Now and Then – Phyllis Turner

Phyllis and Barney on their honeymoon with friends, feeding the restaurant’s mascot.

Phyllis Turner

Phyllis Turner thinks fondly of the Waterloo area in which she grew up. Her early years were joyful and enriching; filled with lots of love, tempered only by a bout of typhoid fever. “The fever lasted for a while but I was just a small child so I didn’t understand the gravity and weathered it quite well.” Her Uffelmann family was eminent and respected. There is a photo of Grandfather Jacob Uffelmann with ‘Billy King,’ William Lyon Mackenzie King in an early group photo taken at Phyllis’ family home. At the turn of the century, her grandfather Jacob started ‘Silver Thread Sauerkraut’ in Waterloo, the only factory of its kind in Canada. ‘Silver Thread’ employed eight to ten people, producing 90 tons of sauerkraut a year initially and later, over 1,000 tons a year for companies like Schneiders and Burns.

Later, as the wife of Byron (Barney) Turner, Phyllis joined a well-known Island family in Little Current. “Both Barney’s and my grandfathers were general merchants at the same time,” Phyllis points out proudly. “Jacob had his store in Waterloo and Barney’s grandfather, Isaac, ran Turners Store in Little Current starting in 1879. I think that was pretty unique.” Phyllis’ great-grandfather on her mother’s side, Noah Abram Stauffer, was a Mennonite minister who travelled with his bible. The Stauffers left Switzerland for Pennsylvania and later followed the trail of the Black Walnut arriving in Waterloo in 1802. (Mennonites looked for regions where black walnut trees thrive, deeming these areas would also be appropriate for their agricultural practices.)

Phyllis was born to Orley and Minota (Stauffer) Uffelmann on September 17, 1929 in the Kitchener Waterloo hospital. Her mother was Pennsylvania Dutch and her father of German descent. Orley had been in the Royal North West Mounted Police (now the RCMP) but now he was an entrepreneur. Phyllis had two older brothers, Jim and Bill, and an older sister Elinor. In time, she would gain two younger sisters, Barbara Joan and Peggy.

Phyllis Uffelmann, March 11, 1945.
Phyllis Uffelmann, March 11, 1945.

Going to Kindergarten at Elizabeth Zeigler School remains a fond memory. “Kindergarten was wonderful. We had a fish pool under the big bay window, a piano, and our own bathroom.” “My father had been on the planning board for the school but when the ‘grand opening’ came he was in the hospital with typhoid fever, allegedly from drinking raw milk. Fearing he might die, the medical staff faced his bed towards the school for the event.”

“My mother broke the rules by taking two of us to visit my dad in the hospital and both of us contracted typhoid. A nurse would visit me at home. After we all recovered, my father never drank milk again. The doctor told me that I would be immune to everything and never be sick again. So far so good.”

“I remember my sister Elinor pulling me out of the water by my hair. Apparently I had wandered in too far and I was drowning. After I survived that incident I vowed to improve my swimming skills. I would ride my bike to and from the pool in Kitchener, even with wet hair in winter.” At 16, the teen became junior swimming champion for the Twin Cities.

“I had great memories of the Toronto Exhibition, Sunday School picnics, family reunions and my father’s horseback riding. The picnics were so much fun and my mother made the best potato salad. My father loved riding horseback with his Dalmatians following along. All these dogs were all called Spot; Spot one, Spot two, and so on. He would travel north yearly to hunt at Cockburn Island, even though he admitted he couldn’t shoot a deer. Someone always gave him a little venison to take home.”

Phyllis was a Brownie, a Girl Guide, a member of the Glee Club and sang in the church choir. She took tap dancing, acrobatics, ballet, and piano lessons. “I hated the tap dancing. The teacher would hit us on the ankle with a long stick. I loved the acrobatics and the piano lessons.”

Phyllis had her aunt Gladys as a teacher for a combined Grade 3 and 4 and she skipped a grade. Boys and girls were separated. Bullying and gum chewing were not allowed. “I never got the strap but my brothers did.” Phyllis did test her teacher’s patience once. “My friend and I drew a mouth, eyes and a set of shark’s teeth on the map of Africa. I thought it looked quite clever. The next day my teacher said,” I am not surprised you did this Phyllis, but your friend astonished me.”

