by Isobel Harry
ICE LAKE— Family reunions often mark important milestones, and the Mielke family chose their patriarch’s 80th birthday this year to come together to celebrate Chuck Mielke’s eight decades, and the over 50 years since the Michiganian was introduced to Manitoulin Island in 1962 by his brother.
Seventeen family members from the US gathered during the first week of August at Evergreen Resort at Ice Lake to honour Mr. Mielke and his son Jeff, who was born in Little Current’s St. Joseph Hospital on July 28, 1971 to Chuck and Patricia (now deceased) Mielke. Jeff was a Canadian citizen until he had to choose between his dual citizenships and decided on his American family’s affiliation.
Chuck Mielke is an unabashed fan of Manitoulin, from the days they used to rent at Grand View Cottages near Little Current, a place that lives vividly in his mind although it has long ceased operations.
“My parents came up, my three sons, Jeff, Charles Jr and Matthew (deceased). We always vacationed each year somewhere around Little Current,” says Mr. Mielke, “travelling on the Norisle, the ferry that operated before the Chi-Cheemaun. At least 20 family members have been here every year. We had to reserve a year ahead back then; what a wonderful time we had using woodstoves, swimming and washing in the lake, the kids learning fishing. Now we stay at different resorts around the Island.”
Son Jeff, who is as much, if not more, attached to the Island as his dad, says, “I love coming here, I grew up here in the summers, so it’s a homecoming for me. I’m proud to be an American who was born on the Island, it’s unique and this is my home away from home.”
Adds Mr. Mielke Sr: “When Jeff was born, the nurses made such a fuss and kept introducing me to everyone as ‘the American father with the Canadian baby.’ Dr Bailey and Dr Stephen were the doctors at his birth. We had a baptism party at the Red Lodge, the cottagers gave the baby presents, and Jeff was given the name “Little Wabuno” by Eli Madahbee with whom we were great friends. Eli told wonderful stories and took us on many fishing and exploring trips.”
This year, Jeff, wife Kathy and daughter Larkin (9) and Chuck Mielke travelled from their homes in Commerce Township, about 45 minutes west of Detroit, Michigan. So did Kathy’s mom and stepfather, Barbara and Glen Christoff. The family visited the old Norisle in Manitowaning, many Island landmarks and went horseback riding. “This is nice and remote,” remarked Glen, as his wife added: “It’s not so crowded here, and there is absolutely no stress.” Kathy’s father Ron Carlson, from Riverview, Florida near Tampa, explained his own take on Manitoulin: “Mother Nature’s the main feature here,” and Kathy’s stepmom Linda adds, “The serenity, the peace and quiet, it’s not over-developed, and there are no bugs!” After a few minutes marvelling over the ‘no bugs’ phenomenon, the Americans, including Ron’s sons Ron Jr (who lives in Boston), Jeff and Ryan (Tampa), enthusiastically endorsed Manitoulin’s “low humidity, very fresh air and incredible stars” as a perfect retreat from the more hectic pace down south.
From Cincinatti, Ohio came Kathy’s uncle Tom Carlson and aunt Monica Kennedy, driving all the way in their RV with dog Pumpkin.
Kathy’s aunt Connie Carlson Gallacher and husband Scott flew to Detroit from Virginia Beach, Virginia then drove to the Island. Daughter Megan and husband Tom Wells came from Atlanta, Georgia with 18-month-old Tom ‘the fifth’; they went golfing at the Manitoulin Island Country Club near Gore Bay and took baby Tom along for the ride in their golf cart. “We had so much fun!” enthuses Connie, “It’s our favourite thing so far, that and Farquhar’s butter pecan ice cream!” She adds, “This is the greatest week of little Tom’s life. We live in a big city, and it’s so hot in Atlanta. Here Tom is out in nature all day, we have not pulled out a single toy all week, the baby is perfectly happy with rocks and sticks, whatever he finds, as long as he’s outside.”
Also joining the reunion a little later would be Russell Cosby and his wife Christine who live in Little Current and who have been lifelong friends of Chuck and Jeffrey and the whole Mielke clan. “Russell is Jeff’s godfather,” says Mr. Mielke Sr. “This is the strong tie that brings us together.” Jeff shows off some photos of himself at about seven- or eight-years-old, with Russell Cosby standing watch over the young boy, as much a part of the family as the rest of the group.
The Island has acquired significance for the Mielkes in other ways: Mr. Mielke Sr’s brother Otto’s ashes were scattered around the Twin Islands in the North Channel just three years ago, and Otto’s wife Millie passed away in Little Current in the mid-90s.
After a week of visits to the alpaca farm in Sheguiandah, Bridal Veil Falls, golfing, riding, swimming, it was time for the Mielke extended family’s final nights together at their resort reunion. Facials and a big barbecue steak dinner were planned, followed by more of Chuck Mielke’s reminiscences around the fire while roasting marshmallows, stargazing and planning the stuff of next year’s Island memories.