Joanne and Jim Smith

This popular, well-known Island couple lives on a spectacularly flowered, treed and watered sanctuary. Their home, built in 1876, is ensconced in this landscaping heaven. It features sturdy, original oak kitchen cupboards, hand-hewn beams, and a newer 1970 central fireplace that supports the main structure. Two of the cherished furnishings that abound were rescued from a ‘burning’ ancestral home: a quaint old tea wagon and an oak hall stand. Joanne and Jim, who are the lucky owners, have cherished this home for 50 years. Meanwhile, they taught at local schools and became admired instructors. Joanne and her sister Marion also ran Hawberry Habit handmade ladies fashions and husband Jim taught archery to many of his pupils. He and his students have won numerous local and provincial championships in this remarkable field.

“I remember the first time I saw our home, the ‘King house,’ as a buyer,” Joanne explains. “My brother-in-law had found this place. We were up to our ankles in mud and cows, but we loved this house with its elegant history, its obvious charm and its impressive age. I saw the old hand-built antique cupboards in the kitchen, and despite the mud, mosquitoes and black flies, I knew this house was for us.”

The home had a poured-concrete basement, which, when built, had been encased in forms made from 14-inch high boards, wired together which were moved upward as each layer hardened. The displayed part of the wall was subsequently parged and grooved to resemble cement blocks, which in earlier times, were a prestigious building material. A small milk house capped the spring that bubbled out by the front door.

Joanne’s grandfather George Hodgson had been a farmer in Caledonia, near Hamilton. He and William King came to the Island in 1874 when he heard of land sales on Manitoulin, at 50 cents an acre. He, his wife Jean and two children landed in West Bay (now M’Chigeeng) and moved inland. Oxen carried their possessions, including dishes packed in flour, through the bush, to Lake Mindemoya.

Grandfather commissioned a dugout canoe on his first trip to help carry the supplies and belongings across the lake to the property George had previously selected on the south shore. That dugout canoe was later found partially submerged in the sand on the shore of the mainland. It was eventually dug up and now resides at Jack’s Museum in Mindemoya. 

Joe Hodgson was three when he came to the Island. A generation later, Joanne, named after her dad, was born to Jean and Joe Hodgson on March 18, 1946. She was the youngest daughter of three, with sisters Marion and Lorene. “My first memory at age two or three was sitting at the piano, teaching myself to play.”

“A sweet lady, Aunt Mary, staying at Treasure Island (the large island in Lake Mindemoya which the Hodgson family operated as an important resort) gave me a quarter every time I played piano for her, so when my mother asked me to play, I replied ‘I usually get a quarter…’ Mom became very upset and put a halt to my savings plan and potential profitable career! Aunt Mary got in trouble too. In time, an alternative plot generated a nickel from each post card that was sold.”

Joanne and her mum

“I was afraid of the bus, so my first day of school at six was stressful. First, I had to cross the lake and get on a bus, the driver of which, Mike Smith did not allow talking. I couldn’t ask where to get off. Thankfully, in time, I understood the system. After school I got a ride to Aunt Janet’s log house near the dock and I stayed there until the boat picked me up. For a little girl, it was still a lot to organize, so I used to hope for a storm or fog so I could just stay home. Home was a safe place, a magical place where harsh words were not heard,” Joanne continues. “My teacher was stern, but she was a good teacher. One day I took her a huge bouquet of trilliums, which grew in huge abundance on Treasure Island. My bouquet was met with a serious lesson, that these flowers were Ontario’s special ones, and no one was to pick them! That was difficult for a six -year-old to understand.”

“My dad Joe was a visionary, a dreamer, an artist and storyteller. Dad met Lester Pearson at a pre-election convention in Toronto. Dad’s short speech ended with, ‘Vote for the Love of Mike.’ That became a popular slogan for the campaign. Mr. Pearson told Joe, ‘If I get in, I will build you a dock’. Sure enough, soon after the election, dad got a call asking where he wanted his dock. He thought it was a joke, laughed and hung up on the fellow. ‘It was just some fool who wanted to know where to put the dock.’ Apparently, It was not a joke and soon a new wharf was built, the only federally-funded version on an in-land lake.”

Dad and his three daughters

Joe became a good friend of the Pearsons over the years. Mr. Pearson’s riding was Algoma East and included Manitoulin Island and when he became the prime minister, he made frequent visits to his home riding. He could often be seen dining among the guests at Treasure Island. Before the popularity of Treasure Island as a resort, dad raised turkeys and silver foxes until the depression hit and furs did not sell. However, there was a silver lining. Guests to Treasure Island were asking to have cottages built for their summer stays. Joe built 17 cottages in all. Guests were treated to garden-fresh meals on the American plan of breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus accommodation.

