LITTLE CURRENT—Most Islanders would recognize Gerry Timmermans as the visionary entrepreneur who founded Tims and Co., some might remember him as the Canadian Customs director who, for two decades, worked out of their offices in Little Current, or perhaps as mayor of Little Current, but a recently arrived plaque, signed by both the prime minister and the minister of Veteran’s Affairs, recognized him for another, very martial, reason.
Mr. Timmermans is one of a dwindling handful of those brave and adventurous men and women who we recognize as “the Greatest Generation.” People who grew up in the Great Depression and then went on to fight in the most destructive war the world has ever seen.
“There were six of us boys in the family and five were in the air force,” he said of his volunteering for the Royal Canadian Air Force, adding with a chuckle, “I didn’t want to be put into the army.”
Mr. Timmermans trained as a front turret gunner and radar operator. “They called us wireless air gunners,” he said.
Whatever the rank, being part of an RCAF air crew meant going up each night to brave the enemy flak and night fighters that prowled the dark skies over Europe. “Night after night there, we hardly got back half of them,” he said. Many nights less than half of the massive bombers returned to the Yorkshire airfield where they were based.
Mr. Timmermans might well have been one of those statistics but for a twist of fate that saw him afflicted with a painful sinus condition that restricted him to the ground. “I became an intelligence officer,” he recalled. “I was there meeting all the big brass and telling them what we knew about the enemy and what they were up to.” He later served as an air field controller.
Mr. Timmermans survived the war, as did his brothers, but one brother was to lose his life over the jungles of Burma in 1946. “They didn’t find him until about 10 years later,” he said.
He left the service just as they were dangling his officer’s rating in front of him. In the meantime, the dashing young air force sergeant had caught the eye of a pretty young nurse in early 1944 and by 1945 they had married. Over the course of the next few years the couple produced three children, Bob, Cathy and Craig. Craig Timmermans is the founder of MSD Computers and co-founder of 100.7 The Island country radio station (now moved to 103.9 and the new top-40 GLOW has taken on the 100.7 spot on the dial).
“We all had a pretty good career in the air force,” said Mr. Timmermans of his siblings, but once back home it was time to seek out peacetime pursuits. He became a customs officer and was based for a time in Blind River. “I spent about five or six years in Blind River, from about 1947 to 1952,” he said, before transferring to the Island in 1952.
While Mr. Timmermans was working his way up the ranks in Canada Customs, his wife Elizabeth (everybody called her Betty) was building the largest live bait business in Canada, focussing on the lowly earthworm.
“We had people all over working for us collecting them,” he recalled. With dozens of girls working under her to sort and pack the wriggling creatures, Ms. Timmermans shipped product across the nation.
But it was after reading a piece in a magazine that Mr. Timmermans was inspired to make a major entrepreneurial jump. “It was in an American magazine, I remember, they were talking about how the next big thing was going to be what they called ‘home centres,’ a business where you could get everything you needed for a home,” he said. “When I read that piece I realized that this was going to be the number one business, so I went into that business.”
With the baby boom generation being created and demand for bigger and better appointed homes growing along with the population boom, that decision was a winner.
Aside from a short three year stint dealing with investments on the west coast, Mr. Timmermans has called Manitoulin his home. “We liked it here,” he said.
Over the years Mr. Timmermans has kept his hand in investing, something of hobby that keeps him sharp. “I’m still at it,” he grins.
Mr. Timmermans said that he was proud of his service to his country, and pleased with the recognition provided by the plaque he has recently received.
“It’s pretty nice,” he admitted.