While Chairman of the Little Current Library Board, local historian Alexander McGillivray wrote a series of historical articles for the local newspaper, the Manitoulin Expositor, which he has kindly given permission to me to reprint some of them here. The following items are his words on 1960.
During the late 1960s the Owen Sound Transportation Company operated the Norisle and Norgoma on the Tobermory-South Baymouth ferry route and the smaller MS Normac between Blind River and Meldrum Bay.
The Normac was used in the spring and fall to carry mostly bulk freight and a few passengers on the old Owen Sound-Sault Ste. Marie route even though the freight subsidy had ceased after the 1963 season. In September, after the 1968 ferry season, the Blind River and Meldrum Bay service, which had been inaugurated in 1964, was discontinued. So ended the second attempt of the Owen Sound Transportation Company to provide a ferry service on the West End of Manitoulin in the post-war period. The previous attempt had occurred in the late 1940s. The little Normac was sold and subsequently became a restaurant on the Toronto waterfront.
At the same time that the Meldrum Bay ferry service ended, the Owen Sound Transportation Company had a change of ownership. D.C. International of Denver, Colorado sold it to a local group known as Beamar Holdings Limited. Included in the latter were Mr. Ivor Wagner, who was chairman of the board, and Mr. W.W. Barnard, who became president of the company of the beginning of 1969. The company, which was subsidized by government on its ferry service, reported record traffic in 1969 with 26,000 vehicles and almost 87,000 passengers being transported between the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island.
The South Baymouth ferry service had been the cause of perennial complaints since its earliest days. The late 1960s were no different and delegations, led by such Manitoulin leaders as Mr. Barney Turner of the MMA and Messrs Al Tustian and Aus Hunt of the tourist associations, with the help of MPP Stan Farquhar and MP Dr. Maurice Foster visited federal and provincial officials to discuss the ferry issue. Ideas of a hovercraft and even a causeway to Manitoulin were bandied about at the time.
During the summer of 1970, a study by the Georgian Bay Regional Development Council reported that the existing ferry service was at its full capacity and could not be considered adequate. The study recommended a new ferry of ample size along with new terminal facilities. Before another decade had passed, those recommendations would be fulfilled.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce of Western Manitoulin was promoting the old idea of a ferry between DeTour, Michigan, and Meldrum Bay service. That proposal has still to see fulfilment.
Changes in shipping practices made the old coal hoist at the CPR dock on Goat Island redundant and it was dismantled in August and September of 1966. On the other side of the Channel, the dock in front of the post office was lowered in 1968 since it no longer had to accommodate regular visits of the Norgoma on the Owen Sound-Soo run after the 1963 season. Since the Department of Transport warehouse just east of the post office was no longer needed either, it was demolished in 1968 and more parking was made available for the downtown.
The new freighters visiting the CPR dock were becoming larger, faster and more efficient. The Algoma Central Steamship Lines’ Roy A. Jodrey, built in 1965, was 640 feet long with a 72-foot beam. It could haul up to 25,000 tons of cargo and could self-unload at the rate of 4,200 tons per hour. These statistics show why the old coal hoist with its clam shell bucket was no longer competitive along with the small freighters of earlier years that it used to unload.
In December 1970 the newly constructed 25,700-ton Agawa Canyon visited Little Current. Reputed to be the largest ship ever to pass through the port, the $8.6 million vessel was on its maiden voyage from Collingwood.
With loads of zinc ore, iron ore pellets and coal coming or going from the port of Little Current, modern freighters such as the Roy A. Jodrey, E.B. Barber and others needed deeper water than was available here. Even with the most recent dredging completed by the MacNamara company in the spring of 1966, the harbour only afforded a depth of around 20 feet, whereas the big freighters fully loaded needed 25 feet or more. The result was ships travelling at less than full capacity.
In September 1966, the E.B. Barber was actually stuck cross wise in the channel when the crew attempted to pivot the ship around at the coal dock. The maneuver was usually uneventful, but that time the load was a bit too much for the depth of water available. The Barber had to unload a little in order to get free.
The shallowness of the channel at Little Current, along with strong currents, a twisting and turning access route and the narrow passage at the Swing Bridge, not to mention coal and iron or dust blowing across to town, gave rise to thoughts of a replacement port. A delegation from town visited Ottawa in 1966 to discuss the issue with government and CPR officials. Some thought that a deep water port at nearby Beauty Island would be ideal. The CPR, which owned Goat Island, was not willing to commit to such an idea and when a new port was eventually constructed in the next decade it would be a little more distant than Beauty Island.
In 1964, the new Parry Sound to Byng Inlet chart was available and two years later the Byng Inlet to Killarney chart was ready. The Manitoulin-Espanola Tourist Council requested the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys to create new charts for the waters from Killarney westward. The work would be some time in coming.
Unfortunately, 26-year-old Ph.D student James E. Smith, who was working with the geological surveys of Canada, drowned near Strawberry Island when his small sailboat capsized in May 1968. That same summer, the five-year-old son of Conservation Officer Arthur Zimmerman drowned near the old fish hatchery in town.
A long-time serving custodian of navigation aids in Little Current retired in 1966 from his work in maintaining the range lights in town. Mr. West Taylor, besides serving for many years as constable, had kept up the range lights for 35 years. Another citizen of town, Mr. George Squires, held the contract at that time to care for navigation markers from Strawberry to Clapperton islands. Such government supply boats as the CP Edwards performed the major work involved with servicing navigation aids in the region.
Another of the periodic attempts at an air service to Manitoulin took place near the end of the 1960s. It was announced in the summer of 1969 that Georgian Bay Airlines had received federal approval to inaugurate a scheduled service calling at the Gore Bay Airport. Mayor Al Little represented Little Current at the opening of the service on July 28.
Georgian Bay Airlines had been founded in 1946 and operated a fleet of 12 small aircraft. Daily flights from Gore Bay enabled passengers to connect with Air Canada at the Soo or Sudbury. Like earlier attempts at scheduled airline service, the venture was short-lived.
