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James Michael Maguire.Courtesy of the family

James Michael Maguire: Father. Activist. Lodge owner. Book lover. Born Nov. 4, 1938, in Severn Bridge, Ont.; died June 2, 2019, in Bracebridge, Ont., from pneumonia and Lewy body dementia; aged 80.

Losing a father is a pivotal event. When 28-year-old Jim Maguire’s father died, he was pulled back home to Sparrow Lake and the family business. He left a promising accounting career in Toronto and moved his wife and their five children to Wenona Lodge, north of the city. Jim had imagined an eventual return to that land – deeded to his great grandfather – but not in sadness, and not so soon.

Growing up, Jim roamed the 100 acres of Maguire land as an only child until the age of 8, when his brother Dan was born. He developed a self-reliance that never left him. Jim was a curious kid and loved watching his grandmother lower a pig’s head into boiling water to make head cheese. Jim loved this cold meat all his life.

At the age of five, Jim accompanied his mother, a schoolteacher, to her one-room school, happy to spend the year poring over the Book of Knowledge. He was eight when his father reopened the Wenona Hotel, originally built and operated by relatives. Jim was always drawn to the analytical side of business and his talent for seeing the big picture and mapping out solutions drew him to accountancy.

He majored in economics at the University of Toronto, which he attended with his girlfriend Maureen Vigrass. They were opposites; Maureen was the talkative, social one, but they were well-matched in intelligence and concern for others. They married in 1959 and raised five children – Cindy, Michael, Robert, Kevin and Mary – in Toronto.

Jim’s father’s death in 1966 was a blow but Maureen understood his decision to take over the lodge. Jim threw himself into modernizing the cottages but didn’t tamper with the laid-back atmosphere that made Wenona special. In his button-down shirt, bathing trunks, dress socks and loafers, Jim cooked the eggs at breakfast, drove the ski boat and spun records at the evening dance. He handled crises small and large with aplomb. The staff included his own kids and local residents, who thrived under his direction; “Best boss I ever had,” was a frequent comment at his memorial service. Even when business was slow at Wenona, employees were kept on, because Jim knew they depended on the income.

The moment Jim moved back home, he was lobbied to run for office. For a man of few words, Jim made his opinions known. He was an anomaly in Conservative Muskoka; a businessman and active supporter of the NDP on both Gravenhurst town council and Muskoka district council.

When a fire destroyed the main lodge in January, 1982, Jim rebuilt immediately. But further losses came. His younger brother died, then he and Maureen divorced. Business slowed down and operating costs skyrocketed. Jim the accountant saw the inevitable. He didn’t talk about selling the family land; he did what he felt was best.

With Sylvia Purdon, a fellow local politician and his second wife, he opened The Bookstore in Gravenhurst in the early 1990s. Jim loved being a bookseller. He scoured estate sales and hand-picked unusual new titles. Customers appreciated his commitment in those pre-internet days.

The onset of Lewy body dementia in his early 70s made reading and writing difficult and Jim felt that loss keenly. Moving to a long-term-care home wasn’t easy, but Jim’s quirky sense of humour endeared him to the staff. When one aide noted his love for books, they worked together on the used book sale fundraiser. Two weeks before he died, Jim proudly presided over the fourth “Jim’s Used Book Sale.” He was still doing what he loved and sharing it with others.

Cindy Maguire is James’s eldest daughter.

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