Grand Marais—Naniboujou, the Cree god often associated with trickery and joy, has been credited with digging Lake Superior, forming the Apostle Islands, and teaching people medicinal skills. The Cree lived in Canada, north of the well-known Naniboujou Lodge on Superior’s shore, while the Ojibwe lived on Minnesota’s shore. The Ojibwe had their own version of a trickster god called Nanabush. No one knows why the founders of Naniboujou Lodge chose Naniboujou over Nanabush as the name of their exclusive club. However, no matter the history, the name Naniboujou is now famously associated with the Naniboujou Lodge on the North Shore rather than the Native American god that created Lake Superior.
The Cree influence doesn’t stop at the name of the lodge. When a visitor first steps through the doors of Naniboujou Lodge they will immediately notice the bright paintings on the dining room ceiling, which were inspired by Cree designs. Within the same room, they will also spot the massive fireplace, containing 200 tons of native rock and credited with being the largest in Minnesota. If a visitor continues exploring the lodge, they will find only 24 rooms. If they take any pictures of the building or the beautiful shoreline, they will not be able to send them to any friends or family, as the lodge has no cell service or Wi-Fi.
These features have been valued highly by the current owners of the lodge, Tim and Nancy Ramey, as they want Naniboujou to remain a natural escape for their guests. That includes an escape from the busy world of cell phones, email and other technological distractions.
“Our guests are the ones who really want to enjoy the outdoors, and don’t want to be bothered by what else is going on in the world,” says Tim, as he explained why he and his wife have refused to expand the lodge, even though it may have brought in more money. “We aren’t in it for financial reasons,” he mentioned, as he told the story of how he and Nancy came to the lodge.
The Lodge originated as an exclusive club, including members such as Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and Ring Lardner, and encompassed the entirety of Judge C.R. Magney State Park, as well as its current property. However, this club quickly disbanded.
“Guests got there and there wasn’t anything to do, promises weren’t fulfilled, and there weren’t adequate numbers of guests. Not to mention the stock market crash,” said Tim when speaking of the club’s failure.
It passed through numerous owners until 1963, when the Wallace family took responsibility for the lodge, which was in shambles. The Rameys knew the Wallaces through their shared Minneapolis church, and often visited the lodge to help the Wallace’s repair it. In 1977, the two Wallace boys passed away in a tragic canoe accident at the mouth of the Brule River.
“Imagine having two sons to help out around the lodge. Those two sons were the core of the operation, and after they passed away the Wallace’s didn’t know what to do, so we came up to help more and more,” said Tim.
In 1980, soon after the loss of their sons, the Wallace’s decided to sell Naniboujou, and turned to the church. The church bought the lodge with plans to use it to train missionaries to run hotels before going overseas (this never happened) and asked the Rameys to take over management as they had spent so much time there.
“We agreed to manage the lodge as long as the Wallaces stayed around to help out,” said Tim.
Five years later, the church decided to sell the lodge, and through prayer and community support, the Rameys decided to purchase the lodge rather than head overseas to work in association with the church in Indonesia.
The Rameys have now managed the lodge for 36 years, and have decided to sell it.
“Everything is going better than it ever has,” says Tim, “but we are just tired and wouldn’t mind being apart from having to be responsible for the lodge.”
Though the Rameys are very attached to Naniboujou, they feel like they are not able to run the lodge as well as they used to. They raised seven children at the lodge, and one, Paul, stayed around to help. However, Paul cannot run the lodge on his own.
“I’m 66 and it’s a lot of hard work. It’s just hard to continue operating at the pace we have to. Nancy would love to stick with it, but she knows we can’t do it forever. We decided to begin by putting it on the market, and then go from there,” said Tim.