The postal service was in the process of some cost-cutting in the 1960s. The Post Office Savings Bank, which provided limited banking services, had been instituted in 1868. It was phased out and closed at the end of 1969. Postmaster General Eric Kierans also gave directions to close small post offices “…in an all-out effort by the department to economize.”
Barrie Island lost its post office in 1966 and the one at Ice Lake was closed two years later. Both became rural routes from Gore Bay. In 1969, the Big Lake post office was closed and it became a rural route from Mindemoya. The next year, the Elizabeth Bay office ceased operations after 67 years of continuous service.
In the late 1960s North America was divided into telephone calling areas each with its own three digit code. The code for Manitoulin was `705′, although dial telephones did not arrive onthe Island until the end of the decade. Bell introduced dial telephone service in Gore Bay in October 1969. Telephone numbers in that town were increased to seven digits, each with the prefix `282′.
Bell Canada constructed a new office building and tower on Meredith Street in Little Current in preparation for the coming of dial service in June 1970. From phone numbers like `2′ or `443′, the town’s subscribers were all issued new seven-digit numbers with the prefix `368′. They were also able to use direct distance dialing like most of the rest of the country.
The ribbon cutting ceremony opening the new Bell office took place on June 6, 1970. Mrs. Freda Turner made the first dial phone call. That same spring Ollie Stewart, who had been chief operator for Bell in Little Current, retired. She had previously worked for the telephone system when it belonged to the Manitoulin and North Shore Telephone and Telegraph Company. The older Bell office building on the same Meredith Street property, where the operators used to work, was subsequently torn down. Operators were no longer needed with the new dial system.
The Assiginack and Manitoulin Rural Telephone systems serving eastern and central Manitoulin were both acquired in 1970 by an American firm called Central Communications Corporation (Cencom). The Manitoulin subsidiary continued to be known as the Manitoulin Island Telephone Company Limited. Subscribers to that system had to wait a while longer to obtain dial service.
His Honour Judge George Collins presided over Second Division Court in town for a few years in the second half of the 1960s. Court was held in the municipal building on Worthington Street near the Meredith Street corner.
Magistrates Anthony Falzetta and William J. Woodliffe from Sudbury presided over Magistrate’s Court at the Orange Hall until 1966. When the latter was sold to the Masonic Lodge, court was moved to the Legion building. At the sessions held twice a month the magistrate heard cases of assaults, liquor and traffic offenses, willful damage and the like. After 1968 the Magistrate’s Court, like Division Court, ceased to be held in town.
In the winter of 1969 ex-mayor Fred Sagle took council to task for not ensuring that Magistrate’s Court–later called Provincial Court–was being held in town. Mr. Sagle pointed out that it was a considerable burden to have to go to Gore Bay for court. When he was mayor a similar situation had prevailed and, as Mr. Sagle puts it, with one telephone call moves were set afoot to have Magistrate’s Court back in town. In 1969, council agreed to look for suitable accommodations for the court, but nothing came of it and neither Division nor Magistrate’s (Provincial) Court have met in town since.
Little Current was left with Small Claims Court that was held in the municipal building. Judge Terry Murphy from Sudbury was among those who presided. Mrs. Betty McHarg served as clerk. Since Mrs. McHarg was also a Justice of the Peace, she presided over cases involving minor traffic offenses. They too were heard at the municipal building.
Mr. W.A. Sims, as a notary public, continued to offer legal advice. There were no other resident lawyers in Little Current at that time.
In 1965, another student joined the growing number of attorneys who hailed from Little Current. Mr. Iliff Peck graduated from Osgoode Hall that year and went on to practise law in Toronto.
In early February 1966, Mr. E.L. Claridge of Gore Bay died at the age of 66 while at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. He had opened a law practice in Gore Bay in 1945 after serving with the RCAF during the war. He became Crown Attorney in 1947 and was made a Queen’s Council (QC) in 1958. Mr. Claridge was buried in Gordon Cemetery. He was the last resident Crown Attorney on Manitoulin for a long time.
In 1967, the province introduced its legal aid system. It provided a subsidy to those who could not afford to pay legal fees. It was designed so that neither the court nor the public pay full legal fees. It was designed so that neither the court nor the public were aware that the recipient was relying on assistance. A Law Society advertisement at the time alleged “…its purpose is to render justice to every man under the law.” In those days before “political correctness” we may assume that “man” was used in a generic sense.
Besides improvements in car safety features, new laws in the 1960s also contributed to safer roads and streets. In 1966 it became necessary to stop both ways when a school bus stop signal was displayed. A couple of years later motorcycle helmets became mandatory and in December 1969 the federal breath analysis bill became law. Readings of over 0.80 per cent blood alcohol made a suspect guilty of impaired driving. It also became mandatory of physicians to report patients’ conditions that would make driving dangerous.
The province decided in the late 1960s to replace many of its written traffic signs with symbols. Such signs as “steep hill” were replaced with a stylized picture of an automobile on a grade and “slippery when wet” showed a similar car with wavy tracks. Presumably drivers could take in at a glance what would require more time to read and foreign drivers need not be familiar with the language in order to understand the messages.
One cost of living item in Northern Ontario that is less now than years ago is the car licence. In the 1960s an eight-cylinder car licence cost $35.; a six, $27.50 and a four, $20. Now, of course, those fees are waived for Northerners.
Despite improved roads, safer cars and more stringent laws, the late 1960s saw the worst accidents on the Island that ever occurred. Over 20 were killed and more injured on Manitoulin roads in that half-decade. Several involved more than one fatality. At the end of July 1966 two youths were killed when the car in which they were passengers rolled near Manitowaning. Two more were killed in a traffic accident at West Bay in December of the next year and in the fall of 1969 a mother and young child were struck and fatally injured in Providence Bay. The carnage continued the following March when two members of a Sheshegwaning family were killed when their car collided head on with a pop truck on Highway 540 about 10 miles from Little Current. The worst was yet to come. Near the end of March 1970 nine young people, most of them teenagers, died when two vehicles crashed head on a couple of miles south of Manitowaning on Highway 68. At the time it was the second worst traffic accident in Canada, the worst having occurred on Highway 17 west of Espanola in July 1967 when 10 were killed.
