By Petra Wall
Eldene Porter Longhurst
The home of Eldene and Buck Longhurst boasts an idyllic setting, nestled up to a forested area in downtown Gore Bay. This bright, sunny afternoon, three graceful adult deer lay peacefully against the tree line. “They are totally relaxed and just watch us if we come outside. I love to see them grace our corner of the world.” Eldene has been a strong part of this natural ambience for most of her life.
This spirited woman is the daughter and granddaughter of farmers and families that earned their livelihood from lumber. She had several jobs before she became a homemaker and a mother: secretarial work for Ontario Hydro and insurance brokering for Grant Oakes. She worked and later volunteered with Manitoulin Lodge residents. She is a kind, patient and caring person, dedicated to helping others and well-loved by her family and friends.
In 1870, great-grandfather James Bailey, originally of Irish descent, arrived to Manitoulin from southern Ontario. He brought his wife Catherine (nee Campbell) and his 17-year-old son William Thomas and they settled in Burpee Township. “William Thomas married Flora Bell and they became my grandparents. Our ancestors all came from big families so we have lots of relatives on the Island and elsewhere. At one time, it was mostly Campbells, Baileys, Pattersons and Bells in the Burpee area.”
Eldene Dorothy Bailey was born on February 7, 1932, the youngest of five siblings. Her parents were Harold and Cathren Bailey. Lena, the oldest, would farm with her husband in Mills Township. Elva moved to Toronto for some time to help a lady who needed support, but later she returned to Manitoulin to work in the Manitoulin Lodge until she retired. She died in 2003. Merle was only a few months old when he died in 1920. Roy was wounded in ill-fated Dieppe Raid during World War II and was sent back to England in 1946. He came home, took a carpentry course and worked in construction in the Blind River area. He died in 1997. Eldene is the only surviving sibling.
“As a young girl, I was so excited to get my first ‘real’ doll with hair that wasn’t painted on. She arrived one Christmas from the T. Eaton Company and she had her own cradle. I cherished her for about a day before I was totally devastated to find the cat had chewed off her hair. My mother tried to repair the damage but it was never quite the same. I loved my cat, but that day I wasn’t too happy with her. The glue must have been tasty enough to attract her attention.”
Her best friend, first cousin and playmate is Rhea Woods. “We used to do so much together and we are still close today. Our grandparents lived with Rhea in half their house, so I was over there a lot to visit. When we were pre-schoolers we did a lot of silly stuff, like walking in wet cement or jumping on floating wood. Once, Rhea’s brother Alec was standing with us in their flooded basement. Their mother was busy cooking for the farm help, so we were on our own. Alec suggested we jump on the next bit of floating wood that came by so we could use it as a boat. I was three and Rhea four, so we thought this was really neat. Rhea’s mother found us soaking wet, covered with wood chips and cobwebs. She was not pleased and I’m sure Alec lived to regret his suggestion.”
“My dad Harold Bailey was an early Manitoulin game warden for the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Winters would find him working in the bush. One of my first memories is being there with my family and feeling good. Dad measured the level of snow in the fields. We would travel on snowshoes. After the work was completed, a campfire was set to make tea. Sitting within the ambience of the trees and sipping delicious tea was a highlight in my early life.”
“Sometimes I would go with my dad for home visits. On one such day, I remember being served lunch. Our ‘lamb’ was delicious but dad knew it was fresh venison. Back then, one didn’t look too closely at the rules. Most farmers depended on the meat to get them through the year. They literally lived off the land. Today, most of us can get to a store for our food so rules have tightened up somewhat.”
“A regular visitor to our home was the Raleigh man selling his liniments, salves and other concoctions. It was a good break from doing chores at home like chopping and stacking wood, or pumping water and weeding the big garden. One year, my big brother Roy planted peanuts. They came up but never matured. This experiment helped him gain a new appreciation for Northern crop viability. Other chores involved making meals. Peas had to be shelled and potatoes cleaned. We would use a washed old broomstick to stir the new potatoes to knock off all the peels, which we then removed before boiling them. Of course, the table always had to be set. On Rhea’s farm, I helped gather eggs.”
The family would kill off their older chickens for food. “I remember my dad lighting a newspaper and using that to burn off the downy undercoat. I was intrigued with the simplicity of it and how well it worked if done right,” she mused. “Fish was on the menu too, including smelt from Lake Kagawong. There were so many.”
“My mother was a good role model. She had a laid back attitude and I learned a lot from her. She made my clothes for me until I was 14. Nevertheless, my dad had to rescue me once from my own mischief. I was attracted by the perfect smoothness of a freshly-ironed pillowcase. I impishly grabbed a pencil and wrote on that perfection. My mother was considering suitable punishment when my dad interfered. I loved them both.”
