One staffer at the paper marks 45 years on the job

Office manager Kerrene Tilson has been an integral part of The Manitoulin Expositor team for the past 45 years. photo by Warren Schlote

 LITTLE CURRENT – This newspaper has seen its share of team members arrive and part ways during its lengthy 140-year history. Current Expositor bookkeeper Kerrene Tilson has been a part of The Expositor for longer than any member of the team, having joined nearly 45 years ago in late 1974.

 “There are so many opportunities to learn and grow through this business; you’re constantly learning and adapting,” she said.

 Ms. Tilson’s newspaper career began in advertising sales at the Toronto Star, a position she took up to help pay the bills.

 “There were 125 people in the classified ad department. I had insurance companies and car dealers,” she said.

 Following her stint at the Star, Ms. Tilson and her partner Chris explored an alternate lifestyle when they decided to live on a sailboat in Lake Erie with another couple for a period of time.

 On one occasion, they ran into trouble during a big storm and were rescued by a fishing boat that towed the sailboat and its inhabitants—including two cats—to a dry dock in Port Stanley. While there, she and her husband got married and decided to come to Manitoulin Island. They had some friends from Toronto who were living in Wiikwemkoong at the time.

 They heard of a farm in Honora Bay that was for rent and decided to try out country living for one year. It was only two years later that they ended up purchasing the Honora Bay property where she still lives and where her son Justin works in the permaculture world.

 Shortly after Kerrene and Chris Tilson arrived on Manitoulin in the early fall of 1974, then-Expositor publisher was looking for a person (or small crew) to address and bundle the printed papers for mailing and newsdealer distribution. He hired Mr. Tilson and soon learned about his wife’s newspaper background. Mr. McCutcheon thought she might make a good fit at The Expositor.

 “We’ve been blessed with an amazing array of talent in my time here,” said Mr. McCutcheon. “We’re very fortunate that Kerrene is representative of that, as is the current staff.”

 The slower pace of the Island provided an interesting contrast for Ms. Tilson, after having spent those years at the Star.

 “It was strange, coming from a noisy, intense environment to a tiny office with ancient equipment. But the environment was so much friendlier; it was a family operation, which it still is,” said Ms. Tilson.

 She began as a typesetter, taking the reporters’ stories and turning them into type that was laid onto the page by hand.

 “I had to use a Frieden machine, which was like a manual typewriter. You’d have to punch the keys really hard and it would come out in punch tape that in turn was fed into another related machine that ‘typed’ justified columns,” said Ms. Tilson.

 The Expositor then upgraded to a Compugraphic machine for its typesetting. It printed type on photo paper which had to be developed in a darkroom. If someone opened the door to check its progress, the entire roll would be ruined and would have to be typed all over again.

 “I remember one production cycle, I had a tray with the copy on it. I knocked my tea onto the machine’s keyboard and we had to call New York for support. Somehow, we still got the paper out on time,” Ms. Tilson said. 

 She would often find herself typing faster than the reporters could produce stories, so on those long Monday nights she would take brief naps to recharge until they got four stories ahead of her pace.

 Ms. Tilson took a year off from work when her son Justin was born and slowly returned in a part-time capacity. She proofread during production days and eventually moved into the role of bookkeeper—a self-taught skill.

 “Kerrene’s done pretty much everything except editorial. And when she was a typesetter, she caught a couple of unfortunate typos which we won’t get into,” said Mr. McCutcheon with a laugh.

 Manitoulin offered not only a fulfilling career for Ms. Tilson, it also gave her a sense of her place in the world.

 “As someone who grew up in the city, the best part of Manitoulin was finding a place that I actually thought of as my home, which I largely built with the help of community friends,” said Ms. Tilson.

 She and her family have been involved in the Manitoulin Folk Festival, Scouts, the Nordic Ski Club and numerous other activities. In recent years, Ms. Tilson has championed other initiatives such as the Manitoulin Community Fitness Centre in Little Current and the ever-popular Café in the Woods. 

 “I need to give my thanks to Rick, Julia and Alicia (McCutcheon); they have supported the Island’s spirit and sustainability in so many ways over the years,” said Ms. Tilson.

 She extended her gratitude to the community for rallying support through the difficult times such as when Justin broke his back and through the loss of her husband Chris.

 “The paper has always gone to bat to help all kinds of people in dire straits in one form or another. That’s one thing that’s often lost in big cities,” she said.

 Currently, Ms. Tilson works part-time as The Expositor’s bookkeeper and her only plans are to keep doing exactly what she’s doing now.

 “I used to set up barriers when I would say I’d do something until I reached a certain age. And often, I’d have to extend that. I’ve reached the point where I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing until I can’t,” she said.