Near the Little Current town line Mr. Herman McCulligh was struck and killed close to the Texaco (Highway 6 Esso) station in 1960. One youth was killed and another injured in a car crash on a curve just north of the Swing Bridge in June 1967 and in November 1970 11-year-old Perry Burnett was fatally injured when struck by a car travelling on Campbell Street near the Hilltop Grocery store. When one takes into account the number of traffic fatalities in or near Little Current in proportion to the population, the numbers are truly shocking.
A symbolic end of CPR service to Little Current occurred in the late summer of 1970. At that time the old CPR station was demolished. Mr. Bob Hales and family moved to Espanola shortly afterwards. Mr. Hales had come to town in the spring of 1967 to replace CPR station agent Alex Clarke.
After the end of passenger train service in the early 1960s, the A and J Bus schedule was published regularly in the local press much like the old train timetable had been. In the late 1960s the bus route included Espanola, Little Current and Wikwemikong. The present Ontario Housing Office on Worthington Street served as Little Current bus depot in those days.
A few milestones were experienced in Canadian automobile production during the 1960s. The first Rambler at American Motors’ new Brampton plant was produced early in 1961. A little later that year the four millionth General Motors vehicle–a white Pontiac–rolled off the assembly line in Oshawa. It was 53 years earlier that the first McLaughlin-Buick had been made. In early 1964 Studebaker, a company nearing its end as an automobile manufacturer, closed its American assembly line and transferred all its car production to an Ontario plant.
More concern for safety was evident in the auto industry as the 1960s progressed. Installation of seatbelt anchors became standard in 1962 models. All Ontario government vehicles were equipped with seatbelts that year and the buying public was urged to order the lap seatbelt option. Several manufacturers made front seatbelts standard equipment in the 1964 model year. Other safety features beginning to show up in cars included padded panels and sun visors, safety door locks and steering wheels designed to crumple in an accident.
Concern for the environment was beginning to make a tentative appearance in the early 1960s with industry watchers predicting an “anti-smog muffler” in the near future. The emphasis, however, was still on power and speed in vehicles with model names like Wildcat, Tornado, Barracuda and, of course, the sporty but affordable Ford Mustang that became an instant sales success.
There also was a trend to more sedate and smaller vehicles like the Ford Falcon, General Motor’s Acadian available with four- or six-cylinder engines, and a new small Buick Special, which offered a V-6 engine–the first passenger car built in North America to have one. By 1964 the `compact car’ had captured nearly a quarter of the market.
The enormous fins on rear fenders had completely disappeared on pretty well all models by the mid-1960s. Chrysler Corporation was offering five-year or 50,000 mile power train warranties at the time. The company also recommended oil changes at intervals as long as three months or 4,000 miles.
Under a new provincial scheme, drivers’ licences were renewed every three years. Vehicle licence plates were still issued annually, however, and in 1965 were changed in colour to white on blue from the black and white combination prevailing since 1956. The colour of the lettering was alternated each year.
Each year saw numerous accidents and a few fatalities on Manitoulin roads. The most spectacular mishap in the early 1960s involved two vehicles of teenagers that collided on the Government Road east of Providence Bay. The accident occurred on the snowy road early Christmas morning 1962. It resulted in two of the teens being fatally injured and three other hospitalized.
One of the two major changes to the transportation infrastructure of Manitoulin took place at the end of March 1963. At that date the CPR passenger, mail and express service ended. The line that had been heralded with such fanfare and optimism 50 years previously was the victim of changing technology and economic conditions. Of course, the freight trains to the CPR coal docks on Goat Island continued operating for many more years.
The CPR contended back in 1961 that it was losing over a $100,000. a year on the route and that a truck and bus service would be adequate for the job. Competition from motor vehicles was blamed for the decreased traffic. Some knowledgeable people in town questioned the selection and validity of the statistics used by the railroad and strenuously objected to the ending of the train service until Highway 68, then in the process of being rebuilt, was finished between Little Current and Espanola.
Representatives of the Board of Transport Commissioners appeared in town early in 1962. Various interest groups presented briefs. Mayor Farquhar stressed the need to deal any action until the new Espanola road was finished, making an alternate service more convenient. The hearing on the CPR’s application to suspend service proceeded on October 11, 1962. At the hearing the railroad claimed that the train averaged only around a dozen passengers in 1958 and even less in 1962. The mayor again pushed to have it delayed until the new road was completed to Birch Island from Espanola. He even drove the commissioners over the road to show them its condition after the hearing ended.
By the end the `Agony’, as the Little Current train was irreverently known as, made its last run, a new bus service was available to the public. Mr. Abe Shamess had announced in May 1962 that he intended to initiate a new Little Current-McKerrow bus service.
A.J. Bus Line began running on June 18, 1962. At that time its Little Current depot was a small frame building at the rear of the Manitoulin Hotel, as the Anchor Inn was called at the time.
The bus made two trips daily connected with the CPR and Greyhound Bus Line. The bus schedule was published weekly in The Expositor as the CPR passenger schedule had been for decades. Mr. A.J. Shamess announced in August that his service had been well received, but that he hoped to obtain some school bus contracts to supplement revenue.
A.J. Bus Line routes were extended in 1963 to include a once-a-day trip to Manitowaning after arrangements were made with Mrs. Vera Hembruff, who previously operated the franchise. The next year the route was extended to include a daily trip to Wikwemikong as well. At that time Greyhound Bus advertised a return trip to Vancouver from Espanola for just $70.
The Little Current post office experienced some changes in personnel in the early 1960s. Mr. Mel Boyter, who had been postmaster since taking over from Mr. Clate Cook in 1927, retired in 1962. He went on to become editor of The Expositor for a few years. The World War I veteran was replaced as postmaster by World War II veteran Mr. Art Wilkinson.
The postal service experienced its first strike in over 41 years during the summer of 1965. It would not be its last for another 41 years, to be sure!.
