Digging up a blast from Sioux Lookout’s past
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
When Jack Roy dug up a bottle that said Sioux Lookout on it, he could remember his mother talking about it when he was younger. The bottle was from an old store in town but Roy, and his wife, were looking to find out more.
“Jack came home with this bottle that had Sioux Lookout on it and he said it must have been from a store here and he could remember his mom talking about it. I love the old history of Sioux Lookout so I put a picture of the bottle on Facebook and asked if anyone knew what this was about. Irene Shields immediately answered and said to look in the third edition of the Tracks Beside the Water and the story was there,” explained Nancy Roy, Jack’s wife.
On page 228 of the third volume of Tracks Beside the Water, a three volume series which chronicles Sioux Lookout’s history, it shares, “In 1923, Oscar Halinen bought The Pop Shop from Matt Chrola and operated it with his partner Isaac (Isak) Ilkka. In 1932, when Isaac (Isak) passed on, Oscar bought his share. The Pop Shop was located on King Street beside Fred and Margaret Maskerine, presently Dingwall Motors’ parking lot…After 24 years of operating The Pop Shop, Oscar sold it to Sandy McInnes who operated it for several years before he sold it to Ralph Marsh.”
Nancy Roy also received a response on Facebook from long-time friend and former Sioux Lookout resident Ann Dumyn.
Dumyn’s parents were next-door neighbours with Jack Roy’s parents throughout her 31 years in Sioux Lookout and for over 60 years in total, so she developed and maintained a close friendship with Jack and Nancy Roy over the years.
Dumyn not only knew all about the bottle, but she even remembered someone who was dying to get their hands on one, which she traced back to a conversation she had over a decade ago at a conference in Caledon. She met a woman named Signe Ball, who is a descendant of Isak Ilkka.
“As soon as I said I was from Sioux Lookout, we went in to this discussion about her family. My parents are long-time Sioux Lookouters and I lived there until I was 31, so I really knew a lot of the history. That initial conversation I had with Signe was over 10 years ago,” said Dumyn.
“She mentioned that she was looking to get her hands on one of those bottles and I told her that I knew quite a few people in Sioux Lookout and if I knew someone who had one, I would try to get it for her. So, many years later, I saw Nancy had posted on Facebook asking about a bottle Jack found while doing some excavating. I told her I knew about the bottle and someone who’d like to have one, so that’s how it started,” Dumyn continued.
Ball explained that Isak Ilkka was her grandfather and that her mother helped with the Sioux Lookout Bottling Works throughout her teens. It was on her latest visit to Sioux Lookout when she first saw one of the bottles.
“My mother, Signe Kathryn (Ilkka) Snary (1918-1988), was born and raised in Sioux Lookout. Her parents, Isak and Kate, both emigrated from Finland, but met in Ontario. As a teen she helped with the bottling business and we have ledger from it in her beautiful cursive writing. Both her parents died young and mom left Sioux Lookout to go to normal school in North Bay…I have visited Sioux Lookout three times, the last time in 2003 on a trip with my sisters and our partners, as a kind of family pilgrimage to discover our mother’s roots. It was at that time we saw the bottles from the Sioux Lookout Bottling Works in the museum and a private collection. Obtaining one became a kind of Holy Grail of the family archives,” explained Ball.
On Aug. 22, Dumyn sent an email to both Ball and Roy. The email was an introduction for the two of them, but it was a thrilling experience for Ball to finally have a connection to a prized family artifact.
“Both of my grandparents died before any of us were born…so it was very thrilling and exciting to hear from both Ann and Nancy. Nancy also told me she had visited the Sioux Lookout cemetery and put white roses on my grandparents’ gravestones, and it made me quite teary when she told me that,” said Ball.
As of Sept. 14, the bottle has left town and is on its way to southern Ontario to be in the hands of Ball and her family. Ball shared that she hopes to venture to Sioux Lookout soon with her daughter and granddaughter.
“My daughter and granddaughter haven’t been to Sioux Lookout yet and they both have a keen interest in their family history, so I’m hoping to make another pilgrimage up there,” she concluded.