by Nicole Spinks, Churchill Wild Lodge Manager
It’s been a crazy start to the summer, but we’re certainly getting lots done!
Normally, we would have just finished saying goodbye to the fishing guests at North Knife Lake Lodge and have been well into our second week of walking with polar bears on the Birds, Bears and Belugas safari at Seal River, but this year, with no guests for the summer, we’ve been working on various lodge refurbishing projects.
Some of the work has been brutal, like stripping the outside walls of the main lodge at North Knife Lake and then refinishing and staining them. But life isn’t without its simple pleasures up here either, like fishing, barbecuing, boating, water skiing, knee boarding and of course, sunsets over one of the most pristine lakes in the world.
The food at North Knife Lake was excellent as always, thanks to Elaine Friesen, who was one of our very first chefs at Dymond Lake Ecolodge decades ago. And Churchill Wild matriarch Helen Webber couldn’t stay out of the kitchen either, which meant additional deliciousness on the table.
We’ve had more fresh produce at the lodges this year, thanks to Riley Friesen and his Prairie Wild Organics (formerly Arctic Organics). His newly grown fruits and vegetables were supposed to be an additional treat for guests on the polar bear safaris this summer and fall. Instead, the hungry construction crews and staff have been devouring his colourful creations with pleasure.
So what kind of projects have we been doing to earn our meals, besides refinishing the lodge and a few of the back cabins at North Knife Lake?
“We fired up all the machinery and checked it, performed maintenance on anything that needed it, pulled out the dock, and did some work on the runway,” said Nolan Booth, Director of Operations at Churchill Wild. “We also put together a 14-passenger pontoon boat for both guests and staff. It was custom built down south, taken apart, loaded up on the Basler (a modified Douglas DC-3) and flown into North Knife, where we put it all back together again.”
The next project was to put up a wind turbine that added to the new solar power system we have at North Knife Lake. Solar panels are more efficient, but everything counts and wind power tops up the batteries.
“Ben (Lodge Manager Ben Lawrence) and I spent a couple weeks fine tuning the power system,” said Booth “It’s only a year old, and it generates about 8,000 watts of power, so we rarely have to run the generator. It takes about 3,000 watts to run the lodge, so we’ve always got power, but it is different these days, with everyone having cell phones, iPads and computers.
“Some of the construction crew are at Seal River Heritage Lodge now. They’ll be stripping and refinishing the entire lodge, just to freshen it up. There are all kinds of little projects that need doing and there’s always clean up to be done. We’ve got 12 people there and two of them are working every day on the runway. Longer, wider, smoother, flatter, safer.”
You never know who or what might want to land at Seal River some day, but we’ll be ready. As will the shop, which is getting a new raised concrete floor in the coming weeks. The polar bears will have to watch their steps when entering the shop on our days off. Kidding!
“We’ve installed a new generator at Seal River too,” said Booth. “And a few other little things. Backups for backups. After the refinishing is done at Seal River, we’re going to do the same thing at Dymond Lake, refinish all the exterior on the main buildings and all the cabins.”
And then it will be south to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, which actually needs little work as our newest lodge, but there is both machinery and vehicles to be serviced, including the custom-made rhinos and multiple ATVs.
“We’ve also got six people working in Churchill,” said Booth. “Helping Camp Nanuq with the refinishing of some of their cabins. They run summer programs for Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.”
As everyone knows, construction can be draining on the body, as can being outdoors for long periods of time in the north. After work, some staff members love to go fishing too, and why not. They’ve got a 32-mile-long rarely fished lake filled with hungry lake trout and northern pike. Guide Norm Rabiscah caught a Master Angler lake trout and Doug Webber’s favourite maintenance star Brett Kihn landed a Master Angler northern pike. Kihn also caught his first ever Arctic Grayling in the Seal River.
North Knife Lake is catch-and-release except for shore lunches and occasional meals, and the fish out of its cold, clean water are among the best tasting in the world. So the crew up here is not only being fueled by crisp, flavourful produce, but also occasionally by fresh wild fish. That’s something special when you’re far from a grocery store!
By far I mean a 50-minute flight on a small 9-seater plane from the nearest town, which is another 8-hour drive from the central hub where the fresh produce comes from. Having the availability of in-season, hand-picked produce really changes the way we think about mealtimes and food preparation. Knowing that the meals being prepared came from vegetables that were in the ground not even a week ago makes such a difference to the taste and feelings surrounding the food.
Eating isn’t just about taste, it’s also about the way things look and smell. So, to go along with these gorgeous vegetables there of course needs to be aromatic herbs. Parsley, Thyme, Oregano, Mint, Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Chives, Lemon Balm… the list goes on and on.
Who can say no to fresh cut herbs? I can’t! They go in and on everything. My favourite way of using them are in salad dressing where they can really stand out. The colours, flavours and smells are incredible. Cilantro and lime with a hint of apple cider vinegar, dill and parsley mixed into sour cream or mayonnaise for a creamier dressing… MMMM… my mouth is watering! And the next shipment has already arrived at Seal River Heritage Lodge!
More of that crisp lettuce along with radishes. Now these aren’t your ordinary round bulb style radish, these are French Breakfast radishes. They are a lighter in colour and more oblong in shape. Biting into one of these packs a punch. The flavour is amazing: crunchy and juicy with a hint of spice at the end. They really wake the taste buds up and are a delectable treat in salads or when roasted with other root vegetables. A fun way to jazz up the starch option in your meal!
I can’t wait to see what Prairie Wild Organics sends us next. Maybe some earthy beetroot, juicy plump tomatoes, or spicy jalapenos? I’m excited just thinking about all the things I can cook (and eat)! I know not everyone has the space, time, energy and skills required to undertake such a project and we are so thankful that Riley does. His gardens are flourishing, which means a lot more delectable treats for future guests. That combined with all the recent improvements and…
“It always amazes me what a good group of people can accomplish,” said Booth. “The list of what we’ve done so far this year is incredible. A lot of people stepped up in a big way and helped us all to have a little normal in a strange time.”