History of Wilderness Bay

as told by Jay Hotaling

Certain places in this world are inexplicably sacred.  These places transcend time and cultural boundaries.  They whisper to our hearts.

Long before the first cabin was born here, this bay was well known by the Ojibway.  It’s long, slender peninsula blocks the prevailing winds and captures the warming rays of the southern, winter sun.

The first survey report of Wilderness Bay notes the “Indian Trail” leading to the nearby “Parent Lake”.  Old arrow heads and nearby graves indicate what my family and many before me have known….it’s a good place to set up camp.

When axes of the lumberjacks fell silent in this country, it gave way to the pioneer spirit.  Dan and Mary Toms first came to this bay in the 1930’s.  With the help of a trapper, Bob Zobich, Dan and Mary built the first cabin here.  It was built out of local cedar logs and reflected the earth and those who lived close to it.

Around this time, a couple of resorts had popped up on the west end of  Snowbank Lake.  Whenever Dan and Mary weren’t at their cabin, those resorts wanted to rent their cabin as an “over-flow” option.  The seed was planted, and the Toms began work on a second cabin.  As the saying goes, “the rest is history”.

The Toms’ dedication to quality and hard work soon earned them a full scale resort, “Toms’ Rest Haven”.

Dan and Mary, like the country they lived in, were both kind and hard.  The work never ended for them as they built more cabins, raised their children and shared their north-woods living with their guests.

The late 1960’s was a tense time in the north country.  An act passed by congress called for the removal of all permanent living in what is now known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  It hurt the feelings of many of those pioneers and locals who had hewn out a living in this remote country.

Lee Hotaling, a young forester, had no idea what he was getting into when he began work in the Ely area at this time.  His job, tearing down cabins inside the wilderness area, didn’t sit right with him.  Although he loved the country, he also respected those who lived with it.  It was a time of inner conflict for Lee and he soon left his job.

Although he left the conflict and moved to another state, Lee couldn’t shake his memory.  The images of blue waters, tall pines and the freedom that is only afforded by such places, burned in his mind.  Before long, his heart led him back…back to the northwoods and up to the deep waters of Snowbank Lake.

Lee came to Wilderness Bay in 1970.  Dan and Mary were ready to retire and the energy of the young forester seemed boundless.  He worked hard, learning the ropes of the resort life and making constant improvements.  His work, like the Toms’, reflected the beauty and sincerity of the land around him.  He became a steward of an ancient and sacred place.

As with all the unsolved mysteries of this world, it is hard to say just what Susan Booth first thought when she came to work at Wilderness Bay.  But, as fate would have it, Lee and Sue were married on December 7, 1974.  The small, outdoor ceremony took place on the point near Dan and Mary’s original cabin.

Four kids and a thousand blisters later, Lee and Sue continue to love and look after this land.  Their children, as well, have sworn to watch over it as long as they may live ( or until they have children of their own to enslave).  Wilderness Bay is a sacred place.  It mean so much to so many for different reasons.  The absence of roads, television and phones set it aside from the normal.  It is perhaps like a gateway to a way of life that has all but passed.