Now & Then: Sam and Yvonne Bondi

Sam and Yvonne on their wedding day, August 18,1962.

Sam and Yvonne Bondi 

Sam and Yvonne Bondi have long been part of the intricate and steady growth of Manitoulin’s educational and economic infrastructure. Sam arrived in Mindemoya in August 1962 as a newly-minted science teacher at Central Manitoulin High School. He never intended to remain more than a year. He had never heard of Manitoulin but quickly became taken by the people, lifestyle and the Island’s beauty. With an ability to see the “big picture,” and his finger soon on the pulse of Manitoulin, he could see beneficial changes ahead. Economic success ensued over the years, in the educational, pharmaceutical and grocery businesses, all of which involved his input and leadership as well as that of his family.

“All my grandparents emigrated from Italy around 1900. My grandfather, Sam, got work in Toronto constructing a streetcar track to Newmarket. Eventually the family settled in Newmarket. Grandfather peddled produce from a pushcart. By 1912 he had opened his own retail store and purchased his first motorized vehicle. When grandfather retired, my father and his four brothers left retail and went into the wholesale business, delivering to small country stores for miles around.” 

“The business was very successful, until the 1970s, when a rapid increase in large supermarkets ensued, all with dedicated suppliers. This change forced them out after 75 years in the produce business. Ironically, my father and his brothers built the first Loblaw’s supermarket in downtown Newmarket. Dad was also a strong believer in the value of education and became chair of the local separate school board. He led a campaign to build a large new school.”

Salvadore (Sam) was born in Newmarket July 15, 1938 to Josephine (Scaletta) and Charles Bondi. He has an older sister Nina. They ‘inherited’ a stepbrother when Josephine’s sister died giving birth. Today Sam’s stepbrother resides at Community Living in Mindemoya and regularly visits with the Bondi family.

“Newmarket was a hockey town with its own senior hockey teams, as well as a minor hockey league which I avidly took part in. One of my father’s employees, and a senior team player, obtained an autographed stick for me from Howie Meeker of the Leafs (and later as a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada). Many of my other early memories are predominately about produce, lots of it, being unloaded from trucks and freight cars for delivery to country stores. We worked seven days a week in the summers, only six and a half in winter! I was immersed in the business right up to graduation from university in 1961. When you weren’t at school, you worked.”  Strong family ties resulted from this closeness and these continue to be important to Sam for both personal relationships and mutual economic pursuits. 

Learning to drive was an important milestone. “We had a large warehouse that was often empty during the day. Inside sat a pick-up truck. After school I would practice driving the truck inside the warehouse. I was 13 at the time and soon felt that I could ace the drivers’ test. I drove to the nearby testing site, lied about my age, and passed the test no problem. I stayed 16 for several years to correct the age error.” 

Sam and Yvonne on their wedding day, August 18,1962.

Sam attended St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. “I commuted daily from Newmarket. Hockey was a huge deal there with the Junior A and B teams of the 1950s. These teams featured the likes of Frank Mahovolich, Dave Keon, Dick Duff, Gerry Cheevers and many others. I had a yellow 1955 Pontiac convertible. Father Flanagan, one of the Junior A coaches, loved to borrow it to drive players like Mahovolich to the Gardens from school. I recall that Eddie Shack (a Sudbury native) as a member of the rival Guelph Biltmores, playing against our St. Mike’s Majors where he was feared and respected even then.” 

After graduating from Grade 13, Sam enrolled in the B.Sc. program at Assumption University in Windsor, now the University of Windsor. Upon graduating in 1961 he entered the College of Education at the University of Toronto, finishing his degree in June the following year. “In March of ’62, I had accepted a teaching position at Central Manitoulin High School. My parents, like myself, had never heard of Manitoulin. They were quite uneasy about this choice, thinking that a remote island would not have much to offer. In June, I drove to the Island to check out the school and find living quarters. After a long drive and after negotiating that treacherous road from Espanola, I seriously questioned what I had gotten myself into. One year of this would be enough.”

