Now & Then: Wilda and Wallace Campbell

Billl, Aaron, Ruth, David, Blanche, Randy and Ryan with Wallace and Wilda, seated, holding baby Michelle in 1999.

Going back to high school as an adult was just one of Wilda’s goals in life and when she accomplished this, she performed amazingly well, getting top marks in the courses she took. Earlier, as a nurse, she spent much of her career at the new Mindemoya Hospital. She and her husband Wallace took over Idyll Glen resort from Wilda’s brother Bill and they ran this camp successfully for many years. Wilda smiles as she shares that she and Wallace spent some of their children’s inheritance by exploring many interesting parts of the world.

“My maternal grandparents are Fred and Janet Cochrane Wagg. Grandfather Fred had three sawmills and lived on several farms in his early years. He was a great farmer and fisherman as well. He finally settled where Idyll Glen is now and became a fishing guide, renting boats and selling bait, along with a few extra vegetables from his big garden. In the spring, the Waggs made the annual trek to the maple bush and produced great quantities of maple syrup.

“William and Clara Edith Amy (Hancock) Taylor are my dad’s parents. Grandpa William immigrated to Canada from England in 1913, sponsored by W. J. McKenzie of Kagawong. William sent $25 to help with the passage and he was to work for his sponsor for one year. Grandma Clara arrived at Billings Township the next summer with their three sons, Bill, Den and Ken. My dad, Bill, complained about going to school barefoot. When they moved to their next farm in Perivale, they travelled over a frozen lake and grandma thought it would be wonderful to farm here, not realizing they were on ice.” 

A farm east of Mindemoya Lake came next. About this time, William’s widowed sister Fanny Cox and four children arrived from England. Her husband had been killed at war and eventually, she got a farm in the same area. “Grandad became a member of the school board and worked for the township, hand-shoveling gravel while using his team of horses and his wagon to build roads and also the (St. Francis) Anglican Church.” 

“Grandad got a contract for the first motorized school van which my father drove in the spring and fall months. In the winter, it was back to a covered sleigh with a wood stove and seats down each side. My father met my mother while driving the bus. Bill Taylor met Mae (Mary Wagg) and they married in 1930. Mary was the middle child of 11, with two sets of twins, Hazel, Lloyd, Ray, Pearl and Ruby (twins). Mary (Mae), Wallace, Ernie and Olive (twins), Tom and Harvey. My parents Bill and Mae had the boarding house across from where the bank is today.” 

From left, Wilda, Wallace, John, Doug, Wayne, Blake, Frank and dad the day Wilda left for nursing training in 1952.

In the late 1920s, a new venture became prominent on Manitoulin. “AJ Wagg and my dad canvased people from Kagawong to Mindemoya to assess the interest in electric power. Not enough people were ready to sign on, but the second survey of potential hydro customers was more encouraging. Dad would help to bring power to the Island after poles were installed. He would assist with the wiring.” 

Wilda was born on July 26, 1932, followed by six brothers. “Mother was alone that day I was born, so she walked from her home to the Red Cross Hospital. I was the first girl born in the extended family after 49 years and I was born on the same birthday as the last girl, Fanny Cox. My earliest memories focused on hearing family stories, sitting on grandpa’s knees. Grandad was a great gardener too, growing much-needed vegetables along with the flowers. Kagawong, the home of hydro, soon lured our family to move. My uncle had the red school bus and we could use it to go for picnics or to our great uncle’s place on Lake Kagawong.” 

“With no power, wood provided heat for the house and for cooking. Each year, mother also cared for a large garden, chickens and two piglets that would be butchered in the fall. The children picked raspberries and strawberries for canning. The year I turned 12, I suggested we ramp up our berry picking. If we get 50 quarts for us, we can sell any extra we pick.”

Mother was quite sick with gallstones and this added more chores for Wilda. “I recall making training pants for little brother Wallace using flour bags,” Wilda muses. “My teenage years were difficult with all the extra work I had at home and I didn’t appreciate my mother’s position until I was older. She was responsible for the family with my dad living elsewhere for work. She had seven kids and was so sick.”

“In 1939, dad tried to get into the army but he was deaf in one ear and was not accepted. He moved to Copper Cliff and worked at INCO while the family moved back to Mindemoya.” Wilda had attended Grades 1 to 4 in Kagawong with the same teacher who had eight classes in all. Grades 5 to 8 were in Mindemoya with Mrs. Thelma Kerr and 9 to 12 with Mr. and Mrs. Fraser. “Spelling was not my forte. To get into Grade 9, three boys and I had to write an entrance exam. Mrs. Kerr had worked with me using an introductory spelling book and I made good progress. When the time came for the exam, I was ready, but the Department of Education had discontinued the entrance exams.”

Our wedding day, September 17, 1955.

Each spring, a few of the boys in Mr. Fraser’s class would go through the cloakroom windows and head into the woods to pick wild leeks, consuming the minimal amount to incur bad breath. They knew the teacher would send them home to avoid the heavy garlic smell. “I don’t recall being mischievous in school but my first and last cigarette was smoked behind a wood pile near the falls in Kagawong. I got too sick to ever want to do that again.”

