What is it that would inspire someone to come to such a remote and isolated place to start a business, a business literally built on the ruins of another? In my case, the inspiration was the profound beauty of Lake St. Joseph, a deep respect for the Native people who live in these wilds and a burning entrepreneurial spirit to create something from almost nothing. The result is Old Post Lodge, a world-class fishing lodge that rose from the ashes of a 200-year-old Hudson’s Bay Trading Post on the shores of this legendary lake. This is my story.
Born and raised in Goderich, Ontario, I spent my summers at a family cottage on the Cape Croker Reserve on Georgian Bay. It was during these extended vacations that I first had contact with Native peoples, their character, philosophy, and accepting ways. A free spirit and the positive influence of these generous people early in life eventually brought me to the northern community of New Osnaburgh where I accepted a managerial position with the Hudson’s Bay Company store in 1976. I have fond memories of those times when Hockey Night in Canada on CBC Radio was the highlight of the week. The roads were rough and it wasn’t always an easy life but the isolation allowed for the development of very special relationships with the people who call this area home; a unique and lasting bond was created, not only with the people but also with the land that has supported them for a thousand years.
In 1982, after having gone into the field of social work in the area of Pickle Lake, I met a young and dedicated school teacher named Wendy Dell. Having been so taken with the north it seemed appropriate that I would fall in love with a northern girl and in a few short months we were married in Wendy’s hometown of Red Lake. A year later and newly married, Wendy and I returned to Osnaburgh where we bought a store called Albany Free Traders situated at the narrows of the Albany River. Albany Free Traders was a very old fashioned general store offering everything from milk to lumber, mail delivery, a taxi service and just about everything in between. A large part of our thriving business was the purchase and processing of the prized wild rice gathered by the local people. Much to our delight, the store quickly became the community gathering place and we made many lasting friendships. The summer of 1984 brought us the first of our three sons, Jonathon.
In the spring of 1986 Wendy and I, along with our young son, took a short boat ride that would bring a profound change to our lives. On a sunny Saturday morning we crossed Lake St. Joseph and set foot, for the first time, on the property that once supported the Hudson’s Bay Trading Post known as Osnaburgh House. The site itself was absolutely breathtaking. Though in complete ruins, the old trading post store was still there along with a dilapidated old church and a graveyard covered with weeds and lost in time. Our decision to acquire the property came quickly and so, after a meeting with the elders of the local reserve, we bought the small amount of free hold land available and negotiated a long-term lease for the remainder of the site with my former employer, the Hudson’s Bay Company. That’s when the entrepreneurial spirit inside me took over.
We set our mark on the property that summer with the building of a small cabin and spent the next winter planning how we might make a living here. The idea for Old Post Lodge was born during that winter and not long after, so was our second son, Jordan. Our vision at the time for the family was to grow a business that would utilize the extraordinary natural assets of Lake St. Joseph without exploitation and would maintain the rich historical and cultural significance of the property. This delicate balance has always been very important to us and we strive to uphold it in everything we do at Old Post Lodge.
With this vision and the blessing of the elders of the community, we began creating what would soon become one of Ontario’s premier fishing lodges. We carefully restored what we could of the old trading post, added a series of new buildings, installed a generator and a state-of-the-art water treatment facility and did everything in our power to recreate the spirit of the original Osnaburgh House. We even wintered at the site with our two young boys in an effort to fully experience the natural cycle of the land and the lake. Our third son Joel was born the following summer and I’m happy to say all our children have an undeniable connection to Osnaburgh. Founded in 1786 by John Best for the Hudson’s Bay Company, the post has a deep and rich past; it was an integral part of the fabled fur trade era in Canadian history, it was the site on which Treaty 9 was signed – one of the most significant and encompassing treaties ever negotiated in this country, it was a burial ground, a place of worship, a place of meeting and a place of business.
Lake St. Joseph is a phenomenal fishery, far exceeding provincial averages, and in an effort to assure that it would remain so in the future, we implemented strict conservation practices and encouraged others to do the same. Today, under the Lake St. Joseph Accord, fishing licenses are restricted to a precious few and a catch and release program is in effect making the lake a valuable resource for generations to come, not to mention a sport fisherman’s paradise.
After all the dreaming, planning and building, Wendy and I have seen our vision come to life in Old Post Lodge. This is where we raised our three boys and made, not only a living, but also a commitment to the north, its resources and its people. The business has grown with our family, and our family with it. In the years since we first set foot in Osnaburgh, we have developed enduring friendships, created employment, and looked to the future while celebrating the past. This is a very special place and we like nothing more than sharing it with others.
The following web pages explore in some detail the extraordinary historic and cultural stories on which Old Post Lodge was built. I hope you find them as compelling as I do. Explore and enjoy!
Old Post Lodge