For those familiar, Norm's Cabin will not be operating in the same capacity this year. Due to the current COVID situation, Norm's Cabin will not operate as the usual warming station for those hiking, skiing and snowshoeing the trails.
Located north of Sault Ste. Marie on Bone Lake is a wonderful history-laden cabin that was built on old ties of love, kindness and friendship.
A gentleman by the name of Norm Bourgeois was the workforce behind the cabin since its inception. He was said to be a fit man who made the trek regularly to the cabin, often times packing in an outboard motor or gas cans on his back.
In his day, Norm welcomed everyone to his cabin, be they fisherman, hunter, hiker, outdoor enthusiast – no matter their calling. He entertained them with tea, cookies and storytime conversations.
Algoma Highlands Conservancy (AHC) purchased the cabin in 1996. Together with Stokely Creek, they worked to ensure Norm was able to continue accessing his cabin as he was aging. They provided aid by ensuring his gas and other needs were delivered to the cabin. They also helped with cabin upkeep.
Norm made his last trip to his cabin in 2004 at the age of 88 and passed away in 2010 at 94 years of age.
"Visiting Norm and his quirky cabin full of random artifacts became a highlight of cross-country skiers at Stokely Creek Lodge, with many of them returning regulars year after year," explained Derissa Vincentini, administrator, AHC.
After Norm passed, AHC carried on Norm's tradition of serving tea and cookies to cross country skiers during the winter months in the spirit of preserving his legacy.
"The old cabin was getting unsafe to operate and difficult to maintain. Under the leadership of Dean Thompson, the board obtained funding from both federal and provincial governments under the Economic Action Plan, with a private capital contribution from Gaylen and Susan Byker, owners of Stokely Creek Lodge," added Kees VanFrankenhuyzen, president, AHC.
AHC hired Richard Kargl of Stokely Creek Lodge in 2013 to rebuild the cabin. The task was not without its challenges being situated 12 km from any road access. Once challenges were resolved, the cabin was completed in 2015 giving way for Norm's spirit and tradition to carry forward.
"While the quirkiness of the original cabin and Norm himself can never be replaced, he would be happy to know his tradition lives on," said Vincentini.
Through both winter and summer months, Norm's Cabin has been used as a back country destination. This means it is accessible only by non-motorized means – hiking, biking, snowshoeing or skiing – because of its location in an isolated rural wilderness. Generally, you are also doing this with your own equipment, food and gear.
In a regular winter, Stokely Creek Lodge will groom and maintain all the ski trails on AHC land including to Norm’s Cabin and up to King Mountain. AHC provides two hosts on weekends that serve tea and cookies at Norm’s Cabin.
In the summer, BlaqBear Eco Adventures manages the bookings, and cleaning the cabin itself. Carole BlaqBear will transport all your gear and food to Norm’s via canoe while you hike or bike into Norm’s without the added weight.
During the winter months, Norm’s Cabin can also be booked as a ski or snowshoe overnight destination.
"This year, Stokely Creek Lodge has made the decision not to operate and as a result, the trails will not be groomed. With no skiers out to visit Norm’s during the day and the added risk of contracting COVID-19 through gatherings, AHC has made the decision to make Norm’s available as an overnight-only back country destination. Norm’s will only be available Thursday through Monday of each week," said Vincentini.
Since there will be no groomed or maintained trails this year, it is imperative those experienced back country enthusiasts wishing to book Norm's cabin must take into account that they will also be back country skiing or snowshoeing the 9 km trail to access the cabin while carrying supplies with them.
Regardless of what the COVID situation brings, the mission is clear – Norm's Cabin will continue to be a rewarding destination to explore and enjoy the picturesque Algoma Highlands. One should consider it a means to relax, rest and be immersed in the beauty of nature.
"Norm’s is the perfect back country getaway without being too far from civilization and only a 30min drive to the parking lot from Sault Ste Marie," Vincentini said. "The 9km trail to the cabin can be challenging as it traverses through the hilly terrain of the Algoma Highlands. But at the end, you are rewarded with a beautiful isolated cabin, heated with a wood stove, with a gas-powered fridge and stove, and surrounded by nature. This winter without any groomed ski trails, you will likely encounter no one and have all of it to yourself."
A stay at Norm's Cabin should be considered an investment.
Not only do visitors receive a rewarding personal experience, but funds raised are channelled back into AHC where they are used to conserve the ecological integrity of the Algoma Highlands while creating space for silent sport recreation at destinations like Roberson Cliffs, providing environmental education for youth, and conducting environmental research.
Once Stokely Creek Lodge reopens and groomed trails resume, so will day hosts for skiers with tea and cookies at the ready.