Letter: Memories of a magical Manitoulin from a former Expositor editor

The battle for Casson Peak and a connection with the Links and Winks

To the Expositor: 

While making new memories this July on our six-day sojourn to my “magical Manitoulin” a couple of old memories were remembered anew. 

I am privileged to be a former editor of The Expositor and my husband, Dennis Thomas, and I have made the Island an annual must-do. I am in an electric wheelchair and must commend Little Current for its downtown wheelchair accessible streets and the grand boardwalk. 

While wheeling along I just had to go into Turner’s. And what did I see but baseball caps embroidered with ‘Baie Fine’ and ‘Honora Bay.’ When I took them to Allan Hocken I casually remarked, “Baie Fine and I go back a long way.” He looked at me closely and said, “Are you the woman who wrote the story about Kerrene (Tilson) in the paper, so you must have been here when the fight was on?”

Indeed, I was on both counts. Kerrene Tilson was featured on the front page for her decades plus work for the Expositor. I wrote a letter to the editor exclaiming her tremendous dedication and loyalty to the extraordinary owners Julia and Rick McCutcheon and my honour to be one of Kerrene’s plethora of friends. And now the paper flourishes with professional polish with their daughter Alicia. I am so grateful she excels as its publisher and managing editor.

But for Allan to associate me with the fight to save what is now Casson Peak sure made me sit up straight in my wheelchair with amazement. 

About 32 years ago Indusmin Ltd. wanted to mine the 90-odd percent pure white quartz peak, also known as Table Rock or Fraser Point. Several Group of Seven artists painted from the Killarney peninsula but A.J. Casson, then the only surviving Group of Seven member painted a stunning view from atop that white quartz rock, titled ‘Baie Fine Entrance.’

I well-remember a conversation with Casson when he told me, “Everywhere I’ve painted, they want to blow up.”

And internationally acclaimed, and well-loved painter, Ivan Wheale painted ‘Fraser Point,’ an almost worshipful perspective of looking up from the water.

Stuart Cork, a master of the provincial Supreme Court owned the painting and a small island tucked beneath the peak. He, Casson and artist Paul Gauthier spearheaded a fundraising campaign for legal costs to fight the mining company. Casson and Gauthier made a limited number of silkscreen reproductions of ‘Baie Fine Entrance’ that sold for $1,500 each.

It was a battle won. Indusmin turned the rights to the government and the beautiful bluff was renamed “Casson Peak.”

As if that wasn’t enough to rock the rolls of my wheelchair another twinkle-in-his-eye happenchance occurred at the Sheguiandah Powwow.

Dennis had never been to a powwow. He, Julia McCutcheon, grandson William and I were silently observing each dignitary announced. A flash on the tam of the man representing the Canadian Army shook me. 

We were behind the seats and as the honoured chiefs and representatives began to step the circle I told the others I had to find that army man. I whipped around the kiosks with my wheelchair in overdrive, asked a couple of patrol guards for help and then I saw him. And the flash I’d seen was oh so familiar. 

With tears, I softly said, “You’re with the ‘Links and Winks.’”

Jim smiled proudly with, “I was.” He had been a sharp-shooter with the Lincoln Welland Regiment but had returned to the Island.

Well, my father George Edgar (Gar) Sims was a lieutenant with that regiment in World War II.

He’d made it through France, Belgium, Holland and was in Germany at the Kusten kanal. All bridges had been blown. He was rallying his platoon near tank protection when he was hit with shrapnel from a self-propelled 88-mm gun. It was April 21, 1945, just two week’s shy of the end of the war.

That shrapnel destroyed 1/5 of his skull. He was evacuated to the Canadian neurological hospital in England. Then shipped to Toronto where a titanium plate was placed to his skull. He suffered terribly from pain so my Mum, my siblings and I lived with the throes of that war. My father died when I was 19. He was a wharfinger at Sault Ste. Marie following the war.

As I type this it’s only a glance to my left I see the regimental pin in a shadow-box with his medals.

It’s the treasured pin he wore 70-plus years ago and the embellished pin Jim keeps safe and well-polished.

Miigwetch, Manitoulin.

Diane Sims and Dennis Thomas