“I wrote letters to dad to let him know how sad I was as the eldest in the family with six small boys, but I never mailed them. There was lots of work, with no power and the constant hauling of water. My bare-footed younger brothers had lots of fun. They caught suckers in the river and Mother would can them, along with a bit of ketchup. I can still see the pink jars standing on the shelf. (The ketchup gave them the salmon colour.) Smelt fishing was a popular event when we were in Kagawong. I was 16 when a lot of us would head to the water to catch hundreds of smelt. That was about the time I met Wallace.” 

“The family moved to Copper Cliff in 1950, where dad and his six sons all worked for INCO. Mother became a staunch member of the United Church there. I stayed in Little Current and worked at Turners. In the spring of 1952, I travelled to Windsor to enter nursing school. I had a friend there who had started her training a year earlier. Each Wednesday and Saturday, without fail, a letter from Wallace would arrive. The supervisor asked me once why I didn’t first check the list for mail. I told them that Wallace had never missed a letter in three years. He was my lifeline in Windsor.”

In her later years, mother developed Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and spent four years in a nursing home before she passed away. After some time, dad took on a new partner, Belle Stone. They were together for 17 years. Dad retired from ‘Mahogany Row,’ as INCO was called, with his own desk, a far cry from the barefoot boy in Billings.”

Wallace, born on October 15, 1926, was the youngest child of Florence (McColeman) and John Campbell. His older siblings were Sampson, Jamie, Vinie, John, George, Flora, Eva and Neil. Florence had been raised on the south shore of Manitoulin, and she didn’t attend school. Her father cut timber and Florence would draw the timber by horse to the frozen lake. In the spring, boats would haul the timbers away. 

Florence was famous for her home-baked bread, quilts and machine-sewing of used clothing. She was also a midwife for the area. Florence and John lived in a log house on a small farm near Spring Bay. Each fall, John went to the States to cut timber during the winter months. Wallace was eight when he started school because he had been too young to walk the three miles to school earlier. John died with cancer and Wallace quit school; he was in Grade 6. 

Frank, Bill, John, Doug and Wayne collecting wood for the house.

Wallace, teased for stuttering, had found school was not much fun for him, so quitting to help out on the farm seemed a good solution. During the war, he also helped some of the big farmers in the Spring Bay area. Later, he took correspondence courses to finish his schooling. He also got his ‘butter maker’s’ certificate and became the butter-maker at Wagg’s Creamery in Mindemoya. He also cut trees, then would borrow horses to take the logs to Ray Wagg’s mill where he helped cut the lumber. After he and Wilda became friends, Wallace’s stuttering seemed to slow down.

In May 1955, Wilda graduated from nursing. “We paraded down the main street to and from the Salvation Army Hospital in Windsor. It was a big event.” She found work in the Copper Cliff hospital until her marriage on September 16, 1955. “We bought one acre from Dennis Taylor in Mindemoya and began construction on our home in the following spring. We finished half the basement and moved in, slowly adding to the structure as money was available, over the next four years. My part-time position at the Red Cross Hospital turned into a near full-time position.” 

Brother Bill was working in Thompson, Manitoba and couldn’t get a transfer, so he quit INCO and purchased Grandpa Wagg’s property for a campground. There were no tent and trailer parks at the time, so it was the first tent and trailer park on Manitoulin. The first year was a success. 

He and dad also bought a property across the street from the park. A few years later, INCO called brother Bill back to work. He went to New Caledonia, east of Australia. He was still committed to INCO but he felt sorry that he had to leave his new project. Wallace and I offered to run Idyll Glen for him. Our son Bill was 10 days old the day we moved in and we stayed until 1971. “We had three children: Ruth, Bill and Allan.”

Bill, standing, with Ruth holding baby Allen at Christmas 1961.

“A few years later, Bill was transferred to Guatemala where he met his wife. They had four children and they stayed until danger compelled them to relocate to Canada. Bill learned a unique French dialect and fluent Guatemalan.” 

In 1971 Wilda went back to work full-time at the new hospital in Mindemoya. She also taught 4-H courses to students, including her daughter Ruth, who took over that task later. She won a much-coveted silver pie lifter. She also taught several courses at the Mindemoya Women’s Institute. One course about yeast allowed Wilda to be creative. She used her new electric blanket to warm the bowl and allow the bread to rise. 

“We purchased the vacant 350 acres across the road and started to build a herd of cattle. The property extended to the town limits so we donated part of the property to the town so their boundary could include the portion from the school to the Haven House road. Each year, Wallace took the hay off. Allan, wife Roxanne, Bill and his wife Blanche helped with hauling in the hay. In return, each couple got half a beef at the end of the season. Unfortunately, two sad events happened. Roxanne died in a car accident in June of 1988 and Allan lost his life on a motor bike on July 29 of that same year.”

“A water issue developed for our neighbour and our barnyard was blamed. Wallace decided to ship out the cattle. He was relieved to find out later that their barnyard had not been the source of the bad water. Soon after, six businessmen offered to buy about 90 of our acres just outside of town and slate it for development. We sold the land, but the development did not happen. This major revenue boost allowed us to travel.”