The growing popularity of small boats on trailers resulted in the construction of public and private launching facilities in the 1950s and 1960s. The first public launching ramp in Little Current was considered by some as a complete waste of money since it was on the main dock just to the east of the present OPP boathouse. It was quite unsuitable.
In the July 21, 1961 edition of The Expositor it was observed that, “if some boater doesn’t dump boat, trailer and himself in ten feet of water it will be only that Providence is smiling on him.” The report went on to say derisively that, “according to government records, Little Current now has a marine ramp, and all’s well with our little world.”
The town negotiated with the Lions Club to buy Low Island in order to build additional docks for pleasure craft. Parts of the island were also designated for park, playground and beach use. Contracts for building 200 feet of docks, as well as a launching ramp on Low Island, were let in October 1965. The new ramp was infinitely superior to the one on the town dock.
Yachters were happy to see a new small craft chart of Georgian Bay come out in 1964. The new chart showed the sheltered route from Parry Sound to Byng Inlet. The mapping had begun in 1960. Other charts were to follow. The chart makers had used aircraft to assist them in mapping what Commander Boulton, who had made charts of the region in the 1880s, declared “…a more broken-up coastline is impossible to conceive…possessing all the characteristics unfavourable to the hydrographic surveyor.” The hydrographic nightmare was the yachter’s delight.
At the end of July 1965 the Great Lakes Cruising Club held its first Rendezvous in Canadian waters at Little Current. Besides an enormous fish fry and entertainment at the arena, the club unveiled a plaque on the waterfront in memory of the late yachtsman and promoter of tourism, Mr. Grant Turner. It was just the third plaque dedicated to any club member.
The Rendezvous was described as “…the greatest armada this port has seen in many a moon…” Pleasure craft were moored two and three abreast, with some anchored in the Channel.
The first half of the 1960s was singularly unfortunate for a number of tourists, especially some from Ohio, who ventured onto local waters. In August 1962 two visitors from that state drowned near Heywood Island while fishing from a dinghy belonging to their cabin cruiser. Two more Ohio fishermen–guests at Grandview Cottages–drowned the next month while angling on Whitefish Bay. The bodies were not found until the following year.
Another Ohio visitor died from heart failure in August 1963 while swimming from his swamped boat in Waubano Channel. Another resident of the Buckeye State suffered a similar fate in October 1964 just 100 feet from shore in McGregor Bay after his 14-foot aluminum boat capsized. Less than a year later two Ohio teenagers–one a counsellor and the other a camper from Camp Adanac–were struck by lightning and killed while under a canoe seeking shelter from a storm.
The most serious boating accident, however, involved two Sudbury families. In late August 1965 Shirley and Jim Huffman with their children, Catherine, age 4 and Karen, age 3, set off from Kagawong for a weekend cruise with Wyn and Bonnie Rhydwen in the latter’s motor launch, the Rhu. On Sunday, August 22, the pleasure craft foundered in rough weather on a shoal west of Clapperton Island not far from Manitoulin. After staying with the boat all day the passengers abandoned the launch and floated all night while tied together and wearing life jackets. They had hoped to drift to land.
Only Mrs. Ryhdwen and Mr. Huffman survived the ordeal and were picked up Monday morning. The others in the party had succumbed to exposure and had been cut loose. The latter floated nearly to Honora Bay and were found on Tuesday. Local experts expressed criticisms of the poor marking of the shoal, especially when viewed going into the sun.
In an interesting footnote to the tragedy, the bow section of the Rhu was later salvaged and fashioned into the pulpit of St. John’s Anglican Church in the village of Kagawong. The church also features other marine artifacts from the early days.
A few years before the Rhu foundered, and not far from the site of the tragedy, Captain Harold G. Hutchings passed away in January 1962 at Harbour Island. He was co-founder with his wife of the Harbour Island Yacht and Fishing Club. The resort was a popular rendezvous for visiting yachters for a number of years.
Another death of more than passing interest to residents of Little Current occurred in the early 1960s when Mr. Sidney J. Bird died at the age of 72 in Toronto. At the time of his death in the spring of 1964 the self-made millionaire was owner of nearby La Cloche Island. It was reputed to be the largest privately owned island in the Great Lakes. La Cloche Island was subsequently purchased by Mr. Cliff Fielding. Mr. Bird also owned a large tract of land on the Lake Huron shore west of Providence Bay..
Although the CPR cruise ships, SS Keewatin and SS Assiniboia were still offering 5-day cruises between Port McNicoll and Fort William for only $90. in the early 1960s, the traditional line boat service on the North Channel was coming to an end. Owen Sound Transportation Company president Ivor Wagner announced in the spring of 1963 that at the end of the navigation season that year, the Norgoma would stop providing package freight and passenger service on the North Channel and Georgian Bay between Owen Sound and the Soo. He noted that 1963 would be the last year of government subsidy and that decreased freight shipments and competition from the recently opened Killarney road made the service uneconomic.
When the Norgoma made its last run in late September 1963, a transportation route that went back over a century passed into history. It was the second major change to the Island’s transportation infrastructure to occur that year. The first had taken place at the end of March when the CPR passenger train left the station at Little Current for the last time.
It was in December 1963 that the town tried unsuccessfully to rent the freight shed for storage of municipal equipment. The freight shed just east of the Post Office had been used by the line boats ever since it was built in the early 1920s.
When he announced the end of scheduled passenger/freight service along the North Channel, Mr. Wagner went on to say that the Norgoma would be converted to diesel power from steam in 1964 and put on the Tobermory-South Baymouth ferry run. He expected the Norgoma would have a capacity of 35 cars raising the summer ferry capacity of the Norisle and
Norgoma to a total of 252 cars per day from the 171 carried by the Norisle-Normac combination. The latter two vessels had conveyed 18,386 autos and 56,723 passengers during the 1962 season.
Another change in ferry service on Manitoulin took place in 1964. The 120 ft., 340 ton M.S. Normac with its 11-car capacity was put back on a route between Meldrum Bay and Blind River. The service was provided between June 26 and September 8. The 18-mile trip took two hours and cost $2.50 per passenger and $5. a car. The first voyage was accompanied with whistles, a brass band and a big reception in Blind River.
