Nestled comfortably in the heart of the Canadian wilderness with amazing glacial sculpted rock, the French River Provincial Park is the hidden gem of Northeastern Ontario. Rich in Canadian history where the lands were first settled by Canada’s First Nations’ people. Later, tremendous efforts of early French explorers like Samuel de Champlain, Pierre-Esprit Radisson, Étienne Brûlé and other missionaries helped map, develop and establish the trade route needed for fur traders and loggers.
Bear’s Den Lodge was built in 1925 as a summer home for Mr. H. Martin, at the time a New York Banker, and his wife. By the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Mr. Martin was unable to enjoy their property so his wife and her sister operated the facility as a commercial property. Families would arrive at the CNR train stop that was the Hartley Bay House, now marina, to fish and vacation on the French River.
By 1986, Bear’s Den Lodge went through 7 more lodge owners who continued to run the lodge as a fishing camp with the most current owners, ironically, being the Barefoot family. As the 9th lodge owners, our family has made great efforts to maintain the historic facility and conservation to preserve the beauty of the French River. Art Barefoot brought with him, his work ethic of a dairy farmer, master butcher, background in marine biology, banking, culinary, construction, carpentry, fishing and hunting expertise. You can read more about Art Barefoot of how he got here.
With the love of the area and the fishery, Art brought his wife Brenda to share and experience the French River. She immediately fell in love with the area too. Her background includes a B.S. in Nursing, Long-Term Care Administration, Adult Education and Consultant. This gave her a background in service industry administration, marketing and education. Knowing her husband’s lifetime dream they began searching for a lodge. After many days and years of searching for their perfect lodge, the Palmers (who owned the lodge from 1980 – 1986) showed the Barefoots their property for sale.
Sitting out in the Bear’s Den Bay, the Barefoots knew it would take a lot of sweat and tears to restore the facility to its former glory. It checked two of their three boxes with electricity and indoor plumbing. The area offered quality fishing opportunities for musky, pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, crappie, catfish and many other game fish. The amazing scenery with opportunities to view and hunt wildlife helped motivate the Barefoots into preserving the cultural heritage of the area.
In 1989, Art Barefoot made a big splash with his 14lb Line Class World Record Muskie at 59lbs 11oz which is currently housed at the main lodge. After recognizing the need to preserve the fishery, the Barefoots organized and campaigned for slot limits and creel limits on the French River. From our fish records and surveys at the lodge plus the scientific work by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry – which included surveys, netting, tagging, rearing walleye and compiling fishing rod hours. This assisted in the creation of the Fishery Enhancement Program of the French River. The success of the program in 1994 lead to and inspired the Ontario wide slot limit to help preserve and protect Canada’s fishery for future generations.
In 1993, a new Barefoot arrived. Joe brings several decades of fishing, guiding, photography, writing, NCAA marksmanship, B.S. of Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. He holds awards for NOTO Conservation, Northern Ontario Marketing Award, Nominated for Top 30 Under 30 in Tourism, Medal of Bravery and Commissioner’s Citation for Bravery. Joe is also a nationally published writer and photographer.
The chapter continues – join us and share the experiences and write the next chapter with the Bear’s Den Lodge family.