Big, beautiful Lake Superior is the backdrop for many residents and businesses of Algoma. So many have grown up around it, played in and on it for generations. Two of those people are Frank and Gail O’Connor. Frank grew up in the hamlet of Gros Cap, just west of Sault Ste. Marie on the shores of Superior. Gail grew up on Batchawana Bay, just north of Sault Ste. Marie, also on the shores of Superior.
Together, in 2003, they opened The Voyageurs’ Lodge and Cookhouse. Located on Hwy 17 North and across from the beach at Batchawana Bay on Lake Superior. I had the opportunity to sit down with Gail who gave me a short history of how they came to own the business, have expanded it, along with their future plans.
“My family moved to the Batchawana Bay area when I was eight years old. When I was thirteen, I started working at Bluewater Motel and Restaurant, now known as The Voyageurs’ Lodge and Cookhouse.” said Gail. When Gail and Frank moved to the Batchawana area together and later took over the Bluewater Motel and Restaurant, Frank started reading books by Peter C. Newman, that chronicled the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company. Batchawana Bay was a frequent rest stop for the voyageurs who paddled along the mighty Lake Superior. Frank commends the author for “inspiring their business theme, décor and has allowed him to tell stories about Canada while looking after the needs of travellers.”
The O’Connor’s have been successfully meeting those needs for over 17 years now. The Voyageurs’ Lodge and Cookhouse comprises of a General Store & LCBO agency, gas pumps, housekeeping suites/motel and a cookhouse. They host concerts and events, as well as rendezvous paddles with their big voyageur sized canoe. There is always something happening at the Voyageur!
Since this is a food blog, I was most interested in the cookhouse! The menu is themed around a voyageurs’ fare of bannock, pancakes, poutine, beans and chili and the “three sisters’ soup” and even burgers named after a position in the canoe. It also has modern tweaks and keeps up to date with food trends. Their signature items are fresh fish (trout, pickerel, whitefish) dinners with baked beans. The Sunday evening special includes beer battered pickerel, served with bannock biscuits, choice of potatoes and a delicious coleslaw from a recipe used by the Bluewater Restaurant.
Gail told me they love to incorporate local food on their menu like fish from Agawa Fishery, Algoma Highlands blueberry horseradish with their bacon wrapped whitefish. Their maple syrup is sourced from Fiddlehead Farms in Goulais with vegetables in season from Mennonite farms in Desbarats and meat products from R. J.’s Market in Sault Ste. Marie.
The cookhouse does offer vegetarian and vegan options and do follow many food trends. Many suggestions have come from her staff, who have asked for vegetarian dishes. Gail says “we will make a conscious decision to keep customers happy and offer healthy choices.”
The cookhouse is famous for their homemade deserts, like apple fritters, apple and blueberry crisp that utilize Algoma Highlands blueberries and Ontario apples. Customers will come from all around for those tasty delectables. “Thousands and thousands have been sold,” says Gail. New this year is a dessert which was actually thought of before the lodge opened. “Moose Antlers”. It’s 2 deep fried pastries in the shape of antlers with a sugary coating, with a head of a moose between – which is ice-cream, drizzled in caramel sauce. They have come up with 3 – 4 types of this yummy treat and they have been a BIG hit with customers.
The cookhouse serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s also fully licensed and serves Northern Superior beer, brewed in the Sault.
Only 45 minutes north of Sault Ste. Marie, the Voyageurs’ Lodge and Cookhouse is a must stop on the Trans Canada Highway 17, whether you’re travelling north or south. Customers stop in while travelling across Canada and the U.S. or from town for the evening, or from local cottagers and beach goers. Gail says that, “many stop in who are taking their kids from Toronto to Thunder Bay or vice versa, often dropping their kids off to Lakehead University.”
Now in their 17th season, the O’Connor’s are planning for their future retirement. They’ve decided to list their business for sale. Gail says that once a suitable buyer comes along, they will have their gift shop, River Rock Gifts in the Sault to keep them busy. In the meantime, there are no signs of slowing down. One thing is for sure, Lake Superior won’t be far from their view.
Visit: 11054 Hwy 17 North, Batchawana, ON
Read more of Sandra’s Food Blogs:
(All photo credits: Voyageurs’ Lodge & Cookhouse)
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