Joanne’s mother Jean had been a mother much of her life. Her own mother died of tuberculosis when Jean was 17. She had a three-month-old sibling, Allan, a three-year-old sister, Mary, and three older brothers. Jean had her heart set to attend school, but she was needed at home. Tears were shed, but she did as requested. Little Mary was later adopted by another family. As an adult, Jean was a mum who also liked working with elders. She organized a group of mainly seniors, to form The Old Time Orchestra, (candidly quipped as the Sympathy Orchestra). Members fiddled and strummed, Joanne adding piano and Jim played saxophone.

Lorene, Marion with their younger sister Joanne in the early 1950s.

“Then there is the Tom Selleck story,” added Joanne, “He was never actually at Treasure Island, as far as we know, but many were convinced he was. At one point, two girls rented a canoe and were determined to see Tom. When they arrived, one of the new owners of Treasure Island, seeing an opportunity, said ‘Just wait a moment.’ He went up the hill to the lodge, and in a moment, a good-looking man came out and stood on the deck to wave. The girls were convinced it was Tom they had seen and paddled away excitedly. It was not clear if they ever found out it was not the real Tom. Later, when Joanne phoned the owner, Chuck, to ask if he had really sold the island to Tom Selleck, there was a silence, then the answer: ‘Joannie, I would never sell Treasure Island…and who is Tom Selleck?’

Joanne met Jim at high school, and they became friends. “Initially, he was so smart, I thought him a bit of a nerd.” Jim thought her pretty and admired her musical abilities. Best of all, she was a great ping-pong player. Jim would cross the lake to Treasure Island on his sea-flee speed boat just to play table tennis with her.

Jim was born on February 1, 1946 to Walter and Margaret (Adamson) Smith. He has a brother, Frank, two years his junior, who, as a kid, loved to act in local drama. The two brothers both became teachers, Frank teaching drama and theatre arts in Lindsay, and Jim beginning his teaching career in Kingston. “Mum was an accomplished pianist,” said Jim, “who had played in a professional swing band in Windsor. She immediately became organist in the Anglican Church on our arrival to Mindemoya and was the life of the party wherever we went.”

Walter, Jim’s dad, had won the Canadian Handgun Championship in 1957, and was a many-time provincial winner. As he received career promotions, he and Jim’s family were moved to several locations in southern Ontario before coming to Mindemoya as the new bank manager of the local Bank of Montreal branch. He was known for his ability to see the best in people, often giving risky loans based more on trust and instinct than by-the-book credit ratings. “He was always right with his hunches,” Jim adds, “though he sometimes worried about head office opinions of his judgment. Margaret and Walter were gracious hosts, giving wonderful musical parties where everyone was welcome.”

“Okay, Jim, you can take her off our hands.”

Jim could read and sing before he was five. As did Joanne, Jim skipped Grade 3. “I never played hockey in those elementary school days, and when coming into high school in Mindemoya, I began to skate. I was a kamikaze to be sure! I did love to play hockey, though, and improved on the outdoor rinks during university days in Kingston. In the early 70s, Larry Burns and I established the first Sportsman hockey league on Manitoulin.” 

English and math were Jim’s favourite high school subjects. Track became a passion for him. He ran every weekend with his buddy, Ted Jackson, who would drive over from Gore Bay to coach and work out with him. As a Junior, Jim broke the quarter mile NOSSA record in New Liskeard at the age of 15, in later years, running with the Queen’s University track club.

Joanne and Jim found they had much in common. “We double dated a lot but not with each other at first. Eventually we ‘heard the same music’ and understood each other well.” He and Joanne, still high school students, started a Glee Club and a 10-piece band in the school. Later, in their teaching days, Joanne and her sister Marion, directed many plays. ‘Oklahoma’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Li’l Abner’ were just a few of these, providing lifetime memories for all their cast members. Later, in community drama, both were involved in such plays as ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ‘Brigadoon,’ ‘Music Man’ and others.

After high school, Joanne went to Western University in London to major in English. Jim went to Queens University in Kingston, where he joined the university handgun club. He competed in matches across the northern US and southern Ontario, eventually winning the Ontario Expert Class championship.

The married couple.

In 1966, Queens University had a track meet at Western and Jim would be competing there. He thought: “I know someone in Western” and tried to call his friend, Joanne. Reaching her roommate instead, she relayed the message to Joanne that some man with a sexy voice had called. Jim interjects the interview, “I think she didn’t get out much!” Joanne was astonished, “Jim Smith, a sexy voice?” They didn’t meet up for the track meet, but there was a football game two weeks later, also at Western, and Jim received a call from Joanne that he was to line up some dates for her and her roommates at Western. When the entourage arrived, Jo was dismayed that each had a date but her! “I knew him!” she exclaimed. “Who could know!”

