I will do it. And I will do it for the children of Sioux Lookout. ~Tom Belmore
Excerpts taken from, “The Lockhart Report (2006)“, Chapter One:
The impetus for this report stemmed from publicity surrounding the proposal to re-zone the land that contains the Cedar Bay complex including the riding stables, and to sell this land for residential development. A local group of citizens, Friends of Cedar Bay, had serious concerns and the group’s questioning the decision brought the issue to the public light.
In 2002, under the leadership of Beth Dasno, the Cedar Bay Project Coordinator at the time, Friends of Cedar Bay was formed. Friends of Cedar Bay is committed to activities at Cedar Bay and its preservation. Its members often organized events at the complex area such as Earth Day celebrations, solstice celebrations, and sponsored an ‘Adopt a Cabin’ program geared towards one local group keeping up one specific cabin in exchange for its use. The group solicited money from the Lions’ Club and the labour of the volunteer fire department to have a new roof put on the main lodge. The group is expanding rapidly. It has members from the general public, the equestrian community and the ski club.
In 2005 a number of actions by the municipality caused concern for Friends of Cedar Bay. In the winter of 2005, the town did not renew the lease for the stables to the incumbent lessee and did not entertain proposals from others. In the fall of 2005, the town announced that it was considering a proposal from private agencies for a long term lease of the complex. At the same time, the land was being assessed by a realtor and information was received that a private party had expressed an interest in purchasing the property. According to Friends of Cedar Bay, these developments did not include consulation with the group. The concern made the news resulting in many questions from the public about the decisions being made about the facility. There were two subsequent reports in which some far reaching recommendations were made concerning the selling of the Cedar Bay properties for residential development. The reports focused on the need for facilities such as Cedar Bay to fund themselves and the priority of affordable housing. The negative public response to the possible sale of Cedar Bay was overwhelming.
Responding to the publicity as the Director of Recreation between 1975 and 1986, I came forward to express concern to Council and offered to do a report on the Cedar Bay outdoor complex. In doing so, I felt that my background and experience could bring forward new information and provide a vision for the future.
The Development of the Camp
My first contacts with the community were as a guest speaker – twice as an after-dinner speaker at Queen Elizabeth athletic banquets and once as a substitute for Bobby Orr when knee surgery prevented him from fulfilling his commitment. That occasion was the Sioux Lookout Funfest which was a fund raising event for the artificial ice project for the arena in 1972. Much of the audience was apparently Minnesota tourists who had come fully expecting to see the NHL hero of the day only to find a university basketball coach of whom they had never heard. They showed their displeasure by refusing to laugh no matter how funny the jokes. Nevertheless, reason prevailed and the artificial ice became a reality and I eventually came to Sioux Lookout in 1975 in a combined position including community education and recreation.
I arrived in Sioux Lookout on June 2, 1975. By the first week of July a day camp had been formed and one hundred children could be seen running around wearing ‘Community Recreation’ t-shirts and caps. Many of the activities were conducted in the arena and a horse back riding program was run through volunteers using their own horses at the Saltel property on Highway 642. Bonnie Switzer, Jocelyn Bates and Laurel Mittleholt were the driving force behind the program. The Royal Canadian Legion donated funds to purchase six canoes and associated equipment for further recreational pursuits.
As a part of the program, overnights were conducted at Ojibway Provincial Park. One afternoon while sitting at my desk thinking how much easier it would be if we had our own facility, Paul Brown, a local teacher and the day camp director at the time, walked into my office and said, “We need a place of our own to run these programs.” I agreed and suggested that he go to the Ministry and inquire about possible locations. At that moment, the imperative for Cedar Bay was born. With little idea what form it would take, the Ministry of Natural Resources enthusiastically suggested two possible locations. One site suggested was at the end of Sturgeon River Road and the second was where the lakeshore facility is currently located. It should be noted that the current site is a place where many Sioux Lookouters had traditionally gone for picnics and recreation. This fact was explained to me on several occaions by people who were concerned about the construction that was going on at the site. Most seemed satisfied when it was explained that it was going to be a multipurpose facility for recreation and education.
The imperative for Cedar Bay came at a fortuitous time. There was high unemployment in the country and the Hudson mill was on strike. Much talent and equipment was idle. The process began with an application for a job creation program and the search for the best available log builder. Fortunately, perhaps the best log builder around, Tom Belmore, was unemployed. I proposed the idea to him and within a few days he came to my office and said, “I will do it. And I will do it for the children of Sioux Lookout.” So, the Cedar Bay project began and the complex was built for the children of Sioux Lookout. Over time it became many other things. When examining the related reports leading to this study, not once are children mentioned. They also do not mention life style, wellness, health benefits, education, enrichment, life skills, therapy, environment, conservation nor recreational values. These are words that should be ingrained in the municipal planning process.
