Manitoulin bids farewell to long time fire chief John Reid

John Allan Reid

PROVIDENCE BAY – Whether he was fire chief, farming, driving a school bus, or just helping his community, John Reid poured his heart and soul into whatever he did. One parent of a student who rode on his route said, “We trusted him with our children. What could be a higher praise than that?”  Municipality and residents of Central Manitoulin, indeed all of Manitoulin Island, lost one of its pillars with the passing of John Reid on July 1.

Pat Stoakley, pastor of the Community of Christ Church led a service for Mr. Reid last Saturday. “We have come together to share in the sadness and tears of the passing of John Allan Reid,” he told the large gathering.

The minister was also a friend of Mr. Reid and shared his childhood memories. “We grew up in Burwash,” he said. “Burwash was a small village of about 250 people. As kids, John and I played together and went to school together. We were in and out of each other’s houses all the time.”

Burwash had a medium security prison and a lot of fathers in the community worked as guards, Pastor Stoakley said. “Even though there was a prison, never did we as children ever feel more protected and safe. They shoveled our snow and delivered our mail. John and I shared some of the same friends and went to the same school. His dad (A. Lloyd) harassed me all the time and called me a chatter box.”

“John was easy going,” she continued. “One time he had a motorcycle and I asked if I could try it out. The bike was John’s pride and joy.” It was one of her first times on a motorcycle. “The bike went one way and I went the other. John never uttered one word of condemnation.”

“John was a giver. He liked to help people and he continued to give to his last day,” the pastor said. “He was calm and cared for people. He will always be in my memories. He and I were the same age. Part of me can’t believe that he’s gone.”

A colour guard marches into the Providence Bay arena for the funeral service of their fallen chief.

Richard Stephens, mayor of Central Manitoulin, spoke about his connection with Mr. Reid. Some years ago, Mr. Stephens’ daughter was driving home after visiting friends in Sandfield and had an incident. “She went down into a ditch then up through a fence, ending up in a field. Thankfully, she wasn’t seriously hurt. My nephew worked at John’s repair shop, so we called John.”

Later, when their son was 17, he drove Mr. Stephens’ brand new truck to show his friends in Spring Bay. Mr. Stephens and his wife were in Providence Bay at the time. “He got a half mile down the road safely but the rest of the trip was a disaster. It could have been worse. After looking at the truck, John said it couldn’t be fixed. I protested as the truck only had 800 kilometres on it. At this point John said, ‘Richard, it could have been a very, very bad accident but no one was hurt. You can always replace a truck.’ That’s the way John always dealt with things,” Mayor Stephens said. 

Mr. Reid and his wife Roxana were more than a couple, said the mayor. “They were a team. For years they managed and organized the firefighters’ golf tournament in Mindemoya. I participated to support the fire department and it always amazed me how organized it was.”

“I have many other memories with John and the community, fire department and municipality. He had many interests and many talents and he used them all. The community benefitted from all of his efforts and John is going to be missed,” Mayor Stephens said. “On behalf of council and staff, I hope we see the way to carry on as well as a municipality, but we will miss John’s direction and advice. It’s always sad to lose a member of the municipal team.”

The week leading to the funeral was the “toughest week of her life,” said Mr. Reid’s daughter, Angela. “I couldn’t have gotten through it without all of you. On behalf of my family, thank you everyone for being here. He was taken from us far too soon. Our hearts are broken. My father was dedicated to our family and the community, having been a firefighter and chief for 36 years.”

Ms. Reid is a police officer. “My dad taught me how to skeet and target shoot. My mom was a nurse and with my dad as a firefighter, I was always around first responders when I was growing up.”

When the family was building a home in Spring Bay, Ms. Reid asked her father if she could have a hammer. “Everyone thought he would buy a toy hammer. He bought me a real one. I was four at the time.”

“As a family we always worked in his body shop. My brother (Preston) and my dad would Skidoo in the winter. I’m so grateful for growing up the way we did. I will forever miss calling my dad, hearing his war stories and pointers on shooting. I will always be thankful for him being there and shaping me as a person. We’ll take it from here, Dad, but we love and miss you dearly.”

Derek Stephens, another long time friend of John Reid said, “They say in life you can choose your friends but not your family. John and I raised a family at the same time together. We hunted, fished and joined the fire department at the same time. While John stayed with the fire department, I chose the political route. We built the best fire department on the Island. John will be sadly missed by all of us on the fire department. He put the fire station and the guys in place to be the best. Your family is my family. We’ll be there for each other. Our families will always be friends. I will keep him alive through all of you. He meant a lot to a lot of people in the community.”

In a tribute to her grandfather, Celeste Reid came to the service wearing a fire hat. “You were the light of his life,” Pastor Stoakley said. “He loved you so much.”

Firefighters from across the Island paid tribute with an honour guard. Manitoulin Mutual Fire Aid System (MMFAS) members wanted to recognize Mr. Reid’s service, said Mike Addison, Gore Bay fire chief and fellow MMFAS member Wayne Elliott. “He participated in a number of events with us and in his 36 years as a firefighter and as a fire chief, he served the community very well,” Mr. Addison said, pointing to the new fire hall Mr. Reid helped design and ensured was built as part of his legacy. 

“Central Manitoulin truly is the centre of fire departments,” he continued. “John and his team responded to calls in all seven mutual aid areas and no doubt other areas on the Island as well.” 

Mr. Addison remembered one particularly large fire. “It lasted all night and in the morning, I said thank you to John. John smiled that big wide smile. ‘That’s what we do, help each other,’ he said. Look at the number of people gathered here to pay respect to his family and the family of firefighters.”

All current and past firefighters in attendance stood and saluted as Mr. Addison rang a bell. Throughout history, firefighters have heard the bell and put their lives on the line, he said. “Not long ago, Manitoulin Island firefighters would either have a siren or a bell. He rang the bell and now our brother has completed his task. In celebrating his life and service, the bell will toll 36 times as he leaves. Rest in peace, brother.”

It will be difficult to replace John Reid as fire chief, Mayor Stephens said. “John gave you the sense of being in charge. His advice was always bang on. He didn’t put on a show.”

“He was an inspiration to all of us,” said firefighter Shawn McLennan. 

John was born at the Red Cross hospital in Mindemoya.  He was the son of the late A. Lloyd and Melisa (McDonald) Reid.  John will be sadly missed by his wife of over 46 years, Roxana M. (Scott) Reid.  John was a loving father to Angela Reid and partner Bojan Joksimovic and Preston (Lloyd) Reid and wife Sarah Reid.  He was a proud grandfather to Preston and Sarah’s daughter Celeste.  John will be sadly missed by his sisters Margaret Reid, husband A. David Cameron and Mary-Alice Lewis, husband Douglas Lewis (predeceased).  Brother-in-law to Walter (predeceased) and wife Shirley; Joe and wife Marie; Robert (predeceased); Barbara (predeceased) and partner Gary; Elsie Glanville and husband Les; Alida Miller and husband Phil; Edith Roberts and husband John; Rosemary McCulligh.  John will also be missed by many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends; especially his long-time friend of 34 years, Derek Stephens.