MELDRUM BAY – The smallest communities are a reminder of centuries ago when settlements only survived through the tireless, collective efforts of all neighbours supporting one another. In Meldrum Bay, near the western tip of Manitoulin Island, Peggy Morrison lives that life daily and helps to make the hamlet a vibrant part of the Island community.
“I’m a firm believer in supporting local so I feel that because we’re a small community, everybody needs to take a share of keeping it going. You have to give of your time because there’s so few of us,” Ms. Morrison told The Expositor.
Ms. Morrison, originally from Ennismore, near Peterborough, moved to the Island to teach about 50 years ago. She ultimately moved to just outside Meldrum Bay, a community of fewer than 50 people, where she has served on the Dawson Citizens Improvement Association for nearly 20 years.
Dawson Township is unincorporated, so the volunteer contingent in that association takes care of the business of the community, similar to a small-scale version of a township or municipal council.
She served some time as the harbourmaster, managed by the community group, and also supports the board of the community hall.
Ms. Morrison grew up Catholic and is active in the Roman Catholic churches of Sheshegwaning and Gore Bay (pandemic willing), but she has also recently started supporting her neighbours through Meldrum Bay’s St. Andrew’s United Church.
She has been known to help with luncheons, helping to organize events and fundraisers.
“About six years ago I decided there was no reason not to go to our little United Church here and support them with my presence,” she said, adding that she could often attend the local service and still catch a Catholic mass in Sheshegwaning or Gore Bay on Sunday afternoons.
Through St. Andrew’s and her friend Jan Joyce, Meldrum Bay has been running an annual project with Mennonite Central Committee—a group that helps address basic human needs, especially in times of crisis like natural disasters, and advocates peace and justice for all.
Each year, Meldrum Bay residents assemble personal hygiene kits and school supply kits for young people in need.
“We wanted it to be a community project and we volunteer our time and our money, but we also take donations through the United Church,” she said. “The next year, we decided that we could make quilts. They had a pattern online that they used and I’m a sewer-quilter and had all kinds of extra material, so I said ‘let’s run with this and see what we can do.’”
Last year, the group made 25 quilts and they already have 13 completed so far this year.
The effort draws people from across Western Manitoulin for a day of crafting and socializing, though this has switched to a virtual effort as of late.
Ms. Morrison also ensures her neighbour is well taken care of, assisting in processing firewood, laundry and maple syrup production, an activity that earned much praise from Western Manitoulin Pastoral Charge’s Reverend Janice Frame.
“It’s not a big deal, he’s just my closest neighbour,” Ms. Morrison said, again chalking up her contributions as simply the way of life in a small community.
Although it is perhaps not as acute as life in Meldrum Bay itself, Ms. Morrison said she gets a similar feeling of community all across Manitoulin. She said knowing there are others available for support is perhaps more important in the present time than ever before.
“It would be nice if everybody could get that same good out of being in a small community where you can rely on your neighbours if you need something,” she said.
A favourite part of being so involved in her community is helping visitors make the most out of their West End visits.
“Sometimes you’ll see someone walking through town and you can suggest they visit a certain spot or walk up another road to a field where there’s usually deer. As a member (of the Citizens Improvement Association) you’re always trying to boost the community,” she said.
Despite all these contributions, Ms. Morrison doesn’t rush to use the ‘volunteer’ label to describe her efforts.
“It’s just a part of life,” she said.