The Hay River Reserve now has a new wilderness lodge but it’s a wilderness lodge with a difference.
It’s in the wilderness, of course, but it’s also easy to access.
And that’s what K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) is hoping will make the lodge at Sandy Creek – which was officially opened March 19 – a popular destination.
The area of the lodge was first used as a summer camp many years ago by the Pentecostal Church.
The lodge had its first major gathering in August with a caucus retreat by all MLAs, and later there was another large meeting of teachers.
The department is also planning a major meeting there in May.
“At first, we talked about building way out at Buffalo Lake but we talked about it and I visited a couple of communities where they set these kinds of lodges out on the land, and they’re inaccessible,” said Chief Roy Fabian. “So we said, ‘OK, we’ll just put it closer to the community where it’s going to be accessible and have power and everything.'”
So the Jim Lamalice Wilderness Lodge became a reality.
Instead of being only accessible by plane or a long boat or snowmobile ride, you can get there by driving just six-and-a-half kilometres on an upgraded road starting at the Hay River Reserve’s Old Village.
About 100 people made that drive to celebrate the grand opening.
The most special guest was Sarah Lamalice, who cut the ribbon to officially open the lodge named in honour of her late husband.
“This is something we can all be really proud of as K’atlodeeche First Nation,” said Fabian of the new lodge, which was actually completed late last summer after being first proposed in 2008.
The $1.25-million, 4,400-sq-ft. lodge was constructed over two years with $777,000 from the Build Canada program and the rest provided by the KFN’s community public infrastructure funding from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
However, that was not the only construction on the site at Sandy Creek.
The band also built five cabins at a cost of $35,000 each, plus spent $300,000 to improve the road to the site and $225,000 to provide power via an underground line. All that work was paid for through the annual department funding to the band.
“There was a lot of effort put into this,” said Fabian.
A number of dignitaries were on hand at the official opening to offer congratulations to the band, including Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli, Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard and Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen.
Nadli said it was a proud moment for the community, and he praised the KFN leadership for the vision to build the lodge.
“What really struck me was the vision,” he said. “In a leadership position, sometimes you have to outline a vision.”
Congratulations were also offered by MACA and some companies involved in the project.
Fabian praised the work of Ken Norn, the chief operating officer of Naegha Zhia Inc., the band’s development arm, and his building crew.
Scotty Edgerton, the band’s chief executive officer, also recognized the workers.
In fact, they are now doing work outside the reserve, Edgerton pointed out. “And doing a good job, and we’re very proud of it.”
Fabian explained the site of the lodge has cultural significance for members of KFN.
“Our people have always used Sandy Creek,” he said, adding it was traditionally a good area for hunting and fishing.
In particular, he noted that his late uncle Jim Lamalice trapped and hunted in the area.
“My uncle, he loved the land,” the chief said. “This is the area he used the most.”
Fabian added that Lamalice was also a spiritual leader for his people, sat on band council for many years and helped set up the Hay River Reserve in the early 1970s.
“What we’ve got here is something that’s really special,” said Fabian, adding he hopes people will consider using the lodge for many different events.
Again stressing accessibility, the chief noted that participants in meetings can stay in Hay River and be easily bussed to the lodge each day.