EDITOR’S NOTE: Manitoulin is being transformed with the influx of new residents and business owners who bring with them fresh ideas, experiences and perspectives that are enriching the area. Some individuals and families are still unpacking boxes, having only moved in the past month or two, while others made the over the last few years and are now comfortably established in their new communities. Here are some of their stories.
Little Sandfield’s big growth spurt
by Heather Marshall
Sandfield, with its spattering of houses dotting Highway 542 on the south shore of Lake Manitou, may only take a minute or two to drive through. Slow down, though, and you will see that the community of approximately 250 people is experiencing a renaissance. Over the past year, at least 10 homes have changed hands and multiple businesses–including Turtle Creek Lodge, Hutchinson’s Cabins, Watson’s General Store and the Garden’s Gate Restaurant–have been taken over by new owners, revitalizing the picturesque village.
Among recent Sandfield recruits is Rick Mauti, a proud first-generation Italian Canadian born and raised in Toronto, who purchased the former home of Lloyd and Lois Thomas. He moved permanently to the area when he took possession of the property in late June.
It was business that first drew Rick to the Island roughly eight years ago, when he landed several opportunities to install security systems in Wiikwemkoong for local businesses. But it was his love of the land, the local people and the Manitoulin lifestyle that kept him coming back.
Rick’s first foray North was via the Chi-Cheemaun ferry in the month of October. “Coming to the Island on the boat was just inspiring. It was a totally new world to me. I was seeing rocks with trees growing out of them and the fall colours were at their peak. I couldn’t believe how incredibly beautiful everything was,” says Rick.
The big city boy had always loved nature but did even more so after spending time on the Manitoulin. “It opens the gates for me to be at peace and to be centred within myself. Every time I came up, I was reminded of that.”
His sense of awe for the Island deepened as he spent time involved with the community of Wiikwemkoong, where he learned about the First Nation’s history, culture and philosophy. There, he was befriended by the late community elder, Chris Pheasant, and local merchant James Manitowabi, who has since become one of his closest friends.
“While I was introducing new technology to help keep the community safe, they were safeguarding me by sharing their traditional teachings,” explains Rick. “Knowing now that Manitou means the Great Spirit, I understand that this is a healing island in so many ways.”
As the son of immigrants who had faced discrimination when they first arrived in Canada, Rick was moved by the generosity of spirit and kindness he encountered as a non-Native newcomer. “They gave me the nickname Waapshkisabe, which translates to ‘white Sasquatch,’ even though I’m an olive-skinned Italian! I was welcomed with open arms. It was such an incredible feeling of belonging and having a sense of purpose. I felt like an adopted member of their family.”
That warm reception extended to other Manitoulin communities where Rick worked over the years, tempting him to consider making the Island his permanent home. That wasn’t possible during the first few years of coming North since he still had children in school and aging parents requiring health and other assistance in the Toronto area. However, he knew his days of spending up to two hours, each way, each day in traffic jams to get to and from work in the city were numbered.
There were several difficult years getting through a divorce and caring for sick, elderly parents before he could advance his plans. But, as his 20-something kids began launching their own careers and his parents passed away, Rick knew the time was right to make the move. With the benefit of having lived in Wiikwemkoong, Manitowaning and Little Current while working on numerous contracts, he had scouted different communities and potential locations. When Sandfield realtor Bob Watson showed him the Thomas’s home late last winter, there was no doubt about where he wanted to settle down. It was love at first sight and a sold sign soon appeared on the lawn.
Life for the former city slicker couldn’t be sweeter. Along with his beloved rescue dog Asa, who he acquired while staying in Wiikwemkoong, Rick is thriving in his new community of Sandfield, a world away from the city where he once lived.
“If I am driving for an hour now, I am seeing fabulous scenery at every turn. There’s a congestion of trees and rockfaces rather than SUVs and highrises. And the emotional and mental stress of that environment is gone. You rule your own world as a self-employed person living here.”
New professional and personal opportunities have opened up for Rick since becoming a full-time Manitoulin resident. In addition to being a security specialist, he also is a music composer who is delighted that his “muse” has returned since living nearly stress-free and spending more time in nature. He says the melodies are starting to play in his head again. An instrumentalist, Rick has completed six CDs and is currently working on a seventh album. He briefly had the number one CD in Canada back in 2013, called ‘RESONANCE,’ which features a video that was shot in some of his favourite locales around the Island.
“Being on the Island is rejuvenating,” says Rick. “I am so grateful to be living here that I am looking for opportunities to give back to the community that has given so much to me.”
Heather Marshall and her husband worked as journalists and communications consultants in the National Capital Region for more decades than they care to admit before making their Sandfield summer cottage their permanent home. A lifelong learner, Heather loves discovering new things and people and relishes the opportunity to write about newcomers to the Manitoulin. If you would like to share your story or know of recent arrivals we should meet, send a message to email@example.com.