As well as the article about Yukon bloggers (which I think was poorly executed) in yesterday’s Yukon News, there was an article about Yukon highway lodges being forced to close, supposedly because of the government’s new health regulations and the related costs of new septic systems. Bear Creek Lodge, seen to the right here, was the primary focus of the article. But there is far more to that story, and writer Genesee Keevil did a disservice to the lodge owners by not telling more of the story. Seeing highway lodges close is not a new problem, and the new health regulations are merely bringing a long-standing series of problems to a head.
The difficulty for lodge owners doesn’t arise from a single issue, it’s very complex. Two of the largest contributors, though are:
- many of the lodges were built about 50 years ago, and are at, near, or even well past their useful life as buildings. In virtually all cases, renovations are not economically feasible due to the condition of the structures.
- traffic patterns have substantially changed since the vast majority of the lodges were built. Many of the vehicles on the road now are completely self-contained (RVs of various types), and all of the vehicles on the road now can travel much faster, with fewer mechanical and/or tire problems, and few fuel stops.
Those 2 factors alone make lodges very, very difficult businesses to operate successfully. If you drive Northern highways year-round as often as I have over the past 17 years, you get used to seeing lodges boarded up – seasonally or permanently. You also get used to driving past the ones that are open, and some of the lodge owners are to blame for that. Some of the lodges gouge people who do stop (Coal Creek Lodge comes immediately to mind), others are filthy wrecks that should have been closed years ago (Koidern Lodge is number one on that list for me) and at others the service is so bad that you feel like you’ve imposed on the owners’ solitude if you do stop (that’s a much longer list). Having made comments like that, I want to say that Bear Creek Lodge is not on any of those lists for me. I know Gail Jeeves fairly well – she worked hard to run a quality operation, and I’m extremely sorry to see her and Bryant in this dire situation.
Most of the few lodges who do manage to make a go of it are relatively new, have no competition within an hour’s drive, and/or have an attraction at their doorstep (Liard Hotsprings Lodge, as a good example, has all 3 benefits). They also have built up a good reputation – in the case of Bear Creek that didn’t help and for Swift River it only “may” help, but for Johnson’s Crossing, Braeburn, Moose Creek, Contact Creek, Iron Creek and many others, that is the key to keeping the doors open.
I have scores of photographs of lodges, both open and closed, that I’ve taken over the years, and my home is the temporary repository for the large slide collection of a BC Liquor Board inspector from the 1950s – it includes hundreds of photos of lodges when they were new.
When the weather gets ugly, particularly in the winter, seeing a red “OPEN” sign in the middle of nowhere is deeply comforting. The new reality of the highways means that those signs are seen less and less often. I find it very sad that that part of the highways’ character is about to become history.