During the summer of 1961 Yvonne was living in a boarding house in Toronto, as was Sam’s best friend Tony. Upon the completion of a summer course in London, Sam contacted Tony to get together. Tony convinced Sam that he had to meet a ‘cute little French girl’ who was living upstairs. After that introduction, the rest is history! 

Yvonne was born on January 6, 1938 to Alma (Contois) and Etienne Marchildon. She lived on a farm in a Franco-Ontarian region with seven siblings near the southern Georgian Bay community of Penetanguishene. “Dad had milk and cream quotas. We were poor but we always had food on the table. My grandfather would say, ‘just add more water to the soup’. Dad worked hard to make ends meet. Mom made butter, sold eggs and kept the books. She helped milk about 28 cows and wash their udders. Jokingly, dad once insisted that she wash the ‘udders’ of the animal in the first stall. Mom didn’t realize it was a bull; that was not funny!” 

“Grandfather Arthur lived nearby,” Yvonne continues. “I often drove the tractor for him but one time I let the clutch out a little too quickly, sending grandfather flying. A lot of swearing in French followed! I always loved working in the field with grandfather; he said that I was a better worker than most of my brothers.”

Yvonne’s first language was French, and she misses opportunities to speak it. Always an active person, her sporting activities included swimming, curling, skiing, running, biking, and her favourite, golf. Sam shared these interests, apart from swimming and golf. Yvonne attended business college in Midland and worked at the Workman’s Compensation Board as a French-English interpreter. “I remember one man who fathered 27 children. The doctor for whom I was interpreting questioned if the man’s back injury was really work related!” 

Yvonne was adamant that Sam was not going to Manitoulin without her! They married in her hometown of Perkinsfield on August 18, 1962 and immediately set off for Mindemoya. “Everything we owned was packed into our car. Yvonne had some cash saved from her job, but other than that, we were broke. We rented an apartment above Jack Seabrook’s garage.” One day, early in the school year, Sam came home for lunch to find Yvonne with the neighbour’s little baby. “I always loved kids,” she said. Thus, began a career of day care and fostering.

“Being the only science teacher on staff meant that I taught all science courses from Grade 9 to 12. I learned a lot of administrative and class material in short order.” Sam also volunteered as yearbook advisor and over his career helped produce over 20 yearbooks. In 1964, Sam organized the first local Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and initiated the first salary negotiations with the Central Manitoulin High School Board. “I spent that summer marking Grade 13 biology and chemistry final Department of Education exams (this was a common way for well-respected teachers to earn extra money) and initiated the first Grade 13 chemistry program at CMHS. Dave Hambly and I also started the first driver education program at the school.”

Son Michael was born in May of 1963 with the help of Dr. J. B. McQuay who also delivered Michelle in December 1964, Steven in April 1966 and Matthew in May 1968, all at the Red Cross Hospital. Their crowded apartment encouraged them to move in March 1968 to a rented house at the north end of Mindemoya between the Smith and McDermid families. 

“That same year, we purchased our first Manitoulin property on Square Bay. It was a joint venture with a close American friend, Tom Sempowski. I planned and built an A frame cottage and a hydro line into the bay. In 1972, the finished cottage was sold, and we purchased a lot in the newly developed Treasure Trails subdivision on Lake Mindemoya. Plans for a new home were made, and we moved there in March 1973. Yvonne continued with her day care.”

In the 1968-69 school year Sam was appointed vice principal of CMHS with Henry Maloney as principal. The Island school boards amalgamated and plans were underway to build a ‘composite’ high school, the location of which became controversial. In the end it was built in Billings Township but adjacent to West Bay (now M’Chigeeng). “I was responsible for the budget for planning and equipping the four new science labs.”

