Silver Mountain Food Group

March 2022


Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Sometime, back in 1981, a group of country mothers met and, over sips of tea, discussed the arduous task each dreaded doing every week: the time-consuming, patience-challenging, long and cumbersome shopping trip to Thunder Bay. All agreed it was torture – towing kids along, driving for hours, and worst of it all, stuffing kids into snowsuits and navigating snow- and ice-covered roads in the winter.

In the Beginning:

Someone suggested joining a food-buying club while another proposed finding a bulk food source. Before the tea was cold, the women had decided to form their own tailor-made-to-meet-their-needs food buying club.

Signs were posted in the area, inviting people who were interested in bulk buying to meet at one of the country schools. Fifteen people showed up and the Silver Mountain Food Group was born.
Named after a local range of mountains that a century ago had fuelled a short-lived silver boom, the group set itself a mandate to buy good quality food in bulk. It has adhered to this policy for the past forty years.

They started off very ambitiously, placing four orders in the first year but came to their senses years later and now only place orders in the spring and fall.
The group has been in the very capable hands of Diana Bockus who has held the co-ordinator duties since 1985.


At the time of the first order in May of 1982, there were about fifteen active groups, totalling 61 families. The first order form consisted of one typed page on the back of the cover letter. Today the group is made up of about 267 families comprising 46 groups and the single-sheet order form has been replaced by a ten-page computer listing. While the first order totalled $5,800, they have had orders run as high as $92,000! The first order from their main supplier, Grain Process, was $3,100 while today it averages around $30,000. As the group has grown, their numbers have enabled them to take advantage of increasingly large savings. Big orders mean lower freight costs and Silver Mountain’s size makes them eligible for supplier discounts.

Grain Process and Maple Dale Cheese have been major suppliers since the beginning, but other companies have been added over the years, including Ontario Natural Foods, The Soap Works and Fairisle Maple Syrup. Locally, they purchase from Bogdala Meat and Deli, Rose N Crantz coffee, Boreal Forest Teas and many other surrounding area companies. In keeping with their hands-on approach to consumerism, Silver Mountain is always looking for more local suppliers.

Getting It There:

In the beginning, volunteers picked up the shipments in Thunder Bay and orders were divided in private homes and garages. Many of the old-timers have less-than-fond memories of dividing the dreaded Christmas fruit at a volunteer’s home, leaving an inch of sticky syrup on the host’s floor by the time they were finished!

When the orders totalled more than $12,000 in the spring of 1988, they began dividing at the Nolalu Community Centre. With the increase in merchandise, they decided to hire Lakehead Freightways to take over the delivery. News travelled quickly and the group grew in popularity. They moved their dividing centre to the Kakabeka Falls Legion – three times the size of the Nolalu Centre – and in the fall of ’97 split the now 222 family group into two parts: Silver Mountain “A” and Silver Mountain “B”. They now hold their pick-up on two days instead of just one, and the order takes three days to divide and requires many more volunteers to accomplish the feat.

Dividing Days

(Do you want the truth or...?):

For the first few years, dividing the items took several days since different suppliers didn’t always arrive in Thunder Bay at the same time. One memorable year, a winter order arrived inconveniently and had to be sorted in an unheated building. Needless to say, it was done in record time! Pregnant mothers contributed their baby scales to weigh the food into smaller lots, and food was packed into used grocery bags and secured with recycled twist ties.

Eventually, the group purchased high-quality scales, their own bags, new twist ties and other necessities. Acquiring wheeled dollies has also saved a lot of wear and tear on

Now when the orders are delivered in April and October, the team springs into action on the Friday prior to dividing days. A group of dedicated members puts in one full day at the Legion, mapping and marking out a floor plan for the products and taking delivery of the order. It’s a sight to see! A ten-bag stack of 10 kg bags (that’s a hundred kilos, if you’re doing the math) of organic flour is designated a space of two one-foot square floor tiles, while a stack of 49 bags of 10 kg organic rolled oats gets a 4 x 2 foot square. And on and on it goes, mapped and organized according to company, size, and type of product. It all looks like a confusing masking tape diorama to the untrained eye, but it is a simple, well-planned exercise to the volunteers.

Now Silver Mountain “A” divides on a Saturday and the “B” group works on the following Sunday. On the Saturday, they check, divide and sort the items into individual groups’ orders and have
it ready for pick-up by 2 p.m. Then it’s a replay on Sunday. They still rely on volunteers to divide the main orders, but because the group is so large, individual groups are only required to help divide about every three years. A core group of 13 to 18 experienced members is on hand every dividing day to help direct the other volunteers. Wearing bright blue tee-shirts with an attractive Silver Mountain Food Group logo, these members are the backbone of the group. Without them, Silver Mountain wouldn’t exist.

Silver Mountain Food Group has come a long way since that day 40 years ago when a group of women shared their grocery shopping woes. Held together
by a group of dedicated volunteers, it has survived and flourished, providing everything from bulk organic flour to oatmeal soap to its members.

If you’re interested in seeing what the group has to offer for your grocery needs, contact Diana at

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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