Port Coldwell: A Scientist’s Song
Posted on: April 1, 2019
“The Ice House,” Port Coldwell by Lawren Harris, 1923

It’s not often that a song comes along which is dedicated to life in a Lake Superior fishing community, in this case Port Coldwell.

Go directly to Dave Sills song “Coldwell Bay.”

Infosuperior readers on the U.S. side of the lake likely won’t have any idea where this is. Many Canadian readers may also have difficulty placing this community. But some readers from the Marathon, Ontario area and other communities on the Canadian North Shore will know Port Coldwell well. They grew up there. To them, it was, and in a way still is, home. Many Lake Superior fishing families, including those that fished out of Canadian North Shore locations like Jackfish Bay, Rossport and Point Magnet, had branches of the family in Port Coldwell. Now, Port Coldwell is more a place of memories, than a community.

Port Coldwell (red marker) is located some 25 km/16 mi. west of the town of Marathon, Ontario beside the Coldwell Peninsula and Neys Provincial Park.


Lawren Harris painting, “Coldwell Bay,” Lake Superior, 1923

When you enter Port Coldwell by boat, you pass through a narrow opening, unforgettable due to its high cliffs on one side, into a small harbour. The harbour has unsurpassed protection. Before the decline of the Lake Superior fishery in the mid 20th century, Port Coldwell was a thriving community—its economy and way of life inextricably linked with the lake and commercial fishing. The railway that passed through “Coldwell,” long before there were any roads in the area, provided a crucial link between fish catch and market.


The cover on Dave Sills new album Fifty.

The photo on Dave’s new album, Fifty shows a musician walking along an empty road, guitar case in hand, back to the camera. Dave is much more than a talented musician though, he’s also a scientist with a day gig.

Dave is a “Severe Weather Scientist” with Environment and Climate Change Canada in the Toronto area as well as an adjunct professor at York University. His research interests include summer severe weather (including tornadoes and lightning), low level mesoscale boundaries (including Great Lakes lake-breeze fronts and Alberta drylines) and severe weather nowcasting. You can view a list of publications co-authored by Dave Sills here. He’s also got a great website, accessible here.


Let’s let Dave Sills tell us his story about Port Coldwell. We’ll link to Dave’s song, “Coldwell Bay” and also to information about his latest album, Fifty, down below. The following article is written by Dave Sills:

My name is Dave Sills and my grandmother was Agnes Jean Johnson. She grew up in Port Coldwell. She had such wonderful stories about the place, and as I looked into it more, not only were her stories shown to be true but there was even more to love about the place. 

“Port Caldwell,” by A.Y. Jackson.


Agnes told the story of her mother making pies for her to bring up to the artists painting from boxcars on the tracks up the hill (“now don’t bother them!”). These of course were the Group of Seven artists that produced stunning imagery of Coldwell, Pic Island, and Lake Superior. An A. Y. Jackson painting of Port Coldwell even shows the house where my grandmother grew up (see painting directly above, her house is bottom left). It still amazes me.

I have always felt a strong connection with this region and have visited a number of times, still having family in the Schreiber area (the Glad clan – hi Cheryl!). 


I recently released a professionally recorded album of original songs called Fifty. One of the songs, Coldwell Bay, tells the story of the inhabitants of Port Coldwell, including a lot of the characters I had heard about over the years – my great Aunt Eileen and her husband Gideon Nicoll (tragically killed by a train), the ‘painters from down south’, the CPR clerk, loggers and miners (some of which were family members). Note that to make the song work I had to take certain liberties – hope you don’t mind.

Something special about this song is the sympathetic fiddle playing of Miranda Mulholland. She is one of Canada’s top fiddlers, and has played with the Great Lakes Swimmers, Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea, Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, and many others, plus has her own amazing band called Harrow Fair (check out http://mirandamulholland.ca).


Hope you like it!

The song is also available via iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, etc. – and CDs are available as well.

Dave Sills
Barrie, Ontario 

Pic Island by Lawren Harris, 1924. See the large map above to view Pic Island’s location near Port Coldwell.


In its own small way, Infosuperior endeavours to foster interest, knowledge and respect for Lake Superior, building broader public support for restoration and protection. Thanks Dave, for making all of us more aware, and interested, in our own culture and history, with the lake as its very core.


Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Infosuperior…only #LakeSuperior news.

It's only fair to share...Share on Facebook
0Tweet about this on Twitter
Share on Tumblr
0Print this page
Email this to someone