Now & Then: Mina Turner

Mother and daughter.

Mina Turner

Mina Turner, nicknamed ‘Mina Bird’ by her great-granddaughter Rylee, just boasted her 97th birthday. Her sharp mind and her ability to recall names and events of long ago belie her age. She is comfortably ensconced in the Millsite Apartments in Gore Bay, which she helped establish. She is surrounded by family and friends who, like Mina, were part of the go-to group starting in the 1940s. Other inhabitants of the Millsite Apartments are often delighted when she appears at their doors bearing freshly baked goods.

Mina has been an Islander all her life. “I have never lived anyplace else but here in the Gore Bay area.” She was very involved in her community, working on projects like the construction of the boardwalk in town, the erection of the medical facilities, the bringing on board of the two doctors who were first to staff the centre, the building of the Millsite Apartments and joining their board and volunteering at many locations, including the Manitoulin Lodge. She was also awarded Citizen of the Year and the Golden Jubilee awards for her fine efforts. Curling was her passion and she shared it with teammates Irene Purvis, Arlene McQuarrie and Molly Ritching.

Mina was born at home in Gore Bay on June 22, 1921 to Charlie and Katie (McDougal) Wright. “The house still stands today; it is the home of Ken Wright, on the corner of this street and the main road into town. The home with the big garden.” Mina had three older brothers, Harold, Max and Ken, two younger sisters, Anna and Kal (Kathleen), a younger brother Bob and Haroldine, a niece raised as a sister.

Mina’s grandfather, Walter Wright, had been born in Meldrum Bay. “He lost his dad at age 14 but went on to marry three times and father 18 children. His first wife, Jerimina, my grandmother, died in childbirth. His second wife Anne died quite young as well, but his third wife, Lib, outlived him. Walter had a small store that was located successively in each of the communities in which his family lived, Meldrum Bay, Ice Lake, Burpee and Grimesthorpe.” 

Two of his sons, Herb and Walter, went off to fight in World War I. After the war, Walter moved away but Herb timbered with Mina’s dad Charlie until he was mortally wounded in his 30s by a falling tree. Charlie had to load his dead brother onto the sleigh and take him across the lake to Herb’s pregnant wife.

“My mother Katie grew up on the Scottish East Bluff with all her extended family. My maternal grandfather, Malcolm McDougal, was a farmer. He died when I was four. We lived on the corner of the street that leads to the Lodge. It was 10 miles to the families on the East Bluff and it took a couple of hours to get there with our horse and buggy.”

Mina’s first poignant memory was the funeral after the death of her Uncle Herb. “My dad had taken me. I saw that Herb was laid out peacefully in his sister’s house. There were no funeral parlours. At age six, it was the first time I had seen a dead person’s face. The event left quite an impression on me, even though the finality of death may not have been as clear as it was to the adults.”

Mina walked a mile to school in Gore Bay at the present site of the Manitoulin Lodge. “I was in Grade 1 and I had two brothers in Grades 2 and 3, respectively. We were all in the same room.” Mina was shy, but she liked school and her teachers, especially Rita Smith. History was her favourite subject. “Miss Smith would often take me to her house at lunch or I would go to my aunt’s home.”

When she was still in high school, her dad needed assistance keeping track of his cattle. “I was told that I was his pet, maybe because I enjoyed helping him with some of the bookkeeping. He would buy cows and sheep and I would help him manage the business end of it, and occasionally some welcomed outside work too. I liked doing fruitful work.”

“One day, at 15, I was at home when my mum looked out the window and noticed that the cattle had got out of their fenced area. I ran out and jumped on my horse, which was leaning leisurely against the barn, sunning himself.” He decided that this hasty mount was the wrong approach and threw her off. She hurt her knee quite badly but despite this setback, Mina climbed back on and got those cows back into the corral.

“Dad often hired men to work in the bush and sometimes they were quite a distance from the house. He would let me drive the car to fetch them so they wouldn’t have to walk too far for their meal. I was only 15, but I knew how to drive. Each day before school, I would drive the truck while two of the boys delivered the milk around town. There were two other dairy farms, Gilroy’s and Purvis’, at the time.”

“My mother loved to cook and bake. I still use many of her recipes. She taught us to bake bread, 10 to 12 loaves at a time, to feed the hired men. All three girls in the family helped with food preparation. Our leisure time was not plentiful but in the summer; we always found some way to play ball, either at school or at the neighbours’ homes. In the winter there was the pond for skating and the arena, run by Uncle Jim. That arena is still standing today. Mayor Larry Lane opted to fix the arena rather than build a new one at greater expense.”