In 1937, the family moved from Gordon Township to Gore Bay so Eldene could attend school in September 1938. “I remember being very confused on my first day of school. There were so many different people in one room: 15 kids in Grade 1, including Helen and Charlie Purvis and the McDonald kids, and another 20 in Grades 2 and 3. After I got to know everyone, school was a lot of fun. I liked English and reading the best and the teachers were so nice.”
“I was always afraid of huge horses. I just knew I would fall off if I stayed up there long enough. As a teen the difference in size between myself and the horse had diminished somewhat and riding was easier.” Eldene’s love of cats is evident by numerous photos of her hugging a beloved feline. “Iky, our mixed breed dog, used to follow me to school. I had to lock him up before I left so he wouldn’t get lost.”
Later, in high school, Eldene enjoyed chemistry labs the best. “For one session, we were working with sulphuric acid. To transfer safe liquids, we used a pipette to get a measured dose of the liquid to release in another vial. One girl mixed up her water with sulphuric acid and began to suck it into her pipette. Thankfully, the teacher noticed this and stopped her. It was also a memorable day the time the boys blew a hole in the school’s roof. They had mixed some unknown chemicals and the concoction blew up. Nobody was hurt but the detonation and the hole created a great diversion for the day.”
Gore Bay High School was upstairs in the same building that houses the Manitoulin Lodge nursing home today. It included Grade 13, which was rare on Manitoulin. “Grade 13 seemed to offer membership in a privileged club. I used to admire the girls at this special stage in life. They looked older, classier and they had boyfriends. Eventually we became part of this group too.”
Eldene joined the school’s badminton club and a church group as well. “I loved badminton and I liked being outside with the church group, hiking and building campfires to roast marshmallows on the shore. In the winter, we skated on beaver ponds and sleighed down Marty’s Hill. On a good run you could reach the post office or, on a different path, even the courthouse. You didn’t have to worry that someone would run over you. Today, the young kids stay inside and play with their electronic games. They don’t get to enjoy these group activities that bonded us all.”
“My first summer job was at the telephone office in Gore Bay. I spent two summers repeating, ‘number, please.’ Uncle Max’s snack bar in Gore Bay offered me work too.” After high school, Eldene did secretarial work for Ontario Hydro. Two other girls had jobs there too, along with the hydro workers of the time: Stan Gordon, A.B. Sloan, Jim Henderson, Harry Tracy and Murray Thompson.
Eldene met Godfrey Porter, whose parents owned the Ocean House Hotel in Gore Bay, located where the medical centre is now. The couple dated and were wed on June 21, 1954. They moved into a small apartment at the side of the Ocean House. In 1956, Eldene stopped working to have her son Jeffrey. Annie was born a year later. In 1964, the young Porter family moved into the hotel and Godfrey’s parents moved into the small apartment. Godfrey did a lot of the general work and he ran the movies in the Gore Bay Community Hall. Eldene’s father Harold retired from his Lands and Forests work in 1969.
For recreation, the Porter family liked taking their kids to the Sault to see the locks and the boats. They also spent a lot of time at the camp at Silver Lake near Silver Water. “We learned to find and cook morel mushrooms.” Watching the kids play baseball and hockey became another favourite pastime for their parents as well and they often stayed for the senior’s games.
“On New Year’s Eve, 1977 the Ocean House burned, likely from a party that night,” Eldene speculates. The family moved elsewhere in Gore Bay, into the original home of her parents. “About that time, Dorothy Priddle asked me to work at Grant Oakes’ insurance office. I agreed and in 1978 I got my broker’s licence along with Beth McDougall of Providence Bay. We both lived in Cambridge for two weeks to get our certificates.”
Sadly, Godfrey passed away in 1979, two years after the Ocean House burned. Eldene was left on her own. Annie was already attending Georgian College and Jeffrey was at Ryerson in Toronto. In time, Eldene resumed her work at Grant Oakes’ Insurance. She stayed until 1987 when she married Buck Longhurst.
Buck was no stranger to Manitoulin. As a young person, he had spent many summers in Sandfield. It seems there was a backlash in the Sault against some of the newer immigrants who had not joined the Canadian army in the Second World War. These men had not been eager to fight against their own people back home and this had caused some resentment in Canada. Buck’s family felt Manitoulin might be more peaceful.
An early memory for Buck was the unique hunting skills of some of the immigrants. Italians, for instance, would forage for food in the forest by bringing the whole family. They would walk in unison, each person armed with a knife or other weapon, capturing all they saw: squirrels, birds, and other small animals.
Buck and Eldene had originally met through Jack Purvis in 1970. Buck and Jack had come down from the Sault on the ‘Tugboat Rocket’ to pick up some spare parts stored in the government dock shed. As a gun collector, he also wanted to look at the firearms stored in the gun room there. Eldene kept the key at the Ocean House. In the fall of 1976, Buck had a contract to dredge the Purvis Marina. He stayed in the Ocean House at that time. In 1977 he helped remove the rubble after the Ocean House fire.
