Islander Online – The Christian Island Cottagers' Association


Passing of Shirley O’Donnell

Shirley Daisy O’Donnell
June 20, 1928 – September 16, 2020

It is with great sadness that the Christian Island Cottages Association (CICA) announces the passing of Shirley O’Donnell, CICA President from 1997-2005. She was a valued CICA leader and beloved cottager of Big Sand Bay for over fifty years since the cottage community’s earliest days.

“As President of CICA, Shirley understood that the association’s success was rooted in its positive relationship to Beausoleil First Nation’s Chief and Council, administrative staff, and community members, and she developed positive relationships that fostered mutual respect and collaboration”, said Keith McNair, Shirley’s successor in this role. “She was committed to CICA being an association that served all its members while at the same time acknowledging the interests and concerns of our hosts on Christian Island.”

Ed Casey, who preceded Shirley in this role recounts: “The ‘Lady of the Lake’ arrived on Big Sand Bay in 1969 and quickly became enmeshed with the cottage community, volunteering to help out wherever she could. It became obvious that she was a great organizer and with her legal background, was quickly asked to join the Cottagers Association. She was an asset to our beach and the Christian Island Cottagers Association and was loved and respected by all.” Shirley formed a strong team along with Ed Casey and John Wingrove, both as a board member and later taking over as President following their retirement from the executive.

“Shirley was a pillar and staunch advocate for the Big Sand Bay seasonal community,” said Valerie Monague, Former Chief of Beausoleil First Nation. “In my role as Chief from 2000 to 2006, I was involved with championing the BSB Dunes preservation effort which Shirley and others led – just one example of incredible collaboration between BFN and CICA. The relationships fostered through that work were mutually positive and rewarding. Shirley’s spirited drive and unfaltering determination made the project successful.”

Fellow Big Sand Bay cottager Lloyd Reed worked closely with Shirley on this project, providing knowledge on the physics of wind, sand migration and the effect of dunes erosion due to foot traffic. “Shirley’s positive relationship with the Lands Office helped drive collaboration that benefited cottagers, BFN members, and the environmental health of the island,” said Reed. “The project to protect the Big Sand Bay dunes created jobs for BFN, community cooperation, and education on environmental health of the beach. Our plan resulted in a federal government grant to create jobs for BFN, creating sand ladders as common pathways to contain foot traffic impact, and transplanting grasses to help prevent erosion. It was Shirley’s ability to collaborate with the Band and cottagers that ensured the project’s success – resulting in the healthier dunes we enjoy today.”

In addition to Shirley’s commitment to the work of CICA, many have remarked how honoured they felt to have shared their CICA and cottage time with Shirley. Plentiful are the stories of both residents and cottagers that clearly show our love and respect for Shirley, who cared for, supported and uplifted us as a friend and neighbour.

Karen Henderson of Lighthouse Point and CICA Treasurer from 2004-2008 remembers, “When I came to the island in 1999, Shirley was president of CICA. I admired the wonderful relationship she had developed with the band—she truly cared for and respected the band members and they clearly felt the same about her. If it were not for her, I would not have met so many wonderful cottagers who all made my cottage life richer. Shirley helped me fall in love with Christian Island and made me feel welcome and wanted.”

Former CICA Board Member and Monague Subdivision cottager Paul Warrilow, and wife Pam write, “It was a pleasure and privilege to be counted among Shirley’s friends. In the early days of getting to know Shirley she managed to convince Paul to become involved with CICA as a board member. Paul was a strong supporter of Shirley’s leadership. She gave great advice on many other issues as well. In her many iterations Shirley was a tour de force and great lady.”

Valerie Monague offers these closing words: “The dunes remain a spirited force today, as much a reflection of Shirley’s influence and presence throughout these many years since and no doubt well beyond her passing. Next time you see a gust of wind kick up a bit of beach, think of it as Shirley giving a loving wave at her most favourite place.’

The family’s official tribute can be found on Shirley O’Donnell’s memorial Facebook page, where people may also leave comments for the family if they wish to do so. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

Thank you to all who contributed information and comments:
Ed Casey, Karen Henderson, Keith McNair, Valerie Monague, Lloyd Reed, Monica Walters-Field, Pam and Paul Warrilow