Now & Then: Harold and Shirley Dewar

Mr. and Mrs. Dewar on their back porch.

Harold and Shirley Dewar

Shirley and Harold’s charming, impressive log home that’s nestled into Dewar’s Lane sits just below the wake of the fourth hole of the Mindemoya Golf Course. An ancient pine tree shelters the back deck. The side of the home harbours a remarkable perennial garden in full bloom and immense crystal rocks, an exhibit on their own. A tiny tree frog, ‘George,’ enjoying the sun, blends into the back deck. Multiple bird feeders invite feathered friends, two of which, both robins, are currently building their nests in the rafters outside. 

The interior of the home resembles a museum of memorabilia reflecting successful farming, musical and athletic pursuits. Harold stops to point out and explain the historic aspects of each display, highlighting curling achievements, the farming background and even ‘Dewars Whiskey,’ a popular tradition in Scotland. Upstairs, various farm implements and family quilts decorate the walls and rails. The kitchen boasts an authentic wood cooking stove that also heats this level of the house. 

All three of us wear masks as we practice social distancing, and the story begins. A cup of tea and some tasty muffins add to the ambience. Shirley begins, “Paternal grandfather Archibald Cranston died when dad was just nine years old. They had two children, Grant, my dad, and Wilda. Grandmother Mae (McDermid) later married Spring Bay farmer Harvey Haner who bottled milk at Wagg’s.” 

Maternal grandfather Wilburt ‘Wib’ and Anna Steele had a tourist business on the way to the lighthouse in Meldrum Bay. “They had four boys and four girls including my mother, Marion,” Shirley adds. “Grandfather built eight cabins on Bass Lake. Most of his guests were Americans and they were served three meals a day, including a packed lunch. Hunting season was three weeks long and my dad was a hunting guide at the Steele Camp.”

“I was born on October 18, 1943, the only child of Grant and Marion (Steele) Cranston. We lived in Sudbury at that time. I remember lots of fish when my parents came home after a successful fishing trip. I also remember the huge garden with the big strawberry patch, that I helped dad pick.” 

“Grandfather taught me to shoot safely. One day when I was about seven, while visiting on Manitoulin, grandfather rushed in, ‘Hurry, there is a deer near the chicken coop.’ I couldn’t see it, but he had me shoot at a spot beside the chicken coop. We hurried to the spot and we found a dead deer. ‘See, you got him! Good shooting.’ I was excited at first, but soon realized the deer had met an earlier demise.”

Mr. and Mrs. Dewar on their wedding day on March 11, 1967.

After Shirley finished at Landsowne Public School, she started high school and got part-time work at Kresge’s. “I was just 11, in 1956, when my father, 39, died of a coal dust explosion at INCO. After that ordeal, both mother and I had to learn to drive a stick shift. At 13, I was contributing to our mode of transportation over the Espanola hills highway (now Highway 6) which was under construction at the time. I would master the clutch with my foot, so mother could better coordinate the clutch-brake-gas interaction on hills.” 

“Mother went back to school and found a job at the office of the chief engineer at Memorial Hospital. She was also a secretary at the Ministry of Education until her retirement. She never remarried.” After high school, Shirley worked for two years at the Copper Cliff hospital, followed by a job at Dobson Insurance which lasted until Shirley and Harold married in 1967. 

“Harold and I met on a blind date. Harold’s wife Diane, a nurse’s aide, had died in a car accident right outside the General Hospital. The neighbour, looking after his son Clark, gave him two choices for a date. The other gal was my cousin, Linda Fawcet. Linda and I had planned a show night. After Harold and I were matched, I arranged a blind date for Linda with another cousin, Don Currie. She wound up marrying him a year later.” 

“Our first date, smelt fishing at Whitefish Falls with three other couples, was fun, if not romantic. The fish weren’t running so we climbed up to the Red Dog Inn and the boys had a few beers. It was great getting to know him, but if Harold had not suggested I drive home that night, it would have been our first and last date.”  

“My maternal grandparents James and Alice (Cooper) Hopkin were long-time residents,” Harold shares. They lived where the Garden’s Gate Restaurant is today. “Grandmother cooked at the hotel in Providence Bay and James ran the farm. Paternal Grandfather William Dewar was born here too, as was Grandmother Henrietta (Haddie) Kay Dewar.” 

Harold George was born on September 17, 1935, the first son of Reginald and Grace (Hopkin) Dewar. His mother admired the Royals and named him George. “Dad had learned some veterinary skills, so he looked after the animals and mother helped run the farm. After each meal, plates were washed and placed upside down on the table for the next meal. Once, I was allowed to walk on them, and it was fun, but I recall my Aunt Marjorie being flabbergasted. There was a more flexible attitude about guns too. Rifles hung on the wall and were carried openly. Grandfather took me out for target practice.” 

“Grandmother taught me to shoot a .22 caliber rifle at six or seven years. Owls would kill the chickens in the coop and there was an owl nearby. Grandmother took me to the spot, asked me creep up slowly, lie down and carefully aim the gun at the owl sitting on the fence. ‘Line the sight up with the slot, squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it,’ she said softly. When I looked up, the owl had fallen from the fence. ‘Good job,’ she said.”

