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Lodge owners sue after Parks Canada denies business licence

The new owners of Trophy Lodge, a long-established fishing destination on the shore of Great Slave Lake, are suing Parks Canada and the Attorney General of Canada after they were denied a business licence to operate this year.
An overhead photo of the decades-old fishing destination known as Trophy Lodge. The owners of the business have filed suit against Parks Canada for denying them a business licence. Photo courtesy of Trophy Lodge

The new owners of Trophy Lodge, a long-established fishing destination on the shore of Great Slave Lake, are suing Parks Canada and the Attorney General of Canada after they were denied a business licence to operate this year.

A notice of application was filed in federal court on June 13 seeking a hearing in Vancouver, B.C. The application states the federal government made an agreement in 2006 to lease the land to the business for 20 years, until March 2026. In 2019, the Parks Act was amended to create the Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve, a territorial wildlife conservation area that surrounds Trophy Lodge on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

“The applicant (owners of Trophy Lodge) pleads that the Crown consented to the assigned of the lease and the applicant assumed the obligations under the lease,” the document states. “In reaching his decision, the CEO of Parks Canada failed to consider, or reasonably consider, or give sufficient weight of the right of the applicant under the lease.”

Later in 2019, the land was transferred to the federal government from the NWT for the newly formed park reserve, and multiple Indigenous governments that share a cultural connection to the land were appointed to manage it, including Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN), Northwest Territory Metis Nation, Deninu Kue First Nation and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Representatives from the LKDFN, GNWT, and Parks Canada were appointed to serve on the board that holds deliberations concerning the protected area.

Prior to the current owners purchasing Trophy Lodge, who include Yellowknife resident Andrew Moore — an RCMP officer and former fishing guide at the lodge — LKDFN had been negotiating to purchase the operation for themselves. Yellowknife’s Finlayson family, who owned the lodge at the time, notified the First Nation that they were not happy with the First Nation’s offer and invited Moore and his partners to make their own offer, which was later accepted. Before the sale was finalized, LKDFN wrote Moore a letter, dated April 27, 2022, which describes Trophy Lodge as a key piece and critical part of their homeland and stated their interest in purchasing the property from him before he could get too invested in it.

On May 7, 2022, the sale was finalized between the Finlayson family and a group of RCMP officers, including Moore.

Trophy Lodge has historical significance that is important to the new owners as well. In 1927, the lodge building first opened as an RCMP detachment that monitored fur trapping before closing in 1965. The Finlayson family acquired it a short while later and converted into a fishing lodge. For decades the area had been a prime area for fish tourism due to its remote setting and access to lake trout, Arctic grayling, northern pike, whitefish and inconnu.

The property has additional significance to Moore, who has extensive experience operating the fishing outfitter business as an employee there. The other owners have experience with other businesses operating in Yellowknife.

On June 13, 2022, Parks Canada agreed to assign the lease to the new owners, which permits the use of the land as a commercial outpost camp.

They informed the owners that they will be required to apply for a business license on an annual basis and that the application would have to be reviewed by the park reserve’s board. They also mentioned that the board had not yet been informed that LKDFN was unsuccessful in obtaining the lodge. However, Parks Canada added that licensing should be straightforward, but if the application was not accepted then they would work to resolve any disputes.

The owners applied for the licence in September 2022 and resubmitted a revised version in November with counsel from Parks Canada, which the federal agency itself later rejected because of “the principles of reconciliation” and because “joint management planning and policy development have yet to occur,” meaning that the reserve doesn’t yet have a management plan in place.

The court filing argues that Parks Canada should have renewed the licence in accordance with past conduct, standard policies and practices, and that there is “no legislative basis” to require the owners to apply for a new business licence.

Opening season at the fishing lodge usually begins in June but no guests are allowed to be there until the owners can get a licence. The lodge website states that bookings are on hold until the issue is resolved.

Yellowknifer contacted Parks Canada for comment and asked why the business’s application has been rejected. The agency said it would not be able to give a response prior to press deadline.

Yellowknifer also contacted Moore and Chief James Marlowe of LKDFN for comment but they too did not respond before press deadline.