This year we celebrate bridges both real and metaphorical

‘The Year of the Bridge’ on Manitoulin Island now draws to a close, having been celebrated in recognition that this structure of steel, concrete and timber has served as a physical link between Manitoulin Island and the world beyond for a century.

In fact, the actual centennial of its first swing was this fall on Monday, November 18 and this newspaper organized a celebration of the occasion, complete with the pealing of Little Current’s church bells at the same hour they’d been rung 100 years ago to that day, when the bridge first swung open and closed.

The bridge’s centennial has provided the meat for no fewer than two well-documented books on her construction and history: ‘Bridging The Centuries’ by Bill and Michael Caesar, published in 2012, and this year ‘The Bridge: Across to Little Current’ by Derek Russell.

The adjective “iconic” has lately been associated with the bridge, as in “Manitoulin’s iconic swing bridge…” This is appropriate for virtually everyone who lives here, including frequent and even occasional visitors; each able to conjure up her sideways profile in their mind’s eyes: a series of swooping, lacy steel Ws spanning the North Channel at its narrowest point and resembling a ship perpetually sailing across these narrows or, when opened, a ship caught in the act of sailing through the same narrows.

As a piece of industrial art and architecture, “The iconic Manitoulin Island swing bridge” is indeed a beautiful thing.

The bridge was built in 1912 and 1913 and opened not quite a year before Canada became embroiled in the First World War, and within two years of her construction as a train bridge, she was helping to carry the youth of Manitoulin off to Europe’s battlefields.

The world in which we now live is, as much as anything, a world shaped by the aftermath of the First World War: the end of the British Empire, Canada coming into her own as a nation, the rise of United States as a world power, the beginning of the rush of citizens of this country away from rural life to seek lives and careers in cities and the urgency of connecting provinces and nations with far-flung electrical grids and the web of telephone lines that more and more connected one community to another and that were the antecedents of the digital interconnectivity that binds us so closely together today.

A century ago, this iconic bridge of ours, built by railway interests for their profits and not particularly for the benefit of individual Manitoulin Island citizens, was nevertheless a world-shrinking event for the people of Manitoulin Island who, until the coming of the railway, had depended exclusively on water transport both for individual travel and for the movement, in and out, of Manitoulin products bound for sale in larger markets and for goods and commodities to supply local residents’ needs.

The building of the swing bridge and the coming of the railroad was certainly Manitoulin Island’s entrée into the modern world and this came about, coincidentally, at almost the same time that the whole western world also moved irrevocably into modern times.

This newspaper will be 135 years old in 2014 and just as the swing bridge connected, and still physically connects, Manitoulin Island with the rest of the world, The Expositor, with its mandate of service, connects Manitoulin Island’s communities one with another.

It’s what community newspapers do, or should do, and for The Manitoulin Expositor and its sister publication, The Manitoulin West Recorder, the job is made a little easier because our area of coverage and the communities within it are clearly defined by the fact that we are an island (the largest one in fresh water in the world!).

Council news, controversies, the elections of new chiefs, reeves, mayors and their councils are all recorded in these pages for the historical record, week by week, so that our neighbours in another community can see what’s noteworthy up the road a piece.

Births, deaths, awards and commendations, sports activities, successes and valiant efforts also make these pages week after week just as strongly held opinions openly expressed through letters to the editor are part of the important debate that is a vitally important aspect of a free and democratic society.

Your newspaper makes every effort to report on those things that are important, at a given time, in particular Manitoulin Island communities. Taken as a whole, your paper is a snapshot of Manitoulin Island society at a particular point in time. String together 135 years of snapshots and you get a good idea of the pace and nature of change.

That’s a nice, useful package of information every week and Manitoulin Island people are among those who still use the newspaper to find all these things out.

The paper “keeps on giving,” as previously noted, because it’s a permanent and ongoing record of the community that can everafter be used as a primary source for scholars, genealogists or simply curious people who wish to trace the evolution of the unique bi-cultural society that defines Manitoulin Island.

Nothing demonstrated this more tangibly than the publication this year of Island historian Alexander (Sandy) McGillivray’s 816-page opus ‘The Little Current Story,’ for its sources were almost exclusively the archives of The Manitoulin Expositor and rendered into manageable five-year snapshots that, in turn, examine a number of recurring themes: business life, education, municipal politics and agriculture among them.

In fact, Mr. McGillivray has been a faithful contributor to the ongoing series, ‘Swing Bridge Stories,’ that began more than two years ago as a buildup to ‘The Year of the Bridge’ and his final two contributions will be fittingly published in the last two issues of 2013, this week and next. That means more bridge lore for each of us today and also more documented original material for future historians.

Thank you, Sandy.

The Expositor’s other historian of note is Shelly J. Pearen of Ottawa. Ms. Pearen is the descendent of one of Manitoulin’s earliest pioneer families and her interest in this place runs deep. This year, she contributed a thoughtful essay on the significance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, 250 years ago following the British defeat of the French at Quebec and their dominance in North America as a colonizing power and the ensuing impact on First Nations communities of Manitoulin. Last year, she published a book that dealt with the signing of the 1862 Manitoulin Treaty, after which most of Manitoulin Island was opened up for European settlement. It is titled ‘Four Voices; The Great Manitoulin Island Treaty of 1862’ and is another valuable Manitoulin resource. This year as well, Ms. Pearen did a scholarly review of Dr. Cecil King’s book, ‘Between Two Worlds’ a biography of his controversial ancestor, Jean Baptiste Assiginack, and for that work we also thank Ms. Pearen.

