The day I realized there was no turning back, the wind was coming at my face and blowing snowflakes straight into my eyeballs. The 9.9 motor on the old steel boat was sputtering, but kept steady on the lake. It felt like my husband, Pete, and I were the last two people on earth. I sat shivering in the middle of this boat, surrounded by huge bags of garbage which we had just accumulated cleaning up. We had bought a neglected fishing lodge with two separate properties in Northern Ontario—the north camp and the south camp, ten kilometres apart by boat. It was the end of April 2021, and we were about to list the north camp for sale. For weeks, we’d been taking the boat across the lake back and forth to clean five dirty old cabins and a lodge which the local mice had claimed for their own.
As we crossed the lake—again—I kept thinking to myself, “what the hell have we done?” Shivering in my snowsuit, I turned and looked at my husband, who was driving the old boat, carefully navigating us across a lake filled with hidden old tree stumps and submerged giant glacial boulders. Meanwhile, Pete was looking at me thinking “Well, if she doesn’t leave me now, she probably never will.” He would laugh and tell me that later, as we warmed up in our fifth wheel camper, our temporary home until Pete was able to renovate one of the cabins at south camp for us to live in.
It was the big move we’d been working towards since October 2020, when Pete and I were working hard at our jobs; me as a university administrative coordinator and Pete as a plant manager in Guelph. Stressed out in the middle of the pandemic, we began actively looking for a campground or resort to run our own business. Being in our fifties, we wanted to take control of our life and Pete was ready to semi retire. Pete had been diagnosed with MS a few years before, and we hoped this shift in our lifestyle would help him stay strong and healthy.
We stumbled across Temagami Riverside Lodge (TRL) on a real estate website and called the agent for a viewing. It was in our price range, and in the area we fell in love with, after passing through Temagami three years before on a motorcycle trip. After a quick five-hour drive on Thanksgiving Monday from Waterloo to TRL, we realized our lives were about to change dramatically. Two-hundred-year-old cedars and a stunning lakefront greeted us; we instantly embraced the cool wind and cloudy skies. This property—a logging camp back in the old days—checked all the boxes for us. Lakefront, trees and cabins, but still close to amenities—the nearest town, Sturgeon Falls, was 25 minutes away. We called the agent on our way home, and put in an offer.
We had already sold our home in September 2020, so we began getting our ducks in a row. We had three daughters still living with us, (we are a blended family with six grown kids) and they moved out one by one. Pete and I packed up everything into a twenty-foot storage container for the winter, and we settled into a hotel suite in Guelph until Pete’s last day of work, the week before the moving truck was booked so we could make the move north.
The lodge is not accessible by vehicles in the winter. TRL is an off-grid property in an unorganized township. The lights, fridges and stoves run on propane, and the water is pumped in from the lake for dishes, showers and toilets. A one-kilometre drive on a bumpy gravel road from the highway will bring you to our main entrance. Our moving day was booked after the first thaw in April—we had to make sure the moving truck could make it in.
I felt like I had moved to Mars in those first few weeks. I cried as I unpacked, I cried as I made dinners in the dark. It was just the two of us, it was incredibly isolating and cold. I missed the kids and my friends terribly.
As we toured the buildings to assess what work needed to be done to prepare for our guests—the bookings were coming in steadily by then—we began to notice the neglect. The former owners operated TRL as a hunting and fishing outfitters business for years but were in their late sixties with health problems. We planned on keeping the fishing and cabin rental portion, but we phased out the bear hunting packages pretty quickly. On the surface, the structures appeared habitable: there were six cabins and fifteen seasonal camping sites on the south camp, as well as a screened pavilion, fuel shed and workshop, all of which had seen better days. The north camp had five cabins and a lodge building and almost mirrored the south camp, except there were no camping sites. Luckily, I married a handyman. Pete can fix, build, create or repair pretty much anything. We started a list of repairs and updates and Pete got to work. He started renovating and working seven days a week, ten hours a day, to make the property and buildings fresh and clean for the 2021 season. In the meantime, I worked remotely for the university, always searching for an internet connection from a cell tower six kilometres away. Connection was difficult and frustrating most days, until Starlink, a new satellite internet provider, came to our area and changed everything.
Standing on the property, looking out at this gorgeous lake, I felt an instant detachment from normality and society. When you live in the middle of the woods, it was hard to imagine there was still a deadly virus spreading all over the world. Our kids, family and friends all took turns coming up and spending time with us and fell in love with the area as well. There is tremendously good fishing on our lake and lots of hiking nearby as we are surrounded by Crown land and an inactive provincial park. We bought two new kayaks and another canoe, which increased our lake activity along with our six steel boats.
Due to the provincial lockdown, we had to remain closed until the first week of June. This was very concerning for our business financially, but it did buy us some more time to get the cabins sparkling clean and ready for guests. Pete’s brother was an enormous help and his eighty-eight-year-old parents even made the drive north one weekend. We also hired a family friend to build our website, and began promoting our business on Facebook, Instagram and Google Business. We ended up getting booked up with past guests who always enjoyed TRL over the years, and new guests who gave us great reviews and promised to come back next year. The seasonal campers who have had their trailers at TRL for many years said they hadn’t seen so many guests come in and out in years! I learned so much about being a business owner, including that time I accidentally overbooked us on the September long weekend. We had to go stay in Sturgeon Falls and sleep in a hotel with our dogs, so the extra guests I didn’t account for could stay in our cabin! We had lived in our fifth wheel camper from April until the end of June when Pete finished renovating one of the six cabins for us to live in, adding an efficient solar power system and LED lights.
I’ve learned I don’t need fancy appliances or electricity to be happy. We heated our cabin with a woodstove, used propane lighting in the evenings and enjoyed many campfires. I learned how to cook with propane and baking pizza on our BBQ was always a challenge if we wanted fast food. I brought my KitchenAid mixer and other modern day appliances to our new little house in North Bay. We sold the north camp in June to a wonderful large family, who turned it into a family vacation compound. We also sold the family a couple of the old steel boats, and they came and went from our south camp boat launch all season long. After north camp sold, we bought a little fixer upper in North Bay with the most crooked floors where we will spend our winters. I landed an administrative position at the University in North Bay, and Pete and I learned many lessons about ourselves and how resilient and strong we are. We had a very successful season. We just love the local people. We can’t wait to reopen for 2022 and host many more folks who love nature and fishing.
Postscript: While the author was writing this article, a devastating fire happened at TRL while it was vacant. The fire destroyed a dilapidated log cabin and three trailers. None of the cabins or other structures were affected. Corri and Peter remain strong and hopeful for a successful season in 2022.
Author biography: Corri Daniels ~Yellow Lightning Bird Woman, Osawa Waskipitew Piyisis Iskew~ is a Cree Sixties Scoop survivor from Treaty 4 Territory. She is a published writer and poet currently being mentored in the Audible.ca 2021 Indigenous Writers Circle. Corri’s two daughters, Pete’s three daughters and a son, and two old mutts named Herc and Pringle complete their blended family. Corri is currently working on her first book of poetry and stories which tell of her experiences as an Indigenous adoptee taken from her mother at birth.