Łutsël K'é First Nation buys Frontier fishing lodge

The move comes shortly after the establishment of Canada’s newest national park near the fly-in community.

Lodge had been operated by Witherspoon family for 29 years

The Frontier Fishing Lodge in Łutsël K'é currently operates from June to August, but community members are hoping to find uses for it year-round. (Submitted by Frontier Fishing Lodge)

Just in time for its 60th anniversary, Łutsël K'é Frontier Fishing Lodge will become the property of the local Dene band.

Corey Myers, the new general manager, announced via Facebook that the Witherspoon family, which took over the lodge in 1990, would be selling the lodge to the Łutsël K'é First Nation.

"After 29 years of ownership, the Witherspoon family has decided that it's time to pass the reins," he wrote.

Myers said the sale would "enable the refurbishment of Frontier's physical facilities" and update the lodge's tour packages "to include and reflect the passion, history and culture of the local people."

"The work is just beginning, but ... the whole team is enthusiastically optimistic about this incredible opportunity," Myers wrote.

The Łutsël K'é lodge is one of the N.W.T.'s best known fishing destinations. Located just a few kilometres from the fly-in community of just over 300, the lodge offers multi-day, guided fishing tours for $2,500 and up.

Testimonials on its website note its plentiful grayling and "hard-fighting" lake trout — numerous enough to catch a fish "every 12 1/2 minutes."

There's another draw for the lodge beyond the fishing: the nearby 26,000 square kilometre national park reserve, Thaidene Nëné, established just last year — one of few where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are able to fish and hunt.

J.C. Catholique, a former Łutsël K'é band councillor, said money that came to the band via an impact benefit agreement associated with the creation of the park was used for the purchase, in combination with local fundraising.

Even so, the band will be paying in installments, he said.

Catholique, who has applied to sit on the new lodge's board, is just one of many people in the community hoping the purchase will boost local employment.

"People are glad that we finally own the lodge, after all these years," he said.

Corey Myers, the lodge's new general manager, holds one of Great Slave Lake's enormous lake trout. Myers wrote that "the whole team is enthusiastically optimistic" about the sale. (Submitted by Corey Myers)

Catholique said under its former owner, Jerry Bricker, the lodge hired local guides and offered a training program for young people to learn the trade.

"I used to guide there, even my late father used to guide there. Some of the elders here … they used to guide up here," he said. "So we had our own people guiding."

But after the Witherspoons took over in 1990, Catholique said, the lodge began hiring guides from outside the community, in southern Canada.

"We didn't have much say, because it wasn't ours," he said.

Now that it will come under local ownership, Catholique said, "it's going to employ quite a few people."

The community is brimming with ideas for year-round usage of the lodge, Catholique said, which currently operates June through August only.

"There's lots of plans in the works," he said.

"There's lots of ideas out there, and lots of changes that people want to see," said Myers, the general manager.

Myers, who worked at the lodge for 10 years under the Witherspoons, said those changes might be a few years in coming, but wrote in his post announcing the sale that the lodge and First Nation "are excited to move forward together."

He said he plans to visit the community in the next few months for "face-to-face" discussions on what the community wants from the lodge, and will be living there once the season starts.

With files from Hilary Bird