The Kettle Falls Hotel is located between Namakan and Rainy Lakes in Voyageurs National Park. Even today, no road leads to the hotel; it is accessible only by water. Why was a hotel constructed in this seemingly inconvenient location? Find out here!
Welcome to the Kettle Falls Hotel and Dam Podcast. The Kettle Falls area is one of 15 visitor Destinations within Voyageurs National Park.
You have finally made it to Kettle Falls. I’m sure it was quite a journey for you. Did you come to fish for Lake Sturgeon below a fast moving water fall? Or you have been paddling a 26-foot canoe and the water is too low to go any further so you need to get out and portage around the falls. Maybe you’re looking to get rich quick and have traveled thousands of miles and are in a hurry to catch the steamer on the other side of the falls. Perhaps you’ve come to sell your fish to people or sluice logs through the newly constructed dam.
Whatever the reason is that you have come to this gathering place, there are many others just like you, here for an opportunity. For thousands of years the Kettle Falls area has provided a wealth of opportunity for a variety of people and been known as “the crossroad of history”.
Geographically, the falls, and later the dams, created a barrier that people had to bypass in order to travel from one lake to another. At Kettle Falls there are actually two falls separated by an island: Kettle Falls on the United States border and Squirrel Falls on the Canadian border. The falls were well-known to Indian people, early fur traders, explorers, gold miners, commercial fisherman, lumbermen, and early tourists as an important gathering spot.
For the Ojibwe Indians the opportunity at Kettle Falls was Lake Sturgeon. For the voyageurs, it was a chance to shorten a portage route on the 3,000-mile water highway of the fur trade. Others saw the economic opportunity of the falls to generate power and store water for paper mills.
No matter what the reason was for people to gather in the Kettle Falls area, the land has provided a means and way of life for everyone.
In 1910 construction of the dams drew even more people to the Kettle Falls area. One such group were lumber companies as it was a major route for transporting logs to International Falls and timber assessor Ed Rose saw potential to provide lodging to travelers using the portage.
Ed began construction of the Kettle Falls Hotel and finished in 1913. One rumor states the construction of the Kettle Falls Hotel was financed by the famous Madame, Nelly Blye.
After several years of operating the hotel, Ed Rose sold the hotel to Bob Williams in 1918. The price for the hotel was 1000 dollars and four barrels of Bob’s homemade whisky. This was a good deal for Ed with prohibition lurking around the corner, but an even greater opportunity for Bob, whose family owned and operated the hotel for the next 59 years.
During the early years of the dam construction, the hotel was a thriving business and a way of life for many people. Over 150 dam laborers lived and worked at Kettle Falls, lumberjacks came with their week’s pay to enjoy some of the homemade, and illegal, whiskey, and commercial fishermen came to hold fish auctions. At times there would be 200 to 300 people watching fish auctions that were held several times a week.
Early tourists eventually became the mainstay of life at Kettle Falls and in 1930 the hotel was advertised as a place where tourists could find an opportunity to escape their allergies, “Not a sneeze on the border!”
The chance to escape allergies wasn’t the only thing that made Kettle Falls a bustling tourist destination. Word spread of Lil Williams’, Bob’s wife’s, cooking. Her fried chicken was especially popular. When asked how many chickens were fried on a Sunday night she responded, “A hundred or more sometimes!” Most visitors came back year after year, and the friendly environment made them feel so at home they would start doing their own dishes.
Wear and tear on the hotel became apparent over the years and the hotel began to be affectionately known as the Tiltin’ Hilton. The decay of the logs and clay soil caused the building to settle over the contours of the log foundation and as the building settled, the hardwood floors gradually took on the contours of this foundation and the entire hotel was bowed and warped. That never stopped the hotel from prospering. The Williams family sawed off table legs, the piano and pool table were stabilized with pots and books, and the bottoms of the doors were sawed off once or twice a year to fit their doorways all in order to keep up with the shifting of the hotel.
