Silver Islet Campers Association

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This history of The Silver Islet Campers’ Association was compiled from extensive interviews with our community elders and by panning through our old minutes and archives.  During this investigation it became clear that over the years many people have been responsible for the over whelming success of the Silver Islet Campers’ Association and the development of our little community.  It would be wonderful to recognize them all.  I feel this document is far from complete, and I only offer it as a frame work to start from.

Please feel free to send your comments and suggestions for additions and/or corrections to this information. Hopefully, in the future, we will have a stand alone historical document that is indicative of our great past and promising future.

In the year 1868 a mining exploration survey party of six young men landed their small boat on an 80 foot island rock out cropping, a little less than one mile off the barren shores of Lake Superior and 22 miles east of the location now know today as Thunder Bay.  The leader of the expedition, Thomas MacFarlane, took out his pick and extracted a chunk of rock from a light coloured vein of ore that ran from one side of the small island to the other.  To the amazement of the men, the rock sparkled with some of the purest silver that has ever been found on the surface of the earth.  This event started an incredible saga that would last 16 years and begin the story of a silver mine that in itself has a history that is unparalleled in the mining world.

That same event planted the seeds that would give birth to the community of Silver Islet on the shore of Lake Superior. The little hamlet would house the 500 plus men needed to run the mine, but would survive long after the mine had shut down in 1884 and Lake Superior had reclaimed the island and the mine.  For years Silver Islet was little more than a ghost town and Captain Cross, the mine captain was made caretaker of the community.  1910 started the transformation of Silver Islet into a summer cottage community.  Over the years ownership change hands and cottage lots were sold. From 1923 to 1934 Ernest Cross, one of Captain Cross’s three sons obtained ownership of the remaining unsold properties.  Upon his death the Cross estate was entrusted to his three daughters, who became prominent summer residents of Silver Islet. The community of Silver islet was fast becoming a cherished summer retreat for many area visitors, many of whom had established summer cottages. Visitors came by boat as there was no road until 1945.

In 1931 on a warm mid June after noon a group of these cottagers gathered to form an organization to address the needs of the community.  They wanted to provide activities for their children, address safety concerns and welcome new comers.

This was the first meeting of The Silver Islet Campers’ Association.  Casual meeting were held each year with little structure or organization.

Meetings were suspended in 1942 as war two escalated and many young men were called into service.  With the end of the war, in 1945 The Silver Islet Campers reorganized with Terry Dennis as their first official President with membership fees established at $5.00.  Over the years the spring voting meetings were held in many Thunder Bay venues including the Airlane Motel, the Red oak Inn, the Prince Arthur Hotel, the Broodie Street and Fort William and Port Arthur Public Libraries, the YMCA and most notably the St. Paul’s United Church Basement.

Summer meetings continued at Silver Islet and in 1951 the Cross Estate provided the Campers’ Association with a boat repair house on the shore of Lake Superior.  The building became affectionately know as the “Dance Hall” and still today holds fond memories for many Silver Islet residents. Children’s dances were held every Saturday night.  Great social gatherings were held and long term relationships were formed.

In the summer, during the 30s and the early forties excursion boats would arrive from town bringing supplies to the store and passengers that would stay in rooms above the store or at the Hotel Gitchigume.  When the boats arrived Silver Islet campers would rush to the dock to meet the visitors, it was something special to enliven the long summer days.

The big issues of the day were road condition, dock repairs, operation of the store, some form of communications, traffic control and the garbage disposal. Not surprisingly these issues are still a concern today.

In 1955 with the urging of Bob Faithful and Sam Holloway, the Silver Islet Junior Campers Association was formed with Susan Greer as their first president and George Hunt as treasurer.  In 1957 this fledgling group of children managed to earn $150 to purchase a lot on Surprise Lake.  In the next few years the Junior Campers expanded this property and this would prove to be a very important event in the future of the Campers’ Association and Silver Islet.

On August 12, 1968 the Silver Islet Campers’ Association was incorporated, a set of bylaws and rules were formed and each year nine executive officer were elected.

In 1959 Jean Hunt convinced the executive of the need for a swimmers safety training program.  She became accredited for instruction and in 1961 with 80 baby boomers, started a long and important tradition of water safety at Silver Islet. Over the years many of her young pupils went on to become swimming instructor at Silver Islet.

The property on Surprise Lake became known as the “swimming hole” and had provided many residents swimming enjoyment for years, but the property itself had not been developed.

In 1986 that changed with the construction of a long talked about tennis court which was spearheaded by Trink and Jim Bullard.  The tennis court proved to be very successful and drew the community together.  This activity and the rising cost to maintain the Old Dance Hall started the idea of constructing a community hall known as “The Pavilion” on the surprise Lake Property.  Although this idea met with some sentimental opposition, the plan got the go a head thanks to the leadership of then president David Murray. Silver Islet saw the most aggressive fund raising in its’ history. The cement pad and change rooms were laid in 1989 and in the summer of 1990 the annual general meeting was held on the Pavilion’s concrete slab.   In 1991 the roof and walls were raised by a hearty crew of volunteers.  In 1995 the Pavilion was finally completed. Since that time the Pavilion has seen the addition of a memorial plague, rest rooms, a flag pole, generator shed, and hot & cold running water.  It has become a major focal point for the Campers’ Association and the community, providing a venue for many social events such as pancake breakfasts, sports days, dances, bingos, white elephant sales, lobster fests, fish fries and derbies, pot luck dinners and many other events.

2006 was a year devoted to safety with the implementation of a cottage emergency numbering system, the addition of a defibrillator and epee pens to the pavilion and the start of annual donation of $3,500 to the Pass Lake Volunteer Fire Department. Each cottage at Silver Islet received its own fire number which soon was adopted as their address.

In June of 2007 SICA became a member of the Federation of Ontario Campers Associations (FOCA).

On a stormy August 6, 2010 night, lightning struck the old hotel and due only to a quickly organized water pail brigade was it saved. This event sparked the community and SICA to propose a fire prevention plan. With donations from the community and an aggressive fund raising campaign was launched to fund this project. Cook books and a historical calendar were published and sold. In the spring of 2012 a mini fire hall was built at the pavilion. Over the summer a fire wagon was assembled and a fire prevention plan was developed.

Over the years most of the residents of Silver Islet have held membership in the Campers’ Association, many of whom have held various positions on the executive.  The growth, strength and vitality of Silver Islet and of the Campers’ Association are due to the generosity in funds and labor of our community.

Today Silver Islet Campers’ Association members are from all walks of life and all corners of the world.  They congregate at Silver Islet each summer for the same propose, to relish the splendor of the little hamlet and enjoy the company of old friends.