Now & Then: Lorene and Tom Martell

Mr. and Mrs. Martell on a Greek cruise.

Lorene and Tom Martell

The Martells live in the trendy Frank’s Road area of Sandfield, in a lovely cottage that hugs the shore of Lake Manitou. The proximity to the water affords pleasing panoramas of the lake and adds to the charm of their cottage. Dedication to nursing highlighted Lorene’s career choice and making beautiful dolls and teddy bears is a hobby. For Tom it was steel worker at Fruehauf Trailers, leading to WHIMIS training and, finally, a job in helping relocate workers. The Martells spent much of their working life in Toronto before nostalgic memories of home brought them back to the safety and gentle ambience of Manitoulin Island.

“Four generations of Smiths and Hares have made Manitoulin their home,” Lorene begins. “You did a story about Gordon Smith, my brother, many years ago. He still lives in Alberta. Paternal grandparents, William and Mary (Johnstone) Smith, lived on Rockville Road and had 11 children, one of whom was my father, Floyd.” William Smith built many barns on the Island, and he did much of the stonework for the Anglican Church in Mindemoya. An ancestor helped start the Big Lake Women’s Institute.

“Floyd married Evelyn Hare. Evelyn’s parents had tourist cottages on Lake Mindemoya. They owned a large acreage which went right into the town of Mindemoya. Floyd drove for Wagg’s, gathering cream from the farmers and delivering butter and ice cream.” 

“The Hares were on the maternal side of the family. Great-grandfather William Hare Sr. arrived on Manitoulin in the mid-1800s. Gordon’s story for Now and Then in 2007 shared that William was harvesting wood for the McFadden Lumber Company which was supplying lumber for the construction of the Canadian Parliament library in Ottawa. Great Grandmother Mary Anne (Debassige) Hare was a midwife who brought many new citizens into this world. Her dad was a chief in M’Chigeeng.”

“Maternal grandparents William Hare Jr. and Ida (Van Horne), a descendant of the United Empire Loyalists, were the parents of twins, Mother Evelyn and William and a third child, Basil. Ida had a beautiful garden and a community spirit. William had an experimental farm for the Department of Agriculture, growing various wheat strains and doing animal research. He was looking for hardier wheat plants that would thrive in Manitoulin’s short growing season. I remember bins of different wheat grains stored on the farm. Island sheep farmers brought their herds to the Hare farm for shearing.”

Lorene was born on January 30, 1938, at the Red Cross Hospital, to Floyd and Evelyn Smith. “Mother had worked with the wife of the Dodge heir (Danny Dodge whose 1938 death is legendary) at a Gore Bay tourist resort, and she liked her name, so she called me Lorene also. (Their mother’s friend was named Laurine McDonald-Dodge but the names are pronounced similarly.) I remember visiting the hospital often because mom’s cousin was the nurse matron there. We would bring fresh baking and flowers and stay for tea. Accompanying my father on the milk truck is a vivid memory also. I opened gates for him so he could deliver the butter and ice cream to the farmers.”

“On a more poignant note, men leaving for war, saying goodbye to their families, was a difficult time. We all remember those trying days. Many men would not return. In May of 1945, on the day the war ended, Mr. Corrigan the baker came to our school and rang the bell. We all got the rest of the day off. That evening we congregated at the hospital and then went back to the school where a big bonfire was lit to celebrate the end of war and burn an effigy of Hitler. After that we all shared a pot-luck meal.”

“When I was four, dad built us a home behind Williamson’s Hardware Store. It wasn’t quite finished when we moved in, so we lived in the kitchen and one bedroom at first. The next spring, brother Gordon was born.” 

Mr. Martell on his dad’s car, ‘Willis Knight,’ in 1941.

“I used to think that everything at Williamson’s was free. My mother would give me a note and I would hand it to the person behind the counter. He would hand me the item and I would take it home to mother. It was years later before I understood that we had a charge account at the store, and my parents would eventually pay the Williamsons for their merchandise.” Lorene took piano lessons from Mrs. Gladys McQuay, wife of Dr. R.B. McQuay, from age seven to 18. She reached Grade 2 theory and Grade 8 piano.

“I went to the Old School, the building the community is trying to save as an historic structure. This institution has been central to so many local events over the decades. It held Grades 1 to 13 with Grades 1 to 8 occupying two rooms. High school was right across the hall. I enjoyed academics, specifically math and science, and sports, like baseball, hockey, broomball along with track and field. I was always part of the Student Council too.” 

“Our sports teams competed with Island high schools for track meets and we won a few tournaments. A Shakespeare play was another chance to visit Sudbury.” In Grade 13, Lorene was voted Queen of the Prom by her classmates. “Every summer, and a couple of times during the week, after school, I babysat Marilyn, Paul, Janis and Betty McQuay. I would accompany them and their parents on trips as well.”

“Lorene and I met at a dance at the community centre in 1954.” Tom injects, smiling, “I was thinking about heading to Toronto to work for Fruehauf Trailers but decided to come to the dance first, despite having to escort my younger sister. It was a lucky thing I came. I didn’t realize my life would change after I met this nice, pretty young lady at the dance.” 

