Dr. Jack Bailey was a man for all Manitoulin seasons

The loss of Dr. J.F. (Jack) Bailey is the most recent loss to Manitoulin of a number of people who “got it” about what Manitoulin Island is, or could be, about.

Another of those people was Marion Seabrook who brought Native and non-Native cultures together at Manitoulin Secondary School when she presided over the English department there. She passed away late last year.

Tom Peltier of Wikwemikong was another of those movers who, recognizing the innate artistic abilities that are manifested in the First Nations communities, brought young First Nations artists together for two intensive summers in the early 1970s on a North Channel island where they were immersed in their culture. Tom Peltier’s vision gave Leland Bell, Blake Debassige, Shirley Cheechoo and a host of others a place to learn and to imagine themselves in the role of professional First Nation artists.

Dr. Bailey fits nicely into this panoply of individuals who have made a major difference to not only life on Manitoulin but to a much greater understanding between Manitoulin’s dual cultures.

In this, he exemplifies those who “get” Manitoulin and for this alone his memory will be cherished.

Dr. Bailey was the product of a rural background. He was a farmer’s son from the area around Omemee, a hamlet whose closest major centre is Peterborough.

For him, coming to practice medicine in Little Current after his time at the University of Toronto Medical School and as an intern at Toronto General Hospital certainly would have been different from his own rural upbringing but not the different world it would have been for a city person moving to Manitoulin in the late 1940s.

From the very beginning, Dr. Bailey embraced the life of a rural medical practitioner in a solo practice.

In his earliest days of holding clinics at Wikwemikong, he made use of a building associated with Holy Cross Mission Church on the top of the hill overlooking the village where he met the First Nations patients who came to see him there.

This was the beginning of a relationship with another culture that gave him immense personal growth that led to his strong personal friendship with the late Ron Wakegijig, longtime Wikwemikong chief and, in his later years, traditional healer.

Dr. Bailey, unusual for a western medical man of his time, not only developed an interest and respect for traditional First Nations medical techniques but, through all of this, an enormous admiration for a culture that has withstood 500 years of European onslaught.

Dr. Bailey’s professional recognition speaks for itself: among many other awards, Canada’s Family Physician of the Year in 1989 when he was still in actual practice, and an award named in his honour by the University of Ottawa Medical School for students who showed exemplary abilities in a rural setting. U of O medical students for many years spent time in Northern Ontario (prior to the opening of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine).

Four years ago, when Health Sciences North in Sudbury dedicated and officially opened a healing lodge as part of its practice, Dr. Bailey was acknowledged as having sowed the seeds, both as a medical doctor and as a powerful influence in expanding the appreciation of other cultural healing practices, in creating an environment where a healing lodge in a large urban and regionally significant hospital was a natural fit. This influence continues as a healing lodge is also being incorporated into the new Family Health Team’s expansion of the Manitoulin Health Centre’s Mindemoya site.

As a rural physician making house calls in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, he developed a real concern for elderly seniors, living in their homes, who should have been more comfortably housed and cared for elsewhere.

Out of this concern, Dr. Bailey drove the idea for a municipally owned home for the aged to its successful completion when the Manitoulin Centennial Manor opened in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, with Dr. Bailey also the chair of its first board of directors.

This accomplishment in itself could have given him, or anyone else, abiding respect in the Island community but as time progressed his mark went wider and deeper into the Island’s limestone bedrock.

In retirement, and able to pursue his growing interest in First Nations traditional medicine and culture, he organized a formally constituted cultural board for the Manitoulin Health Centre’s two sites, with representation from each First Nation.

He organized a non-Native fundraising committee to assist the late Mary-Lou Fox in the financial side of constructing a new Ojibwe Cultural Foundation in M’Chigeeng.

And if he wasn’t role model enough in his professional and cultural pursuits, he was also the caregiver for his wife Joyce, allowing her to remain for as long as possible in their home before circumstances intervened and she became a resident of the Manitoulin Centennial Manor until her death last fall.

It’s a nice symmetry that Dr. Bailey himself joined his wife late last fall at the Manor he fought so hard to bring into existence nearly a half-century ago and where he too lived out his final months.

In the way of these things, Dr. Bailey was a man who came to Manitoulin and embraced it as his home at precisely the right time to assist in the cultural and social growth of this place.

He was not even a little bit a self-promoter and his style was to work diligently for the improvements he saw that were clearly needed.

Dr. Bailey’s legacy is all around us, especially in the improved awareness of “the other” culture next door.

He has been, for Manitoulin Island, a man for all seasons.

The Expositor Office staff wishes to join with Dr. Bailey’s legion of friends and admirers in expressing our condolences to his four sons and their families.