Reminiscences of the highway onto the Island circa 1942

A wealth of history has been witnessed amongst its twists and bends

To the Expositor:

The year being 1942.

A trip to Espanola from the Manitoulin Island by highway is a real challenge for any driver in this post depression era. The highway, graveled as it is, has twists and windings over and around rocks and lakes, and mountains that will challenge the imaginations of generations yet to come.

Yet a stirring excitement with the prospect of visiting the outside world that many of us can only imagine.

Swift Current and Hawkins Mill are early attractions, and if you are fortunate, Dreamer’s Rock. Further along we come to Birch Island, an Indian village, and if you are at the right moment you just might sight the United States President. Mr. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt as he visited the village on a fishing trip. At a later date a memorial rock was placed beside the highway with a bronze engraving to his honour. Further on over a few more twists and causeways and hills an area known as Vallentine’s Shacks and a large hill know as Haystack—a favourite blueberry picking area—and it was said earlier that a vein of gold was found there. Further along over some distance of small lakes and rocky mounds and across railway tracks we come to the thriving community of Whitefish Falls. The train station close along the highway is a gathering place for many of the community as produce came into the area on the morning train and the return in the afternoon from the Manitoulin Island with sometimes passengers. Onward then into the village past several homes, including the residents of Mr. Sam Cywink and his family, who was the keeper of the railway maintenance team.

Across the street we find Williamson’s general merchant store who busily supplied merchandise locally and to outside ventures. Along the street a little further we find Stanley White’s Hotel and boarding house. Just before the river we find a Y in the road; one leading down along the Whitefish River to tourist accommodations and Mr. Gagnon’ s home and horse stables. Crossing the river over a steel bridge we come to the post office, store, and tourist accommodations of the joint venture of Mr. Stump and Mr. Spry’s families. All around that venture are homes and families of local residents of various concerns, including a market gardener.

Around a couple of bends in the river and next to a rising mountainous hill we find a hydro electric generation plant, planed, designed and built, and run for many years supplying electrical power to Little Current, and Lawson quarry, as they removed to top of that mountain and shipped it to Sudbury, we find Mr. John Marten Deagle with only a Grade 4 education.

He was said to have a challenging personality, but left his mark on the community at the time in kindness with awards to those young folk who swore to abstain from booze and other unmanly challenges. Should there be illness in the community of any kind including pregnancies, their electrical power was free for that time, or a death in the family, one-year free service.

He was also an inventor having his own artisan shop. It was he who invented the electric laundry spin dryer.

Around a couple more challenging curves and up over that mountainous hill and then down into a steep valley around another curve and up again at the beginning of Tower Hill, where a man for many years, Mr. Erie Birch, I believe his name was, spent the daylight hours of his life atop a very high steel tower for the department of lands and forests, to watch for fires in the area during the season of danger. Partway up that tortuous trail a road led off to the east to an adventurous but scenic road to the little village of Willisville. There a post office and store accompanied a railroad station and several homes mainly I believe for those employed at Lawson Quarry.

During the summer months it was often a starting place for a fishing adventure out on that lake whose name I’ve forgotten. From there the rock from Lawson quarry was shipped to Sudbury by rail.

Back to the Y in the road, we must not neglect Mr. Jack Dever and his little nook as he had running water from his private lake further up the hill for his home where he often entertained guests passing through. Further on, over tortuous turns and hills and small valleys where earlier mining attempts had been made, we find pockets of farming among the rocks where people raised families and survived. It was an adventurous trip on to Espanola where first we came to what was known as Frenchtown at the time. The name only indicated that the population was French in origin. Espanola, quite a thriving village with the Spanish River flowing through, was the location of a paper mill in earlier times, however, like other areas in Ontario and Canada, we were at war with Germany, and we kept some of their finest young men well cared for in that mill property for the duration as a prisoner of war camp while most of our young men and older answered the call to that nightmare.

Across that river we arrived at the Highway 17 and beyond, Canada.

Ray White

London, Ontario