KENOSEE LAKE - The Moosehead Inn at Kenosee Lake has been one of the go-to restaurants and party destinations in southeast Saskatchewan for decades, a place where people created fond memories while surrounded by friends.
It was not only popular with southeast Saskatchewan residents, but those from outside the region who were visiting Kenosee Lake and Moose Mountain Provincial Park. It was even purported to have a resident ghost, which was widely promoted by the Moosehead and documented in the book Haunted Saskatchewan and by other sources.
But the Moosehead is gone, after a fire destroyed the building Friday night.
Nobody was injured in the blaze, and no surrounding structures were damaged. A cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
Moosehead owner Dale Orsted, who lived across the street from the building, said he was at home when the fire occurred. His wife Nelly came home just after 11 p.m. after making pizza dough; a co-worker left the restaurant with her. At the time of their departure, they didn’t smell any smoke in the building.
“It wasn’t half an hour later, maybe 20 minutes later … and you could hear (something like) somebody knocking down trees, or some big chopping sounds, and I thought ‘What the heck is that?” said Orsted.
When the Orsteds looked outside, they could see a fire coming from the upstairs cabaret area. They called the fire department and grabbed a hose, but by that point he said the fire was pretty large and growing.
Fire crews would remain at the scene until Saturday morning, and they would have been there even later if a large trackhoe wasn’t called in to help with knocking down the building and other efforts.
Due to the extent of the damage caused by the fire, Orsted doesn’t believe they’ll ever know the exact cause, but he suspects it started in the beer cooler in the bar. Earlier in the evening, one of the pizza cooks thought he heard a big door slam upstairs in the cabaret area.
“They went and looked, and they went and looked, and they thought maybe it was the ghost slamming doors,” said Orsted. “So they didn’t know what was going on. I think maybe the compressor blew up, that would have been the noise, when it started, and then it took maybe an hour or so for the plugin to overheat and start some stuff around it to catch fire.”
One twisted up bottle of rye that was about half full was found at the site. Everything else was a total loss.
Orsted is thankful that the weather conditions were ideal that night. There was a light breeze blowing towards the lake, so the breeze blew the embers towards the water. He believes they were fortunate the fire didn’t damage any neighbouring properties or nearby trees.
The heat from the fire melted the mailbox and an outdoor thermometer on his house.
The night of the fire marked the first Friday in nearly two months that the Moosehead cabaret area wasn’t open. The cabaret reopened on July 11 for the first time since September 2019, and was open Fridays and Saturdays during the peak summer season, but starting last weekend, the cabaret was to be open only on Saturdays.
As for the restaurant, located downstairs, it was open four days a week, from Thursday to Sunday.
Reaction on social media was swift, with people taking to Facebook and other platforms to share their memories of great meals in the restaurant and fun times at the cabarets.
“I’ve received lots of messages, and a lot of stories. A lot from the locals, and a lot from the staff and customers,” said Orsted.
Some people who have been taking pictures of the site have stopped to talk to him.
“It’s nice to hear that they cared,” he said.
Orsted said they will clean up and fill in the site and try to sell the property. He won’t be reopening the Moosehead, but he hopes someone will resurrect the business.
“We have lots of property, and we’ve got adjacent property, and you could build a pretty big building there, even bigger than before. It’d be nice if someone did, because Kenosee really needs another restaurant. In the summertime, when it’s so busy, the ones that we have now are jammed full, and there’s lineups.”
Orsted purchased the Moosehead as a DJ in 1990, and his focus was up in the cabaret area. A lot of upgrades had been made in the past two years.
“We rebuilt the new big DJ booth, and bought an all-new sound and light system, and reworked it all before we opened again,” said Orsted.
The crowds were big every night in the summer. Most years they came at 11 p.m. or midnight, but this summer they were coming earlier in the evening. The summer of 2021 was a busy one for the Moosehead.
“We had a lot of time with low income, so it made things pretty tough,” said Orsted.
A former Estevan resident and Moosehead employee, Brad Chapman, launched a GoFundMe campaign just hours after the fire.
He wrote he was working to help Orsted and the Moosehead family after “a devastating fire which has left a hole in all our hearts.” Money will be used for debris removal, cleanup efforts and other expenses.
“We are doing our best to raise as much funds as possible to assist during this most difficult time,” Chapman said.
It provided decades of entertainment to thousands over the years, had a great atmosphere, “amazing” food, and the best people anywhere.
“Every dollar helps, I’m asking to share this for us and let us help those who have us so many priceless memories,” Chapman said.
As of Monday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign had raised $5,580 of its $40,000 goal. A total of 35 donors had supported it.
The Village of Kenosee Lake praised local and surrounding fire departments for their efforts in containing the Moosehead fire.
“Without these volunteers this fire could have been much worse,” the village said in a Facebook post.
They said they are thinking of the Orsteds during this devastating time.
“The village has lost an iconic business that will never be forgotten. Many memories were created by so many!” the village wrote.