One of oldest sport clubs on the Island continues the tradition of the annual hunt

From left, current Hamilton Hunt Club members Jim Rook, Hec Whitley’s son Fred and Hans Apkin. This year’s hunt marks Mr. Whitley’s 67th consecutive year hunting on Manitoulin Island.

MELDRUM BAY—Eighty-three-year-old Fred Whitley has been hunting on Manitoulin since he was 17 at the Hamilton Hunt Camp (HHC) in Meldrum Bay, started by his father Hec Whitley and friends in 1942.

“One of my dad’s friends knew someone who had been coming up here to hunt and came with him to Manitoulin one year,” Fred Whitley, of Hamilton, told The Expositor.

“In 1942, Hec Whitley, George Ellis and Dick Gulliver decided to make the first of many trips to Meldrum Bay to hunt,” explained current HHC member Roy Ferguson. “In the early days the hunters would leave Hamilton and drive up Highway 11. It took two days to arrive to the Island and in those early days, the hunters stayed with the Bromley family as well as hunted with the local farmers.”

“In the late ‘40s the gang had Mr. Bromley build a cabin on his land which they used until they moved to a camp on the top of the hill in Meldrum,” continued Mr. Ferguson. “In the early years deer hunting was not the challenge, rather the long drive, gas rationing and the roads.”

This old photo of Hec Whitley with seven deer and a dead wolf still hangs on the walls of the Hamilton Hunt Club.
This old photo of Hec Whitley with seven deer and a dead wolf still hangs on the walls of the Hamilton Hunt Club.

The HHC became members of the Meldrum Bay community, supporting local activities and trading at the store.

When Mr. Whitley’s son Fred joined the club in 1949, he fit in well and became a strong supporter and member of the gang.

“In the late 1960s the club bought 11 Water Street in Meldrum Bay,” said Mr. Ferguson. “The club had members come and go depending on their circumstances, but some of the long term members such as Nip Whitley, Monk Gulliver, Norm Golightly, Archie Palmer (who was popular for his homemade toys in Meldrum Bay), his brother Bill, Hec Whitley and of course Fred, made up the regulars.”

Fred Whitley told The Expositor of his father’s expert rifle skills, earning a reputation in the club for his ability to outshoot the rest of the hunters and his uncanny ability to smell a deer.

One day the senior Mr. Whitley even shot three deer in three minutes. Fred Whitley also had his own impressive year, shooting three deer in 15 minutes on Green Island.

“In those early days Maggie Doyle lived in the log cabin close to the 13th Concession,” shared Mr. Ferguson of his club’s history. “After the hunt she would welcome the hunters in for a cup of tea and tell them ‘you’re crazy for going back into the bush when I see all the deer you would ever want from my kitchen window’.”

In 1976 the HHC took a hit when 11 Water Street burned down. “The loss of the camp was decimating for the hunters and caused some to never want to return,” Mr. Ferguson told The Expositor. “This did not deter Fred, he told the other members that if they signed over their share of the lot in town he would rebuild and they could go there as long as they wanted. Fred’s plan was to get a building up for the 1977 hunt no matter what it took and Fred achieved his goal. It was sparse, but nevertheless the hunters had a place to go and maintain the traditional hunt.”

Over the years improvements have been made to the camp, as well as an addition.

“Today the camp has all the comforts of a home, plus a million dollar view of Meldrum Bay,” said Mr. Ferguson.

In the late 1990s, when the older crew could no longer attend the camp, Jim Rook, Roy Ferguson and Hans Apkin joined the club, each bringing different skills to the camp and adding improvements such as replacing the roof, insulating the floor and replacing the windows—all under the direction of Fred Whitley.

“Many things have changed over the years,” said Mr. Ferguson. “I was surprised to learn that there was once a two-week season and every man in the camp got a deer. At another time, it was only a three-day hunt.”

“Manitoulin is a nice place,” said Mr. Whitley. “The club has had some good times in the bush. I have 100 acres, a nice camp, three stands and good friends.”

Mr. Whitley said the last few years have been slim on the deer, but that the group still has a good time.

This year marks Mr. Whitley’s 67th year in a row of hunting on Manitoulin, “a remarkable achievement that expresses Fred’s love of hunting as well as Manitoulin Island,” noted Mr. Ferguson.

Mr. Whitley said that his daughter doesn’t hunt and that his son lives in Calgary, but he hopes his grandson will eventually join the HHC.

In closing, the members of the HHC wanted to give a special thanks to their neighbours in Meldrum Bay “who have made this one special place and a special camp to belong to.”