Trophy Lodge’s future uncertain as 2024 fishing season approaches

Trophy Lodge NWT, a decades-old fishing lodge located on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, was denied a business license in 2023. Whether or not the lodge will receive a license in 2024 remains to be seen.

The structure that houses Trophy Lodge, located at the former townsite of Fort Reliance, opened in 1927, and at the time served as an RCMP detachment that monitored hunting and trapping. It was repurposed in the 60s, and in 2022, was purchased by a group of RCMP officers, including Yellowknife resident Andrew Moore.

Because the lodge operates inside Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve, which was created in 2019, its owners are now required to obtain a business licence through the National Parks of Canada Business Regulations of the Canada National Parks Act. The denial of their 2023 license prompted those owners to sue Parks Canada and the Attorney General of Canada, kickstarting a complex legal situation that has been unfurling ever since.

On June 13 of last year, the owners of the lodge brought their grievance to federal court, noting that, in 2006, the federal government agreed to lease the land to the business until March 2026 — though that did not account for the creation of the national park in 2019.

“In reaching his decision, the CEO of Parks Canada failed to consider, or reasonably consider, or give sufficient weight of the right of the applicant under the lease,” stated a June 13 document from lodge counsel.

On Feb. 12 of this year, the counsel for Parks Canada and the Attorney General filed a factum of the respondents document, throughout which they defended the decision to deny Trophy Lodge’s 2023 license.

The 35-page document, which was obtained by NNSL Media, submitted both that “the decision was fair” and that “the process leading to the decision was fair,” and provided dozens of paragraphs in defence of those positions.

One of the key arguments provided stated that “the significant shift in governance of the lands that took place when the Park Reserve was established in 2019 undermines the applicant’s reliance on the fact that the Trophy Lodge Business has been licensed since 1965 under different regimes as supporting a legitimate expectation the applicant would receive a licence under the new regime.”

It also stated that the new lodge owners knew “issuance of a licence is not guaranteed” when their purchase of the business was completed in 2022.

Toward the end of the document, Parks Canada and the Attorney-General’s counsel suggested that, if the lodge owners’ legal action proved successful, the verdict should not have any bearing on the 2023 decision, and instead be applied to the lodge’s 2024 business application, which was due on April 1.

“If the applicant is successful in this judicial review, the appropriate remedy is that this court orders that the decision be set aside,” the Feb. 12 document stated. “However, the order should not extend to the [Parks Canada President and CEO] reconsidering the decision. The application at issue is for a licence that would expire on March 31, 2024 and this court’s decision will either be issued very close to or after that date. As the applicant must submit a new application for a business licence to operate from April 1, 2024 to March 31, 2025, the appropriate remedy is for that process to unfold with the benefit of this court’s reasons for judgment.”

At this time, it’s unclear where Trophy Lodge stands with its 2024 application. However, the lodge’s official website still states that “bookings are on hold until Trophy Lodge receives a business licence for the Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve,” and that the situation “is currently being worked on,” just as it stated last year.

Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve is co-managed by a group of Indigenous governments, including Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN), the NWT Metis Nation, Deninu Kue First Nation and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

LKDFN, who had been negotiating to purchase the lodge prior to the sale to Moore and his associates, were not originally named as respondents in Trophy Lodge’s call for a review, but on July 5 of last year, it brought forth a motion to be included as a respondent in the process. On Aug. 4, the court approved that motion, stating that LKDFN ought to have been named as a respondent from the outset of the proceedings.

On Feb. 13, counsel for LKDFN filed a memorandum of fact and law document, which supported the decision to deny Trophy Lodge’s 2023 license, casting further uncertainty on the company’s 2024 operations.

“The applicant essentially seeks to undermine a process of reconciliation between Parks Canada and its Indigenous partners, which include LKDFN,” the document stated, adding later that “the applicants have not presented any legal basis for disturbing [the 2023] decision.”

Trophy Lodge typically starts its season around June, at which point clients gain access to lake trout, Arctic grayling Northern pike, whitefish and inconnu.

Tom Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, NWT News/North