In 1977, the Williams family decided to change their way of life and sold Kettle Falls Hotel to the National Park Service. The hotel remained closed for many years until it was renovated. Before it was torn down the floor was mapped, then most of the floors were straightened but the bar still retains its warped floors, which became part of the charm and nostalgia of the hotel.
The Kettle Falls area has been many things to many people. For Ed Rose and the Williams family it was the opportunity to run a successful hotel. For lumberjacks it was a place for relaxing after sluicing logs through the dam. For the Ojibwe it was a gathering place to fish for sturgeon and trade blueberries for items at the trading post. For the gold seekers it was a portage route to get to the gold field of Rainy Lake and for commercial fisherman it was a place to sell their wares. Kettle Falls truly was and is a crossroad of history, a place where opportunity still exists and history comes alive.
This concludes the Kettle Falls Hotel podcast.
Kettle Falls Part II (Dam)
The Kettle Falls Dam is located between Rainy and Namakan Lakes in Voyageurs National Park. Why was a dam constructed in this location and how is it used today? Listen to find out!
Welcome to the Kettle Falls Hotel and Dam Podcast. The Kettle Falls area is one of 15 visitor Destinations within Voyageurs National Park.
As you approach the beach, below the hotel, imagine the hustle and bustle of the activities going on. If you were here between the 1700s to mid 1830s there could be voyageurs portaging their cargo. In the 1890s there could be gold prospectors and their equipment waiting to be transported to the mines on Rainy Lake. From 1913 to 1920 there could be boxes of fish waiting to be auctioned off by commercial fisherman, or even logs could be rumbling through the gates of the dams.
As you walk to the dam and observation deck, imagine what the falls looked like before the dams were constructed. The early voyageurs named the nine foot drop Chaudière Falls (Chaudière is a French word meaning boiling kettle).
The voyageurs would not shoot the rapids for fear of losing their cargo, but would carry their 90 pound packs around the falls. In the spring, Ojibwe Indians would harvest sturgeon below the falls.
During the 1890s gold rush, there would be many people waiting to catch the steam-powered boat to Rainy Lake City.
As you look around the Kettle Falls Dam area, one can probably imagine quite a story as to why the dam was constructed. Opportunity!
In the early 1900s Edward W. Backus was a nationally renowned lumber magnate and industrialist with a vast empire of lumber mills, railroads, power plants, and woodlands.
In order to develop his timber for harvesting, he needed power for its operation. Between 1905 and 1908 he completed the dam in International Falls. Once completed Backus immediately built a paper mill and sawmill which was powered by the International Falls dam.
His plans for hydro-electric development in the Rainy Lake watershed called for a series of power and storage dams stretching eastward from Lac La Croix.
These dams, he contended would increase and stabilize power generation at the International Falls Dam and also prevent flooding. In 1910 he received approval for development of the Kettle Falls dam which would provide additional water reserves in the winter months for his International Falls dam. The construction of the dam started in 1910 with a wooden coffer dam just upstream from the current dam.
The dam was a four year project which employed 150 laborers. The original dams were constructed from stone and mortar and in 1965 the dams were rebuilt with concrete pillars. An additional dam was also built about a one-half mile south called Squirrel Falls.
Building of these dams drew strong opposition from conservation groups and private citizens of both the U.S. and Canada. The proposed dams, they argued, would spoil priceless scenery and constitute serious misuse of natural resources that belonged to the public. Ernest Oberholtzer, Rainy Lake resident and dedicated conservationist, agreed to lead the campaign to stop dam building.
With public opinion strongly in their favor, the opponents finally won a clear-cut victory prohibiting further development of dams in this area. However, lumbering continued to be an economic opportunity and booms continued to be sluiced through Kettle Falls Dam every summer until 1940.
Today, the Kettle Falls dam is owned and operated by Boise Cascade Corporation. They release water to power the electric turbines in International Falls under a set of water level rules established by the International Joint Commission.
The International Joint Commission was established in 1909 by the Boundary Waters Treaty. It is composed of six members, 3 appointed by the President of the United States and 3 appointed by the Canadian government. The International Joint Commission, or IJC, was established to mediate disputes that may arise over the use of water on the border between the United States and Canada.
