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The Rebuilding of Norm’s Cabin

Imagine the fundamental challenges of building a two-storey cabin from locally milled, square foot timbers.  Now imagine trying to build in a remote environment 12km from any road and where even bush trails are impassable for significant portions of the year.  Finally, imagine the added pressure of having only 9 months to get the structure closed-in before the notorious winters so typical of the Algoma Highlands area. These were just some of the thoughts master craftsman Richard Kargl, of Stokely Creek Lodge, had when he was contracted, back in 2013, to redevelop “Norm’s Cabin”.  The vision for the new cabin was as a multipurpose facility, supporting the conservancies’ four core goals and providing opportunities for guests to overnight and immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Algoma Highlands back-country.

The pontoon boat

Owen Blake navigating the pontoon boat loaded with supplies

Kargl noted that the full dedication of his hired crew, volunteers and numerous supporters, were all key to the ultimate success of the project. He had two students, Tyler Morin and Mathew Fitton, for help and Owen Blake acting as right-hand man. Cynthia Marcinkowski provided support in ordering materials and financial management.  Gaylen Byker, owner of Stokely Creek Lodge, was a key advocate of the project, providing both financial support, loans of several pieces of critical equipment and having the inspired idea to use a pontoon boat to transfer materials and equipment efficiently to the building site.

The new Norm’s cabin is made up of 120 timbers, weighing up to 400lbs a piece. Each timber took between 3-4 days to prepare. Once the timbers came from the mill, they were laid out for length, labelled for positioning, notched, drilled, grooved, roughly sanded, sanded again, treated against mildew and carpenter ants, and painted with three coats of stain (each coat taking a solid 24 hours to dry). Each day, two timbers went through this vigorous prepping, requiring 8-10 hours of constant labour.

Loading timbers by crane

Richard Kargl unloading raw timbers by crane with helpers

Kargl highlighted that having to calculate the amount of shrinking that would take place over the next five years, a factor dependent on the moisture content of each timber, was one of the many additional technical challenges with this type of structure. As the timbers were new, they were greener and had a higher moisture content than might otherwise be used in scenarios with a longer time frame. Over years, the moisture would evaporate, causing the timbers to shrink. If these calculations weren’t constantly in mind, it would separate the timbers, leaving gaps within the walls or impacting window and door frames.

Once the timbers were prepped, transporting them was the next step. The most viable option for this proved to be a combination of bush trail and boat. Each trip began by loading up a trailer and pulling it down the trail to the boat launch, transferring timbers to the pontoon boat and then slowly floating the timbers and necessary equipment across Bone Lake to the build site.  There were five key structural timbers, each 24ft in length. Richard recalled, “Each of these pieces had to be taken out one at a time, and we had to be very careful in balancing and not overweighting the pontoon boat used for the transport”. Due to multiple handling, approximately 120 tonnes of material was hauled to the cabin. Up to four of the smaller timbers could be loaded at a time, but each trip to the cabin took an hour – so it was imperative that all necessary materials and equipment were also brought out. Leaving anything behind would create significant delays that Kargl couldn’t afford.

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Enn Poldmaa laying foundation

Of course any good building requires a good foundation. For this component, Richard subcontracted long-time friend Enn Poldmaa. Poldmaa laid the foundation and saw that the footings and concrete blocks were positioned for the cabin. A few days and 250 concrete blocks later, the foundation was complete and Kargl and crew began to erect the walls. The process of building the cabin in this location resulted in every timber being handled five times before finally being set in place. Once the walls were up, the windows and classic red metal roof were installed, completely closing-in the cabin just before the snow fell. An incredible feat.

During the winter and into the next season, Kargl maintained his former position and found himself working for both Stokely Creek Lodge and the AHC. During this phase, he received significant help from student Pascal Tuarze and assistant Rob Cross, as well as volunteers Paul McBay and Dean Thompson who frequently made the trek out to the cabin to assist wherever necessary in getting the job done. Kargl focused on installing the floorboards, dividing walls, gable siding, and other tasks. Iron piping, propane appliances, a chimney and a woodstove were installed. Although the pine flooring required was slightly over-estimated, nothing was wasted, and it was redeployed in construction of tables and kitchen counters, giving the cabin a warm “home-made” feel.

The cabin taking shape

The cabin taking shape

It took two full years to complete the new Norm’s cabin, although it has already been in use, supporting the 2014 Wabos Loppet and in welcoming its first overnight guests (all the way from Germany!), before it was actually fully complete. The new structure stands as a true legacy not only to the legendary Norm Bourgeois, but to the ingenuity, impeccable workmanship and dedication of master builder Richard Kargl.  The Algoma Highlands Conservancy is proud of this major achievement and takes this opportunity to formally thank Richard and his able team for their extended hard work, commitment to excellence and dedication to the project.

Top left: The original Norm’s Cabin Top right: Making room for the new Bottom left: Starting the assembly Bottom Right: The new Norm’s Cabin

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