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A trip down memory lane: an island

It’s been a long time since I took a little time out waiting for the old swing bridge at Little Current, Manitoulin Island to grant me access to this fantastic “largest freshwater lake island in the world.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

It’s been a long time since I took a little time out waiting for the old swing bridge at Little Current, Manitoulin Island to grant me access to this fantastic “largest freshwater lake island in the world.”

Where else do you line up for a one-way bridge and get to bet on how many cars are going across in your direction before you get to use the bridge yourself. Better than counting train cars at a railway crossing. This game is best played with impressionable young kids who do not own a cell phone, or adults who have never grown up, although it is open to anyone.

I not only drove across this trestle years ago, but also sailed underneath it. Some of my favourite memories are dropping sail east of the bridge just past Strawberry Island with the sun setting and a strong westerly driving the current under that bridge at speeds that were not little at all. Made it hard for a fellow to hold a cigar and a rye and coke and the wheel at the same time. (Do not try this at home children; times and customs have changed.) Good training for the tides that would come years later in Nova Scotia.

Although I only lived in Little Current for a year as editor of the Manitoulin Expositor (1972), I kept a boat at Boyle Marine for more than a decade. It was like a second home. One year, my boat became the second home to a beaver, which seemed impossible if I had not seen it with my own eyes. The sailboat that fit my budget back then was called an Atlanta—a yellow, 32-foot laminated plywood vessel that had twin centreboards that allowed you to bring them up and enter shallow water. The boat had been designed by Ferry Marine to be dropped to downed pilots in the Second World War. It needed to be versatile. In any event, the centreboards left enough space in the floorboards for this beaver to make it in and make a home. He filled the cabin with an elegant twig-and-branch condominium.

The purpose of my return to the Island was to attend a planning session of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which was held in the spanking new Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. This kind of facility was unimaginable when I lived in Little Current; even less probable that it would be owned by five Manitoulin area First Nation communities. It is all part of First Nation communities reclaiming their economic space in Northern Ontario.

The hotel was built to support the growing success of the Great Spirit Circle Trail, another First Nation innovation of tourism packaging in the Manitoulin area.
When I came across the bridge it was foggy. Not much to see. I made my way through town and over to McLean’s Mountain, a favourite spot of mine; a plateau just south of town and ground zero in a battle over alternative energy for the last few years. May 10 and still leftover snow drifts below the ridge. I was stunned to find myself in a forest of massive windmills rising out of the fog, at least 500 feet tall. There must have been 25 of them. I parked beside one of them and opened the window to see if I could hear them above the horizontal rain pelting the car. I could.

I won’t be back to McLean’s Mountain. It is an industrial park with no place to hide, walk, read or contemplate. I prefer the memory.

But you can’t eat contemplation. As despoiling goes, it is at least for a good cause, if you are not a bird, a neighbour or a tourist. As Dorothy said some time ago, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

The problem with the windmills is that they don’t take Little Current off the grid. It ties them into it so their only purpose is to make money, not meaningful change. It would be nice up here if we could do better for these kinds of incursions.

Back downtown, the Anchor Inn is still in fine form, my old newspaper building is now the headquarters for Hair and Nails 2000, the one-lane bowling alley next door is a Country Corks winemaking facility, the laundromat is still open on the waterfront, and the Edgewater Restaurant is for sale and forlorn, as it was 40 years ago.

This is where the rest of my life began.