This region is managed by the International Rainy Lake Board of Control. A board is established by the IJC to manage the Rainy Lake area. The International Rainy Lake Board of Control establishes rule curves for the water levels on Rainy Lake and the Namakan Basin. On June 8, 1949 the board established the first rule curves to allow for the maximum and minimum water levels these lakes could be at, except during emergency conditions.
The trouble with this rule curve was that it did not mimic the natural flow of the lakes. The water level spiked at very high levels in the spring, then had a large drawdown in the fall. This negatively impacted the natural systems in the park. Wild rice was almost completely wiped out of the area because of the high water levels. Loons were not able to effectively raise chicks because their nests would be inundated with water early in the season, then left high and dry later in the season. Beavers had trouble in the winter because the water would be drawn down so much that their lodges were left dry, with no water to protect the opening or act as an insulator to the frigid winter temperatures.
In 2000 the IJC, through the Rainy Lake Board of Control, realized that they needed to find a way to balance human needs with the needs of nature. They created a new rule curve that mimics the natural rise and fall of water levels on these lakes. Research was done and is currently being conducted on seven plants and animal species to determine if the new rule curve is having positive effects on the natural ecosystem in the park and surrounding area. Some of the species being studied include loons, beavers, macro invertebrates, and wild rice. The research and the analysis of the data will conclude and be reviewed in 2015 to determine if the IJC will keep the current rule curve, or create a new curve for the water levels.
These rule curves bring us to another crossroad, both here at Voyageurs National Park, and in society at large. The historic rule curve was created solely for human use and convenience. The current rule curve show peoples journey beyond using areas just for human use and instead finding a balance between human needs and the needs of nature. It is important to remember that we all find a balance between human needs and nature’s needs so that areas like this will be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
Little American Island
Little American Island is located on Rainy Lake in Voyageurs National Park. Learn about the history of gold mining on Rainy Lake - did anyone strike it rich on Little American Island? Listen to find out!
Welcome to Little American Island, the site where gold was first discovered on the United States side of Rainy Lake and one of 15 visitor destinations in Voyageurs National Park.
In the mid1800s, America found itself in an economic depression. People all over the United States were without work. The civil war had recently ended, creating an influx of people needing jobs. Area iron mines had shut down and thousands of people were unemployed and desperate. People looked for hope in whatever form they could find. So when gold was discovered on Rainy Lake in 1893, a rush to the border began. The prospect of finding gold meant more than just the desire to get rich quick – it was hope for a new life. Did anyone find this new life during the Rainy Lake Gold Rush? We’ll find out as we explore the story of Little American Island.
To understand why gold was found on Rainy Lake, it is helpful to understand the geologic context. In the northwestern region of Voyageurs National Park lies the Rainy Lake Seine River fault zone. Faults are fractures in the earth’s crust where the rocks have been moved in relation to the rocks on the other side of the fracture – often from earthquakes. California’s San Andreas fault is a famous example of a fault. The Rainy Lake Seine River fault zone extends over 130 miles, crossing the border into Canada in a northwest/southeast direction. Located on this fault zone, we find Little American Island.
Little American Island, the fault zone, and Voyageurs National Park are all part of a large geologic region that stretches north to the Arctic Ocean. This region is known as the Canadian Shield. Although the shield is not quite as famous as say, the Grand Canyon, the rocks found here on the surface are older than the rocks at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! In fact, this region, including Voyageurs National Park, contains some of the oldest rocks on the entire planet, dating back to half of the age of the earth. Think dinosaurs lived a long time ago? Go back in time 65 million years to when the dinosaurs died out… then go back over 40 times further. The age of rocks here are not measured in millions of years, but billions. Most of the rock in Voyageurs – various granites and metamorphic rocks known as gneiss and schist – are about two and a half billion years old. The rocks known as greenstone found in the fault zone – and on Little American Island – are closer to three billion years old.
