Lodged in the Past
The yearly trek to the lake is nothing new. People have been traveling to the Lake of the Woods area for over 100 years. For some, the excitement of a northern adventure had been passed down through their family. Others will discover the area on their own and experience it for the first time.
Kenora is considered the northern gateway to Lake of the Woods and is one of the oldest ports on the lake. There was a time when it was known as Rat Portage and it was a settlement on a canoe route, not a tourist attraction.
There’s a story that the first tourists to the area came in 1869, an American family were here for a two-week vacation. But, it was cut short when a family member drowned – an interesting story not backed up by any actual fact.
Tourism on Lake of the Woods started in the 1880′s with the arrival of the train. The area was exposed to more people who were impressed by the natural beauty of the lake.
With the lake’s increasing popularity newspaper publications across the country featured articles promoting the area. Victoria’s The Colonist newspaper of May 1896 talked about what to experience on a trip to the lake.
We have come to the conclusion that on the Lake of the Woods can be found more fairy land beauty, more real isolation from the bustle of life and more roaming over nature in her primitive beauty, untouched by the hand of man with less trouble and inconvenience, than can be found in any other locality in North America, and we may say in the world at large.
People were further enticed to the area with the promise of unforgettable fishing and hunting opportunities. Advertising for the area announced that, here you can find the mighty Muskellunge who can test the prowess of a keen angler and run as high as fifty-six pounds. The tasty Lake Trout at his best in the spring and late summer, going frequently well over twenty pounds and the appetising Pickerel or ‘Walleyed Pike’ that often goes over ten pounds, and the popular Great Northern Pike that tops the scales at twenty pounds and over.
When people arrived by train to experience this wilderness wonderland they needed somewhere to stay. Lodges opened up along to train lines to accommodate the influx of anglers and hunters.
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway built the original Minaki Lodge in the area where its line crosses the Winnipeg River. It was taken over by the Canadian Northern Railway in 1925. They aimed to blend ‚Äúthe primitive with the elegance of civilization.
In 1922 the Canadian Pacific Railway announced it would build bungalow camps at the lower end of Devils Gap on Lake of the Woods. Devils Gap Lodge opened on July, 01, 1923.
The main lodge building was comprised of a dining room with seating for one-hundred, a kitchen, a lounge area with a stone fireplace, and a huge screened veranda. Also built were twenty-two bungalow camps that had a veranda, camp cots, and running water. In 1923 rates were $5.00 per day, or $30.00 per week. People returned year after year. The bungalow cabins were never referred to by name, but instead by the regular guest names. So, great the popularity of the resort became in the 1930′s, reservations were required two to three years in advance.
A more adventurous way people traveled through the Lake of the Woods was by steamer boat. Steamers regularly traveled between the northern Kenora area and the southern Rainy River district. Tourists would hire a boat to take their group out onto the lake. At the end of a successful trip they would hire a local photographer like Carl Linde to take pictures of their catch. It would give them something to take home and with these pictures they were guaranteed to astound their colleagues.
Eventually by the 1930′s the TransCanada highway was built across the country and further connected the two coasts. The northern section of the Lake of the Woods district was opened up to the United States with the opening of Highway 71. It connected this area to the Rainy River District highway system. And, by the mid-1960′s a crude road linked Minaki to the TransCanada highway.
Along these roads new resorts opened up to accommodate the arrival of curious, adventure seeking American anglers and hunters. Automobiles full of outdoors men headed to the north looking for untouched waters to explore. Sioux Narrows, Nestor Falls, and Morson became hotspots these people flocked too. Amazingly many of the early roadside resorts are still operating. But resorts like Moose and Muskie in Morson, Westview Resort in Nestor Falls, and Traube’s Sioux Narrows Lodge in Sioux Narrows have come and gone.
The angling and hunting tourist trade has definitely evolved over the last one-hundred years. It helped transform the area into an outdoor destination and added the terms American Plan, Light Housekeeping, and Fly-In to everybody’s vocabulary. The one constant has always been the untouched beauty of the area and it only seems to get better with age.
Editors Note: Many early camp owners changed their businesses from logging camps to tourism. One of the earliest tourism operators was also a pharmacist. Ernie Calvert started Calvert Camps with not much more than ‘tent camps’ or tent cabins in the 1920′s. His guests travelled via the Chicago Flyer, a train that travelled on the Canadian National Rail line from Chicago to Rainy River. Ernie would take them by boat from Rainy River to Morson; in later years, by car, then boat to his outpost cabins.
Some Lodges from Our past
Anchor Island Lodge
Barney’s Ball Lake Lodge
Echo Lodge Camps
Eisentraut’s Canadian Camp
Fowler’s Minnesabic Island Lodge
Greenlees Bigstone Lodge
Hockey Haven Resort
Kipling Island Lodge
Monument Bay Lodge
Ostling’s Tourist Camp
McPherson’s Island Camp
Moose and Muskie
Pentney’s on Lake of the Woods
Turtle Portage Camp
Dalseg’s Virgin Pine
Hook ‘n Horn
Hagan’s Cedar Lodge
Martha’s Camp Long Bay
Miller’s Bridge Camp
Sioux Narrows Hotel
Streeter’s Hidden Valley Lodge
White Moose Lodge
After research at the Lake of the Woods Museum, personal contacts and local knowledge, it was determined that the lodges and resorts mentioned here are no longer in operation under the name so listed. Please note this list is not all inclusive.
By, Rick Brignal