In September of 1969, everyone moved to the new Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS). It was an exciting time! Sam was appointed Department Head of Science, and Wilf Pogue was the first principal. The grand opening of MSS was October 1969. The Honourable Bill Davis (Minister of Education), Honourable Jean Chretien (Minister of Native Affairs) and Stompin’ Tom Connors were the notable guests. Sam continued as chair of the OSSTF negotiating team into the late 1970s.

“About 1970, I began a series of summer programs, through various universities, to earn an Honours Specialist Certification in Biology. I travelled to Espanola on Saturdays in winter to take training on operating one of the earliest personal computers, the Commodore 64. I used this training to computerize and track student marks and I convinced the school administration to put computers into the various departments for similar use.”

Looking for new challenges in the community, Sam’s interests soon included the Mindemoya Minor Hockey Association. He began a long stint as a coach and president of the local association. He formalized operations by developing a constitution, organizing a coaching program, recruiting referees and inaugurating an awards program for players as well as acquiring new equipment and uniforms. 

“In March of 1976 my father died, and in November that year our last child, Charles Andre, was born. Sadly, Charles Andre passed away a day later. In 1979 we adopted Danielle, who had been in foster care with Yvonne. A year later Owen came as a foster child, and we adopted him in 1983. We now had six children. It became clear that we were going to need extra money to send kids to university, so we took on the operation of Mindemoya Court Cottages Resort for the next seven years. Yvonne continued with day care, I did the books, using my newly acquired computer, and everyone had a job.”

In 1987 Michelle and Michael graduated from the University of Toronto as pharmacists. Michelle remained for a post-grad program at Sick Kids Hospital, Michael became the pharmacist at the Little Current IDA. Michelle got engaged to Steve Hart, who was in training for the Ontario Provincial Police college. Mindemoya Court was sold and new frontiers were on the horizon. Steve completed his OPP training and, luckily, was posted to Manitoulin. “Michelle frantically called me to say that she was coming home and needed a job.” 

“Knowing there was a need for a pharmacy in Manitowaning, I called Reeve Dave Ham. Dave was ecstatic to hear this and began renovating his old furniture store to create the new pharmacy. In March 1988, we established a pharmacy corporation and secured a drug supplier. We managed to squeeze funding from the bank and late in March opened our first retail pharmacy business. Noella Moggy was our first employee and I took over the bookkeeping.” 

In June 1988, the pharmacy in the basement of the Mindemoya hospital became available. “I worked hard to obtain funding to purchase it and Michael took over the operation. Karen Shaw was his first employee. In August, Michelle and Steve were married and in December 1990 Stephanie, the first grandchild, now a specialist physician, was born.”

“I joined the local economic development committee, working on developing township property at the government dock. I chaired a township property standards committee and was involved with a proposal to develop a retirement community on Community Living Manitoulin property.” Sam also joined the Manitoulin Health Centre Board of Directors where he stayed 10 years. “We worked successfully to save the threatened emergency department at the Mindemoya site and led a committee to raise one million dollars for renovations to the Mindemoya hospital.” Sam also became chair of the first parish council for his church, Our Lady of Canada in Mindemoya.

In 1990, son Steven graduated as a pharmacist from Ferris State University. Bondi Corporation purchased the old Smith Hardware building in downtown Little Current and completed extensive renovations to convert it to a pharmacy. The upper floor became the new location for Dr. Bryn Casson’s dental practice. Michael married Wendy White in April 1993, Matthew graduated in pharmacy from Ferris State and Steven and spouse Rhonda (who he had met at pharmacy school, from which she also graduated) had their first child, Parker, in October. Michael and Wendy’s son, Alex, was born a year later. 

“I retired from teaching in June 1995, and by September construction began on a new, full-service pharmacy. Ron Sheppard was the general contractor and Terry McCutcheon engineered and supervised construction. In June 1996, the new pharmacy opened.” 

Matthew married Marilena Muto, also a Ferris State pharmacist graduate, in 1997. They live in Michigan. Owen, a graduate of Canadore College in electrical technology, lives in New Liskeard. In 1998, Yvonne gave up her day care and took over management of the pharmacy gift shop. 