“We had to march up and down the stairs without touching the rails. All the rules seemed unnecessarily harsh at the time but later we appreciated their strictness. We became well-disciplined and respectful of others. My marks were pretty good but I came in third after my cousin Mary Uffelmann, and James S. Geiger who came in first. “James became well-known as a Deep River physicist. His father was our family doctor.”

“My father’s main business was the Ontario Seed Company, the largest privately-owned seed company in Canada. He had a retail store and warehouse right in Waterloo,” Phyllis explains, “The indelible aroma of sauerkraut permeates my early memory too. My father was making it when I was born. It was an important sideline for him. Trucks brought the cabbage and local ladies would remove the outside leaves. Next it was machine-cored and then a huge slicer shredded the cabbage which fell into an enormous vat where a worker in hip boots sprinkled it with salt. After that it was covered with planks and big rocks for the fermentation process. “My dad would pull out the bung (large cork) at the bottom and taste it after a week or so. ‘Needs four more days’ he might say.”

“My dad was always generous. One day a fellow came with a big pot and 15 cents. My dad knew he was going through hard times so he instructed that the pot be filled and the 15 cents returned. Occasionally my mother would hand me a bowl and send me to the sauerkraut plant.” A man would hold it under the shredder and then return it to Phyllis who then took it home to make coleslaw. The sour smell of the ‘kraut’ was pervasive in the community at suppertime.

In high school, Phyllis was captain of the cheerleaders and vice president of the student council. “As a Waterloo girl, I knew I wouldn’t be president, because only Kitchener girls would achieve that. But I was only 40 (out of 1200) votes behind the girl who won, so I became vice-president.” Phyllis was in the academic stream but took typing instead of Latin. After Phyllis graduated, she got a job with Equitable Life, starting at seven dollars a week.

During the early 1950s Phyllis moved to Hamilton to work for the Transportation Division of the Canadian Red Cross, setting up blood clinics to keep the hospitals supplied. “People were proud to donate. They all got a cookie, juice and a pin for their efforts.”

Sister Elinor’s husband Clare Martin played defense with the NHL’s popular ‘Kraut’ Line: Milt Schmidt, Porky Dumardt and Bobby Bauer, for a time. Clare spent 11 years in Boston. Chicago was next, then Detroit, where he helped win the Stanley Cup in 1951. Bobby Bauer and his wife took Elinor and Phyllis to their first NHL game in Maple Leaf Gardens. “Over time, I met a lot of hockey players including Gordie Howe and Red Kelly.” Clare’s sister was the mother of Todd Brooker, the skier who won world championships in Austria. Todd had a bad fall which left him in a coma but he survived. Todd’s wife Lisa is the daughter of Phyllis’ brother Jim Uffelman.

Phyllis’ life changed after her family visited the Elmer Vincent cottage in McGregor Bay. The Trans-Canada highway was nearing completion and Orley wanted to drive across the country. Phyllis reluctantly agreed to go. It seems a handsome young man named Barney Turner had been invited to the cottage by Vi Vincent. “Barney told me later he was quite impressed to see a ‘bevy of beautiful women,’ three sisters, approaching him on the dock.” Phyllis found Barney very interesting. “He knew the area so well. He took all three of us to Okeechobee Lodge where he was advising the Evinrude Motors team. They were filming commercials and Barney was featured in one.”

Phyllis with Anne, Grant and Jib in Little Current in 1961.
Phyllis with Anne, Grant and Jib in Little Current in 1961.

“After that visit, my parents continued their trip west and I wound up going back home. Vi Vincent drove me to the ‘Agony,’ the old CPR train connecting the Manitoulin depot at Little Current to McKerrow on the North Shore. At McKerrow I got on a CPR train for Toronto with a two-hour stop in Sudbury. In Toronto another train took me to Kitchener. All that travel made Manitoulin seem very far north.”

