Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Story of Northern Harbour

By Gary Hall
Good afternoon.  My name is Gary Hall.  I am the owner and operator of Northern Harbour Marina, located in Pine Portage Bay on Lake of the Woods.  I am here today to tell the story of Northern Harbour and its effect on boating on Lake of the Woods.
There are two people with different marine backgrounds that have made Northern Harbour what it is today.
Northern Harbour Marina was originally developed to service the needs of owners of live – aboard sailboats who wanted to explore and enjoy the beauty of Lake of the Woods.  People back then already knew that Lake of the Woods was a premier boating spot.
Ed Lugossy started Northern Harbour.  Ed had a Mercury Marine Dealership at the end of Main Street in Kenora.  It was called Northern Marine.  He sold small Lund boats, Mercury outboards, snow machines and motorcycles.  Things would change as people began wanting larger boats.  I remember when he got two 21 foot Glastrons in to his dealership.  One was for Dr. King and one was for a gentleman by the name of Tony Nanton from Winnipeg.  People would come in and say that these 21 foot boats were too big for this Lake.
Ed also like sailboats and could see an interest growing for live – aboard sailboats.  At this time, Earl Nelson had 8-10 sailboats in front of his house on Tunnel Island and there were a few sailboats on the lake at cottages.
Ed went to Nova Scotia to the Paceship Sailboat Manufacturing Plant and got a Franchise to sell their boats. He started selling them in the late 1960’s.  He also got a C&C Yacht franchise and later a Bayfield Yacht franchise.  Jim McClelland would become the main rigger and installer of parts on the sailboats. Young David Nelson would help with getting the boats ready.
Ed would display the sailboats at the Winnipeg Boat Show and also had an office in Winnipeg.  He started getting more interest from people that wanted to be on Lake of the Woods with a live – aboard sailboat.  He would advertise them as:    ‘ A COTTAGE WITH A 360 DEGREE VIEW’.  He knew that there would have to be a Marina to dock, store, and service these boats.  He looked for a location and found the perfect spot: A tourist camp called Ormiston’s Lodge located in Pine Portage Bay.
Ed then formed a company called Dockside Marine Incorporated and on August 26th 1976, my Birthday, he purchased the tourist camp owned by Malcolm and Laurel Ormiston. This was the start of Northern Harbour.
On November 16th 1976 Earl Nelson drew the plans for 150 dock slips so that Ed was able to apply for permits.
The first docks were built in the Spring of 1977. We call them B & C docks. These docks had 53 boat slips. The slips were ¾ full in 3 years.  There was also a floating dock and a gas dock from the tourist camp that were already in place.
Bob Emlyn Construction would develop a storage yard and a place to build a shop for Jim McClelland to build custom wood sailboats on site.
Jim McClelland was a qualified boat builder from Ireland. He first got a job with Ed doing carpentry work after a small fire at the Marina on main street.  Jim would do the rigging on the new sailboats that came in and install instruments on them, but ultimately he wanted to build boats.  The first boat job he had was doing the complete wood interior of a new 40 foot fibreglass sailboat owned by Dick Hooker of the Kenricia Hotel. He did this work at Ed’s building on the Redditt Road.
Jim finished building his first complete coldmolded boat at Northern Harbour in 1980. It was a 43 foot Bruce King Design for Ed Lugossy.  He also built boats for Bill and Meg Cameron, Jim LeCain, Gary Wilstrop, and Jim Lawton to name a few.  His quality of work was known around the world and his boats were like fine art.
Ed Lugossy closed the marina on Main Street and Dave VanDam from Pat’s Outboard would get the Mercury Marine Franchise.  Ed kept the Northern Marine company as it sold the sailboats, and he moved the entire operation to Northern Harbour.  He built a new Northern wood home and had Bob Clark, a salesman, living in the old Ormiston house.  The main lodge was used for the Northern Yacht Club until it collapsed from snow load and then a small yacht club with washrooms and showers was added to the east side of the Ormiston house.
Ed decided that he wanted a fancy restaurant at the Harbour so he remodelled the Ormiston house into what was called the Wheelhouse: a fine dining restaurant.
Ed sold Northern Marine to Ian Pegs from Pinawa and was left to operate the Marina.  However, Ed was a salesman, not a Marina operator, so he decided to sell the Harbour in 1979 so he could move to BC.
