North

After more than 60 years in business, Plummer's Arctic Lodges won't be opening this summer

After more than 60 years in business, Plummer's Arctic Lodges in the N.W.T. won't be opening this summer because of border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Border closures due to COVID-19 pandemic make it difficult to reopen

Great Bear Lake lodge is one of several fly-in fishing lodges in the N.W.T. operated by Plummer's Arctic Lodges. Owner Chummy Plummer says with border restrictions in place due to the pandemic, they won't be opening the lodges this summer. (Submitted by Chuk Coulter)

After more than 60 years in business, Plummer's Arctic Lodges won't be opening this summer.

The company, which started in the 1950s, now operates five lodges on Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, and the Tree River in Nunavut.

The company had been expecting an exceptional year, with hundreds of guests booked. But last week, owner Chummy Plummer began telling guests they would not open this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plummer cited national and territorial border closures as the main reasons why running their business this year would not be possible.

The N.W.T. banned non-essential travel by non-residents to the territory in March, around the same time the federal government placed similar restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border. 

"We've had our fingers crossed all winter hoping we would be able to open, our guests are chomping at the bit hoping they'd be able to travel," Plummer told Loren McGinnis on CBC's The Trailbreaker Wednesday morning.

But with the borders closed, he said, "we just don't have a choice. The decision was made for us." 

'There's never been a year like this one'

Plummer himself, who is based in Winnipeg, isn't even allowed to go up to the lodges right now amid the restrictions. He said he plans to apply for permission from the territorial government to fly into the lodges to do maintenance this summer, and he's hoping to get some fishing in while he's there.

Plummer, who has been guiding in the Northwest Territories since 1955 when he was a teenager, said he's never seen an event like this pandemic shut down northern lodges.

"There's never been a year like this one, this is a brand new one," he said.

Plummer has contemplated opening to just local clients, but said the overhead costs are high and the business is best run at a larger scale, with up to 40 or 50 guests at some of his lodges.

In an email to his 2020 clients, Plummer said no one will lose any money that they had put toward their trips, and all of the bookings for this year will be transferred to the equivalent week next year, or in 2022 if needed.

Dan Wong paddling the South Nahanni River, in the N.W.T. Wong's tripping company Jackpine Paddle is focusing on smaller, local ventures this summer. (Submitted by Dan Wong)

Dan Wong runs N.W.T. canoe and kayak tripping company Jackpine Paddle. He, too, is feeling the sting of COVID-19 restrictions on his business.

"We're dealing with it. We're going to be down probably 85 per cent," he said of this year's paddling season. "We're happy that we do have a local market and we can operate in a limited capacity."

Wong said instead of focusing on "really big trips of a lifetime" this year, his company will concentrate on paddling courses, summer camps and a collaboration with Yellowknife's Woodyard Brewhouse and Eatery in which paddlers who rent a canoe for a couple hours can get a gift certificate to the brewpub.

Of course, said Wong, the pandemic will take a toll on his business.

"We're a very, very viable business that is now going into debt," he said. "You just have to work as hard as you can and mitigate those losses."

Plummer said he doesn't want to think about this business having to close forever, and he hopes to have it up and running next year.

"We've got our fingers crossed for next year," said Plummer. "Just about everybody we booked this year wants to come next year."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated the Tree River was in the N.W.T. In fact, it is in Nunavut.
    May 20, 2020 1:15 PM CT

With files from Loren McGinnis

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