The project began with a land use permit and a work crew of seven. A cutting permit for the logs was granted near Superior Junction. Tom Belmore and I traveled to Ghost River Camp where we viewed the main lodge which he had built. The visit produced the idea of constructing a similar building for the main lodge at Cedar Bay. Tom Belmore was revered as a log builder in the region. His buildings were included in Jeno’s (owner of a large pizza chain in the United States) camp on Brennan Lake. Tom was a proud veteran of the 2nd World War and loved to talk about how he ran away from home at age eleven and had to build his first log building to survive. The opportunity to work with Tom Belmore attracted excellent young and talented people to the project. Work began with cutting logs at Superior Junction. Since the Hudson mill was on strike at the time, a local person volunteered his time and skidder to take the logs out of the bush and stack them for loading. There was a bit of a dilemma over how we were going to move the logs to the construction site. Fortunately, Dennis Hoey Sr. came along at the right time and hauled the logs to the parking lot where they were then skidded down the trail to the camp once the snows came. What a sigh of relief I breathed the day Dennis brought the bill to the recreation office. He had, no doubt, done the work far below his normal rate as a contribution to the success of the project. Once logs were on site, the difficult task of peeling frozen logs began.
The report on Cedar Bay by the Economic Development Officer of the Municipality wrote (page 36), “Only one trades person was used, with many Unemployment Insurance Section 25 recipients who used the project as a training program, to build the buildings, so there was no assurance that any standards were adhered to or were followed.” I would like to qualify this statement. The only building to which this statement would partially apply is the first and smallest of the sleeping cabins. Admittedly, mistakes were made. However, the camp was built with the materials and funds that were available at the time under very difficult circumstances. We were limited to a labour intensive project. The plan was to build one small building to train the crew assuring that standards were adhered to and implemented. Once the small building was built, it was used as a classroom by Mr. Belmore to teach and plan the construction of the main lodge.
The project involved many organizations and people and took over five years to finish. It is not well known, but the residents of the Muriel Boyle Centre, the precursor to the present Association for Community Living, would come to the site periodically and participate in log peeling and other tasks. The activity was often credited with helping to get many of these individuals into their own homes. The participants included John James Wesley who worked for years for many agencies in town, including the recreation department and David McKay who currently works as cleaning staff at the Sioux Lookout airport.
By the fall of 1976 a Wintario Lottery grant was received and invitation to tenders went out to construct three additional buildings as bunk house/utility buildings. Contracts were awarded to Ron Caper, Kai Koivukoski, Tom Terry, Mike Smith and Larry Hoey. The Royal Canadian Legion contributed $3500 for materials.
In 1979 a Katimavik program used the camp as a residence while they built the maintenance building and started work on the chalet. Katimavik returned in 1980. Because local people were concerned about limited use of the camp because Katimavik used it for accommodations, Katimavik was forced to find alternative accommodations. They continued to work on the chalet, and the roof was finished by contract workers after the Katimavik project ended. The national director of Katimavik visited Cedar Bay while the participants were living there and described the environment as exactly what was envisioned for Katimavik by its founders. Katimavik is still a national youth program. (FCB note: funding for Katimavik ceased in 2012).
Some time between 1975 to 1980 I drove up the Vermillion River Road looking for Ken Buchanan and found him on a pile of freshly cut timber inspecting the logs for quality. I climbed the pile of logs approaching him asking if he would donate logs to the project. As a result Buchanan Forest Products donated logs for the construction of Cedar Bay. The logs were again transported by Dennis Hoey and were dumped at the boat landing at the end of West Point Cove Road and transported to the camp by rafting. Ken Buchanan made a major contribution to the Cedar Bay project. Over the years there have been many contributions to the project on a smaller scale, too numerous to list here.
