Shorebirds come home for summer

June 2019

We’ve all heard of Snowbirds – Canadians who spend the winter in warm, sunny places. But what do you call folks who come north to spend our short, sweet summer months up here in Northwestern Ontario? I talked to two couples who do just that!

Born in Fort William, George and Deb Zanette moved to Toronto in 1990 but came ‘home’ twice a year for Christmas and summer holidays. George’s family owned a camp on Lake Superior, so that was home base until 2012 when they bought a place nearby.

“It’s the same beach,” says Deb. “He has great memories of spending summers growing up there. Each long August weekend, the beach has a ‘Sports Weekend’ and our children make it a must-do trip each year. The camp is filled to the brim but all are welcome – everyone finds a place to lay their head. It’s full of activities and a lot of catching up with family and other beach dwellers. It’s a chance to reconnect.”

Former Montreal Allouettes footballer, Ed Slabikowski and his wife Andrea are also former Thunder Bay residents, this time hailing from Port Arthur. Because of Ed’s position as first Technical Director, and then Executive Director of Football Ontario, they moved to Mississauga, but, like the Zanettes, they still call Thunder Bay home.

“It was the hardest decision Andrea ever made to leave Thunder Bay,” says Ed. “I’ve been there now over thirty years, Andrea just over twenty, but both of us still look to Thunder Bay as home. A picture of the Sleeping Giant taken from the Hillcrest Park is hung prominently in our family room. It’s one way we stay in touch with our roots.”

A personal connection to the land is a key part of making the journey north, and for the Slabikowskis, part of the adventure IS the journey.

“Summers, we drive, as everybody should,” says Ed with a grin, “Just to experience the majesty, magnificence, and changing moods of the north shore of Lake Superior. On this last 18-hour adventure along Hwy 11/17, we calculated that our dog alone has made the trip 64 times! As for ourselves, well, we’ll have to calculate that while relaxing on the camp deck and sipping a few cocktails…”

With Southern Ontario’s Cottage Country a much closer option, I asked the Zanettes what it was that kept bringing them back to Northwestern Ontario.

“Thunder Bay is essentially our reference point,” says Deb. “It’s our grounding space. It’s where ‘who we are’ was shaped. It’s where family and life long friends live. It’s where we came from – our history!”  

Spending that precious time with friends and family is very important in bringing these summer shorebirds back to their roots, and frequent trips into town are a delightful change of pace.

“Compared to the driving in Toronto area, the travel from camp is an easy commute,” says Deb. “Going into town is not an issue and we enjoy local venues with our friends, whether its golfing, Bluesfest, dinner, a movie or a local theatre.” Ed heartily agrees.

“Best places in the entire city for an “out-of-towner” to meet old friends? Safeway on Court St. and Metro on River. It’s uncanny! Just when you think you’re never going to run into a familiar face from the past ever again, bam, you slam into their cart in the frozen food aisle. It’s like a high school reunion, except now we’re showing pictures of grandchildren, discussing the latest obits in the Chronicle Journal, and asking if they’ve been out to camp.”

And then, it’s back to camp for some much needed downtime.

“We can throw off the busyness of Toronto, the city and work,” says Deb. “Sitting outside at night around a fire, seeing the many stars, enjoying the extended sunlight, listening to the loons and being captivated by the waves. We absolutely love and appreciate the movement of the water.”

This connection to water is very much a part of why Shorebirds come back, and, while the Zanettes enjoy the big vistas of Lake Superior, the Slabikowskis enjoy the quieter waters of East Loon Lake on the site of the old family camp.

“The camp was built from the ground up by Andrea’s parents in the early 1960’s,” Ed says. “They bought the property and started building as affordability permitted. Two years ago, Andrea, her brother Bill, and I spent what felt like the entire summer under the floorboards fighting with Mother Nature (aka weather, time, and gravity!) to try and bring the camp back to level. During that ‘labour of love,’ (more like penance from the god of campers!) Bill told us that much of the wood originally used to build the camp was salvaged lumber from warehouses that were being torn down on the Port Arthur waterfront. Andrea’s father had built it to last a lifetime and there were so many Ardox spikes in the structure that it should stand forever!”

And finally, the big question: camp or cottage? That was pretty unanimous. Camp all the way. In fact, Ed is moderately certain there’s a law about that somewhere buried deep in the bylaws of Ontario. If anyone would know, it’s these Shorebirds, and let’s hope they keep flying north for a long time to come.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.