Mike Freeland has been the owner-operator of Blachford Lake Lodge since he acquired the property as a single cabin in 1981. Brought up in Ontario, Mike studied tourism there and moved to a tourism development job with the Northwest Territories government in 1974. After two years he left to work as a free-lance consultant and set up his own tourist camps above the tree-line in the NWT’s Barren Lands. In developing tourism across the NWT, Nunavut and Greenland, Mike has worked with government, Arctic communities, businesses and indigenous groups.
In his 40+ years in the industry, Mike has seen environmental concerns come from virtually nowhere to being one of the biggest, and most exciting challenges for tourism today. With his true passion for wilderness, Mike takes all aspects of these concerns very seriously, both in day-to-day running as well as in new developments at Blachford. He continues to take an active part in all aspects of the lodge, from long term-business planning, to alternative energy initiatives to fixing chainsaws.
Mike is also an active supporter of Dechinta University, a unique indigenous studies university program, providing on-the-land teaching, utilising the Blachford site as the campus.
An active grandfather to his three grandchildren, Mikes also loves cross-country skiing, canoeing, kayaking, and camping. Always delighted to share his extensive knowledge of the north, Mike is based in Yellowknife, where his wife Tessa Macintosh, a well-known northern photographer, runs the Blue Raven bed-and-breakfast.
Katherine Johnson, our sales and marketing manager, was born into adventure travel. Her father founded the Great Canadian Travel Company in 1981 and at five years old Katherine was stickering brochures for the family business, at a rate of 0.25¢ per roll. She has run polar bear tours and managed a hotel in Churchill, Manitoba, and served as a board member for Nunavut Tourism. Katherine coached synchronized swimming for Winnipeg Synchro and also worked for Winnipeg Folk Festival. When not travelling herself (her life’s great passion) she lives with two dogs, a cat and her partner.
Alice Wu is our resident speaker of Mandarin, Taiwanese and English. She not only assists with all the office work, but specialises in helping travel agents and guests from Asia. Born and brought up in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, Alice studied photography at university there. Since coming to Yellowknife to work for us, she has taken up skiing and loves the opportunities for an outdoor life: she even speaks enthusiastically about the portage sections of her recent first canoe-camping trip! Apart from family, what Alice misses about Taiwan is the food and we can so understand why when she brings some home-cooked goodies to the office.
Kate Bolivar is the only member of our full-time team to have been born and raised in Yellowknife, just around the corner from (in)famous Ragged Ass Road. Truly at home in cold wilderness, in 2006 she won all three gold medals, in the biathlon snowshoe at the Arctic Winter Games. After graduating in 2007, Kate moved to Vancouver Island, gaining a degree in Business Administration and Human Resources. A bug for travel has taken her around the globe, from Croatia to Argentina to New Zealand. We are delighted that she’s back home, assisting with marketing, expediting and ensuring that guests are properly dressed when they venture out to the lodge.
John Stephenson’s relationship with Blachford goes back three decades, as guest, volunteer and staff member; he even married at the lodge! He is likely the first Blachford staff member you will meet, when you arrive at the bush-plane base for your flight to the lodge. With 40+ years’ experience of life in the North, John has lived and worked in an off-grid community, as well as in Yellowknife; his jobs have included surveyor, painter, community administrator, and government advisor. He has four children and two grandchildren, is chair of Yellowknife’s Education District No.1, and coaches local speed skaters.
Ruth Bowen first came to Blachford as a volunteer for six weeks in February 2010, chopping wood and washing dishes as a break from being a lawyer in England. She loved the northern winters so much she returned the following year, and the next. She finally left the UK in 2013 and now lives with her partner, a long-term Yellowknifer. Ruth turns her hand to a variety of free-lance jobs including government advisor and preparing wills. As well as writing our newsletter, she steps in to cover staff vacations, be it working in the office, grocery shopping for the lodge or greeting guests for the Blachford flight.
Stuart Oldham is Blachford’s Mr Fix-It as well as stand-in lodge manager. Raised on a farm north of Toronto he came north to work in Yellowknife gold mines, and his intended two years has stretched into nearly 40. He has clocked up over 12,000 hours with St John’s Ambulance and other work, some volunteer, has included firefighter, policeman and fishing guide. Stuart has meditated since he was in high school and experiences Blachford as a strongly spiritual place. He now runs his own mechanical business, which includes a contract maintaining diesel generators in communities throughout the NWT. He lives in Yellowknife with his partner, step-daughter and two-year old grandson.
Norma French-Heslep brings huge experience of the north, and love of wilderness to the Blachford staff group. A Yellowknifer since the 1970s, she was instrumental in founding several local businesses, from selling clothes and flowers to framing pictures. Passionate about natural healing, she has a profound belief that we all have much to learn from First Nations’ medicine, as well as traditional and spiritual practices. Sometimes covering as lodge manager, Norma also cooks for us, and helped create the beautiful mosaic in the bar area. She shares a home in Yellowknife with her daughter, son-in-law, grandson, and one of her two sons.
Don Cadieux claims by far the longest relationship with Blachford. Trappers, the original Blachford cabin was built by him with his father, Henry, and a number of friends in 1974. It was used by the Cadieux family as part of their traditional lifestyle, as they moved throughout the area, living off the land. The lodge has a book Don wrote, with fascinating tales of his family and others who lived in the area over the past century. Don is always delighted to share these storie and his vast knowledge of the land, when he guides guests on fishing or snowmobiling trips.
Amy Isaikina started her Blachford life as a volunteer in 2010. Brought up on a sustainable, off-grid farm in Ontario, Amy has a strong background in operating machinery, living off the land, and sustainable practices. Having worked and travelled around the world, she met her husband Dima in Hawaii and they continue employment and travel together. Amy's work for Balchford has included volunteer, volunteer coordination, lodge manager, and consultant - she ocntinues to work remotely from whereve in the world she happens to be. Amy works and studies to fill her passion for wilderness, adventure, nutrition and sustainable living, as a means of maintaining a healthy, happy body and planet.
Staff and Volunteers are selected for their skills and ability and for their love for serving guests in a true wilderness setting. We are blessed with a number of key staff returning for another season. The Blachford team is enhanced by volunteers from organizations such as Workaway, Help X, Wwoof, Staydu, and private inquiries. Our volunteers enjoy the wonderful enriching experience in a northern wilderness setting that is far and away the best they will get out of this help exchange. Volunteers will gain practical knowledge in sustainable living practices and gardening, in hospitality and janitorial services, and get to enjoy the surroundings that the lodge provides. We invite volunteers from all over the world, providing space for cultural exchange, and giving us the opportunity to share our vision with others from many countries. Once at Blachford you will notice, that we are like an extended family – a fact that many guests appreciate.