Rose Diebolt’s popular tried-and-true recipe column, Rose’s Recipes, serves to bridge the culinary gap, challenging us to bring new things to the table, or to give a new twist to standard dishes. Rose’s Recipes remains a popular read and clippings of them peek out from cookbooks and recipe collections throughout Manitoulin and far beyond. Thank you, Rose.

Petra Wall’s lengthy interviews with Manitoulin Island’s seniors and elders, appearing as they do in the (usually) last issue of each month under the heading ‘Now and Then’ are a definite part of the community bridging this newspaper espouses. Petra’s far-ranging interviews with people who have lived here all of their lives or with some of the interesting people who have chosen to live their retirement time on Manitoulin offer snapshots of life in earlier times, in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Thank you, Petra.

There have been libraries on Manitoulin for a long time. The sign on the Little Current Public Library indicates it dates from 1932 and each of our communities is blessed with libraries and librarians, several of whom contribute useful reviews from their inventory. These include Debbie Robinson, Assiginack librarian in Manitowaning, and Claire Cline, Central Manitoulin librarian with branches in Mindemoya and Providence Bay.

Andre Leblanc doesn’t miss much in the way of local sports activities in his Page 7 column, ‘Ice chips and Canoe Quips.’ He finds out just about everything that’s going on among the sportin’ crowd from week to week and writes it down in his column to share the news.

Back on the farm, there’s also lots of valuable information to share and Manitoulin-North Shore Agricultural Representative Brian Bell does this week in, week out through his farm column, ‘Farm Facts and Furrows.’ Thanks, Brian. We’re pleased to provide a bridge between your office and the farm community.

John Savage keeps on taking those impossibly good photos of wildlife, mostly birds. (Remember the large picture that ran on Page 1 last spring of a miffed-looking red poll standing on top of an empty cat food can?) Patience, good luck and talent. Thanks for your great work, John.

Ivan Wheale drops by the office every week with a joke or two in hand and we’re glad he does. Best to you, Ivan and Jean.

From Manitoulin Secondary School, Kayla McFarlane bridges the generations nicely with her sprightly retelling of events at the school in the column, ‘Kids in the Hall’ and Miranda Noble writes the biographies of the individual MSS Mustangs in the ‘Player Profile’ column. Each young woman does a good and diligent job.

We know what is going on with Lakeview School’s Grade 8 class thanks to the good efforts of Mrs. Connie Freeman’s students.

The rural correspondents are a community bridging tradition that is as old as this paper. Our thanks and best wishes go out to our new correspondent this year, as well as to those diligent people who have done this work for many years. New is Leanne McGill who sends us Central Manitoulin Chatter. Ms. McGill joins veteran correspondents Erma McAllister (Spring Bay Rural Route), Pat Hall (Tehk Talk and Times), Gloria Sandercott (Providence Bay News and Notes), Marilyn Sparham (News and Views from The Slash) and Vicki Collins (Out and About in Sheguiandah). Irene Cadieux has left a gap in these pages as health issues have meant her retirement from Little Current News, Notes and Nonsense. We wish her well!

Freelance writers are a real bridge from the community to the paper and in this regard we are fortunate to have added Lori Thompson in Tehkummah to this group, which includes Betty Bardswich in Mindemoya, and Sharon Jackson in Kagawong, Thank you all for doing a great job, often at short notice. Nice bridgework, ladies.

Nancy McDermid continues to shine the spotlight on a particular Manitoulin Island artist or artisan every month in her column, ‘The Creative Isle.’ It’s important that we know something about the artistically talented people among us. Well done, Nancy.

Constable Al Boyd is this paper’s bridge with the OPP as is Chief Rodney Nahwegahbow at the UCCMM Tribal Police and Chief Gary Reid at the Wikwemikong Tribal Police. Your assistance is critical to fair and accurate crime reporting. Thank you.

As always, a critical bridge for this newspaper is the final hurdle of getting the papers out to the readers around Manitoulin and across Canada. For this important task, we are able to rely on the professionals who are our local Island postmasters and postmistresses and their staffs, in addition to the many rural route contractors. As long as we get the papers to you, you deliver them reliably and we can ask no more. Thanks.

Finally, to you at the other end of the bridge, our readers, thank you all for taking this paper and for using it for the myriad purposes it can serve you and the community. Keep on reading.

From all of us who work at our particular point on the bridge, best wishes to everyone for a happy Christmas and a promising 2014.

This means YOU, by the way.

Rick, Julia and Alicia McCutcheon
Kerrene Tilson
Robin Burridge
Michael Erskine
Dave Patterson
Erin Gordon
Marilyn Harasym
Greg Lloyd
Rosemary Debassige
Karen Doughty
Steven Richards
And from the Gore Bay office:
Tom Sasvari
Darla McCulligh