Now the Voyageurs of back then would be a little different than the Voyageurs of today. A rock structure known as “pillow lava” is found in the greenstone belt, providing a clue to this ancient environment. Where do we find pillow lavas today? Where lava erupts out of the earth’s crust under the surface of the ocean, as we find on the seafloor around the Hawaiian islands. At one time, you would have found active volcanic islands here, surrounded by ocean. Your Voyageurs experience might have been a little different back then!
These pillow lavas and volcanic rock make up much of today’s greenstone belt that Little American Island is a part of. The high pressures and temperatures over the intervening years liquefied minerals such as quartz and deposited them in the greenstone belt. Found alongside the quartz within these quartz veins? Copper…. Nickel… Zinc…Silver…. GOLD.
Of course, none of this would be exposed on the earth’s surface if not for the giant glacial ice sheets of recent history that scoured out the landscape. These glaciers picked up and transported the overlying rock and soil, dropping them off to the south much like a giant conveyor belt. Thus, the greenstone belt lay exposed at the surface, waiting to be explored for possible unfathomable riches.
The hard times of a post-Civil War America created a class of men willing to travel anywhere in the pursuit of a job, money, and a chance at happiness. When the Minnesota state geologist declared in 1866 that the northern Minnesota quartz veins contained “vast deposits” of gold and silver, hordes of men from around the country rushed to the wilderness of northern Minnesota around Lake Vermilion. No gold was found. By the end of the 1860’s, men had given up and returned home or moved on to new adventures.
But still, many were convinced that Minnesota had gold, and persistent prospectors continued exploring over the following decades. Gold was found sporadically around the region. In the summer of 1893, however, a gold prospector, George Davis, camped on Little American Island in Rainy Lake and noticed a quartz vein. Prying loose a quartz sample, Davis crushed the fist-sized stone and found several flakes of gold – about twenty five cents worth. Obtaining more samples, he transported them to Duluth, Minnesota to be assayed, or evaluated. Davis’ quartz samples were assayed at $98/ton. The gold rush was on!
News of the discovery spread like wildfire through the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and people rushed to the area seeking their own fortune. Within sight of Little American Island, the town site of Rainy Lake City was plotted in 1894. Rumors of the vast gold deposits caused the town to spring up almost overnight – the population eventually grew into the hundreds.
Many of these miners were expecting to find “placer gold”, in which small flakes and pieces of gold are found resting loose sediment in stream beds and gravel deposits. This isn’t what miners found on Rainy Lake. All of the gold here was interlaced throughout veins of quartz. To extract gold from these quartz veins, the miners had to engage in a process called hard-rock mining.
To reach quartz veins and pockets of gold, miners used dynamite to sink shafts. If testing proved that the gold was valuable, mining began. On Rainy Lake, miners fired the first blast in the fall of 1893. Investors formed the Bevier Mining and Milling Co. and began heavily mining Little American Island in 1894.
Hard-rock mining was dangerous, with the ever-present threat of cave-ins, explosions, toxic fumes, and flooding. It was also difficult and time consuming. Often there would be two men working at a bottom of a vertical shaft. They would load rock into a barrel that was then pulled out of the mine shaft using a large pulley mounted on a head frame. The first shaft sunk on Little American Island reached a depth of 100 feet – they had to pull that barrel a long way!
Once the rock was hauled out of the mine, it was then loaded onto rail cars and brought to a loading dock near the shore. Miners would transport a boat full of ore one mile to the loading dock at Rainy Lake City to be crushed at a 5 stamp mill - a set of five crushers (or stamps) that pounded the ore to a powder. The gold was then separated from the powder through the use of mercury in a process called amalgamation.
The stamp mill at Rainy Lake City operated between 1894-1897, continually pounding ore brought from Little American Island. Often there would be 15-20 men on Little American Island at a time – both miners underground and laborers on the surface. This proved to be an expensive operation - miners were paid $2/day while laborers earned $1.50/day. In addition to paying wages, mine owners had the high cost of transporting the raw ore one mile from Little American Island to the stamp mill. It also needed to run the mill. By the time 1897 rolled around, ownership of the Little American Island mining operation passed through the hands of three different companies, each having high hopes for recovering enough gold to make a profit. One company moved a 10 stamp mill to the island to make the process of crushing rock more efficient. An additional mine shaft was excavated to reach deeper into the quartz, hoping to recover quartz with a higher percentage of gold. By the end of 1897, the new shaft had reached over 200 feet. Finally, the rich quartz was finally within reach!
