Churchill residents Gail Loder and Donny Crowder seek to use their fish hut business to inspire people to fall in love with Lake Simcoe.
The business has been up and running for about five years, but the pair have been ice fishing their entire lives. In the beginning, they would lend their huts in trades with neighbours.
“We had our own huts out on the lake and we would work [out] trade deals,” Crowder explained, often offering their huts in exchange for items on Kijiij.
Since then, they’ve become a popular spot for tourists and locals alike as people flock to try their hands at the all-Canadian hobby.
With about 20 huts on the ice, the duo works day and night maintaining their business. Both he and Loder work separate full-time jobs on top of their hut operation.
“We don’t sleep a lot in the winter,” said Crowder. “March 15 is the cutoff for running ice huts. After March 15, we start getting our rest again.”
To entice first-time fishers, they facilitate every aspect of the process, from harvesting their own minnows to clearing large swaths of ice for easy access.
“This year we’ve probably had better fishing than any other season so far,” said Crowder, “the calibre of this fish has been exceptional so far this year.”
Loder says they’ve yielded particularly diverse catches this season, including whitefish, which are a rare and tasty catch for Lake Simcoe.
“We thought there was whitefish here, but now literally everyone is seeing them,” Loder said. “You get 20 people in the day saying ‘I saw a whitefish, I saw a whitefish’ so they’re definitely here now.”
Despite the great fishing prospects, this year has come with new challenges that limit the number of people that can get out on the ice.
“With COVID restrictions, there are things we couldn’t do,” explained Crowder. “We normally run sleeper huts, which kept us pretty busy because that’s 24 hours, and we had some really big huts, we’d run some pretty big groups, but we’re limited to five people from one household right now.”
Regardless, Hot Box Huts' mission is about more than numbers.
“The way we see it is that we’re actually providing an opportunity for people to come up and fall in love with Lake Simcoe,” Crowder said.
“Once they come on to the lake, they fall in love with the lake. In the long run, if they fall in love with the lake they’re going to protect the lake,” he said. “Really the lake comes first. We live here, and we’re looking at the lake out of our window right now.”
“Once the lake freezes over, there’s something for everybody,” added Loger.