model to involve youth in conservation concerns.

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin acknowledged the efforts of the LCDFGC on behalf of town council, noting in particular the annual school trips to the pickerel hatchery. “So much effort goes into keeping the environment and fishery sustainable—hats off to you.”

The mayor then presented President Bill Strain with a plaque, a replica of which will be installed at the fish viewing station on Bass Creek in Sheguiandah.

Bill Strain told the large crowd that the night was all about looking back on 50 years of the club. “I don’t imagine these gentlemen would have known what kind of legacy they would have achieved,” he added, gesturing to a photo displaying the original executive.

Little Current and District Fish and Game Club founding member Gary Trimmer and wife Julie have a chat with M’Chigeeng Chief Linda Debassige during the 50th anniversary events. photos by Michael Erskine
Little Current and District Fish and Game Club founding member Gary Trimmer and wife Julie have a chat with M’Chigeeng Chief Linda Debassige during the 50th anniversary events.
photos by Michael Erskine

Mr. Strain then made presentations to two of the original founding members, Ron Bowerman and Doug Hore, who are still active members in the club.

“These two guys have been members of the club since day one,” he said. “It’s mindboggling the amount of volunteer hours they have put in.”

Following greetings from MP Carol Hughes and MPP Michael Mantha, who were unable to attend, Seija Deschenes of Manitoulin Streams addressed the crowd.

Ms. Deschenes noted that she first met Mr. Strain in 2007 as he was a member of the Manitoulin Streams board of directors. She spoke of their work together on Bass Creek and through the school tours.

“The one thing I come home with after working with this club is the amount of work they do,” she said. “It’s a real group effort.”

She spoke of the excitement at seeing young stewards of the environment leaving the hatchery each and every year excited about the things they had learned, pointing to the many posters and letters that lined the stairwell from Grade 4 students at Little Current and Central Manitoulin Public Schools thanking the LCDFGC.

Bob Florean, retired fish and wildlife specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), said that through the LCDFGC’s efforts, much has been accomplished, and those accomplishments are now showing up, 30 years later.

“What best describes the LCDFGC is a sense of community and belonging,” Mr. Florean said. “They’ve got your back—they’re good, good people. Kudos to the work that’s gone on here.”

Mr. Florean said he first got involved with work on the Bass Creek fish ladder. Mr. Strain had approached him after numerous failed attempts at working with the MNRF, he recalled.

“What happened there (the fish ladder) was leading, ground breaking stuff—nowhere else in North America was anything like that going on,” he continued. He too noted the school trips and the hard work that goes into them.

“These guys are true stewards of the wild and a model of success for others to follow,” he said, encouraging anyone “bored in retirement to hook up with those guys.”

Neil Debassige also spoke as a First Nations school principal, environmental steward, and as a father. He explained that for the past nine years Lakeview School has taken part in the hatchery tours which is an important part of his school’s outdoor education program. Club members’ volunteer hours translate into long hours of discussion on environmental stewardship in the classroom, he explained.

Mr. Debassige thanked the LCDFGC for helping to keep Manitoulin beautiful and for helping to teach his daughters the importance of partnerships and that actions speak louder than words and hard work pays off.

Fish and Game Club member Tony Ferro sells tickets on a framed painting (held by Garry Elliott)  as a fundraiser for the club.
Fish and Game Club member Tony Ferro sells tickets on a framed painting (held by Garry Elliott) as a fundraiser for the club.

“You’ve shown that when we work together we can achieve great things,” he added.

John Diebolt, a retired conservation officer with the MNRF for 30 years, said he was very honoured to be a member of the LCDFGC. He spoke of the many encounters he had as a CO with poachers at Bass Creek during the pickerel spawn and how the COs could not manage the destruction being done.

“Members of that club, led by Bill Strain, saw what was happening and knew what had to be done,” Mr. Diebolt said, explaining the creation of the river watch program after Bass Creek was declared a fish sanctuary. “It was local people looking out for local people. Shifts were made, from 10 pm to 10 am, and people were told, nicely but firmly, that you cannot fish here, and here’s why.”

“As a CO, it was so good to see the club members with flashlights,” Mr. Diebolt said. “This has way more meaning and impact than some far-flung government organization or a CO like myself.”

Larry Killens, Rainbow District School Board trustee, told the audience that the success of the LCDFGC didn’t happen by accident, calling them a “world class organization” who wrote the book on ‘going green.’

Since the hatchery tours began, over 700 students have made their way through the Sheguiandah hatchery, receiving fishing rods, learning how to build bass nests and how to keep streams clean.

“Thank you for all you’re doing right now for our kids and the environment—the future,” Mr. Killens said.

1969 LCDFGC President Don Cooper shared the story of the first meeting at its official clubhouse. He explained that 50 years ago, Cliff Fielding gave the club use of a cabin on LaCloche Island. A big drafty cottage with a stone fireplace, it was noted that if there was to be an evening meeting, a fire would have to be lit in the afternoon. One day, two of the original members came across a frozen bear at the dump and decided to pull a practical joke on the firelighters, bringing the bear to the cottage and setting its frozen mass up in the doorway. That afternoon, the two firelighters came in only to shine their flashlight on the bear, propped up on its hind legs. Needless to say, Mr. Cooper chuckled, the men beat a hasty retreat back to Little Current and they refused to return that day.

1969 president Don Cooper shares some memories of the first meetings at the 50th anniversary dinner.
1969 president Don Cooper shares some memories of the first meetings at the 50th anniversary dinner.

“It’s a good club and still is a wonderful club and I thank you,” Mr. Cooper said.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters was also on hand to offer their congratulations, presenting the club with a painting.

Rick Gjos and Bruce Burnett also recognized the efforts of Bill and Linda Strain, to many hoots and hollers from the crowd.

Throughout the night, many draws were held with the grand prize winners of three tickets to the upcoming Manitoulin Streams fundraiser going to Patty Beaudry, Linda Erskine and Ron Bowerman.