Day 36 – History lessons and cinnamon buns

We spent the morning chinwagging with Lorne and Joan Saxberg, who own the general store and teahouse in Silver Islet. When we arrived for coffee, Lorne warned us he might not have much time to talk as he and Joan were looking for their runaway cat, Pepe, who had escaped the house. Luckily Pepe was found sharpish and after some diligent petting we settled into the tearoom for fresh cinnamon buns and a few yarns.

Just offshore at the end of the Sleeping Giant peninsula, the Silver Islet mine was the richest in Canada, producing over $3 million in silver by the time it closed around 1883. In those days, there was no road down the peninsula — miners and their families arrived by boat or dogsled from Thunder Bay, depending on the season. Bachelors lived in bunkhouses out on the little islet by the mine shafts; families lived in little log cabins on the peninsula. All that’s left of the islet now are the mine shafts underwater, a few old miner’s cabins along the ‘Avenue’ in town, and the old store building right on the wharf — and judging from the old photos on the wall of the tearoom, it looks pretty much the same now as it always did.

The Saxbergs purchased the store in 1987 with their son Lorne, a CBC Newsworld anchor who drowned in Thailand in 2006. They keep it going in memory of their son, otherwise “I’d be retired,” says Lorne Sr. When their children were young, Lorne Sr. worked building logging roads in the area, and would often bring his kids along for the trip. He says they’d visit the store, and it would always be closed, so years later, when Lorne Jr. saw it was for sale, he put in an offer, “out of some romantic idea,” his father says, laughing. But it wasn’t until it had been hit by lightning that the previous owner was satisfied with the Saxbergs’ offer — and so there was a lot of renovating to be done before they opened for business in 1989.

The teahouse and store are full of knick-knacks the Saxbergs found in the cellar and attic when they moved in, and make the building feel like a living museum. Locals must love it — all 675 of them — for along with Joan’s homemade cinnamon buns and pies and hearty daily soups, Lorne scoops up ice creams and peddles penny candy in the front of the store. If you’re ever caught in the rain at Sleeping Giant, or just need a little treat, the cozy tearoom has a great view of the channel and feels like a lovely place to spend a thoughtful afternoon. Joan also hosts a moonlight tea on Saturday nights.

We drove away as the rain started, and headed for Thunder Bay. After checking into the Days Inn – wireless and a hot tub! And a free breakfast waffle machine. What else do you need? — it was straight to the Hoito for Finnish pancakes and egg salad Piirakka to take the edge off.

Tomorrow — We go west!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

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