“Grandfather taught me how to rake the fields. The horses, Dan and Vic, along with our dog Sport, helped. I was also allowed to go out on the lake alone in a special flat-bottomed rowboat that couldn’t sink easily. Rowing was mandatory. I just needed my fishing rod and some dew worms. For the game of horseshoes, grandfather and I would take on Jim and Blair McDermid and hold our own. A tourist from Ohio showed me how to throw a shoe, one and a half turns. This technique helped me win a few tournaments.”

“I was seven when I was asked to pick up my grandparents for dinner. A block on the clutch was needed to make it within my youthful reach to drive the one and a half miles. When I got my licence, years later, Mr. Nevills said, ‘you have been driving your dad’s car for a long time. Just give me two dollars for your licence’.

High school was in Mindemoya, and Harold’s generation represented the first Dewars to attend high school. Harold boarded the bus in Providence Bay at his grandparents’ place, where he contributed 50 cents a week for room and board. Unplowed roads made for a lengthy and bumpy bus ride. Heads often hit the roof over culverts. “One day we put John Alexander’s lunch under him when we hit a culvert. He always had a paper bag. He came down hard and squashed it. If we did this twice, we had to share our lunch with him.” 

Harold remembers farm kids bringing in fertilized chicken eggs for the city kids. “When the chickens hatched, observing them and caring for them was part of the agricultural sciences program. One student, Irving ‘Hoey’ McDermid, would get the little chick to walk in a circle around his pencil, as he turned it. We both got kicked out every time he did this because I couldn’t stop laughing.” 

In science class, Merla Caddle was the recipient of a paper funnel Harold had fashioned and placed in her pocket before he poured water into it. It seems Merla got even with him by tossing a raw egg down his back one day and several eggs on his schoolbooks another day. For the first egging, Harold had to wash his clothes in the bathroom and wear an overcoat for the rest of the day.

During one recess, Harold defiantly snuck out to the water fountain after the teacher had forbidden such requests. He crawled back in, undetected but wound up under the ping pong table that the students were sitting around. His buddies wouldn’t let him back up until the teacher noticed him. As punishment, Harold and his buddies, Doug Elliot, Hoey McDermid and John Alexander, had to write “I will not make the class laugh any more” 25 times on the blackboard. 

One wintery day, Harold, inspired by the snow mounds around the window, reached out and made two successive snowballs which were subsequently launched by A. B. Oakes and flattened on the blackboard where they were sliding down nicely. This time, Mr. Fraser, the principal and an ex-boxer, dealt with the offenders. “This class will stay until someone confesses.” All four buddies wound up in the principal’s office where the latter made a worthy attempt to dissuade them from any future incidents.

“Thinking I would follow in dad’s footsteps and farm, I finished high school after I turned 17. The main draw for me had been girls and sports.” Harold was asked to take Ab Oakes’ parents to Sault Ste. Marie to pick sailor Ab up. He had developed tuberculosis and had to be quarantined. When Harold got there, the Third Mate said they needed someone to replace Ab. “If you are in Sault Ste. Marie in four days, you get the job,” he said. 

Harold, then 18, aboard the Norco.

Despite his parents’ misgivings, Harold took the job and headed by train for Sault Ste. Marie. “It all became real when I walked up that gangplank to the deck of the Norco, out of Green Bay, Wisconsin on January 12, 1952.” Harold became a watchman. “We left the St. Mary’s River heading at top speed for Lake Superior when we ran into Hurricane Hazel. That was in 1954. Racks to stabilize pots had been built to support the stove in the kitchen. Sadie McLennan from Manitowaning was one of the cooks.”

“Waves were met head on, forcing the Narco to be steered into the troughs, but the boat still twisted from side to side in the high winds. Frying pans flew over racks and off the stoves, hitting the floor. The cooks locked the door to the kitchen and retreated to cabins. After Hazel subsided, three deck hands cleaned up the mess. The floor was so greasy you couldn’t stand up. Even with toweled feet, one hand on the porthole and the other cleaning, cleaning was challenging. All the steaks, vegetables and towels used in the clean up were tossed out the port holes. ‘The fish will eat well tonight’.

“Green Bay, Wisconsin had the highest per capita pub rate in America. We like to think we were in most of them.” One time Harold’s raffle ticket won him a rifle, case and ammunition at Norm’s Bar. Somehow, he got it on the ship and later to a post office where he sent it to his mother. The five sailors used taxis to get to and from the pubs. “My buddies decided this Manitoulin farmer should be a smoker like them. They gave me five cigarettes and I puffed on all five before we were banned from the taxi.” 

“At home dad had promised a Bulova watch for each brother who could get to age 21 without smoking. Two of three did, but all three brothers got a watch.” All three also inherited a musical gene. Harold played guitar and the other two brothers played fiddles. “Our mother chorded on the piano. We would play at local events.” 