Barney and Phyllis dated and their friendship grew. On October 16, 1954 they shared vows in the United Church in Waterloo. “The church was being renovated and, even worse, Hurricane Hazel had struck the day before, leaving devastation in its wake. The theme of the wedding was ‘who would make it’ and ‘how did they make it?’” Nevertheless, the bride looked glorious in her white gown and the groom radiant.

The two-week honeymoon had Barney showing off his beautiful bride to his friends. “We drove to Cape Cod, spent two days in Boston and visited Mrs. McMillan, the widow of the Arctic explorer who had taken Barney for a memorable journey to the north.” They also saw friends in Montreal at a restaurant where Phyllis fed a bottle of milk to their mascot, a little pig. Subsequently the couple returned to Waterloo, packed up their gifts and headed for Manitoulin.

“We moved into the old Atkinson house where Jib lives now. After ten years we traded homes with Barney’s mother. We moved into the old Turner House.” Barney and Phyllis raised their family over 30 years. “It was a wonderful place to live. It had a terrific view of the North Channel. It was close to town for the kids, Anne, Grant and Jib so they could walk to their friends’ homes. We were close to the marina where Barney kept the cruiser we spent many weekends on.”

Sadly, both fathers died three months apart. “Barney’s dad died of a stroke and then my father had a fatal heart attack. It was hard on all of us.

In the 1960s the prime minister of Canada came for a visit. Austin Hunt phoned Barney and asked if he could use their new Oldsmobile for the visit. The entourage that picked up Prime Minister Pearson consisted of: Austin Hunt, Vi and Elmer Vincent (then Little Current mayor), John and Freda Farquhar and Barney and Phyllis Turner. “Vi and I were wearing our ‘new’ fashionable pant suits. PM Pearson cut the ribbon for the Centennial Manor opening. He said when he retired he would like to come and live here.”

“After the opening, we stopped at Farquhar’s and knocked on the door. Freda was still wrapped in a towel and rollers. “The prime minister is here,” we told her. She gasped and vanished into her bedroom, emerging shortly thereafter, gowned, coiffed and ready to go. Later she claimed she was so nervous she couldn’t think. She had anticipated the ‘opening’ would take more time.”

In the 1970s, the Turners bought the 425-acre ‘Reg Hughson’ farm near Manitowaning. A couple was hired to live there and look after the Aberdeen Angus cattle, the huge garden and the maple sugar bush. Eventually the farm was sold and Ferguson’s Store and Resort in McGregor Bay was purchased. It was renamed Turners’ McGregor Bay Lodge. There were six cabins, a post office, liquor store, gas tanks and was only accessible by boat. After son Jib and Debby married, Debby ran the store and the cabins. Jib, the ‘organizer,’ attended the boats and the water taxi. “We ran it as long as we could but eventually Jib was needed at Turners in town so we decided to sell.”

In 1987 Barney’s mum Freda Turner took both her daughter-in-law and daughter Phyllis and Dorothy, to Anchorage, Alaska, Tokyo, Japan and Hawaii. “The white mountains of Alaska were awesome, as was the Orient. Tokyo was hosting a world exhibition and Little Current’s Sergeant Moore was there managing the provincial police pavilion. He was happy to see someone from his hometown and showed us around. I took several photos. On the way home we stopped for three days in Hawaii but I was too jet-lagged to see much. After I got home I wrote an article about the exhibition, Sergeant Moore and parts of Japan for The Expositor. I was proud of my work until I realized that it may have contributed to the sergeant’s promotion and his departure from Manitoulin.”

In 1990 Phyllis, two of her sisters and daughter Anne visited Greece. “We saw Athens and the Parthenon. It was a glorious time with my family. That year Barney and I bought the Vincent’s cottage in McGregor Bay, the very place where we met in 1953. My sister Peggy and husband have a cottage about half a mile away.”

Daughter Anne became a registered nurse, working for a time in the liver transplant unit in Toronto. Today she works with her husband, Dr. Bryn Casson, in their Little Current dental practice. Son Grant owns a retail store in Vermont where he sells a lot of ‘Canadiana’ like quill boxes and Inuit carvings. Jib (Byron, after his father) owns Turners now. He is also a partner of the Killgannon Group, a construction and manufacturing firm.

