Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation’s Frontier Lodge has received the prestigious Tourism Operator of the Year award for 2023.

Representatives of the fishing lodge, situated on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, accepted the award at the 2023 NWT Tourism conference, which ran from Nov. 6-8 in Yellowknife.

“We are very humbled and honoured by the recognition,” said Saniz Catholique-Baton, a Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation member and president of the Frontier Lodge board. “Connecting the community and culture, and maintaining the business through a pandemic and now wildfire evacuations has been a challenge, but through it all we continue to work towards the best future for our lodge and the North.”

The Tourism Operator of the Year award is reserved for businesses that demonstrate “all-around excellence” and “strong growth and/or a record of success,” according to the official nomination form. The distinction also recognizes businesses that show a “commitment to education and training” and “community involvement and leadership.”

Frontier Lodge made its mark in the latter category during this summer’s wildfires. With the tourism season cut short, the lodge donated its remaining food to residents of Lutsel K’e, and helped maintain the food supply chain throughout the crisis.

“When times get tough, you want to pull together and help each other,” said Corey Myers, Frontier Lodge’s general manager. “We’re a community-owned business. Yes, every decision we make is through the lens of the business and what’s best for the business, but it always comes back to what’s best for the community.

“What was going on in the territory this summer was awful, and we wanted to help. We wanted to do what we could.”

Frontier Lodge has been open to fishing enthusiasts for close to 60 years. It was purchased by Lutsel K’e in 2019, at which point an effort was made to deepen the lodge’s connection to the land and the Denesuline (or Chipewyan) people.

Those efforts have helped the site to become a hit among locals and travellers.

Less than 24 hours after the lodge announced its receipt of the Tourism Operator of the Year award on Facebook, dozens of people from the NWT and much farther afield chimed in with messages of appreciation.

Iris Catholique, manager at Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve, is one of many people in the area with immense appreciation for the lodge.

“Frontier Lodge is located within Thaidene Nene, which has so much Denesuline history, so many stories and beautiful places,” she said, adding that visitors often leave the lodge with “great memories and long-lasting friendships.”

“I would invite everyone to come and visit our piece of the world,” she said.

Myers has seen and heard plenty of similar feedback since the lodge received the award, and he’s honoured that the business has endeared itself to so many, particularly after staff were forced to postpone and cancel many customers’ trips during the pandemic, and more recently, due to wildfires.

“We have a super loyal client base,” he said. “I think we’re over 80 per cent return clients, year over year, so it’s one big family.

“Seeing the outpouring of support, it means a lot for me personally and for the business,” he added. “We’re humbled.”

Winning NWT Tourism’s Operator of the Year award is certainly a cause for celebration for Lutsel K’e and the staff at the lodge, and Myers said it will serve as a source of motivation.

“It’s totally motivation,” he said. “We have a great team. This doesn’t happen without a great team, and that comes from community support, the hard work of our board and our staff.

“[The staff] are the heart and soul of it, and they’ll also tell you that I’m kind of never finished,” he added, laughing. “I always want to improve. We have pretty big aspirations. We want to grow this business and we want to expand what we do.”

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