Tom was born at home in Little Current on November 4, 1935. His parents were Henri (Pete) and Isabelle (Dunn) Martell. Mrs. Boyd, the midwife, attended the birth. “I arrived just before dinner, and I haven’t missed one since,” he chuckles. Before the birth, his sister Betty was told that she would have a new baby brother or sister, and she had responded, “I don’t know about a brother.” Oldest sibling was Dolores, then came Betty, Tom and Mary Ann. Only Betty and Tom are left. “Betty is in a retirement home in Lively.”

“The Martell grandparents, Ernest and Lillian (La Fontaine), had arrived when dad was just a small boy. They spoke only French. The teacher had called French people dumb. Pete, Tom’s father, had spelled his name Martel with one ‘l’, the French spelling. She insisted it should be two ‘l’s’. Grandmother Martel died in 1939, and I never knew her. Grandfather Martel cut lumber in the bush when he wasn’t working for the CPR. He cut the wood for the ties when the railway tracks were being laid between Sudbury and Manitoulin. He told me that the train was later nicknamed ‘Agony Central,’ attributed to the painfully slow ride because the train stopped for all passengers along the line, as well as all stations.”

For a little break, Grandfather Martel, Joe Cote and Father Persion would get ‘Shag’ tobacco. They would gather behind the church shed, cut the tobacco into three pieces, then grind it with their hands and smoke it. “Grandfather had a little black pipe, and the smell was strong enough to choke him and others occasionally.”

Maternal grandparents were John Dunn and Isabelle (Parisiem). John Dunn helped to build the Manitoulin Swing Bridge for CPR for many years, earning a ‘gold pass,’ which allowed him to travel on any train or boat, but he only used it to go to Sudbury and St. Thomas. Later he was a custodian for the Catholic school in Little Current. “I always helped him after school and came back with him for supper. Grandmother Dunn would cook enough for 10 people, so the three of us had lots of food.”

“I missed my first year of school due to asthma. My bed was against a sawdust-filled wall. No one realized I was allergic to sawdust. There were no pills for allergies then. I started school in Grade 2. All eight grades were in the basement of the Catholic Church, in two rooms. Half the students were Anishnaabe. My school years were the best years of my life.” 

“In high school, I liked being on the student council and working with our newspaper the ‘LowDown.’ I was the music editor. We had fun setting it all up by hand.” English and literature were interesting, but I didn’t like the languages. I played football too.”

“My first summer job involved being a printer’s devil for The Expositor. I helped everyone, cleaned the types, the press and melted the lead for the print. One summer I quit to sell dew worms for two cents each but was lured back to The Expositor when I got a raise to 25 cents an hour. Other jobs were building docks in Little Current in 1951-52, and being a deck hand on the tugboat HJ Dixon. I also shovelled stone blasted out of the channel near the bridge and loaded it onto the Rock Queen. Pioneer Paving had me for another summer.”  

Another job was at The Fruehauf Lodge, called the Killarney Mountain Lodge today. “I was in charge of washing windows. I used bars of Bon Ami which is applied wet and then wiped off when dry. I also drove for my dad’s taxi business when they needed an extra driver. They had three taxis normally piloted by Myrtle Ballantyne, Roy Van Zant and dad. Destinations included Sheguiandah, Gore Bay, Sudbury and the Sault Ste. Marie airport.” However, Tom’s most prominent career stop was Fruehauf Trailers in Toronto.

Tom and Lorene on their wedding day on October 7, 1961.

Lorene moved to Hamilton where she took her nursing instruction at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “I was in residence for three years and worked for two-and-a-half years after that. I was assigned a very specialized role in the hospital. I looked after five children in the burn unit, almost exclusively. It was Christmastime and one of the children had thrown gas on an old shack and lit it. The children needed extensive, painful skin grafting, Sadly one child died.” Lorene was working closely with the plastic surgeons throughout the children’s slow recovery. “Afterwards, I was asked to present the process and techniques used to save the children to other institutions. I hoped this would help other burn victims in the future.” 

In 1960, Lorene began work in the pediatrics department which included many specialists and six pediatricians. On days off, Tom would meet her in Hamilton and then drive back to Toronto. They soon decided to set a wedding day. 

Lorene and Tom were wed on October 7, 1961, a beautiful sunny day. A large wedding party of 150 family members, friends, and classmates attended. Gold was the fall theme and the colour of the bridesmaid’s gown. The reception featuring a catered dinner for 100 guests and was held in the Mindemoya Community Centre. The honeymoon took the newlyweds to Nassau in the Bahamas for two weeks. “The convertible sports car we toured with was impressive, as was the excellent rum,” Tom adds.

The couple returned to Toronto where Lorene was now employed by Humber Memorial Hospital. Tom went back to work at Fruehauf Trailers where he was a roll operator. “We were using rolled steel to shape the container portions of trucks. We also made flat beds and dump trucks. I soon took on a new challenge of becoming a WHIMIS specialist, taking numerous courses which eventually led to teaching the program to all staff.”