Jim earned ‘Type A’ qualifications in math and English, and after graduation and teaching in Kingston for one year, he applied to teach at Manitoulin. The new high school was to open in 1969. Joanne, however, was planning a trip to Europe with her girlfriend in 1968 when her former principal phoned her and asked her to teach at the old high school in Mindemoya, then in its final year before Manitoulin Secondary School opened. “I will put an ad in the paper (it was a tiny ad in the Globe and Mail) and if nobody comes forward, the job is yours in the fall.” The job was hers in the fall.

Joanne only had three days to prepare when she got back from Europe. She would teach English to the fourth year and fifth-year students. “I had no teaching experience and was only three years older than most of my students. Sister Marion was head of the department and a perfect mentor, but despite this I was up all night trying to get ready. The students were wonderful though and I had lots of support.”

Joanne in her wedding dress

On June 28, 1969 Jim and Joanne solidified their harmonious relationship with a wedding. “For the wedding, we paddled over to Treasure Island in a canoe on a stormy day and got quite wet in the process. The photographer’s colour film camera got wet, consequently we have only black and white shots of our wedding. We had 100 guests on the Island, but 300 came to the reception on the mainland.” The honeymoon: tent-camping in Algonquin Park, and only much later in our first summer after teaching, to Canada’s east coast. They began teaching in the brand new school. It was an exciting time being a part of this new education system.

In 1972 when they adopted their son, Kevin, Joanne took leave of absence from high school teaching and volunteered a music program for three years at Tehkummah Public School. “That was the perfect job”, said Joanne, “but not exactly profitable!” Principal John Hodder wanted a music teacher for Manitowaning, Little Current and Tehkummah, and offered Joanne the position. With about 500 students to reach every week, the job was challenging, but oh, so much fun!

The couple adopted their second baby, Tara, two years later. “We enjoyed watching our kids grow up, cope with diversity and become successful.” Today Kevin works with NORAD as a military policeman. He has three children. Tara is a server at Red Lobster in Sudbury. She has one daughter. “We can hardly believe that we are grandparents of four!” say Jim and Jo.

In 1988 Joanne began Hawberry Habit with her sister Marion. The clothing business made beautiful garments that sold well on Manitoulin. In 2008, Joanne resumed her teaching career with adult education in M’Chigeeng and music in Lakeview School, another perfect job.

Jim was the head of the math department in MSS for 17 years. He taught algebra, calculus and trigonometry. He coached basketball, chess and table tennis. He also coached an archery team that won seven OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) championships over time. Many of his team members over the years also participated at Provincial and National levels. In 2003, Jim managed the Ontario Junior team to the Canada Winter Games in New Brunswick. Jim and Jo’s son Kevin won the Junior Ontario, the Junior Canadian, and Junior North American Championships, the latter in Wisconsin at age 16. Jim also won the Ontario championships nine times and the CFAA Canadian National Indoor Championships in 1986 and 1991.

Jim and Joanne making music

One time, Kevin was astonished to find his dad’s broken bow on a path at an Ontario championship. Jim, however, had finished the competition with a borrowed bow, having previously established enough lead to win the match anyway. The 1986 CFAA National Archery Championships in Niagara Falls were ending in a shoot-off between Jim and Mike Zikafuse, the West-Virginia State Champion. Both had shot perfect rounds over two days of competition. The shoot-off was to score only x-ring shots. Their target at 20 yards, then, would be only the size of a loonie. At the end, the US competitor had made 11 perfect shots of the 15, but Jim had 13!

Jim coached the Mindemoya archery club for 42 years and saw lots of talented kids over those years. “I lost my competitive edge over time, as coaching and instructing became more important than performing.” Irving Noble and Jake Diebolt, very capably, took over the reins for Jim.

Both Joanne and Jim have had rewarding, fulfilling careers and secondary ‘mini-careers’ right up to their mutual retirement. “What event was most important to us? Our marriage.” Favourite season? “Fall. In the past, people had left Treasure Island, and all was quiet.” 

The happy couple in recent times.

“Summer too,” said Jim, “when the late nights of preparation are over and it’s time to go camping.” Strengths? “Human connections, teaching, and love of ball-room dancing for Jo. Jim’s strengths are his passion for archery as well as teaching. “Our bucket lists? New Zealand and the world’s biggest in-door archery shoot in Las Vegas.”

These days the Smiths enjoy their lovely home, decorated with nostalgia and good taste. Porcelain dolls, made by Joanne, are displayed on various chairs. The Smiths love to travel, dance with the Burpee-Mills Dance club, play with the Manitoulin Swing Band, and most of all, cherish family times together. Their recipe for happiness? “Marry your best friend.”

“As a little girl,” Joanne adds, “I was proud that we lived on an island in a lake on an island in a lake. Our father encouraged us to see how the rest of the world runs and then come back. This can bring greater appreciation of the gifts we have here on Manitoulin. We are also proud of the family and friends that surround us and are such important parts of our lives. A letter came to us once, addressed only to ‘Jim and Joanne, Mindemoya.’ How many places in the world would see this degree of familiarity?