Cedar Bay began as a camp for children, as Tom Belmore had envisioned, and that fit my bias! Before long, people began to call it a, “Mini Quetico” referring to the Quetico Centre which was then a private conference centre. Events and activities held at Cedar Bay over a ten year period included, to name only a few:
- Day Camp: Activities included swimming, sailing, martial arts, mini basketball, gymnastics, music, arts & crafts, archery, orienteering, canoeing, survival training, drama, ecology, woodworking, horseback riding, equine care, volleyball, water skiing (thanks to the volunteers who came with their power boats), horseshoes, hide & seek, and kick the can. Each camp concluded with parents’ night and each summer concluded with a residential camp. There were usually seven sessions of day camp starting the first week of July and the residential camp was conducted at the end of the summer. It was a day camp gymnastics instructor from Mississauga who came back to Sioux Lookout for the winter who was instrumental in forming the gymnastics club in Sioux Lookout. The day camp program was funded through the Ministry of Education grants for summer programs. In 1982, after seven years, the Ministry discontinued this funding. Because the program had been so successful, it continued on without interruption with a combination of student employment grants, user fees and a modest program budget included in the recreation budget. The introduction of horses into the program in 1981 provided a valuable incentive for children to attend the camp. Parents were willing to pay higher fees for the camp and extra fees for the use of the horses. It was also about this time that a bus route was started which increased attendance. Day camp participants numbered between seventy and over one hundred patricipants on the average.
- Earn and Learn Program: A very successful part of the day camp was this program for leaders in training. Day camp graduates ages thirteen through fifteen participated as assistants to counselors in exchange for a modest honorarium at the end of the summer. Many of the Earn and Learn participants went on to become excellent counselors.
- Northwestern Ontario Leadership Camp: For ten years, Cedar Bay was the designated site for leadership training for summer staff for communities all over Northwestern Ontario.
- Ski Lodge: The lodge was open in the winter for cross country skiers. It was also a popular destination for summer and winter hikers who would come, have lunch, hot chocolate and meet friends. On one particular Sunday afternoon, I can remember counting sixty-seven people in the lodge with skiers coming and going all afternoon.
- Community Centre Board Meetings: The town recreation committee held several meetings in the lodge and at the chalet. One memorable meeting included a sleigh ride to and from the camp, dinner and the regular CCB meeting.
- Alcoholics Anonumous: AA held numerous meetings over the years at the camp.
- Chili afternoons: Chili dinners were held where five dollars would get you a sleigh ride to and from camp and a bowl of chili in the lodge. Family rates were included.
- CBC Retreat: CBC radio staff from Thunder Bay held a retreat at the chalet for several years. Included in the group was Arthur Black, well known author and radio personality. Others included Fred Jones (owner of Dreamfields Riding Stables), Al Davis and Louise Penny. They took sleigh rides, rode horses and made angels in the snow. This group brought Sioux Lookout and Cedar Bay national recognition.
- Rotary International Exchange Program: They have used and still use the canoes for their canoe trip.
- Outdoor Education Programs: The local school board has used and still uses the site for various outdoor education programs and continue to do so.
- Music Festivals: The catamaran was run as a shittle from the landing at West Point Cove for those with difficulties walking from the parking lot.
- Barn Dances: One of the more popular events were the ‘Barn Dances’. The lodge was certified for approximately sixty people. A three piece band played in the corner and after dinner the tables were pushed back and dancing began. The team offered sleigh rides to the dance and a return ride to the parking lot until a certain hour. These events were very productive as revenue for Cedar Bay.
- First Nations Hockey School: A hockey school was conducted in the early fall as soon as the ice went in. The participants were boarded at the camp.
- Northern Bands Hockey Tournament: One year one hundred players from the Northern Bands tournament stayed at the camp. They were provided one meal per day and had the option of taking the sleigh back to the camp at a specified time. The players used the arena for showers and other amenities not available at the camp.
- High School Class Reunions & Family Reunions
- There were many, many more.
The Riding Stables
The summer of 1975 when I first arrived in Sioux Lookout the people were thirsting for recreation programs and activities. So, I called an open meeting at the arena to listen to what the people had to say. I remember two specific comments. One was about hydroplaning, which I had to have explained to me and the second was about horseback riding. I resisted both. I held off on promoting horseback riding because of my lack of knowledge, absence of a proper facility and my good sense to know that it was not something that was entered into without considerably more knowledge and experience than I had at the time.
It was not until a radio interview in 1981 by the late Lynn Cappel that I agreed to approach the Community Centre Board about the possibility of starting a riding program. Not feeling very optimistic, much to my surprise, the board approved $3000. to purchase horses for the summer program, with the understanding that they would be sold in the fall. To my amazement, Council approved the motion. My amazement continued when the first person out to the riding centre to help train a team to pull a sleigh was a member of council who I was sure would oppose the motion! Eileen Jeffery, a member of the community centre board was the person who suggested that we purchase a team of draft horses and conduct hay and sleigh rides. Within five years there were 36 horses at the centre. Of the original six horses purchased, most lived out their lives at Cedar Bay: Buster, Dazzel, Flag, Shadow, Tonya and Senator.