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When the provincially-owned golf course came up for lease and private stewardship in 1990, Chief Gabriel Gopher placed his bid and was successful. He saw it as a perfect investment opportunity that would also create jobs for his people. Just over three years later, a $1 million + expansion has added 29 guest rooms to double room capacity, created more meeting space and refurbished existing guest rooms, dining room, lounge and banquet hall to add warmth, atmosphere and total comfort.
Above all, the golf course has, over this time, been consistently upgraded. A sprinkler system and top notch grooming and maintenance are bringing it back to a quality that is attracting serious golfers and class tournaments from throughout western Canada.
The official reopening of the restored and expanded Jackfish Lodge was held alongside the First Annual First Nations Golf Tournament, attracting 172 entries from across the country. It was quite a tee-off for the lodge. Alongside the dignitaries there for the opening - among them Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ovide Mercredi,
The Canada Day long weekend will be one fondly remembered by many golfers and, says Jackfish Lodge club pro Frank Fowler, "the event should pretty much sell itself next year."
"Our one goal is to attract people here," says Ray Ahenakew. In a tough business, Jackfish Lodge is starting to make the turn and a beautiful setting, comfortable lodge and well groomed greens should keep Jackfish moving steadily into the black, he says.
But Jackfish Lodge can't remain the secret of the few. The next step, says Ahenakew, is the launch of an extensive marketing strategy that will keep people in the province to golf and will also attract a world-wide following to Jackfish. A good relationship has already been established among oriental and First Nations people through Wanuskewin and that is a market that holds much potential, he says. "Oriental people are addicted to golf and appreciate quality. Those staying in Banff would certainly enjoy a few days at Jackfish Lodge," he says,
"In this industry, service drives the market and, with our recent management agreement with a reputable firm, Jackfish Lodge is now second to none in the country," says Ahenakew with pride. Visitors who come to Jackfish Lodge will be hosted by recently appointed manager Martin Hryniuk who comes to Jackfish with an impressive history - six years with the Sheraton, two years developing food services at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, two years as food and beverage manager at the Willows Golf Course in Saskatoon and two years as an instructor at SIAST's Kelsey Campus.
"With the additional rooms, we can now take as many as 40 executives and give them a really great time. We have it all here - accommodation, good food, service, and the golf course, in an exceptionally beautiful setting," says Hryniuk.
Chief Gopher was very much involved in the renovation and expansion, says Hryniuk, to ensure that it maintained an ambience that would fit perfectly into the lakeside location. Surrounded by incredible views, the view had to be a major concept of the design. The two storey lodge is clad in cedar and huge timber logs have been used for balcony supports.
The lodge's new chef, Brian Hendrickson, brings the unique and wonderful Wanuskewin dining experience to Jackfish Lodge. He is designing new menus to include more traditional food, including berries, buffalo and bannock. The Jackfish Lodge kitchen caters to intimate meetings or large gatherings in dining rooms that seat from 20 to 220. "Alongside comfort and hospitality, the quality of the golf course is still the key element," says Ahenakew, "and Ross Cromwell, our greenskeeper, is the best."
"You have to expand and be creative in golf course design, People remember the good golf courses. They also remember the bad ones," he says, with a smile. "We've spent $400,000 upgrading the whole course. We added sand traps and a lot of maintenance is bringing it back up to top quality. People may think grass is grass. Not so. Grass maintenance is an art - a good career for our young people," he adds, touching on an important aspect of this development. The hospitality industry is labour intensive one an is providing opportunity right on our doorstep for our people."
"First Nations are trying to succeed in all areas of development and I really feel it is economic opportunities that will drive our destination in the next ten years. I'm looking forward to future years, says Ahenakew.
Chief Gopher, Chairman of the Board of the Jackfish Lodge enterprise agrees of the 59 employees at Jackfish, 65 per cent are First Nations; 19 from the Salteaux Band and others from Moosomin, One Arrow and other nearby places, he says.
With Jackfish Lodge already attracting a sizeable summer crowd, Hryniuk's goal, he says, is to attract more business in the winter months, which will translate into further job opportunities and getaway destination choices. The setting - a veritable winter wonderland - is already in place. With cross-country ski trails, First Nations guides to local ice-fishing spots, sleigh rides and snowmobile rallies, Jackfish Lodge promises to be a year-round going concern. Table Mountain is close by for downhill skiing.
For FSIN Chief Roland Crowe, Jackfish Lodge represents a bright star in what promises to be a star-studded decade for First Nations people in the area of economic development. FSIN's faith and that of all the original lending institutions in the initial $3.4 million project has proven to be well placed.
Of course, Chief Crowe points out, the Saulteaux Band is no stranger to enterprise. For some years, the band has owned and operated the Cochin Convenience Store and Gas Bar and Cochin Construction which carries out excavation, trenching and earth moving. Other band members raise cattle.
All are successful ventures. "We've done well in having been able to develop a successful golf and resort centre," says Chief Crowe. "I think we've been able to prove to provincial and federal governments and to non-native society that, given the opportunity, we can do well in business in our own society. We are fast becoming an important destination point for golf tournaments. Ray (Ahenakew) deserves all the credit in the world. He introduces the facility to many people.
Not the least of which are our own First Nations community across Canada which can enjoy a truly First nations atmosphere of friendliness and relaxation.
Expenditures are fairly high for golfing on quality greens, and to be able to keep some of those dollars within the Indian community means a lot, he says.
As well as providing ongoing jobs, Jackfish Lodge has also already been a springboard into the job market for many young people, gaining initial training at Jackfish and moving on to other positions.
Crowe feels the expansion is another major move forward for First Nations enterprise. By doubling the number of guest rooms, the facility has become, overnight, a destination for larger groups who want to not only golf, meet and dine at Jackfish, but stay there as a group, without having to find accommodation in nearby towns. "Right there we have widened our margin of bookings," says Crowe.
One of the things that grieves Chief Crowe is that "we don't believe in ourselves and our places. We've never been good promoters. And if Saskatchewan people don't think what we have is wonderful, how are we going to attract anyone else here?", he asks.
Many of the people who came to the Assembly of First Nations conference, from all parts of Canada, and visited Jackfish Lodge, were pleasantly surprised. They never knew we had beauty like this in Saskatchewan, he says.
There's a whole area here to be tapped, says Crowe. "Our falling dollar can work for us if we let Americans know that they can golf in paradise and then travel north to the best fishing grounds in the world, taking advantage of a very favourable exchange rate."
"We've got to broaden our sights and go beyond our reserves, as Jackfish Lodge has done," says Crowe. "With more examples like this, we'll see, in the near future urban Indian reserves. we'll see manufacturing and processing. We'll begin to use our wheat and other resources to make value added products, instead of paying freight to send raw material out and back again in its processed form. But we've got to have more people in corporate board rooms," he says.
These aren't unattainable dreams, says Chief Crowe. The Indian Act was put in place to suppress First Nations, but now First Nations are beginning to take their rightful place in society. Leading the way, he says, were our Indian teachers. At one time it was unheard of to have an Indian working in a school as anything other than a janitor. Today, there are First Nations people working in every capacity in the school systems; as teachers, principals and administrators. 'Today, we can dream in technicolour," he says.
Chief Crowe says he will always remember a quote by President J.F. Kennedy that he read as a young man at Onion Lake. "I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
"That impressed me," he says. "The potential is enormous. We can't even grasp its enormity, because we can't see that far ahead. And we can be successful if we want to be."