But it was too late. In 1898, mining on Little American Island was halted. A total of $4,500 worth of gold had been recovered - $213,000 in today’s money. This was not enough to maintain the expensive mining operation. Out of money, the Lyle Mining Company quietly shut down. Gold seekers headed northwest to the gold fields of the Klondike, where placer gold had been discovered. Rainy Lake City – the town that sprung up overnight – became a ghost town just as quickly. By 1901, even the post office finally shuttered its doors.
Is there gold on Little American Island today? Yes. There is gold distributed in quartz veins throughout this fault line. Despite the presence of gold, it could not be mined from the ground at a profit. The lack of sufficient financial backing…the discovery of less gold than anticipated…the difficulties in reaching the gold…the lure of greater riches in the Klondike…. This all led to the demise of the mining on Rainy Lake. There were periodic attempts to mine for gold on Little American Island over the next 30 years, but without luck. Other islands throughout Voyageurs – Dryweed Island, Bushyhead Island, Big American Island – all had mines that met similar fates. Only across the border in Canada did any mines make anyone rich.
However, to call the entire endeavor a failure would be false. Many people who left Rainy Lake City settled in the region rather than heading to the Klondike. These settlers realized this area containing today’s Voyageurs National Park had a lot of offer. The travel routes that had been developed to reach the gold mines allowed easier mobility, meaning a living could be made from the fish and timber. They spread the word of the area’s beauty and guided tourists who came to see it for themselves. They used tailings from the stamp mill and mine to build the streets of a town called Koochiching. Today this town is known as International Falls. They came here with hope – hope to find gold to allow them to have a better life of stability and prosperity. They found their gold all right, just not in the form they were looking for.
Ellsworth Rock Gardens
The Ellsworth Rock Gardens are located on Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park. What's the story behind the dozens of rock sculptures arranged on granite terraces overlooking Kabetogama Lake? Find out here!
Welcome to the Ellsworth Rock gardens podcast. Ellsworth is one of 15 Visitor Destinations within Voyageurs National Park.
Imagine standing below a granite outcrop that rises sixty feet high. Scattered throughout the outcrop are trees, shrubs, weeds, and a variety of rock. There is not much to look at unless you are a person who sees beauty in the unexpected. Today, we can only imagine what Jack Ellsworth must have been thinking when he came to Kabetogama Lake in 1944. Perhaps a vision that included gardens everywhere and sculptures interspersed throughout. We cannot be too far off in our thoughts as this is what stands before you as you gaze up the granite outcrop. Over the next 20 years, Jack painted an amazing picture of beauty using the landscape as his canvas. He carefully crafted 60 uniquely terraced flowerbeds along with over 200 sculptures. Between the 1940s to the 1960s, on any given day, visitors to Kabetogama Lake would see the gardens off in the distance. The beautiful rock formations and vast amounts of bright orange tiger lilies drew visitors into its spectacle. Jack would often sit back in his chair and let visitors, to the lake, walk throughout the gardens. Elsie stayed out of view, mostly in the cabin they called home. Today there is little known about Jack and his wife Elsie. They lived most of their life in Chicago, Illinois where Jack worked as a carpenter and architect; they had no children, and few relatives. Jack tried his hand at fishing the lakes but found that he didn’t care for it, so gardening became his passion. He spent more than 14,000 recorded hours constructing and beautifying the gardens.
We will be taking a virtual tour of the landscape so be careful not to slip on the wet rocks, remember not to lean on the sculptures for support, as they may break, or twist an ankle as the hike is steep.
Our tour starts at the sign post which is a reconstruction of Jack’s original post. Visitors who came during the construction of the gardens would have docked near the sign post and viewed Jack sitting in a chair at the base of the outcrop. One can traverse this landscape by following the painted arrows, still visible today, through the gardens. As you view the gardens from the sign post, one can see why this area is known as the postcard view. If you were too look up to the very top of the gardens there lies one of two teepees Jack constructed.