The Meldrum Bay-Blind River ferry route had been tried for a couple of years in the late 1950s with the Normac serving as ferry. The 1960s attempt fared no better. The service lasted only a short time. It was not well-publicized or promoted. .
Statistics for 1959 showed Little Current ranking 11th among Canadian Great Lakes ports in the amount of cargo handled during the year. Fuel at the shell dock, along with coal and iron ore pellets at the CPR dock, made up the lion’s share of the tonnage in the 1960s. A new iron ore pellet loader was completed in 1965, greatly increasing efficiency for that procedure.
Large new freighters, such as the E.B. Barber, Agawa, Algosteel and Algoway, not only carried many times the cargo of smaller ships of earlier years but made the old coal hoist with its clam shell bucket obsolete because of their self-unloading capability. The old hoist’s days were numbered.
The SS Algoway and its crew experienced some bad luck in the early 1960s. A young deck hand fell into an empty hold and was killed as the freighter was about to leave Little Current in May 1961. Later that year the vessel sank at a dock at the Lakehead and had to be raised and repaired.
Dredging the North Channel in the vicinity of Little Current had taken place on an irregular basis since before the town’s incorporation in 1890. The tradition continued in the mid-1960s-years that saw lake levels at historic low levels. A senior in town observed that the activity was reminiscent of the early 1900s when there was dredging every year. The North Channel at Little Current claimed one more victim when one of the crew was believed to have fallen from the McNamara dredge in the autumn of 1965. His body was not found until early spring the next year near cottages opposite Narrow Island.
Both Narrow Island and Strawberry Island lighthouses, where Carl Dieter and G.A. “Curly” Stewart had been lightkeepers, were automated in 1962 and 1963. A photo-electric `eye’ now did the work in the new era of electronics and automation. By the 1960s the Department of Transport supply ships such as the Alexander Henry were decked out in red and white colours in place of the old black and white.
Tourists and commercial sailors were not the only ones to experience misfortune on the water in the early 1960s. While out fishing with a party from Gore Bay in August 1961, Mr. Larry Donaldson, 51, and Mr. Wayne Martin, 67, of Port Hope drowned after their 20-foot craft was swamped close to town. Mayor Woods and Magistrate Boyd, who were also in the party, managed to swim to shore near Gore Bay. Mr. Martin was father-in-law of the magistrate.
An old sailor with ties to Manitoulin departed this life in the spring of 1963. Captain Robert Scott Misener had lived on Manitoulin before the turn of the century. In the 1890s his parents ran the Providence Bay Mill and built a house in the village. Captain Misener began his career on sailing vessels and went on to operate one of the largest fleets of freighters on the Great Lakes. At the time of his death he was 85 years of age. Some of his freighters visited the port of Little Current from time to time and his palatial yacht Venetia was a common sight at South Baymouth during the 1930s..
Air transportation facilities were nominal in town in the 1960s. Georgian Bay Airways continued to offer such minor service as sight seeing flights. The small, private air strip near Little Current could be considered a port of entry since there was a Custom’s office in town.
At the national level, Trans Canada Airline celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1964. At its beginning the line operated 10 passenger Lockheed aircraft that travelled between Montreal and Vancouver in 16 hours. In 1964, the 131(c)passenger Douglas DC-8 jetliner could do the same trip in six hours. Along with the DC-8s, turbo-prop Vickers Vanguards and Viscounts made up the fleet of the national airline that changed its name to Air Canada and adopted new colours in 1964. Just a year earlier a jetliner had crashed near Montreal killing 118, making it the worst air disaster in Canadian aviation up to that time..
The Little Current Curling Club managed to win both the Baxter Cup from Espanola and the Graham Cup from Gore Bay in 1968. The Graham Cup as removed from competition in the 1970s because of lack of interest. It had been the object of friendly rivalry between the Island’s two major towns for decades before the newer curling clubs were organized.
Gore Bay had the misfortune of losing its curling rink to fire in the fall of 1967. A new facility was constructed immediately thereafter. At the same time a new curling rink was being built at Manitowaning. The first bonspiel there was held in the winter of 1968.
Girls and women in town were able to compete in a town volley ball league for a short time in the late 1960s. They were also invited to try a new winter sport–ringuette. The game had begun in 1963 with Mr. Red McCarthy of Espanola being one of the co-inventors.
Snowmobiling had become a popular winter sport by the late 1960s. A snowmobile club was formed in town in 1970. That year it was reported that there were 350,000 snowmobiles registered in Canada. Unfortunately, it was also reported that 93 fatal mishaps had occurred involving the machines during the previous winter.
The town’s only bowling alley celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1968. That year its owner, Mr. Cecil Nickoloff, renovated the facility. It had been a popular recreational resource especially during the winter seasons. The bowling alley was out of action for a while after being damaged by fire in the late fall of 1969. After repairs were made, it reopened in February 1970.
At the nearby pool hall Mr. Frank McGovern complained about a 1948 bylaw that restricted admission to patrons over 18 years of age. Council responded in the spring of 1968 by allowing younger people to frequent the hall, provided they had written consent from their parents.
A Little Current men’s softball league was a feature of the summer sports scene in town during the 1960s. A women’s team was also formed in 1969. Members at the squad competed against other Island teams. The women’s team finished third in their regular season in 1970, but went on to be champions in the playoffs.
The Manitoulin Baseball League continued to function on the Island in the second half of the 1960s, albeit without participation from Little Current. Three or four other Manitoulin communities fielded teams that competed in regularly scheduled games.
The Little League in town switched to softball in 1964 and began playing at the Low Island diamond. Previously, they had played at the school or race track diamonds. The teams adopted names from the American and National Leagues. Interest waned during some of the years of the late 60s when volunteer coaches and umpires were hard to come by.
Local anglers who, in the late 1960s, were required to have fishing licenses as well as non residents, were delighted to see promising results from the salmon planting effort that had come about over the span of just a few years. At the same time, provincial authorities were continuing to combat the trout-destroying lamprey eels as well as plod on with the splake experiment.
