Original Published on Jun 22, 2022 at 06:11

By Caitrin Pilkington, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After more than 13 years in business, Lucy Simon says her bed and breakfast will not be reopening – a closure that may have far-reaching impacts for her small Northwest Territories community. 

When a devastating flood hit Jean Marie River in 2021, Simon says she did not receive any compensation from her insurance provider and now cannot afford to continue in business. 

The bed and breakfast, which typically welcomed visitors working for the N.W.T. government or non-profits, or travellers headed on to either Fort Simpson or Hay River, brought a continuous flow of newcomers into Jean Marie River. 

With the community’s sole hotel and restaurant out of commission, some visits to Jean Marie River are becoming shorter day trips or being abandoned entirely.

Simon opened the hotel in 2008 with the help of a business development loan. She says the agreement gave her 15 years to repay the debt.

“It paid itself off in eight,” she said, describing regulars who could be counted on to stop by every year. 

“I had a guy who came by when he had to do a fish study in this area. For the last eight or nine years, he’s been telling his wife he’s staying at Lucy’s. 

“Finally,” Simon said, wiping away tears of laughter at the memory, “she got up the nerve to ask him: ‘So who’s Lucy?’

“We ran into them in Hay River and he waved her over and said, ‘Barbara, now you can finally meet Lucy — she owns the B&B in Jean Marie.’ Oh, they were so sweet.”

Simon recalled people pulling in to Jean Marie River at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., needing gas or a place to stay, but leaving with nothing but praise for the hospitality and meals.

Asked how she thought the hotel’s closure would affect the community, she didn’t mince words. 

“Oh boy… honey, I would say they’ll be desperate,” Simon said. “We have good friends in Yellowknife, government officials, and they’re just not going to Jean Marie. It’s a total loss to the community, I know that.” 

Elissa Garrett, the principal of Jean Marie River’s Louis Norwegian School, says fewer visitors coming to offer programming will have an effect on students.

“When consultants come to visit the school, they don’t have a place to stay,” Garrett said. “It does impact visitors coming to the school in that most would have to do day trips and stay in Simpson in order to have comfortable accommodations.”

‘How can I start over?’

In the meantime, visitors are pitching tents in the camping area – but may find amenities limited. 

A representative from one organization that has run programming in the community, asking not to be named to avoid affecting relations with Jean Marie River, said the situation may deter visitors who expect convenient access to showers, food and water.

Simon says after paying $10,000 a year in insurance for 13 years to ensure her business would be protected, the lack of coverage was a blow. 

“How can I start over, with my B&B ruined, when I don’t have anything coming to me by the insurance company? They said if it had been a fire, I would have been covered for $2 million. But a flood? I didn’t get a red cent,” she said. 

Lucy and her husband, Isadore, have been working to rebuild for the past year. While the RV that housed the bed and breakfast is now habitable, their own home still needs work, so they’ve been forced to switch where they live.

Simon says she’s not the only one whose business is still being affected by the 2021 flood. 

“My friend’s husband is a lawyer who worked out of their house. When his basement office flooded, he lost everything, and they only got $1,500 in insurance money,” she said.

Jean Marie River no longer has a local lawyer, and Simon said she, too, is thinking of leaving town. 

“We may go to Fort Liard or Enterprise,” she said.

Stanley Sanguez, a former chief of Jean Marie River currently serving as interim grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations, said a plan existed to repurpose an RV purchased for flood evacuees and convert that into accommodation for visitors, but Sanguez said that would take time.

Community leaders in Jean Marie River could not be reached for comment by the time of publication. 

This item reprinted with permission from Cabin Radio, Yellowknife, NorthWest Territories