The terraces laid out before you are called dry stacked, which is a technique that does not use mortar. Have you ever put together a jigsaw puzzle – the kind where the sky is all one color and you can only match up the pieces by their size and shape? Dry stacked technique is similar to the jigsaw puzzle. The only way the rocks were held together is by placing them precisely so that they formed interconnected walls. Once completed with the dry stacking, Jack crushed gneiss containing quartz into small pieces and laid it on top to resemble frosting on a cake.
For the majority of the sculptures you see Jack used only “the principle of the wheel, the inclined plane, and the lever to move all the rock.” Imagine lifting these rocks, some which may have weighted thousands of pounds, partially up the cliff, by hand, and alone. It would not have been an easy process.
Now you have climbed up the rocky outcrop and are standing at the top looking back toward the lake almost all of the trees you see would have been cut down to enhance the beauty of Kabetogama Lake.
One of the amazing things about the gardens is the mystical village that stands at the top of the gardens. Jack blended his vision of the rock garden with the natural beauty of the area.
It is time to walk down to the bottom of the gardens but along the way you can find more mystical creatures in Jack’s sculptures.
Not only were some of Jack’s creations whimsical but some were practical such as this stone bridge. If you follow its path, it will lead you to one of his prized discoveries. One day as Jack was clearing more land for his gardens he happened upon a strange rock sitting on top of granite bedrock and he was certain it was a meteorite. This rock grew to be famous over the years as the Ellsworth meteorite and was one of the most frequently photographed areas of the gardens. The United States Geological Survey organization eventually tested the rock and it turned out to be a glacial erratic, a rock left by glaciers when they began to melt.
Once you have reached the bottom and other side of the garden you can find remnants of where the Ellsworth home once stood. In 1978, the National Park Service purchased this property and began restoration of the gardens in 2001. However, the house had fallen into such disrepair that it had to be torn down. In its place is a picnic shelter that follows the outline of the old foundation. It has been described as “a piece of city in the wilderness” with its beautiful cabinets and the original fireplace which still stands.
During the time Jack and Elsie were at the gardens, more than 5,000 visitors came to the garden during the summers to view the spectacular and beautiful gardens. Jack Ellsworth managed to blend the beauty of the landscape with the beauty of civilization to create a garden that was truly uniquely his own. Today the gardens are eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places. Come be inspired by the beauty of the unexpected.
Hoist Bay is located on Namakan Lake in Voyageurs National Park. Although quiet today, this area has been a hub of activity throughout the 20th century. Find out how!
Welcome to the Hoist Bay Podcast. Hoist Bay is one of 15 Visitor Destinations within Voyageurs National Park.
For thousands of years, this landscape now known as Voyageurs National Park has provided a means and way of life for many people. Over the years changes to the landscape have taken place. One very noticeable change occurred in 1907 when the railroad came to the borderland.
Six years after the railroad reached the borderland the Virginia and Rainy Lake logging company built 28 camps in what is now the park. Many people were excited with the progress of the railroad as it served to be a source of revenue and a new way of life. The railroad brought with it the capability to log timber on a much larger scale than ever before.
Imagine the year is 1913, as you gaze north, out into the bay, you would notice a railroad trestle extending several hundred yards over the water. Near the center of the trestle you would see a steam powered hoist and jammer belching clouds of black smoke.
The bay itself would be filled with floating logs contained within a single log boom (a log boom is a barrier placed in the bay that collected floating logs).
Soon a locomotive would appear and begin backing 10 flat cars out onto the trestle. It too would be steam powered and belching heavy clouds of smoke. Eight men would be moving into position to begin hoisting logs onto the cars.
You are at the Namakan Lake hoist owned by the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company (Camp number 75), today it is known as Hoist Bay.
As the scene develops before you, the jammer would pick up five or six logs at a time and deposit them length-wise onto the cars.