Harold and Shirley were wed on March 11, 1967, in Sudbury. Harold’s brothers stood with him. The reception for 150 guests was at the Legion Hall in Copper Cliff. “We were to stay at the Cassio Hotel but booked the Mandarin Hotel instead,” Harold discloses. “My brothers were banging on someone else’s door at the Cassio. Much to their chagrin, they found out the next day that they had been banging on the door of a former radio personality for CKSO, also named Cranston.” Soon the newlyweds were off to Florida for their honeymoon. 

“We moved into the house on Simon Lake in Naughton, just east of Sudbury. Dad had helped to build it years earlier.” Harold became a maintenance mechanic and later a millwright at INCO. “We went on strike many times for different issues, like getting a pension or finding measures to avoid breathing sulphur gas. We lost two to four months every three years to strikes. Once we were locked out for five months. I worked a lot of overtime to get the money back.” 

Cheryl was born in December of 1969. As an adult, she worked at the Walden Day Care Centre until COVID hit and she was laid off. She and husband Rod now live in Mindemoya. “I am just helping her build a big deck for the front of the house. Son Clark, from the first marriage, was only five when his mother died years earlier. After high school, he and our neighbour’s son set their sights on the west coast. He’s in his early 60s now and he has been a framing carpenter in Vancouver for much of his adult life.”

The Norco in 1954.

“In 1984, a cottage was built on Manitoulin and in 1992, we moved into it.” Harold and Shirley continued to enjoy bowling, which Shirley excelled at. One time she scored a near-perfect game with 10 strikes in a row. In the last frame, the first strike was followed by a spare. It was a 429 game. She bowled for many years in the local house league and won numerous awards for bowling and curling.” 

Harold reached ice technician level three for Curling Ontario in 1995, and the Providence Bay Curling club always had optimal ice surface after that. “You had to keep the surface slightly pebbled so the stones could overcome the friction with the ice and move smoothly. Historically, for off-Island curling bonspiels, curling rocks were carried on the cow catchers of the train to keep them cold during the journey. Rocks weighed up to 60 lbs back then and curlers brought their own stones to play. Today those stones weigh 42 lbs.” Doug and Fern Patterson became good friends. Fern was the principal in the public school, and she arranged ice time for the students to learn curling.

Harold retired from INCO after 36 years, with a full pension. “When I started work there, we had 18,000 workers, and at the end, less than 6,000.” The couple took over the coaching the Manitoulin Secondary School curling teams. Harold took on the boys’ team and Shirley coached the girls. Both teams played out of Providence Bay for the North Shore, Northern Ontario and then provincial championships. Shirley was also a member of the Canadian Curling Association ‘Teranet.’ Late in the 1980s and early 1990s the girls had qualified to go to Thunder Bay. They had raised the $2,000 and an eight-passenger van took their team to Thunder Bay. In 2001 both teams were at the high school provincials and the following year, the girls team qualified again. The Lions Club also supported youth curling and golf so all could play. Students were given a key to the curling rink so they could practice.

“In 2002, 20 of us rented a place in Panama City Beach beginning an annual trek. In the last four years we met in Hudson, 45 miles east of Tampa until COVID stopped us. Music has always been important. Before COVID, our ‘Islanders’ band played music in the nursing homes. We had started the band 30 years earlier at the Providence Bay Fair with Lyle, Darrel, Hal Love and me.” 

Shirley on mandolin for some musical fun.

“Travels? We have seen 34 states and every province except Labrador-Newfoundland. Most important events? Our wedding, the birth of my son, our daughter, moving back to Manitoulin and building a retirement home. Favourite seasons? The fresh snowfall in winter and skating, tobogganing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, hockey and curling. The summer brings water skiing, fishing and camping with the kids. Hunting in the fall. Favourite collections? Antiques we have collected and displayed.”

“Favourite shows? Netflix for Shirley, sports for Harold and The View for both. Strengths? We are both healthy and good organizers.” Harold adds, “I was president of the Providence Bay Curling Club for eight years and we rebuilt the entire structure inside and out. Both of us are particularly good at fixing things that break. What would we still like to do? See Spain and Portugal and do a River Cruise in Europe.”

What are you most proud of? Harold’s gaze rests on Shirley, “I am proud and grateful for our marriage. We have always been stronger together, filling in for each other. Hope for the future? Being of sound mind and body when I make it to 100. Less conflict in the world and getting our son back to the Island soon.”

Would you change anything if you could go back in time? “No, we’ve had a lot of fun.” 

People who inspired you? Shirley adds, “My mother aptly dealt with all the changes in her life, and I learned a lot.” For Harold, it was his dad’s lessons.

“When we come over the bridge in Little Current, all three of us, including Nickie our pup, feel a weight has been lifted off. We all seem to be more relaxed. You take a deep breath and inhale the Manitoulin air. Rogers City in Michigan, across from Manitoulin, has similar terrain, but this Island is special. Here, we can enjoy refreshing clear water, watch a cat chase a deer around the bird feeder and a male cardinal feed his female partner. Seeing familiar friends at the curling rink or golf course is priceless. The rarified atmosphere and friendly folk make Manitoulin the place to be.”