Richard (Dick) Watson Sr. first introduced his daughter, Betty to Pine Portage Lodge when she was only 19 days old. In this quiet moment, Watson was able to share with her a dream and a business he would nurture to success for his family in years to come.
A native to the nearby Northern Ontario town of Oba, Watson grew up on the idyllic northern Algoma waters canoeing and fishing the local rivers and lakes, spurring his vision of one day starting a business that celebrated the treasures of the region.
Watson’s service as pilot of the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II led him away from the region for four years. Upon his return, he opened Pine Portage, a remote fishing destination on Lake Kabinakagami (Kaby) when he was the young age of 23.
This was 72 years ago. And Watson’s daughter, Betty (McGie) has since spent the majority of her youth and adult life at the lodge, watching the business adapt with a maturing Northern Ontario tourism industry. What started as a rustic single guest cabin and a few staff tents has grown into a popular fishing destination with the comforts of modern amenities that can accommodate up to 95 guests and 15 staff members.
Pine Portage remains in the family today with Betty at the helm.
Pine Portage’s humble beginnings echo that of many hunting and fishing lodges tucked away on the shores of the fish-rich lakes and rivers of the north. Their origin stories; to serve a common love of the outdoors and create an experience that pays homage to northern roots.
As forward-thinking as Dick Watson was as an entrepreneur and ambassador to the region, it would have been difficult for him to imagine when he started Pine Portage the critical position that angling tourism would come to play in driving Ontario’s economy. Little would Mr. Watson know that his one log cabin on the shores of Kaby Lake would play a role in growing a core industry essential to the north.
Recreational fishing tourism has become an economic force in Northern Ontario.
From accessible outdoor resorts and guided fishing tours to remote fishing destinations like Pine Portage Lodge, recreational angling tourism fuels our economy and thousands of jobs in our region.
In 2015, with the support of the Ontario Provincial Government, Destination Northern Ontario (then named Tourism Northern Ontario) released a detailed analysis outlining the economic impacts of angling tourism in our region.
The findings revealed what some may already have assumed – with our pristine lakes of all sizes, seemingly endless rivers and the most diverse population of fish species in Canada, Northern Ontario is an angler’s dreamland.
With all northern pride aside, the analysis provided a clear picture of the overreaching impact
that fishing has on our economy.
At over $406 million, anglers in Northern Ontario contributed two-fifths of the $1.1 billion spent by all overnight tourists in the north.
With 8.1 million lines in the water, Northern Ontario attracts anglers at four times the rate it attracts all overnight tourists.
Angling tourism supports over 6000 jobs and contributes $450 million towards Ontario’s gross domestic product.
It’s not an understatement to say that fishing is our wheelhouse.
Thousands of jobs, businesses and communities rely on angling tourism. And for Northern Ontario’s recreational fishing industry to prosper sustainability must not only be achieved for fish populations, but also for the operators that drive the industry.
Continuing to build our economy on the fishing experience
Destination Northern Ontario (DNO), a not-for-profit regional tourism organization funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, is helping tourism operators like Pine Portage Lodge create an experience and quality shift for tourism sectors like angling that have a significant economic impact in Northern Ontario.
DNO’s goal is to help develop higher quality tourism experiences and better products for visitors. 100% of Destination Northern Ontario’s expenditures support tourism growth through industry and workforce training, product development, marketing, and strategic partnerships.
Betty McGie carries on the legacy of her father and his passion to showcase Northern Ontario as a destination that offers one-of-a-kind signature experiences fueled by quality service.
“Our repeat client base has been maintained over the years because our guests know what they will get when they come,” says Betty McGie. “We have been told many times that the assurance they will receive quality accommodations, services and food brings them back. They don’t concern themselves with those issues.”
“And good fishing is just a bonus.”
About Tourism Rocks!
Tourism Rocks! was launched by Destination Northern Ontario to champion growth in Northern Ontario’s tourism industry. The campaign highlights the importance of tourism in the region and creates awareness about exciting career opportunities in the tourism sector.