After 30 or so logs filled a flat car to capacity, the locomotive would back up for another flat car to be loaded. When 10 flat cars were loaded the locomotive would leave and move the flat cars to the side. Soon the locomotive would return with 10 more empty cars. This would be repeated four times and then the locomotive, with 40 cars in tow, would be off to the largest white pine sawmill in the world, the Virginia and Rainy Lake sawmill in Virginia, Minnesota.
It should be noted that most logs averaged 16 feet in length and were primarily white pine. Many loads averaged 650 board feet of lumber per log. (A board foot is a piece of wood 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 inch thick.)
Once the logs were sawed into lumber they were distributed and sold as far south as Missouri and as far east as New Jersey. Perhaps the house you or your parents were raised in came from this lumber mill.
Although it took just eight men to operate the hoist, Camp number 75 housed 150 to 200 lumberjacks during the peak of operation.
Virginia and Rainy Lake Camp number 75 and its hoist operated from 1913 to 1925. Over its 12 years of operation, the camp processed and shipped over 2.5 billion board feet of lumber out of Hoist Bay. The Virginia and Rainy lake Company were the largest landowners in what is now known as Voyageurs National Park -at that time owning 12.3 percent of the land.
During the mid 1920s, the logging period became a source of income for many people. However, with logging came change. Logging operations had a major impact on the landscape and ecology of this area. Dominate tree species of white and red pine were replaced with balsam fir, spruce, birch, aspen, and oak. Along with the change in vegetation came the change in the diversity of animal species. Elk, caribou, and an abundant moose population, once lived in what is now Voyageurs National Park. Today, the elk and caribou have been replaced by the white-tailed deer and few moose roam the park’s landscape.
Following the years of logging, many people came upon the idea of conservation and promotion of the land for recreation. Most Americans now owned vehicles and had more leisure time to take vacations—camp, fish, and stay at resorts.
After 1925, the Virginia and Rainy Lake Camp number 75 and its buildings remained empty until the fall of 1938. A young couple from Ohio, Ted and Fern Monson, purchased the property, torn the camp buildings down and built Hoist Bay Resort which they ran during the summers until 1973.
The lumber from the abandoned logging camp came in handy for the Monson’s, both for firewood and building material. And, they had an unexpected bonus too. Not all the logs destined for the hoist made it. Millions of board feet sunk to the bottom of the bay, including one whole boom, only to resurface years later, floating on one end, which today are commonly called “deadheads”.
The Monson’s eventually recovered many of these logs, dried them, and sawed them for lumber. In fact, the ice house to the east was constructed from this lumber in 1940.
The ice house is a story in itself. All lake people had one, or access to one, because the stored ice was their only practical means of refrigeration. Electric service was years away and propane was expensive and difficult to transport.
In mid-winter ice blocks weighing as much as 400 pounds would be sawn by hand, slid, and stacked in the ice house. Once enough tiers of ice were harvested the four sides and the top were filled and covered with a thick layer of sawdust. The Hoist Bay icehouse was unique because it had a loft. The Monson’s hauled sawdust to the loft and shoveled it onto the ice blocks. This ice often lasted for two years. The Monson’s would stock their iceboxes with small blocks and also shave ice for packing fish.
Today, ice houses are still in existence in rural Canada, but for many secluded lake camps in this area, like Hoist Bay Resort, they disappeared in the 1960s. Small, efficient diesel generator plants became common and propane could be delivered in bulk by barge. Resorts and camps in the Voyageurs National Park area moved into the 20th Century in the late 1940s. The Monson’s were even luckier. The progress of electricity was brought to them by an electric co-op in 1953 and they received phone service in 1971.
In 1973, the Monson’s sold their resort to Dr. Hood. As the years progressed, so did the thought of people preserving the land for public enjoyment. Soon after purchasing the resort Dr. Hood sold it to the National Park Service.
Voyageurs National Park now uses Hoist Bay as a Visitor Destination. This is an area the National Park Service has decided to preserve for everyone’s future enjoyment. A place where a story of change can be told and visitors can step back in time to experience a piece of history.