After she became a widow, Eldene and Buck ran into each other informally from time to time. Buck had relatives on the Island. In due course, Eldene was invited to meet Buck’s family. “She was the only one my mother liked so I had to hang on to her,” Buck shares. “She is also an early riser and a great breakfast cooker.”
September 12, 1987 was their sunny wedding day, shared by 30 family members and close friends. Cousin Dougall and his wife Joan provided a lunch. The honeymoon took them to Quebec and the east coast, where Eldene recalls a magical Christmas store in New Glasgow. “We continued to King’s Landing and colourful Lunenberg.” After returning home, the couple travelled to Calgary to visit family.
The newlyweds moved to the Sault where Buck was a crane operator for the Marine Division of Algoma Steel. He loaded and unloaded the big boats and spent some time on the freighters as well. The Longursts made some new friends. In 2004, they moved back to Manitoulin into the Gore Bay family home where they still live today.”
In his spare time, Buck has authored about 15 books of historic significance, including: ‘The History of the Algoma Central Railway’ c. 1987 with Teg Cunningham, ‘The History of the Yankcanuck Steamships Ltd,’ ‘The Five Manitoulins’ and currently he is working on the family history of the Purvis clan, ‘A Family Tradition-The Purvis Family History.’ He adds, smiling, “to see George Purvis you must first recognize the two friendly golden labs, who will be the first to welcome you.”
Eldene smiles too as she shares that she is “not compatible with house paint. Once I was painting the area underneath the front porch. I started at the top. By the time I was finished, I had more paint in my hair and on my clothes than on the wall.” Another time, she was visiting a cottage that Kenny, a family member, was helping to build. Familiar with Eldene’s history, Kenny carefully hid the paint bucket in the corner, behind the stove and a ladder. It seems that Eldene opened the door to check out the room and managed to put her foot right into the paint bucket.
“Painting aside, I would love to go back to the east coast to see old Quebec and the rest of the Cabot Trail. We have been to other places. Daughter Annie spent 20 years in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Calgary and we’ve been there several times. She’s on the Island now and has spent the last 11 years working for Dr. Bryn Casson’s Dental Office in Little Current. Son Jeffery finished his engineering degree and he works for Frank Stronych’s Magna International in Aurora. The company owns a big indoor soccer facility that also includes eight outdoor fields. Jeff’s wife Sandy arranges many of the games.”
“We have three grandchildren. Jeffery and Sandy have Chris who loves soccer, and Sarah who works in a restaurant. Annie has Bailey who will be entering her fourth year at Nipissing University. I have observed how modern youngsters covet technology. One time I was babysitting for Sandy in Aurora. She asked me to tape a show for her while she was out. As I apologized for my lack of knowledge, little Sarah, just three then, piped up with, ‘Gramma, I can do that for you.’ These days, when Jeffrey and Sandy visit they always bring a huge ‘non-electronic’ crossword puzzle they cut out of the Toronto Star and we spread it on the table to work on it from time to time. When they leave, it is usually finished.”
“I have spent many years volunteering at the Lodge for the Auxiliary. I pushed wheelchairs, wrote letters and helped at mealtimes. I canvased for Heart and Stroke,” Eldene continues. “Going back in time, there is nothing major I would change, aside from being neater perhaps, collecting some new recipes, saving a little more money for retirement and making time for more social events. My recipe for happiness is never getting too excited about anything negative”.
“I am very healthy. I take eye drops for glaucoma but no other prescription drugs. Sometimes, I look back with nostalgia to my early years. It was a good time to grow up. We did our chores and then we would play outside all day, with our friends, by the water and elsewhere. We learned to swim at Merchant’s Dock. All locations had to be within walking or biking distance. Nobody checked up on us and we were always safe.”
“Winter used to be a favourite time. As we got older, we traded our skates and sleighs for snowmobiles but still hung onto our skis and snowshoes. These days, I prefer summers and the beach, looking for horn corals and pretty stones. Hobbies? I used to collect stamps; there were so many around when letter writing was popular.” Eldene collected matchbooks too. “There were lots at South Baymouth—so many smokers travelled back then.”
“The most important events in my life were my marriages and the births of my two children and now I look forward to visits from their families. We enjoy seeing them on long weekends in the summer and occasionally in the winter. I am very proud of all of them. I try to stay fit. Rhea, Connie Harrison and I walk about three miles, several times a week when it’s warm.”
“Manitoulin has been my home most of my life. Time moves more slowly here. People operate at a more relaxed pace. After a week in a city, I am compelled to return home, to familiar territory and my own bed. Coming back here has always given us a good feeling. Our friends are here and waiting for us.’ We see and hear the song birds outside and enjoy seeing the deer lounging at the back of the property. I wouldn’t want to live anyplace else. Home really is where the heart is.”
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr