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The sad loss of an icon

An opinion piece on the loss of the Moosehead Inn to a fire
Moosehead Inn Fire
A fire swept through the Moosehead Inn at Kenosee Lake.

I woke up Saturday morning, the first full day back in Saskatchewan after a 10-day holiday through northern B.C. and the Yukon. 

I didn’t like something that I saw almost immediately.

My Facebook page was already brimming with posts about the demise of the Moosehead Inn, the beloved restaurant and nightclub at Kenosee Lake. People were sharing the initial photo of the fire that tore through the business late Friday night, leaving it in ruins.  

By the time fire crews left the scene Saturday, there was nothing left except rubble.

It seems like most people in southeast Saskatchewan have a Moosehead story, and they were eager to share it. For some, they remember great times with friends, listening to a band or dancing to the music of a DJ.  

Other people shared about the time they had a great meal, enjoyed with friends in the restaurant area. Many reminisced about the great pizza or the restaurant’s nautical theme.

We often talked about the best-kept secrets in southeast Saskatchewan, but you couldn’t use that to describe the Moosehead.

People who hadn’t been there before likely knew of the joint, either because of its reputation for a great night out, or because of their infamous ghost, who reputedly wandered the building when the customers were gone. (Some business owners might not want you to know their business was haunted, but the Moosehead revelled in the publicity). 

I’ve been to the Moosehead a few times over the years. Not nearly enough, of course. The times I was there, the food was great. When a pal from university visited for a few days in 2005, I decided I would take him up to the Moose Mountain area for a night. The Moosehead was the place to go for supper. (And if you know anything about the Moose Mountain region, you know there are some great places to eat).  

Most times I was in the Carlyle area was in the morning or early afternoon, before the Moosehead was open for the day. 

But my memories are dwarfed by those of others. And it’s not just the customers who look back fondly on time spent there.

It has to be toughest on the owners, the Orsted family, who have proudly ran the business since the 1990s. It has to be tough on the current staff members, but also the former employees. One former staff member, Brad Chapman, who now resides in Nova Scotia, has started a GoFundMe campaign to support the Orsteds.

And it’s tough for the Kenosee Lake community. For those who live in the resort village year-round, they’re used to seeing the Moosehead as they drive into town. It’s one of those landmarks that’s seemingly always been there (it was about 50 years old) and you expect it always will be there.  

In smaller communities, every business has immense value.

And you get to know the owners and the staff as well.  

You hear the stories occasionally in the provincial media: an important restaurant, hotel or other business in small-town Saskatchewan burns down. The owners will talk about the loss. So will people in the community, in particular regular customers or the mayor. Those moments keep you thankful for what you have in your own community, and maybe try to think about what it would be like if you lost such an icon from your own town.

If it happens, it hurts.

We should be thankful that nobody was inside when the fire struck, that nobody was injured, and for the firefighters who worked throughout the night to extinguish the flames.

We’ll see what happens next. While Dale Orsted says they won’t rebuild, he hopes somebody will. And he points out the need for another restaurant in Kenosee Lake, especially during the peak summer season, when people flock to Moose Mountain Provincial Park, Kenosee Lake and the White Bear First Nations for the spectacular scenery and array of activities for people of all ages.  

If the Moosehead is rebuilt, or if something else takes its place, for those who had some of their favourite memories at the Moosehead, it likely won’t be the same. But for many others, it would represent the start of new traditions. 

And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a ghost sighting or two.