With over 2,000 lakes within 50 miles of town, the Ely area boasts the world’s greatest concentration of aquatic pockets for freshwater fun…and stories! Enjoy their history, mystery & intrigue in this new blog by Wintergreen co-founder Paul Schurke. And enjoy your own Northwoods adventures with our Wintergreen “Made in the Boundary Waters” clothing and our Wintergreen Lodge dogsledding fun.
Brotherly Love on Thompson Lake
Tucked in a triangle of unregulated Ontario wilderness between Quetico, VNP & BWCA, this lovely, long, island-studded lake has become a family favorite. Old foundation lines and a logging sluice lie where the Deer River exits its northwest corner. What happened there?
Though Thompson has never had road access, it turns out George & John DeNault ran the “Thompson Hotel” fishing camp in the ’40s & ‘50s. These Frenchmen who lingered on after the logging era ended made ends meet by trapping, cabin building & 75 cents/night beds in their hardscrabble hotel.
The story has it that John was socially stunted and functioned best deep in the wilderness so brother George obliged that need with the remote move to Thompson. There they were often alone for months and visitors noted that they communicated in their own pidgin French-English, furthering their isolation.
In their later years, Alzheimer’s left John prone to wandering aimlessly in the woods. Still George had to make occasional supply runs to Orr, MN – a 3-day, 84-mile round-trip journey with 4 miles of portaging, 24 miles solo paddling & 56 miles hitch-hiking. To prevent John from wandering off while he was gone, George was obliged to restrain John in the cabin, but was always careful to leave ample food & water for him.
Sadly on one such trip in the early ‘60s, George passed away of a heart attack. Canadian authorities flew in to Thompson Lake to retrieve John and bring him to Ft. Frances for George’s funeral and a nursing home where he lived out his days. The DeNault legacy lives on in the exquisite logwork of cabins along the Canadian shore of Sand Point & Namakan Lakes and the wildflower meadow at the Deer River logging sluice where the Thompson Hotel once stood deep in the wilderness.