Complaints by landowners of trespassing hunters and anglers persuaded the Department of Lands and Forests, at the end of the decade, to warn potential offenders that they would be prosecuted. Hunters were reminded that no dogs were allowed in the deer hunt and, since Manitoulin was all privately owned, permission to hunt was required from the landowner. The vexing issue of trespassing hunters would continue well into the 1970s before a satisfactory resolution of the problem occurred.
To extend the season at the arena on Meredith Street and prevent being at the mercy of the weather, it was decided by the Recreation Commission in the late 1960s to install artificial ice-making equipment at the rink. In 1968 the Sisson Fund money became available and revenue from it and several other public and private sources was designated to the approximately $35,000. cost of the artificial ice project. Work installing the equipment began in the fall of 1969. The official ceremonies inaugurating the new facility took place in December of that year.
In the summer the arena was used for tennis, badminton, volleyball, ping pong and lacrosse, among other activities. Although lacrosse had been known in town since before incorporation, it had been played only sporadically. One of those times was in 1970 when the Lions Club sponsored a boys lacrosse team.
The second half of the 1960s saw council take significant steps in establishing Low Island Park on the waterfront in the west end of Little Current. With financial assistance from the province, land was acquired on Knockerville, or “Spider Island,” as it came to be known and large sections of the old Red Mill property were also obtained for future marina and park use. Reference has already been made to the purchase at around the same time of the old Red Mill boarding house and a number of small dwellings from the old saw mill days were demolished.
In the early summer of 1968 the town’s Parks Development Committee, with ex-mayor John Farquhar as chairman, engaged the services of Mitchell Associates of Bramalea to make a plan for Low Island Park development. Tentative proposals at that time included boat launching and docking facilities between Low and Spider Islands for up to 120 pleasure craft and overnight camping for up to 100 campsites, as well as sports, swimming and picnic areas. It was envisaged that the development would take place over 10 or 15 years and would be done in stages..
The reconstruction of Highway 68 (now Highway 6) between Espanola and Little Current was completed during the first half of the 1960s. Paving the new highway began at Espanola in the summer of 1961. A 12-mile stretch was finished that year. The work proceeded southward by sections until the final contract was let in September, 1965 for paving the final nine miles across LaCloche Island.
Highway 68 between Little Current and South Baymouth was still the subject of complaints since it featured more than its share of sharp curves and relied on annual applications of `prime coats’. The `prime coat’ consisted of a type of tar or oil that penetrated nearly an inch into the base. It provided a hard surface and kept dust down. After the section of Highway 68 to Espanola was finished, the provincial government proceeded by degrees to upgrade the part on Manitoulin to first-rate quality. By the fall of 1965 it had been rebuilt and paved as far as Ten Mile Point. That year the province also allotted funds to begin upgrading Highway 540.
Tenders to widen and improve illumination at the intersection of Highways 17 and 68 were invited early in 1961. In the autumn of that year the new Killarney road was opened to Highway 69. The official ceremony took place in July 1962.
The Honorable William A. Goodfellow, Minister of Mines, was on hand to cut the ribbon for the gravel road designated Highway 637. At last Killarney had a land link to the outside after relying for over a century on boats, ice roads and in later years, aircraft, for communications.
Another official opening in Northern Ontario took place that year at the Soo on the last day of October. Former Premier Frost and several Cabinet ministers shared the honours with Michigan Governor John Swainson in inaugurating the new international high-level bridge. It replaced ferries that had previously conveyed traffic across the river.
The opening of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 and completion of the Trans Canada Highway between the Soo and Marathon in September, 1960 contributed to the increase in traffic through Sault Ste. Marie. Up to the end of September of 1962, the Soo ferries had carried 1,271,000 passengers and over 353,000 vehicles during the year.
The American Interstate Highway system, including I-75 out of the Soo, Michigan, was on its way to becoming a network linking all parts of the United States by the time the new Soo bridge was opened. The bridge was the scene of another ceremony on May 24, 1963, when Premier Robarts and Governor George Ronmey dedicated it. In the few months since it had opened, cross river traffic exceeded that previously carried by 94 per cent.
Northern Ontario was conspicuously lacking in four-lane highways in the 1960s. At the Northeastern Ontario Chambers of Commerce annual meeting at Cochrane in the fall of 1965, delegates supported a motion to have the province extend the four-lane Highway 400 all the way to Sudbury. It stopped at Highway 12 at that time. The North is still waiting for that to happen.
Department of Highway vehicles on Manitoulin were slated to have two-way transistor radios installed in them in 1963. A communications tower in Little Current enabled headquarters to link up with the nine-vehicle fleet. A tragic accident occurred shortly afterwards, when Mr. Vern Lewis was killed in the Department of Highways depot just outside Little Current. A dump truck struck him while it was moving in reverse. The present day beeping devices were not in use at that time.
Automobile manufacturers enjoyed some banner years in the early 1960s. General Motors, for instance, set an all-time record in Canada in 1964 with a total of 308,536 cars and trucks. The previous year General Motors announced its new car prices that ran from $2,363. for the compact Chevrolet Corvair to $3,865. for a Buick. To relate the prices to incomes, a beginning high school teacher in Ontario at that time was being paid an annual wage in the $6,000. range.
By 1965, there were three cars or trucks for every 9.2 Canadians–up from one for every eight Canadians in 1945. Just 30 years before, in May 1915, The Expositor found it noteworthy when an `amazing’ four automobiles were on the main street of Little Current all at one time, giving “…the business part a lively appearance.” No parking problems back then!
Each decade is a period of transition and some can be characterized by such events as wars, depression or economic boom. As far as developments in social attitudes are concerned, the 1960s–especially the second part of the decade, witnessed the beginning of some of the most radical changes the century has seen. A growing drift to permissiveness and changes in family structure, coupled with the first wave of baby boomers reaching their teenage years, accentuated the usual tendency towards youthful rebellion.