After school was over for Mina at age 17, she worked at the Central Store, where the Central Pharmacy is today. She had been planning to finish Grade 12 but was approached by Adam Casson, the manager of the Central Store, who wanted to hire her as a clerk. Mina agreed and started her first official job at $40 a month.

She worked from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the evening, with an hour off for lunch. “On Saturdays you were lucky if you finished by 1 am Sunday morning. Farmers would come in with their eggs to grade them in the store, then left, their crates filled with groceries. The eggs were sold in the store.”

“Travelling salespeople would arrive to take orders for vegetables, meats, fruits, clothing, etc., goods that would be subsequently shipped to us by boat, train or mail truck. A lot of it came on the Normac or the Cariboo, so the late fall was a time to stock up the warehouse and basement for the winter.”

In 1943, Mina met Archie Turner at a dance and they hit it off, “He was good looking too.” They spent time together at dances at Gordon and Mills halls, and visits at home. The couple married at home on September 6, 1944. It was a small wedding and it rained a little, which meant ‘good luck’ in the marriage. “My mum prepared the food and the reception was also held in the home of Mina’s birth. Archie’s brother Grant was the best man. My sister Anna was best lady and sister Kal played the wedding music on the piano.”

For the honeymoon, the couple headed for South Baymouth. “On the boat, the waves were over the rails and I got sick, but the captain told Archie, ‘she won’t turn over.’ He was right, and the boat was steered back into the South Baymouth harbour. We drove to Little Current then and took the ferry Jacqueline to the mainland, so we could drive to Wiarton where Archie had relatives.” (This was just before the swing bridge was planked to accommodate vehicles as well as train traffic.)

Charles was born four years later, followed by Peggy, both births assisted by Dr. Strain. Charles was born in the home where his mother had been born and wed. “We took care of 90 acres of land, eight dairy cows and a new baby. Looking back, it was the nighttime ritual I enjoyed the most with the kids. Bathing them in the sink, drying them, enjoying their post-bath enthusiasm and then tucking them into bed and reading a story. It was a quiet time, a time for togetherness.” A night-time snack before bed consisted of buttered toast and brown sugar with cinnamon, baked in the oven for a heavenly aroma in the house. The kids loved it.

In 1956, Mina returned to work at the Central Store. “We worked hard on the farm too. Archie was particular; he bought a new separator for the milk. He also had a way with the animals that would calm them. There were no ill effects when he rode the steer. He always had a dog to help too. Charles was one and a half when Doc Strain came to the door one day. I bid him to take off his coat, but he smiled and headed over to little Charles and pulled a little black dog out of his pocket. “A boy should have a dog,” he said. Charles grabbed the dog and loved it from day one, naming him Ring for the white band around his neck. He slept with Charles under the covers and even I got attached to him despite having been raised to believe dogs were kept outside to work on the farm. The pup even had his own chair to sit on.”

“I let Ring out one day at noon when he was 18-years-old and he took off. By then Archie was the caretaker at the school and I let him know what happened. I drove all over, to our hunt camp, to Ice Lake, with no success. Charles had to go to his hockey game and Archie came home. Later we found out the neighbour had shot him, claiming the dog was too old. We found him in the woods and gave him a proper burial.” A cat named Puffy lived to be 18-years-old also. She had arrived as a gift from Marg Montgomery when Charles was about six.

“Many deer like Gore Bay. I remember hanging clothes on the line and accidentally touching a deer in the process. They don’t seem to be bothered by people, some of whom have been feeding them for a long time.” Entertainment came from listening to the radio, to a lot of talk shows that came on at noon. Television arrived in the 1950s.

“I left Central Store and began to work as a bookkeeper for Ford’s Garage owned by Bill Smith and a Mr. Hayward. Later this became the Smith and Pope Ford dealership. Bill was a Jack of all trades. Bill bought Cooper’s Trucking and went on from there. He left the sales and the bookwork to me.”

