Bay of Islands Community Association Presidents’ Report, 2022

How amazing it has been to reunite as a community after 2 years largely apart! Though we are not quite back to “normal”, we have been provided the perspective that there is no place on earth, and no group of friends and family, that we would rather spend these life experiences with. The pandemic made us consider what “community” really means.  To us it is both – both the incredible beauty of the landscape that cannot be replicated that we are all humble stewards of, and the importance of our relationships bonded by these shared values and decades & generations of connection. To share moments together, in person, here, is irreplaceable.

Perhaps no event or accomplishment represents importance of community better than our collective roll of supporting the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy’s $1.8 million purchase of “Heaven’s Gate”, which we highlighted last year.  Heaven’s Gate is the nearly 1,000 acres of land on the north side of Red Deer Village Road that includes much of the La Cloche mountains connecting Willisville to Ft. La Cloche.  Over 100 donors and friends celebrated the grand opening of the Heaven’s Gate trails on a recent and hot July afternoon.  Many are to thank for preserving this land for all future generations to enjoy, but we were able to celebrate the importance of Ted Cowan’s leadership in making this happen.

There are so many other people to thank for their leadership and contributions this year.  Michael Dewson has led the charge on our ongoing and successful phragmites eradication program.  The Baker family, Rick Fournier, John Moskal, and others resumed the Bass Fish Derby / Fish Fry after a 2 year hiatus (more participants than we have ever had, and more fish than have ever been caught!).  Lisa Allison pulling together the Bas Bleu Book Reading Club (despite our windiest day of the summer).  The Drolets making this year’s Love Your Bay Day possible.  And so many more.  (may want more non-social accomplishments?)

And, we are excited to officially welcome and embrace new and old friends into the BICA community, including Antonia and Jens, Bob and Juanita, Chris and Abbie, Ron and Irene, Carolyn and Roc, Paul and Lana, Alan den Otter, Michael Boufford, Hugh Mchullan, Trish Phillips, Susan Monger, Justin and Andrea Montgomery, Ashley Jurjevich, and others. We have met them all, and it’s energizing to know that others drawn to this area are falling in love for the same reasons we all have, and they feel the humble responsibility they now bear as stewards of our community.  Some of us were born into the Bay of Islands, others married into it, and more now are discovering it for the first time.  We welcome all of you.  

We are saddened by the loss of some longstanding community members, and in particular by the untimely loss of Don Datz.  He epitomized what it means (your thoughts / reflections here instead of mine) to spend part of your life here and this community becomes you.  Don and his surviving wife Judy bought and ran Bay Villa for about 15 years.  Don passed away unexpectantly at only 66 years.  He exemplified what it meant to be a business owner who cared more about helping people than anything else.  He gave us much and will be missed.

We are fortunate that as a non-profit organization relying solely on the contributions of its members that we have remained financially stable despite the pandemic. Revenue sources we lost were essentially matched by other costs lowered because of the pandemic. We believe it is important to rebuild and grow revenue sources in the next few years through new membership, auctions, grants, and other sources, to fuel the important work BICA does.

We are absolutely thrilled to pass the baton to BICA’s next President, Patrick Thoburn, who is a 2nd generation Bay of Islands steward and will bring so much more of his creativity, passion, and leadership to BICA as our incoming President. As for us (Sheila and Celesta), we are more in to BICA than ever before, and after 6 years as co-Presidents (elongated thanks to COVID-19), we are ready to channel our energies finding and welcoming new members into the BICA community, and that’s what we’ll be doing now, including building stronger and more inclusive relationships with islanders who have never engaged, mainlanders like the Red Deer Village community, and the Birch Island community.

As we reflect on our 6 years together as co-presidents, the first thing that comes to mind is that we have loved working and leading together this whole time – how often does a co-president relationship actually get stronger vs. strained over that time period? Well, it happened with us. Our 2nd reflection was we wanted to change the perception that BICA’s primary mission is NOT that of a glorified social planning community. We’ve tried to embrace the totality of our by-laws – “To represent the interest of the members of the Bay of Islands, to foster a harmonious community spirit, to promote conservation of wildlife and to preserve the unique characteristics of the area”. We’ve focused a lot on BICA Board effectiveness, better fire safety, preservation of land and water (e.g., Love Your Bay Day, water quality, phragmites control, Heaven’s Gate support), invited new members into the BICA community, and so much more.

One area of BICA support we don’t talk enough about is the importance and effectiveness of the Georgian Bay Association (GBA), who has been doing an amazing job.  The GBA focuses on the needs reflective of BICA and the other community associations up and down the Georgian Bay and the North Channel, and part of our budget goes directly to GBA to focus on bigger things we could never accomplish by ourselves.  And beyond the financial support, BICA leaders have played many significant leadership roles over the years such as Hugh McLeland as GBA Chair, past GBA member like Thoburn, and today we are represented by Liz Phillips.  Though we embrace our role in building community, we take a lot of pride in what we’ve done, because we are a community, to accomplish some great things together as stewards of this amazing land. Without community organizations like BICA, there is no GBA.

We look forward to spending time with you later this summer – safely and in person – and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together, and what we will share in our life journeys, in the years ahead.

Love Your Bay Every Day!

Celesta Bjornson and Sheila Williams