Although they were the most materially privileged and pampered generation of youth ever, many young radicals found a lot to complain about and criticize. One author, who was one of the malcontents of the time, recently described the era as that of the “spoiled brat culture.”
Canadian youth in the 1960s were not called on to sacrifice as their forebears had been in 1914 to 1918 or again in 1939 to 1945, nor did they go through the rigors of a severe depression. born in an age of self-indulgence, many of the `Hippie’ youth of the 1960s and early 1970s went on to become the self-absorbed `Yuppies’ of the late 1970s and 1980s, and in aging have become the neo-conservatives of the 19902. Mick Jagger, back in the 1960s, advised fellow youth, “…don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now that the age group is closer to 50 than 30, they may not trust anyone under 30!
Symbolic of the liberalization in behaviourial and moral standards at the beginning of the decade was the opening of shows and burlesques in Toronto on Sundays. `Toronto The Good’ had been pretty well a closed place on Sundays for as long as anyone could remember. Later, in 1964, Henry Miller’s book, Tropic of Cancer, was declared to be not obscene and allowed into Canada after being banned since 1934.
Changes occurred at an accelerated pace during the second half of the decade. During the Centennial Year 1967 the humour columnist `Smiley’ mused that if the Fathers of Confederation could miraculously come back to life they would be dumbfounded at the soaring divorce rate, drug addiction, homosexuality, alcoholism, high taxes and pollution, among other things.
Use of illicit drugs had been around a long time before the 1960s, but it was during the latter part of the decade that the illegal use of substances such as LSD, marijuana, cocaine, pep pills and so on became a pressing social problem, with many young people being counted among the abusers.
The Expositor, at the end of the decade, featured a light hearted poem on the new meanings of old terms the hippie generation were creating. Such expressions as “trip”, “pot”, “grass”, “swinger”, “pad” and “gay” were among the words with decidedly different connotations from just a few years earlier. The poem concluded: “It’s groovy, man, groovy, but English it’s not Methinks the language has gone straight to pot.”
There is a risk of overstating the case when making broad generalizations, but the late 1960s have the reputation of being years when promiscuity was on the increase. The birth control pill, approved in 1960, is frequently cited as being one of the factors, along with looser moral strictures, that promoted the `free love’ of the time.
Youth rebelled in numerous ways during the decade. The phrase `generation gap’ came into general use; it was claimed by some that parents feared a youth rebellion from their offspring, many of whom seemed to delight in defying authority. When some Little Current High School students went on a class trip in 1966, they described visiting the Yorkville section of Toronto–`the Beatnik Paradise.’ They reported that they could not tell the bare foot girls and long haired boys apart.
Some observers condemned certain segments of the vast numbers of youth as being interested only in sex and drugs, albeit united in their contempt of the adult world. Many radicals among the youth espoused leftist causes and were active in opposition to the war in Viet Nam and protested against such `Establishment’ institutions as the universities. The war in Viet Nam resulted in many young American draft dodgers seeking refuge in Canada in protest against US involvement in Southeast Asia.
The Manitoulin remained on the conservative side, however, and when it was rumoured that an anti-war peace rally was planned for Wikwemikong in 1970, The Expositor’s correspondent there let it be known that ‘ne’er do well hippies’ were not exactly welcome.
Anyone travelling the highways of Northern Ontario in the late 1960s and 1970s remembers the throngs of hitch-hiking young people of both sexes on the roads during the summer months. Like the young men of the 1930s who rode the rails, they were rambling from one end of the country to the other, although not necessarily in search of work.
Youth in Little Current were provided with their own coffee house and drop-in centre in early December 1966. The Castle, as it was named, was the old Dawson home near the Turner house and was owned by the Turner family at the time. They generously made it available to young people despite the obvious disadvantages a youth centre as an immediate neighbour would pose.
The idea of a place for young people to gather in town was conceived by Messrs. Bramah and Reichert of the Little Current High School staff. The latter agreed to live on the premises and act as part-time manager. Club membership in The Castle soon reached 100. A full-time director was hired in 1967 with financial assistance from a United Church organization.
The Castle sponsored dances, music groups (including one led by Steve Farquhar), folk singers and movies, as well as providing Manitoulin’s only young people’s coffee house. Director Jack Halliwell wrote a regular column on The Castle in The Expositor. He alleged that the place had become a bit of a `hang out’, but he was working on improving the litter that some of the more careless members tossed about. He reported late in 1967 that The Castle was facing a financial crisis and was, in fact, running in the red. The poor reputation in which The Castle was held by some people in town, along with financial difficulties and decreasing interest by many local youth, caused it to fold the next year.
During its brief career, The Castle had been accused of being a “den of iniquity.” One of the adults who assisted in making it a going concern in its early days, relates that, although there was quite a bit of litter and mess around the place, he never witnessed any drug use or other untoward behaviour. He says that adult supervision was usually provided and most of the kids were mild mannered and agreeable–with the odd bad apple that you can find anywhere, especially among some hippie drifters who came by from time to time.
After The Castle went the way of all flesh, initiatives were made by the Lions Club to form a Leo Club for young people. Interestingly enough, when The Castle was eventually demolished, some of the material was recycled into the new Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in town.
Social changes in the 1960s were reflected in education. Near the end of the decade the Hall-Dennis Report, Living and Learning, suggested more permissiveness in the classroom with a stress on experience rather than mere learning of facts. At that time the new Manitoulin Second School had opened and youth were urged by the Premier, who attended the event, to “tune in,” not “opt out,” as some radicals in the drug culture were advising. Dress codes for students were also being challenged around the province as the decade neared its end, including at MSS, where, in December 1969, the girls petitioned to be allowed to wear jeans and slacks in school, claiming skirts (the `mini’ variety?) were too cold in winter.
Civil rights movements gathered momentum during the 1960s. Militants in ethnic and racial groups seized the publics attention in several dramatic confrontations during the decade. The modern women’s movement was given an impetus at the time with such books as Betty Friedan’s landmark volume, The Feminine Mystique, which appeared in 1963. The term `Ms’ also began appearing during the 1960s. It apparently was devised in the 1950s by a business magazine to simplify the designations `Miss’ and `Mrs.’ rather than by an women’s lib advocate.
