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Community rallying to fix up historic Silver Islet store

Northwestern Ontario artifact served the mining community in the 1870s

The historic Silver Islet General Store may once again draw visitors to the former mining community it served some 150 years ago.

Silver Islet is located on a small island at the tip of the Sibley Peninsula in Lake Superior, within Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.

Owned by the Saxberg family since 1985, the general store been closed since 2015.

Family member Sandy Korkola and her husband Jeff recently decided to take on the task of upgrading the building.

Korkola said they need to fix the roof, siding and windows.

She said fundraisers will begin soon, alongside tourism partners Sail Superior and the group that supports the Porphyry Island lighthouse, with a goal of $75,000.

Funding applications have also been submitted to the provincial government.

The feasibility of restoring the store improved when the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans decided to replace an antiquated wooden dock adjacent to the store, which had been barricaded off due to safety concerns. 

It means Silver Islet Harbour will again be a safe destination for regional boaters.

Scott Cheadle, president of the Silver Islet Campers Association and the Silver Islet Harbour Association, said "People are really enthused about the harbour project, because they're hoping it will help stimulate the refurbishment and reopening of the store."

Cheadle noted that, when the Silver Islet Mine was operating in the 19th century, "the harbour was really wrapped around the store. All the activity in the community was centred down here, the ships coming and going, the supplies for the mine, and the store was the centre of it all, and it still is."

Silver Islet Mine was established after the Montreal Mining Company discovered a vein of pure silver on the small island in 1868.

Over its 16 years in operation, the company extracted $3.25 million in silver from the mine. Operations ceased in 1884.

Cheadle said the store is "pretty weathered" on the outside, but inside "it's a time capsule. And it's just a gem."

Built in 1871, a recent real estate listing described the building's 15 bedrooms, "huge beams and rough-sawn lumber and flooring," and "a full 14' high concrete and stone basement."

Cheadle said it was "the hub of people coming and going" when the silver mine was operating, and served as a hotel for mine visitors.

He believes tourists who come down the road through Sleeping Giant Provincial Park today need "a visitor experience" that includes enjoying that part of the area's rich history. 

Cheadle, who's a year-round resident of Silver Islet, said community members are always concerned about traffic, and about people wandering around.

"So it's pretty important that we give them something to do when they get here...We will do our very best to work with the  operators of the store to facilitate picnic areas."

He said that will enable visitors to buy a snack at the store, then take it outside to eat at tables on the dock.

Cheadle believes the store holds the potential to be a viable operation from May to October.

"Certainly, in combination with traffic we attract to the harbour, it could be a very successful going concern. We sure hope so," he said.

– TBNewsWatch.com




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