Paradise Lodge on Francois Lake. (Lakes District Museum Society photo/Lakes District News)

Paradise Lodge on the north shore of Francois Lake

Tourism has always played an important role in the local economy. Some of this area’s earliest resorts and lodges were developed to take advantage of the recreation opportunities available on Francois Lake.

Paradise Lodge was located on the north shore of Francois Lake near the unincorporated community of Clemretta. The property was originally part of a ranch owned by John and Mae Newton, who hailed from Washington State. According to Blanche Johnson, who moved here to Francois Lake with the Newtons, John was a veteran of the Spanish American War and already seventy years old when he and Mae arrived here in the 1930s.

The Newtons, with help from the Antillas (Finlanders who had settled in the Trout Creek area) built a spacious log home on Francois Lake. The house, which featured six rooms, cost the Newtons the exorbitant sum of six hundred dollars. John and Mae spent an additional hundred and twenty-five $125 to have windows and doors put in the structure, then finished the building themselves.

The homesteaders, Johnson included, were not prepared for life in the wilderness of Northern British Columbia.

“We were living in a tent, and it came to be Thanksgiving here,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t get into town, the roads were closed, so they decided they’d have a porcupine for Thanksgiving dinner. So Dad (Newton) shot it, we cleaned it and stuffed it, and put it in the oven. We thought four hours would do, but when we took it out of the oven, a fork wouldn’t even go into it. It must have been the granddaddy of them all, so we didn’t have porcupine for Thanksgiving.

The Newtons originally hoped to make their home the centerpiece of a large hunting and fishing lodge, but never realized their dream. “It just didn’t pan out, just fell by the wayside,” Johnson recalled years later.

The northern winters proved too much for the Newtons. After more than a decade here, they sold their lakefront property and moved back to Port Townsend, Washington. The new owners, Jack and Jean Nelson, took over in 1946 and created Paradise Lodge.

Their first guests were Mr. and Mrs. T.J. Tierney of Pasadena, California. The Tierneys enjoyed the experience so much that they came back in future years to help the Nelsons.

The Nelsons, with assistance from Barry Grainger, became successful guide-outfitters. Paradise Lodge was soon attracting visitors from around the world. Burns Lake’s weekly newspaper, The Review, reported in 1948 that a couple from Hawaii vacationed there. Another guest that year was Brigadier General Noel D. Lambert of the Canadian Armed Forces, who “traveled up from Vancouver in a twin motor Grumman ‘Goose’ piloted by E.F. Williamson.

The lodge also became a favourite ‘getaway’ for locals. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, a number of community events took place there, including the wedding of Noralee resident Betty Brewer and a young man from South Makwa, Saskatchewan named George Hamp.

Many residents now in their seventies and eighties have fond memories of the place.

“I remember the smell of the dark green paint on the boats every spring, and tarring the bottoms to prevent leaks,” said one local woman who as a child lived nearby.

“I have vivid memories of the place,” said another. “It was my first job, chopping wood for Dad, gassing up the boat motors… Jean was a lifelong friend.”

The Nelsons continued to live at the lodge until 1958, when Jack took a job with the BC Forest Service at Southbank. In 1965, he and his family moved to Mission. He died there Nov. 17, 1997 after a lengthy battle with multiple sclerosis.

© Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society