Running a tourist lodge is no longer just a dream for long-time area residents Bill Godin and Nellie Halvorsen, the new owners and operators of “Lake Despair Lodge” at the end of Highway 613 north of Devlin.
Formerly known as “Wickstrom’s Canadian Lodge,” a familiar area landmark for more than 40 years, it was re-opened by the couple last month after a year’s closure and neglect.
Godin and Halvorsen purchased the 5.5 acre property from Wisconsin native Paul Kolbeck, which does not include three cabins next to the landing or an outpost cabin on Jackfish Lake.
And while the work needed to re-vamp their portion has been laborious, it’s all part of the package, the new entrepreneurs said.
“We knew the long hours and how much work it would take. There were times we never ate supper before 10 p.m.,” noted Godin, who took the plunge into the tourist business full-time after eight years as a mechanic at West End Motors here.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know where to start. Now we can pick and choose jobs,” he added.
“There was so much work,” echoed Halvorsen, a familiar face behind the receptionist’s desk at the Nor-West Animal Clinic here.
“I don’t know how many trips to the dump we made,” she stressed.
Godin and Halvorsen said the huge workload included cutting three-foot high grass in the campground area, as well as washing the cabins ceiling to floor. Two days were needed to fully clean the carpets in them.
“The first thing people who have been here before say when they take a look around is ‘Oh, it’s so clean,’" chuckled Halvorsen. "I think we should have had ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures.”
Godin credited family and friends, including his niece, Kelly McDonald, 11, and nephew, Wayne Zerebeski, 14, with their invaluable help in bringing the property back up to snuff.
Included at “Lake Despair Lodge” are five housekeeping cabins, a 25-site campground, a shower and bath house, laundry facilities, and a sauna.
Boat and motor rentals also are available, as are guide services, a fishing cleaning house, and ice and freezer service.
And while tourists have frequented most all of the facilities so far, it’s the lodge’s convenience store which has proven to be the magnet for customers.
With 95 cabins on Lake Despair alone, and numerous others on adjoining Footprint, Jackfish and Clearwater lakes, the store sees a steady stream of business.
“We’re doing most of our business in the store on gas, ice, minnows and convenience items," said Godin. ”It’s been excellent.
“On the weekends, you can’t sit down because every five minutes somebody is coming in,” he smiled.
The new owners also noted “Lake Despair Lodge” isn’t just for summer use, stressing winter enthusiasts, including snowmobilers, can be accommodated there, too.
Some of the housekeeping cabins are winterized, and the couple plans to upgrade a garage on the property (which already has a massive kitchen) so they can offer a warm food and rest station for sledders.
“We’ll be open year-round and we’d like to see ice fishermen and snowmobilers up here, not just summer tourists,” Godin said.
But with business just barely underway, the most important thing right now is public awareness to the fact the place is back on track again after a year’s absence.
“The most important thing is to let everybody know we’re here," stressed Halvorsen. "Being closed for a year, people started looking for a different spot to go.”
“A lot of people still don’t know [we’re] open," agreed Godin. "And we’re not in it for the short-term.”
“Lake Despair Lodge” will be holding its grand opening this Saturday, Aug. 9, with a hot dog and hamburger barbecue starting at 1 p.m. in the campground area.