Thunder Bay·Video

Northwestern Ontario landmark, White Otter Castle, needs $400K in repairs

As far as they know, the Friends of White Otter Castle say there's only one wooden castle in the world, and it needs a bit of work after turning 100 years old.

Century-old structure needs work on its roof, chinking, windows

As far as they know, the Friends of White Otter Castle say there's only one wooden castle in the world, and it needs a bit of work after turning 100 years old.

The "castle" — a three-storey structure with a four-storey tower — was built by hand in the middle of the northwestern Ontario wilderness by Jimmy McOuat, a noted eccentric hermit, between 1903 and 1915. It sits on a site in Turtle River-White Otter Provincial Park, between the communities of Ignace and Atikokan, about 250 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont.

The structure is built out of logs; some of the timbers, hand sawn by McOuat, weighed as much as 725 kilograms.

Its age and isolation, however, are now showing.

"We need new chinking, we need new Plexiglas, most of the framing of the windows is rotten, so that all needs to be replaced," said Jackie Smyk, who chairs the Friends of White Otter Castle, a stewardship group dedicated to the structure's preservation.

Smyk said the group needs to come up with $400,000 to complete badly needed repairs. That money though, would be spread out over the next two decades.

The castle had some major rebuilds in the 1950s and early 1990s. The Friends will take some responsibility for maintaining the site, even though it's on Crown land.

"It's just a very special place, and there's no other building like this in the world," said Smyk.
Jackie Smyk is the chair of Friends of White Otter Castle. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"Just the peace and the magic of the place, especially if you sit here at night around the campfire, or around the castle at night."

Aside from the cost, the castle's location makes it a difficult restoration project; it's not an easy place to get to. The site can be accessed by boat, but visitors have to traverse portages on their way there. Floatplanes can also access White Otter Castle.

In winter, snowmobilers frequently visit the property.

Most visitors see the castle in the summer, including a group of Boy Scouts of America, who were paddling through the area on Thursday. They were visiting from Texas.

"They're pretty shocked," said Nick Birkhimer, who was leading the group with Northern Tier Adventure Bases.

The site, he said, is a great spot to teach kids about perseverance. "It's a wonderful spot," he said.

"And what better way to show them about overcoming obstacles and meeting your goals than showing them Jimmy's handmade, built just by himself, castle."

Even though he lived there, McOuat could never acquire the land.

McOuat is assumed to have drowned in 1918, while netting fish in White Otter Lake. His body was found the following spring. His grave is next to his castle.

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