“Michael felt that Mindemoya needed of a full-service supermarket. We hired Mary Nelder to do a market study to substantiate this theory. The study clearly supported our premise. The necessary land was acquired, and bylaw changes were obtained, but not without some community concerns. Sobey’s was contacted and they eagerly sent two senior supervisors to support the planning process. Island Foodland was completed in September 1999. The grand opening, Thanksgiving weekend, brought a multitude of supportive shoppers. Doug Dryden was the first manager and the store had over 30 employees. The business grew rapidly.” A full-time bookkeeper took over from Sam. 

“In 2005, the LCBO agency was acquired. James Moggy was hired to manage that area. A year later, it became evident that Steven’s old downtown Little Current pharmacy was inadequate, and a new store was built on Meredith St. In 2007 a new pharmacy building was built in Manitowaning, replacing Dave Ham’s original 100-year-old structure. By 2008, Foodland was doubled in size using land that was formerly Wagg’s Creamery and Cadieux Clothing. The grand opening was held in June 2009 with a huge town barbecue.” 

“Sadly, our adopted daughter Danielle died in May 2007 and Sam’s mother died in 2011. A year earlier Yvonne and I moved into a new home on Lakeshore Road. Our participation in the businesses gradually diminished and by 2016, after 28 years, we retired from Bondi Corporation.” New interests included joining the Community Living Manitoulin Board of Directors, curling and rejoining the parish council. Rather surprisingly, in February of 2018, Bondi Corp., now with almost 100 employees, was sold. “Everyone retired and we all went to Las Vegas,” Sam says, grinning. “The committee to save the Mindemoya Old School caught my interest and I also joined a group planning for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of MSS.”

“Strengths? Perhaps determination, patience, being organized, leadership skills, entrepreneurial instincts, the ability to see the big picture and new ways of doing things; lastly, the ability to get along well with (almost!) everyone. Weaknesses? Too many to list,” he adds smiling. “Most proud of? We have five living children and 12 grandchildren, and I am blessed to be able to enjoy their accomplishments and see my kids doing a great job of raising their kids. They have all become good people and contributing members of society. Regrets? I sometimes feel that I may have spent too much time working and not enough time enjoying my young children. Also, that my father did not live long enough to see and enjoy his grandchildren; he would have been very proud too.”

“Who influenced me? Father Bauer, a teacher at St. Mike’s. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins but chose to become a priest and teacher. He was influential in the Canadian Olympic hockey program. He instilled high ideals in all his students. Marion Seabrook and Gladys Wagg were influential, professionally. My mother also put me on the right path and Yvonne makes sure I stay there.” 

“Dreams? To visit Sicily again to see my extended family.” Sam believes that life stops when you run out of dreams. “I still have a few. We still see many old friends, too. Tony passed away, but his wife Mary, Yvonne’s maid-of-honour, still visits us here on Manitoulin. I keep in touch with my best friend Tom. I enjoy seeing and interacting with former students. They were all such great kids; very respectful and cooperative.” 

Yvonne loves her little orange Mini Cooper and dreams of getting her third hole-in-one. “Strengths? Strong determination. I can do anything! Also, my drive, optimism, competitive spirit, and an ability to compel people to action. Weaknesses? Determination again. I can rub people the wrong way, and impatience. What am I most proud of? My family and their accomplishments. The many day-care kids that I cared for over the years and still being active at 82!” 

“Yes, the original plan was one year here. We just celebrated our 58th anniversary so clearly our plans changed! Coming here was truly a life changing decision. We love it on Manitoulin with its calm lifestyle and great people. It has been rewarding. Manitoulin presented us with many opportunities that we would not likely have had otherwise. At one time it appeared that, as our kids grew up and left for post-secondary education, they might not return. We seriously considered moving away. However, as it turned out, apart from Matthew and Owen, they did return, and so here we are! It’s hard to imagine living in a better place. We are here to stay!”