NOW A LITTLE ABOUT ME: I started serving gas at the Rockeries Marina in Clearwater Bay when I was 13 years old. 2 of those gas customers that I served actually park their boats at Northern Harbour today!  I was the guy behind the marine operations.  I started working for Ed in the late 60’s. I did many things: Mercury mechanic, motorcycle mechanic, welding and fabricating, aluminum welding, prop rebuilding and engine installation in new boats.  Ed and I decided to go our separate ways and I set up my own company on April 1st 1976 called Midway Repair.  I did prop rebuilding and aluminum welding in a space rented from Garth Nelson of Nelson’s Leisureland on Railway Street.
I picked up and delivered props from marinas around Northwestern Ontario.  Ken Firlotte on 9th street North was making boat tops at that time but was very slow so with two of my Sisters, Diane and Judy, we learnt how to make boat tops in my garage at home and so began the Upholstery division of the business.
There was also a need for fibreglass repairs on boats so we started to do that also.  In 1978 we purchased the building owned by Armstrong the mover on Hwy 17 East where KC Prop is now. This allowed us to merge the total operation together.
In the fall of 1979 my wife Barb and I were at a social and Ed Lugossy Junior told me that his dad was selling the Harbour.  Now maybe I had one too many that night, but I said that I would buy it.
I never told my wife Barb, but the next day I went out to Northern Harbour to look around and talk to Ed. The 2 KM one-lane dirt road was not in good shape, but when you got to the end it was a very pretty sight. I went further to the storage lot area and that was when I saw a Forklift in the lake on top of a Bayfield 29 sailboat. This did not look good… Bob Emlyn and CJ Edwards were there with equipment trying to lift it out.  It was late October and very cold at the lake.
I did not talk to Ed that day but we did talk over the next 2 weeks. We came to a purchase agreement in the Fall of 1979 but could not close the deal because of legal delays. Finally we purchased Northern Harbour on March 15th 1980 when interest rates were 18 ½ %.
Buying Northern Harbour was a big deal for me.  I was 29 years old, married to Barb, had two daughters: 5 year old Angela and 1 ½ year old Jennifer, and another on the way. We had to sell our house and my shop before the deal could go through.   We had to move the family out to Northern Harbour and clear and level the land so that I could get Bob Edison to build a new shop.  I had to learn how to put boats in the water, how to operate a Marina and Restaurant.  Oh, and I also had to go to Toronto to get a liquor licence.  And since we now owned the Harbour, we also owned the responsibility of fixing Mr. Webster’s Bayfield 29 that the Forklift had fell on that previous fall.  Our third Daughter Deanna was born on May 9th 1980. This all made for a very busy Spring.
Our youngest daughter Tiffany would be born in February 1984.
My job has many hats.  During the day my role is a hands-on marina manager, service manager, equipment operator and mechanic.  During Winter and at night I do the financial planning, Harbour design, planning for roads, parking lots, docks, new equipment and work schedules for the next day.  My main job is to keep our customers happy, and yes, I have some great staff! One of them, Roy McKie, has been working for me for 35 years.
Midway Repair was operated mainly 7 days a week in the summer and 6 days a week in the winter, from 1976 - 1989.  We sold Midway Repair in 1989 to give us more time to develop the Harbour, and Jim McClelland moved to Genoa Bay, BC.  At that time we moved into Jim’s old shop and operated out of there.
We operated the Wheelhouse Restaurant from May through September. We closed the restaurant in 1989 due to lack of business. 
We had 37 employees in the early 80’s.  Now we have 12 employees plus seasonal part time staff.
We built new larger washrooms and showers with heated floor below the northern yacht club location.  After the wheel house restaurant closed we had staff living in the building for about 5 years.  We then took down walls to open up the space and completely remodelled the space with a new kitchen and a custom trophy case’s for the NYC and Lowisa trophys.  This building is now called the Northern Harbour Boat Club and is open to all of our customers free of charge.  It is a gathering place for all sailboaters, houseboaters and powerboaters to enjoy and socialize – and they do!  It is also used for many NYC and Lowisa functions.
We have supported the annual LOWISA sailing regatta for 35 years.
We also have a kids playground outside and a play area inside.