“One day after the Free Trade agreement was set up, we were told that in one month, the company was moving their operations to the States where the production costs were less. We all lost our jobs.” His next work was at Trane Air Conditioning where he became factory personnel director, took more courses and taught WHIMIS to the staff for six years until that business closed and went south. “I had been working since I was 19 and only quit when businesses shut down. I stayed to work for Trane to help the workers get new jobs. I advertised to all companies in the area and got everyone a job but me.”

When Tom was 67 in 2002, he retired from his training roles. Lorene was nurse manager of a surgical and medical unit. “I was also recruiting nurses from high school and colleges and was part of the Humber negotiation team. I found myself doing a lot of public speaking and presentations. One year, we bargained with ONA, Ontario Nursing Association, and set up a three-year contract.”

Community work was also important for Lorene. Playing piano for soloists, nursing homes, Christmas concerts and weddings kept the young nurse busy. “Both Tom and I enjoyed horticulture, church activities and downhill skiing. I enjoyed knitting and taught adults and children that art in Toronto. I was also sewing for weddings and making dolls and teddy bears. Some of my teddy bears, all nicely dressed, were on display at the local museum. When I made the dolls, I made their bodies and their clothes. One was an American Beauty Doll, a favourite in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I also restored a Blue Boy doll.”

“We have always been part of the Central Manitoulin Historical Society and the Michael’s Bay Historical Society,” Lorene continues. “History is such a compelling topic for both of us and its more relevant when we learn our own community history. I have also helped coordinate reunions every five years for my nursing class. We graduated from St. Joseph’s 60 years ago!”

“The two of us have done extensive travelling, including five Caribbean cruises. We toured Europe, spending time in Portugal, Spain, Greece and France for seven weeks. We used to participate in two USA bike trips a year. In 1991 we were part of a Bike Tour in France, which took us into the Alps. We skied in southern France.” 

In 1998 Lorene broke her arm walking to her resort in Quebec. “We had skied for four days and were walking home from the restaurant when I slipped on ice. I spent New Year’s day in the hospital. After I got home, the arm had to be re-broken and reset. In April, three months later, I skied at Whistler, risking my short-lived recovery period begun in January.”

In 2012 the couple moved to a condo overlooking Spider Bay Marina on the North Channel in Little Current. “We had been retired for a few years but wanted a winter home. The cottage on Frank’s Road got an addition. 

Ida Hare, baby Lorene, Evelyn Smith and Sarah Van Horne.

“Most important event in my life? Getting married to Tom and graduating as a nurse, followed by a great career with an excellent nursing staff.” Tom adds proudly, “She always looked like a professional nurse.”

“Our favourite season? Winter. We used to ski several times a week when we were younger. Spring and its promise of renewal has also captivated us. Collections? Teddy bears and dolls. On several occasions I have made dresses to match those of the flower girls,” Lorene explains.

“Favourite television show? Cooking shows and the news. My mother was a perfectionist, and I may have been in her way, but I learned quietly on my own.” Tom adds that she is a very good cook, and she plays piano just as well. “As for me, I liked to hunt and my cooking in the bush consisted of heating beans and wieners over a fire. My uncles had brought back mess tins when they came home from the war. The big tins had small mess tins inside when you opened them up. We used them in the bush where we also made tea in an old honey can.”

“What are my strengths?” Lorene shares, “Leadership and organization have fallen into place over the years. Being creative, piano playing and sewing. My teddy bears were popular. The Knights of Columbus raffled them off once, in Toronto.” Tom adds “I love to memorize Shakespearean sonnets and poems that hold meaning for me. Physical activity is beneficial, like cutting wood.” 

“What would we still like to do? Go back to Newfoundland, to Tickle’s Point, Signal Hill and the French Saint Pierre and Miquelon Islands off the coast there.”

What are you most afraid “of? “Nothing physical,” both claim. “We like to go with the flow.” 

Is there something you would change if you could go back in time? Tom asserts that he might have studied harder and taught English or History after taking courses at Humber College. “I have always loved history.” Anyone that has inspired you? Lorene replies, “The McQuay family.” Tom adds, “Bill Mumford, our principal, who taught history and English. He would share details, like speeches made by Anthony to Caesar. This is what makes history come alive to a new generation.” 

Recipe for happiness? “We have worked hard, played hard and we have always liked each other. If you like your partner, all else falls into place. We did individual things but there was always together time too, doing things we both enjoyed, like going out for dinner or skiing down a slope, or biking and golfing.” 

If you had to pick only three items going forward, what would they be? For Lorene it is “a piano, a car and a sewing machine.” For Tom it’s “a radio, a bottle of rum and wood to pile.”

“Being a Haweater has certainly been a blessing. Manitoulin has always been a uniquely special place for both of us; lots of fresh air, clear lakes and not too many people. The folk here make a nice little community. Islanders work together and support each other, historically and now. In earlier times, they cleared wooded lots together, built barns and worked to help each other. We hope Manitoulin retains this historic charm, so her gentle ambience continues to delight residents into the future.”