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Eco-Tourism Luxury in Northern Saskatchewan
By: Cynthia Wandler, Winner of the 2009 Explore Saskatchewan Contest
Last summer, I entered the Explore Saskatchewan Contest offered by Tourism Saskatchewan. Last fall, I found out I won one of the five prize packages. I was thrilled to learn I would be the recipient of two Mountain Equipment Co-op backpacks and a four-day three-night stay at Forest House Lodge for two in north central Saskatchewan.
Then I ‘Googled’ Forest House Lodge and I was even more thrilled. As a wife who doesn’t get enough date time with her husband, as a stay-at-home mom of two young children, as a nature lover and as a fellow environmentalist, I began counting the months until our trip.
After reading and re-reading the website information, ogling the gorgeous photos and absorbing someone’s on-line diary of their trip to Forest House, I had pretty high expectations. Touting itself as an eco-tourism lodge, I read that the soil for Forest House’s gardens was completely from compost (I learned later that Forest House is located in the Canadian Shield, a stunning geographical area of our country that has little naturally-occurring soil) and that the lodge featured composting toilets.
The buildings themselves were made from local, sustainable wood and powered with solar power. The gourmet meal ingredients were mostly organic and from local producers. The activities we could do while we were there included guided canoeing, guided hiking, cooking classes, and organic gardening lessons. I read about the sauna on the lake and daydreamed about having a swim before enjoying its heat. There was even the possibility for an overnight canoeing trip and portaging. I wanted to do EVERYTHING!
Because Forest House Lodge is so isolated, you can only travel there by float plane or canoe. Since we could canoe while we were at Forest House, my husband Gilles and I decided to fly in so we could have both experiences. We were to fly out of Missinipe, a tiny community north of La Ronge. Upon our arrival there, we met Ric Driediger, a co-owner of Forest House Lodge and a man well-known in the area for his canoeing expertise and camping gear inventions.
Ric directed us to Osprey Air and we were off on a 15-minute flight to Forest House. I had known that this area of Saskatchewan was populated with so many lakes that many of them are unnamed; it’s also what makes that area so desirable for fly-in fishing trips and canoeing adventures. But it wasn’t until we were in the sky with the landscape laid out below us that I got a true sense of what that meant - lake after pristine lake, home to tiny islands, separated by threads of land growing black spruce trees.
When the float plane landed, staff members David and Crystal were waiting for us. We had to trek our gear across land about 200 meters to the next lake, then load the canoes for a short trip across the water to the lodge. As we approached from the water, Forest House finally floated into view and I wondered what adventures we would have there over the next few days.
On our tour, we saw the main lodge (the original home on the property but with some additions) which featured the kitchen, dining room, library and deck. There were two guest cabins, ours being the smaller one. It was clean and cozy with kindling already laid out in the fireplace for us, awaiting a match. I was introduced to the finest outhouse I have ever had the pleasure of using. The shower is set up in such a way that when you’re done, you step out onto a deck facing the woods which would prove to be so refreshing!
Outside, I was happy to see the extensive garden of herbs, vegetables and berries. When Crystal said, “Eat whatever you want, whenever you want,” my mouth started to water. I could be found there often over the next few days, picking peas, black currants, raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries and wild blueberries at its edges. Back at the deck, there was a beautiful spread of appetizers waiting for us: garden vegetables with a homemade beet dip, crackers and cheese with another dip and buns fresh from the oven.
Crystal asked us where we’d like to eat - in the kitchen? the dining room? the screened in porch? the deck? - and then arranged the food and seating to suit our desire. As we faced the lake, munching away and getting to know our hosts, I settled into true relaxation. Although there’s a satellite phone at Forest House, we were essentially off-the-grid; no cell phone reception, no T.V. or computer to be had. No nap times, soccer lessons or housework to worry about either. Ahhhhhh…
We had a late supper that first night, an herbed roast chicken that was delicious. The menu for our stay had been planned specifically for us and worked around Gilles' dietary restrictions. I would soon realize that every meal would be just as tasty, with care given to choosing healthy ingredients and a pleasing presentation. Before we retired to our cabin for a fire, Crystal asked us what time we'd like breakfast in the morning. Dare we say 10 am to allow for some sleeping in together, a luxury we had seldom enjoyed in the years since having our first baby? We dared.
The following days were filled with hiking, eating, fishing, canoeing, swimming, more eating and an overnight canoe trip. The plant life we saw as we hiked through the forest was remarkable; the lushest, thickest, deepest moss I have ever seen, beautiful lichens and other plants, all impressive for their uniqueness. We brought plant books from the library and I practiced identifying mushrooms and lichens. Crystal and Ev taught Gilles and I about wild edibles too; for eating, for dehydration, as insect repellent. We observed various scats on the trails and looked those up in the library when we returned.
The staff gave us canoeing lessons and we became more efficient paddlers as we went. I was continually surprised by the calmness of the lakes, the serenity and isolation surrounding us. In numerous days of being outdoors and on neighbouring lakes, we rarely saw other canoeists and it was always from a distance. Our overnight camping trip, two lakes away from ours, was a fantastic experience. No fifth wheels or air mattresses there; swimming in the water and sunning on the rocks to dry off, still eating a gourmet meal cooked with lake water over an open fire. And a very special treat that night: Northern Lights in northern Saskatchewan, reflected in the sky and on the lake in front of us.
I found the staff members at Forest House to be fascinating people, with their knowledge and stories of the outdoors. They were very accommodating to our needs and wishes (with the occasional laugh at me in all my enthusiasm), planning the days’ meals and activities around what Gilles and I wanted to do. They were efficient too; whipping up a snack for Gilles and me as we waited for lunch and turning my bucketful of black currants into syrup and juice for breakfast that morning. We enjoyed their company by candlelight over supper and into the evening. One night, Tim (who had come with Ev and would return with Dave the next morning) played his guitar and sang for us. It was clear to me that they loved Forest House too.
I had high expectations of Forest House and my expectations were actually exceeded. Gilles and I discussed whether we would have gone on this trip if it hadn’t been free and agreed it would definitely be worth the cost; in fact, we intend to return. Who knew that this kind of resort existed in Saskatchewan? We didn’t but we know now. I have travelled to a few countries including some tropical destinations yet I still appreciated so much what my own province in my own country has to offer.
Forest House is open to guests from June until September. You can reach Ric Driediger to make reservations at 1-877-511-2726 or at email@example.com. Thank you to Tourism Saskatchewan and Forest House Lodge for sponsoring my prize package. It was a fantastic experience in a beautiful place and I can hardly wait to return. Maybe I’ll see you there.