Many things have helped Northern Harbour and boating to grow on Lake of the Woods:
·         The people that Ed Lugossy sold boats to, began to get what we like to call ‘two-foot-ite-is’. The longer that they were out on the lake, the more room they felt they needed. So they continued to upgrade to boats that were two feet bigger, and then two feet bigger than that.
·         Many young boat owners were having children and needed more space, so they were purchasing larger boats for their growing families.
·         Northern Marine closed and though I did many things, I was not a salesman. So I let a number of sailboat dealers sell boats at Northern Harbour.
·         At this time, the banks would do a 25 year mortgage on a live-aboard boat so more people were buying larger boats.
·         You were also able to use a rental boat as a tax write off so we had nineteen 29-33 foot new C&C yachts for charter.
·         We could not get the permits to add more docks at Northern Harbour, but Marina’s downtown were able to expand for larger live-aboard boats.
·          The US Economy lowered the value of boats in North America so it was easier and cheaper for people to purchase larger boats.
·         Ed Lugossy had started Northern Harbour primarily for sailboats. We made the Harbour accessible and user friendly for all types of boats, especially biggerlive-aboards.
·         We made the Harbour more than a place to park your boat.
·         One of the biggest reasons for more boats on the Lake was us buying bigger and better equipment for handling of the large boats. Customers would phone to ask how big of a boat they could buy before purchasing.
The location of Northern Harbour is perfect for many boaters in the area.  It is located at the end of a long, quiet bay, so there is no heavy boat traffic.  We are 2km off the highway, away from road and truck noise, and are protected from the wind.  We are close to the City of Kenora and close to quiet anchorages on the lake.
In the 80’s we made a deal with Three Buoys Houseboats to bring 55 boats to the Harbour for rental. Though the company did not last long, it helped us to pay for some important projects like a new gas and diesel system, a high volume septic pump that we made, the addition of more docks, more parking, buildings and a 6 ton hydraulic trailer.
Tom Greenly built two docks in 1977 and another one in 1980 as we were purchasing the Harbour. We built the two remaining ones from Earl Nelsons plans by 1985.
We designed and built the docks for 55 Three Buoys Houseboats in 1986, as well as a new gas dock. We had a demand for wider slips for up to 40 foot sailboats so we pulled the piles out from the east side of A dock and made the slips 16’ wide. When three buoys shut down, those dock slips were redesigned to accommodate private powerboats and houseboats from 40 to 52 feet long.
Next we built I dock for power boats 35 – 53 feet.
As we filled so many dock slips with larger boats, the demand for dinghy and seadoo slips increased. So we designed and built special docks along the shore for 100 dinghy and seadoo slips.
We made and installed a long boat ramp for the hydraulic trailer to help get bigger boats in and out of the water faster.  We then installed a 130 foot floating dock for the ramp use and temporary docking.
Some of the smaller sailboat docks came open as people were buying larger boats, so we made and installed floating docks for cottage boats.
Three generations of Edwards’ have driven piles at Northern Harbour since 1977: Ceice, Ray and Tyler.  The same machine was used for all jobs! Earl and David Nelson have done many architectural drawings for Northern Harbour projects over the years.

The wooden piles that we used were 25 – 55 feet long. The first came from Trilake Timber that was located across the Highway. After they closed we got piles shipped from Prince George BC and Guelph ON. We have 757 pilings in the water and 4908 feet, almost a mile, of decking for the docks.
So to encourage people to buy bigger boats we need Lake of the Woods to be more accessible.  It is not just about a dock slip: we are providing a lifestyle.  We need to be able to service these boats so it’s important to have staff that are  knowledgable and experienced.  We need to develop and expand the docks, parking lots, storage yards and equipment before the boat comes and the needs are required.  We currently store 350 boats at Northern Harbour.  Most of these boats stored are larger boats.  When we complete the development of our last 2 storage lots we will have room to store 600 large and small boats.
To do all of this we have used a lot of contractors over the years.  We also have our own heavy equipment to develop land.  No large boats would be here if we were not able to lift them off trucks and in and out of the water for storage.  This is the most important thing we do.  We have 4 travel lifts that lift and carry boats up to 100 feet long and 65 tons.  We have 2 hydraulic trailers; one that will lift a 45 foot boat and 20 tons.  We have 6 boat trailers; the longest will carry a 36 foot boat.  We have 8 vehicles for towing trailers.  Northern Harbour provides lifts for large boats from cottages and other marina’s around the lake.