The couple’s two children, Peggy and Charles, have established their own paths. Peggy worked for Manitoulin Transport and she also helped-out on the farm. She has twins with husband Bill Clark. Holly works at Manitoulin Transport and Hye works for Manitoulin Fuels. He and his wife Teresa live close by. Charles worked for McDougal Construction. He bought the Shell garage from Stu Burns and Mina helped with the bookkeeping. Doug Smith owns it today and rents it to Rob White. Charles still lives in the old homestead. He has one daughter, Kate, an RN. Sadly, he lost his wife Sylvia to cancer five years ago. Mina has three great-grandchildren now, Brydon, Karly and Rylee.

Husband Archie died at age 63, in 1981, of a heart attack. It had come on very suddenly as he had experienced pain only in his legs. “I was away when he passed. Larry Lane drove the ambulance to pick him up. At the funeral at home, his beloved grandson, Hye, protested to his mother after seeing Archie in his coffin, ‘mum, you told me he had gone to sleep but he doesn’t have pajamas on!’” Later, Mike Brown helped Mina with the paperwork.

Mina was elected to Gore Bay Council for 17 years, starting in February of 1980 to November 1997. She was involved in several significant projects. “Our first task was the boardwalk. About 30 years ago, we joined a group consisting of two representatives from each council on the Island. We got on a bus and travelled to Sault Ste. Marie and Sarnia. Austin Hunt was on the bus too. Austin and I took lots of photos and developed two copies of each roll so we could each have a copy of all the shots. We laid the groundwork of the boardwalk for Gore Bay.”

Another project involved getting a new doctor for our town. Dr. Johns was a friend, but he wanted to leave the Island with his wife. “I was told there was a young married couple, both doctors, holidaying on Tobacco Lake. I asked the mayor, Larry Lane, to go out to try to convince this couple to stay in our community. That is how we got Dr. Sheila McCrae and Dr. Bob Hamilton to commit to stay for three years. We agreed to building a larger medical centre for them, Dr. Hamilton helping with the design.” After the building phase, Mina agreed to be part of the new board. The doctors are still practicing in Gore Bay today.

The next project Mina was enthusiastic about was the creation of the Millsite Apartments. She joined the board. The town agreed to take over the mortgage if the board would build it. All the board members signed the loan statement for two million dollars and the apartment was built. The town did take over the mortgage and the board members were reimbursed. Mina was also on the United Church Board, their Auxiliary and served as their treasurer. She was on the Meals on Wheels committee and volunteered for the cancer society too.

“Irene Purvis was a good friend and we spent more time together after Archie’s death. Irene and Mina joined Sylvia Haden, Molly Ritching and Arlene McQuarrie to become a formidable curling crew that won several awards with Mina as skip. “One time in Providence Bay, I tripped,and we lost our match. To add to our despair, it was storming outside and we were told by Glen McDougall not to try to go home but we tried. There were lots of cars in the ditch and we decided to stay at the local motel. I had cooked spaghetti, so we had something to eat but we didn’t get home until Monday noon. I was thinking, ‘maybe its time to quit curling’.” Her last bonspiel was in Providence Bay at the age of 85.

“We flew to Vegas one time to visit Pat Butts who had owned the Northernaire Lodge and had moved to that city. Phyllis Smith, Irene Purvis, Ardith Clark, Laila Pope, Anne Strain and I all went to see her and bring her back for a visit here.” Also, every October for 10 years, Mina and Phyllis or Irene would drive to the Sault, both the Canadian and American sides, to do a little ‘investing’ in the slots.

These days Mina is in the Millsite Apartments where she has been since 2014. She bakes goodies for her friends there. She gets to the church once a month when the Angel Bus comes to pick her up. “I miss going to church regularly, as the bus only comes one Sunday a month, but I don’t want to be a nuisance with my walker so I stay home.”

“My strengths? I never could sew well but I like to think I was a fair curler and we did get some good projects done for the community while on council. What would I like to be able to do? Thread a needle for one. I have had an exciting life and I have lots of friends here. Dr. Hamilton still likes my cookies. Irene told me once that she was ready to go back to southern Ontario, shortly after arriving here. I met her on the street and introduced her to Lila Pope and asked about George. I asked her to join us at our weekly card-playing. She said that meeting changed it all for her and she felt more at home on the Island. I soon became her second mother.”

“We are very fortunate to live on Manitoulin. People are friendly everywhere including these apartments. My sister Kal is up a few doors and one of my curling buddies, Molly, is across the hall. We play cards Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Once a month, there is a pot-luck dinner. I enjoy baking muffins, loaves, cookies, butterscotch tarts and shortbread, known as ‘Mina Bird cookies.’ I love my life here and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”