Senior citizens also began to organize and adopt a group identity. Seniors’ groups were organized in two or three Manitoulin communities during the decade. An age discrimination act of Parliament was passed in 1966. Other types of discrimination and prejudice were becoming increasingly unacceptable as Canadian society became more and more ethnically and culturally diverse.
Some special interest groups gradually began to characterize themselves as victims of one sort or another, whether or not there was cause to do so. On the other side of the coin, some hyper-sensitive liberals felt compelled to cry “mea culpa” and confess to societal guilt, whether quite unusual and bizarre just a few years earlier.
The proclivity for governments to take on more and more functions, and in effect become ‘wet nurse’ to the whole nation, gathered momentum in the 1960s. Symbolic of the new welfare state was the registration and issuance of the Social Insurance Number and card in 1964. It was the largest such program since the national registration taken during World War II. The era of entitlements was in its early years. Citizens began assuming a right to have governments provide services previously performed by the individual, family or private organizations.
The proliferation of social welfare programs, of course, led to increased spending. But that was the beginning of the period of big spending governments and the economy seemed capable of accommodating it. It was not until the 1990s that it became apparent to most Canadians that the tax-and-spend, borrow-and-spend policies had some serious consequences attached to them. While interest costs on the federal debt were reported to be just 12 per cent of the budget in 1960, it had doubled to 24 per cent by 1993, and was still growing.
The 1960s saw The Beatles as well as such other popular music groups as The Rolling Stones rise to the status of cult idols for the young set–a sect that was of growing significance as the “baby boomers” reached their teen years. The `Twist’ became a dance craze during the decade and Manitoulin witnessed its first car rally and walkathon. Youngsters at the time thought it was “groovy” to ride on “banana seats” on their bicycles.
Clothing styles changed dramatically during the decade. Longer hemlines dating back to the `new look’ of the late 1940s were cast aside and mini skirts that made the shortest dresses of the 1920s seem modest by comparison, became the fad. Towards the end of the 1960s, however, longer dresses made a comeback, so that by the time of the local fashion show in November 1969, “…mini, midi and maxi” styles were featured.
Women took to wearing long leather winter boots and pant suits were fashionable. Pedal pushers, bell-bottoms and the `tie-dye’ look, along with shoulder length hair for males, were some of the fads in the decade when the unconventional became commonplace. One Turner advertisement in 1967 informed readers that “The Look This Spring is Gay–uninhibited, an attitude typical of the late 1960s.
Although Queen Elizabeth was photographed wearing a leopard skin coat in 1962, there was growing concern for conservation, wildlife and the environment generally during the decade. Advocates of humane treatment of animals deplored the use of leg hold traps and the National Research Council began studying more humane methods of trapping.
Pollution of waterways by pesticides was brought forcefully to the public’s attention by Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring, published in 1962. Pollution by pesticides and detergents led to calls for corrective action. Consumers were admonished to choose low phosphate detergents. Beginning in 1965, the Ontario Water Resources Commission sent research vessels onto the Great Lakes to study pollution levels. One of the vessels involved, the 80-foot Atomic visited Little Current in August 1967.
By 1970, the use of DDT had been banned by the province because of damages it caused to the environment and local residents who possessed any were directed to bring it to the municipal garage in town for the safe disposal. Just a couple of decades earlier it had been heralded as an almost miraculous chemical boon to farmers and consumers in general. Industry and consumers were slow to learn from the past, however, and even as DDT fell into disrepute, homeowners were enticed by advertisements to retire their old fly-swatters and flypaper in favour of chemical strips designed to eliminate insects in the home. They, in turn, were to fall into disfavour.
By 1970 pollution had become, according to our MP at the time, Dr. Maurice Foster, one of the most important public concerns. It not only included air and water contamination, but also the proliferation of waste. An editorial on the subject in The Expositor in September 1967 pointed out that, “this Century has made itself know for its prodigality. We tolerate and endorse waste. We are rich, and we think we can afford to be extravagant.” The writer obviously had not lived through, or read much about the first half of the century, but he was right about his own day and age. Self-serve merchandising had resulted in overpackaging; retailers and consumers were more than happy to use the new disposable containers in place of returnables for the sake of convenience. One merchant in town expressed the attitude by saying, “the `throw-away’ tin holding more liquid and selling at a lower cost than the glass container is the modern method of merchandising soft drinks.” Unfortunately, many of the throw-away containers, both metal and glass, were carelessly thrown onto roadsides and other public and private places.
Although one-half of the soft drinks were sold in returnable bottles in 1970, it was predicted at the time that the portion would fall to only 18 per cent by 1975, with non-returnable bottles and cans making up the remainder.
Distribution of milk went from glass and later plastic returnable containers to disposable cartons. In 1968 plastic pouches were introduced in Canada. Back in 1963, a two-quart jug of Farquhar’s two percent milk cost just 47 cents.
In 1970 the photography industry was predicting the appearance of the disposable camera. With so many ‘disposable’ items coming on the market, along with other forms of waste, garbage–or as we now say, “solid waste management”–was becoming an increasingly serious concern for the town and society in general. The problem posed by mounting quantities of garbage turned people’s attention to thoughts of recycling. At the end of the decade, the Glass Container Council of Canada initiated a recycling test program in southern Ontario.
The 1960s witnessed an increasing concern over smoking and health. In the early years of the decade, smoking was still sufficiently accepted that the Bank of Montreal featured a smoker in some of its advertisements as a symbol of contentment and well-being. In spite of health warnings, smoking was still increasing in the population as the decade closed.
Weight watchers were pleased when the soft drink industry brought out sugar-free pop in 1963.
A few mothers in Canada who had been prescribed the new drug Thalidomide were anything but pleased in 1963. Their armless and legless infants were reminders that oftentimes the tried and true are preferable to the new and different, no matter how much hype accompanies the latter. Thalidomide was banned in Canada in 1962. It was not the first, nor would it be the last time, living better by using the latest thing would have unfortunate consequences.