90-year-old celebrates 73 years of Island holidays

A youthful Tim Cronley with a 1940s sign for well-known Mindemoya fishing guide Fred Wagg.

MANITOWANING––Tim Cronley will turn 90-years-old in October of this year but enjoyed a special birthday celebration last Thursday, July 12, at Red Lodge.

Mr. Cronley’s family has owned property in Mindemoya since 1945. “We have been part-time Islanders for more than 73 years,” explained his son, Mark Cronley. “Every succeeding generation that has come and gone has loved the Island and the surrounding town of Mindemoya. My dad was a teenager when he first came to the Island and practically grew up here for many summers.”

“My family first visited Manitoulin in 1944,” said the senior Mr. Cronley. “My father was staying on Treasure Island the following spring. He went for a fishing trip and saw the Vincer place. It only took one day for the sale to be completed.”

Tim Cronley was 14 or 15-years-old at the time. “The following year my father built a stone guest cottage. The house has been sold, but we kept the cottage. My oldest son Mark still visits every year,” said Tim. “The others live too far away. The property is owned jointly by Mark’s family and my nephew Paul now.”

“One winter when I was 17, my immediate family came up to see what the Island was like at Christmas time. There was so much snow! The north wall of the stone house was covered with hoar frost two inches thick. We wore our coats the whole time we were there but it was so beautiful,” he remembered.

He made a lot of friends during his stays on the Island, both local and seasonal residents, naming Charlotte Eddington, Jill Gordon, Ruth and Jordan Edward as memorable.  “I more or less grew up here. I went to all the dances, they were the main social activity at the time. I remember dancing the Manitoulin trot.”

“Older people on the Island will remember the old party line phone system,” he said. “You could always tell when someone else came on the line. We never said anything personal. One time my mother wanted to cook a turkey and phoned a neighbour to find out where she could get one. Another woman spoke up and told her where to go.”

Another memory is of driving to Manitoulin by way of Tobermory. “It was just a one track road then. Some people got seasick. My family liked to drive at night.”

He’s been on many ferries, he noted, including both the Norgoma and the Norisle. His family would rent a sleeping cabin. Livestock shared space with cars originally. “The first ferries, they could only take about 12 cars,” Tim remembered. “You couldn’t make reservations. You’d have to wait for the next boat, spending the night in Tobermory.”

Tim is cheerful and spry for his years. He also likes to tell some colourful tales. “They can’t print that in the paper,” said his wife several times, laughing. “It’s so hard for me to behave myself,” he replied with an innocent smile. Tim has been married to Claire for 58 years. “And we’re still talking,” he joked. Ms. Cronley was born and raised in Montreal. “I first came here in 1958,” said Ms. Cronley. “We weren’t engaged yet but I came here to meet Tim’s family. I felt like I was going to the end of the world.”

After they married, Ms. Cronley and their four children used to spend summers on the Island with his mother. “All of my children swim,” said Tim. “They took swimming lessons through the Red Cross, at the government dock in Mindemoya. They still remind us of that. The water was so cold.”

Over the years, Tim has gone canoeing in Killarney, fished in McGregor Bay, picnicked in Baie Fine and gone on excursions to the Benjamin Islands, but his first hobby is gardening. “He has a real green thumb,” said his wife. “It’s a beautiful property.”

“I began planning my gardens way back,” explained Tim. “I did a lot of research on perennial plants that would come back year after year and didn’t require a lot of work.” He built his gardens around two plants in particular. “Day lilies and hostas, intermingled with ferns,” he said.

Tim has published several poetry chapbooks.  “They are meant to be inspirational,” he said. “Not necessary religious but spiritual.” His memoir, ‘Gravity and Grace Revisited: A Journey,’ is available through the Mindemoya Library.

One of the biggest changes on Manitoulin over the years is the environment. “I’m very concerned about the environment,” he said. Water is perhaps his biggest concern. “The lakes, years ago, were pristine. You could drink right from Lake Mindemoya. You can’t do that now. Acid rain’s effect on fishing has been terrible.”

Fifteen years ago, Tim went hiking by himself along the south shore of the Island from South Baymouth to Providence Bay. “I can’t tell you the trash and stuff I saw along that pristine shore,” he said. There were plastic bottles, clothing, diapers and human waste, among other items. “There was a cormorant off-shore. Its neck was caught in the plastic rings from a six-pack.” The bird was too far out for Tim to reach. “I couldn’t free him,” he said sadly.

“The Island’s beauty is so unique,” he added. “We’ve travelled all around the world. I know you can’t stop progress but I wish people would stop and think before they make decisions that impact the air we breathe and the water we drink. I’d hate to see this beauty deteriorate.”

Tim feels fortunate to be in good health at this age. “I still enjoy life,” he said. “I still enjoy gardening.” He and his wife live in Florida full time now. They summered here as long as they could but the travel became too difficult for them. This was a special trip to celebrate his birthday with family on Manitoulin. The Cronleys were here for five weeks, leaving for home last Sunday.

“We had two-and-a-half weeks to ourselves at the cottage,” he said. “It brought back memories. I got to work in my gardens. It was lovely.”

Tim took his wife’s arm and together they joined family on the deck to continue the celebration. The Island is indeed fortunate to have honourary Haweaters such as Tim Cronley in our midst.