After Anne and her husband took over the big house on Water Street in 1996, Barney and Phyllis moved to an attractive water-front home near the end of North Channel Drive. From July first to Labour Day, Barney would don his Bermuda shorts for work at Turners. In 1967 there was a warm spring so he decided to put them on before the first of July. That summer was cool and wet. The following year his Bermudas waited until July 1st.

“Barney helped save the Benjamin Islands. We happened to stop our cruiser between Clapperton and Anderson Islands for the dog, when I noticed drilled holes in the rock. Barney looked too, returned home and started phoning. Soon after, a helicopter took Barney and an environmental official to the site. They noticed illegal blasting of the red granite rock. The RCMP confiscated a barge full of the rock and arrested the offenders. The rock was diverted for a breakwater in Kagawong.”

“We had 10 years in our new home before Barney died of leukemia in 2006. We would have been married for 60 years last month.” Barney had been the first Canadian Commodore of the Great Lakes Cruising Club out of Chicago. Phyllis opens ‘The Great Lakes Cruising Club 1934-2014.’ “He is mentioned in here and so am I. I got a burgee flag in 2008 for being their longest standing member, since 1949.” Phyllis was also president of the Anglican Church Women and the Ladies Curling Club and the Little Current Public School Board. “I also volunteered for the Hospital Auxiliary, ran the tuck cart and delivered meals on wheels.”

Sister Elinor’s Clare died of cancer at age 56. She had three sons, two of whom had muscular dystrophy. They died in their 40s. Brothers Bill and Jim were in the Air Force. Jim kept his license and flew his own plane until he was 81. Bill and Jim also took over the Ontario Seed Company from their father. Bill’s son is now the president of this company. Elinor’s son is the current vice president. Bill has his summer home on the Island and his two daughters come up to Manitowaning each summer. Sister Barbara Joan became an airline stewardess. She married ‘Big Al’ Schutts who flew for American Airlines after he left the US marines. They also have a summer home near Manitowaning but live in Savannah, Georgia. Peggy eloped with her boyfriend in university. Peggy’s husband later took over the Sauerkraut business and he also had an insecticide company called ‘King Calcium.’

“Summer has always been my favourite time for fresh food and swimming. I love to cook and have collected about 500 cookbooks, including Betty Crocker, James Beard and Edna Staebler’s ‘Food that Really Schmecks.’ My favourite recipes are German potato salad and my mother’s sauerkraut dishes. The Pennsylvania Dutch were famous for their cooking and it’s in my blood too. Knitting quilts was a favourite pastime, as was embroidery. “I have made 13 quilts for my family,” she offers proudly.

Today Phyllis lives beside the north shore in the comfortable two-level home she shares with Sailor, her golden lab. “I like to watch the History Channel, Anderson Cooper and the news. I am not afraid of much, only snakes and heights, even on television,” she admits. “I have had a good life so far. I am glad I did what I did when I did.” The only thing I would still like to do is visit Norway and Iceland. I have always wanted to see a Scandinavian country. Barney had been in the Arctic for two years, 600 miles from the North Pole, and he didn’t want to see another cold country,” Phyllis adds. “We had a good marriage; we understood each other and knew when to admit we were wrong about something.”

“After arriving in Little Current, my mother’s words came back to me: ‘Phyllis, you are moving to a small town and you should speak to everyone because you will eventually meet them all.’” Those were wise words and Phyllis never forgot them nor has she regretted her move to this northern Isle. “The first time I saw Manitoulin, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I remember sitting on a rock in Muskoka and thinking I couldn’t imagine anything better, but Manitoulin was even better. All but one of my siblings have followed me here. The fresh air, the rocks, the water, the trees and especially the people are wonderful. It truly is heaven on earth.”

Phyllis’ mother’s favourite quote, shared by her daughter:

“Smile a smile. While you smile, another smiles, and soon there’s miles and miles of smiles,

and life’s worthwhile if you but smile.”

– Anonymous

(From ‘Silver Linings, Poems of Hope and Cheer’ collected by Joseph Morris and St. Clair Adams)