This is my 35th year at Northern Harbour and my 39th year in business and 52 years since I put gas in the boats in Clearwater Bay. I always like to say that I am 20 years old with years of experience.  I am starting to think I am 21 years old with years of experience.
We purchased 300 acres of land on the east side of Pine Portage Bay with 1800 feet of frontage in 1985 for future development.
Will your kids,
and great grandkids be able to enjoy Lake of the Woods like we do today?
This is my daughter Deanna, the Future of Northern Harbour
Good Afternoon Everyone.  My name is Deanna Olszewski.  I am one of Gary’s four Daughters, and am so excited to be a part of the future of this business.
We currently dock 250 boats and store 350 boats at Northern Harbour. We have costumers from as near as Kenora to as far away as Barbados and Texas. We actually have more customers from Kenora today then we had 15 years ago, as more locals are enjoying the lake on live-aboard boats.  About 90% of our boaters are from the wonderful province of Manitoba and visit us every weekend of the summer! We are very thankful for our ‘friendly Mantarions’, as we like to call them!
Our Boat Club is used more than ever for all kinds of activities. We host an annual kids day as well as a ‘1st Day of Summer’ BBQ that raises funds for Cancercare.  Many live bands entertain us at the Boat Club and the Northern Yacht Club hosts many events. When there is not a large function, you can still find our boaters enjoying the full use kitchen and beautiful view off the deck, or the cozy fireplace on cool spring or fall nights.  We are considered a community and our customers are our good friends!
We welcome LOWISA to our facility every year, offering free parking and launch for participants from near and far. We are very happy to support this amazing race that has been bringing so many people to our Lake of the Woods for 50 years!
I am learning more about the business everyday and am being trained to one day take over the operation of Northern Harbour. Grant Hall, my cousin and Gary’s Nephew, is our service manager. Grant is a specialist in electronics and generators. Over time Grant and I will be taking over many of Gary’s jobs, as he steps back from some operations of the business.
We have an experienced team of mechanics and staff that work with us every year. This team is here to remove shrink wrap and prep boats for launch as well as help with dock repairs and other tasks around the Harbour in the Spring. They are here for mechanic repairs and gas dock service in the Summer. And they are here for lift out, winterizing, shrink wrap and storage prep in the Fall.  Big Lake Fibreglass is also located on the property for onsite fibreglass services.

Our dock slips are currently full and we carry a wait list of about 60 boaters. Some of these boaters are currently docked at other locations on Lake of the Woods until a space comes up at Northern Harbour. Some are on different lakes near and very far until a spot comes up on Lake of the Woods. And some, unfortunately, have not been able to purchase a boat yet because they do not have anywhere to dock it on Lake of the Woods.
Why do people want to dock with us? Many of our customers leave the busy City life to sit and enjoy the quiet that Pine Portage Bay offers them.  However, we are only a short drive by boat or car to Kenora, so restaurants, shopping, and taking part in the Summer Events in Kenora are not too far away! We are also located near many anchorages on the Lake.
We have been applying for permits for over 5 years to add a docking expansion on the east side of our property. This expansion is for 200 dock slips over the next 30 years.  Our dock slip sizes will range, but there is an obvious demand for larger live-aboard boats: or ‘Cottages with a 360 degree view’ as Mr. Ed Lugossy coined it!! Bringing more boats to Lake of the Woods is one of the best ways to expose more people to this amazing lake while continuing to be environmentally cautious.
Though we have not been approved for these permits we will continue to apply and hope that one day the Ministry will understand this demand and grant so many boaters the privilege to enjoy this lake, as it is everyones Lake to enjoy. I have two children and I for sure want this amazing story and history to live on. I want my kids to have boats on this beautiful lake. I want my kids kids to be able to have the same options!
In our development plan there is also an R.V. Park that will be built away from the shoreline. We have been working on the development of this section of the property and will continue to work at this. We will most likely have plans drawn up in the next year or two as we are aware that this demand is as big as the docking demands in this area.
Gary and Barb Hall also plan to donate 100 acres of this land to a Charity Art Park that will feature artists work from the Winnipeg and Northwestern Ontario area. All monies raised will go to charities in Kenora and Winnipeg.
The future for The City of Kenora and Lake of the Woods is bright and we are so happy to be a part of it.

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