In 1990, in her mid 50s, Wilda left nursing and looked for a new challenge. She approached Manitoulin Secondary School guidance counsellor Bill Caesar about taking the environmental science course at MSS. Later, Mr. Caesar, impressed with her fortitude, wrote in The Manitoulin Expositor, ‘How to make the transition from a full-time career to a life of retirement…returning to school might be the answer. With all the positive feedback, her enthusiasm knew no bounds. Wilda also signed up for typing, art and woodworking. She achieved first class honours in her subjects. 

“I can still hear Mr. Brown laughing when I asked him if I could ride on his bus. The woodworking class was fun, and I even won an award for carpentry which I gratefully declined so it could be given to another student. It is interesting that later, grandson Randy, a carpenter, also got the same mark in the ‘90s for a small end-table with a drawer; “like grandma, like grandson,” Thelma Kerr had donated the 1990 award. She had been my teacher from Grades 5 to 8. She said, ‘I only know one Wilda Campbell and it can’t be her’.” 

Edinburgh, Scotland sees Wallace and Wilda enjoying haggis on their 40th anniversary, 1995.

Their children have rewarding lives. Ruth loves flowers and is a licenced chef in Dryden; Bill is a licenced carpenter here on Manitoulin and Allan was a licenced mechanic. “When the kids were small, we often headed to Square Bay for a picnic. There were so many strawberries and raspberries there.”

“Both Wallace and I loved to travel. We saw 14 states in northern USA. We went to Newfoundland by bus, a trip arranged by Bill Sloan. We went to England, Ireland and Scotland. Wallace really enjoyed the bagpipes and we ate haggis for our fortieth anniversary in Edinburgh in 1995. Another journey included Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands. We took a bus tour to Pearl Harbour. We watched the fairy penguins come in for their nightly visit on Phillip Island and we rode a camel in Australia’s desert. They use camels for meat, milk and hair as well as tourism.”

“We also saw the smooth, red Ayer’s Rock and finally the Great Barrier Reef through a glass-bottom boat. In New Zealand it was hills of sheep, fields of deer and acres of kiwi. On Fiji island, we found a friendly native population, cattle pasturing on roadsides and assertive shop keepers. We travelled in more than 20 planes, ranging from large double-deckers to small planes that ask you to pull up the seat for the next person. I have about 32 albums, photos and diaries accumulated from all the trips and many great memories.”

“Wallace and I were both involved with the local Central Manitoulin Historical Society. He helped with construction projects and we both built and maintained the flower beds around the log cabin (behind the information centre in Mindemoya across the little covered bridge) as well as one of the welcome signs, until it was moved. I had joined the Campbell Horticultural Society in 1990 and Wallace had built me a large greenhouse. He also did much for Grandmother Taylor, after grandfather died. ‘We are so lucky to have him in the family,’ she told me.”

Wilda made about 200 of these dolls, using up extra wool. These went to a small hospital for children in Africa and she hopes others will take up this task.

Wallace and Wilda lived a quiet life in their later years. Artistic pursuits, including the floral arrangements, oil paintings and ceramics were tried, and she continued with her local organizations and her needlework. “I avoided stained glass art because I saw too many bad cuts in the hospital.” 

When the stairs became too much for Wilda, they sold their home and moved into one of Jeremy Gordon’s houses in Mindemoya. Wallace spent his hours reading, hooking rugs and knitting facecloths for charities. Supporting charities has been a goal for both Wilda and for Wallace. Numerous little ‘Izzy’ dolls, baby quilts, crocheted and knitted items were made. The dolls were for an African charity. “I am hoping others may wish to help make some of these same dolls for children who would cherish them.”

“We have had a good life, blessed with three children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. On April 25, 2019, Wallace passed after 63 years of marriage. He is missed. Most important events in my life? Getting married, our children’s births and my graduating from nursing. The yearly flower shows put on by our horticultural society were inspirational.”

The successful completion of the School of Horticulture and Floral Design Judging in September of 1998 earned Wilda an award from the Ontario Horticultural Association. Both she and Wallace had Life Member Awards from this association.

These days, Wilda has been busy making straps to hold masks used for COVID-19. “The strap has two buttons to attach the elastic, so you don’t need to put it on your ears. So far I have used 110 of these large buttons for 55 straps.” Attention to detail was a forte as is evident by the detailed, indexed information shared for this fine story.

Billl, Aaron, Ruth, David, Blanche, Randy and Ryan with Wallace and Wilda, seated, holding baby Michelle in 1999.

“Anything I still want to do? No, I have done it all,” she smiles. “Regrets? None. We had a great marriage. The day we married, Wallace said to me, ‘Wilda if you want to fight, you will be fighting alone.’ Discussions were had but no raised voices in 63 years.” Wallace also had the foresight to make boxes for their ashes using cedar logs that he and Allan had taken from the bush. 

“Manitoulin is the best place I have ever lived. In 88 years, I have only been off the Island three years, for nursing training. When we travelled, it was Ireland we loved the most. The greenery and the people reminded us of Manitoulin. Here, the scenery and the people all make this place special.”