It’s one type of experience to stay at a lodge, overlooking a crystal blue lake and surrounded by thousands of towering Pine, Spruce, Balsam, Yellow Birch, and Hemlock trees. It’s another one to own such a property. It’s a totally unique one to work on its restoration.
For over three generations, our relatives in Quebec operated a lodge and 1,000 plus acre hunting and fishing retreat. One that was reached only by teams of horses, and later also by small airplanes.
The compound had been designed, built and established by an ancestor who emigrated from the Lorraine Province in Northeast France. From what my grandfather said, the man was very eccentric, a self-educated architect and a shrewd businessman. He spent nearly every dollar he had to purchase a huge chunk of Canadian wilderness. Then, he spent the rest to turn the property into a getaway for persons who, like himself, possessed a great love for nature – and an uncompromising need for privacy.
All of the log buildings were constructed of “axe-squared or trimmed red pine timber”, harvested from the surrounding forest. Each building distinctive, blending well into the overall scheme.
The “Main Lodge” structure had two stories with thirty-five bedrooms and twenty-one bathrooms. Each bedroom and bathroom was entranced from the interior nine-foot wide wrap-around corridor that overlooked the great room on the first floor. Also, it had an end-to-end attic and observatory, and a partially above-ground basement that housed a fruit and vegetable (root) cellar, a meat locker and a complete laundry.
A massive two-story high stone fireplace rose majestically in the middle of the great room. A custom forced steam system heated every other room in the winter. Centrifugal ceiling fans cooled them in the summer.
The lodge had a thirty-foot long dining room with a hand-carved table that seated fifty people. Its gourmet kitchen featured a fifteen by twenty foot server’s pantry. Other amenities included a library lined with well-stocked, built-in bookshelves, a billiard and game room, an enclosed orchid nursery and solarium, a wide wrap-around porch, and even an elite outhouse system.
The adjacent “Cottage” provided free accommodations for the live-in staff. Its 5,000 square foot, two-story structure included twelve double bedrooms and eight large bathrooms. It featured an open living-dining area, stone fireplace, two kitchens (one eat-in), two dens, game room, sewing room, laundry, and solarium. Large porches graced the front and back walls of the building.
By the way, thick and smooth-to-the-touch hardwood flooring stretched throughout both the “Main Lodge” and “The Cottage.” During winter months, custom dyed and weaved rag rugs were put down in every area, every room – even the bathrooms, and the lower work areas (eg. laundry).
Two barns were situated on the property. One sheltered the dairy cattle, sheep, horses, chickens, ducks, dogs, and cats. The other stored hay, livestock feed, wagons, a sleigh, implements, and later two tractors and a small combine.
“The Summerhouse” was built later for canning, freezing and preserving, also for drying tea leaves and herbs. Part of the cleared land had been turned into a small working farm to grow and produce most of the food needed to feed the guests and staff.
According to my grandfather, the lodge was busy year-round. It boasted an impressive list of return guests that “sought adventure, refuge and peace.” In 1975, a relative wrote my grandfather, “They didn’t mind the little inconveniences that brutally cold winter weather, heavy snowstorms, and isolation from civilized life might cause.”
My grandparents last visited the relatives in the early 1980s. The lodge and retreat business had been closed for over two years. The only things left in tact were the main lodge – and the forest.
“The Cottage” had been turned into a north woods-type bed and breakfast inn. “The Summerhouse” had been remodeled into two sizeable apartments. One barn had been transformed into a fine dining restaurant with live entertainment, and a gift shop. The other barn and most of the farm land were being rented out to a large commercial farmer in the province.
By 2004, the U. S. part of our family had lost touch with the relatives in Quebec. And, efforts, a few years later, to notify them of my grandfather’s death failed completely.
That’s why the July 4 e-mail from “a Canadian relations” in Cincinnati surprised me, and others. An architect and construction engineer, the man is the grandson of my grandfather’s Quebec cousin. He explained that he decided to Google and check LinkedIn, after someone on his Ohio project asked if he had a Florida relative by the same name.
In my reply, I asked the obvious question: “What happened to the big lodge?”
Through his e-mail, I could see the man’s smile. “My brothers and I purchased it all back in 2009 and 2011. We’re restoring the main lodge, with a few upgrades for the modern sports enthusiast. Communications system, new airstrip, paved roadway, etc… It takes time to do it right…”
What about “The Cottage”? He said that two of his brothers and wives live there, and run the “B and B.” When the main lodge is ready to reopen, the “B and B” will close. And, the “cottage” will also serve as the residence of some of the lodge staff.
What about “The Summerhouse”? One-half has been reclaimed for its original use. “…retrofitted with 21st Century cooking, baking and preserving equipment…”
The European-style restaurant and gift shop were closed in 2001. The equipment, furnishings, and inventory were sold. Eventually, the barn was dismantled; and its rough-sawn lumber was sold to pay revenue taxes.
Structurally, all of the buildings are solid. Their complementary designs and layouts are as aesthetically appealing and amenable as they were in the early 1900s.
The lake and streams on the property are clear and well-stocked. The dense forest – Red and Eastern White Pines; Balsam, Red, Black and White Spruce, Red Oak, Yellow Birch, and Hemlock – still majestic, and protected with limited allowable cutting.