Photo of Hotelier: Ria Letcher of North Nahanni Naturalist Lodge

By Rosanna Caira

Ria Letcher literally grew up in the hotel business. As a seven-year old child in Hay River, NWT, she helped fold towels and sheets, vacuum and shovel the parking lot of her mom’s Caribou Motor Inn. “There wasn’t much I enjoyed about it aside from the adventures of being a child in a huge space and shoveling snow. I was a child of the outdoors and that’s where I found my happiness.”

Years later, the native of Fort Simson, NWT, who was raised further north in a First Nations’ community, known as Wrigley, NWT, left home to attend a residential school where she completed her education before attending Aurora College for management studies. “It provided me with all the tools I needed to achieve what we’ve achieved.”

Today, the mother of four operates the North Nahanni Naturalist Lodge, an Indigenous-owned and operated eco-lodge and wilderness resort situated on Cli Lake, named after her husband Loyal’s, great-great grandfather Chief Joseph Cli, and whose uncle Stanley, had always dreamt of owning a lodge there. 

When his uncle passed away, Loyal carried on his dream and in 1998, the husband-and-wife team opened the six-room lodge that also includes three cabins. The lodge has become an important cornerstone of the community, incorporating and promoting Indigenous culture, while offering hiking trails, plant and medicinal walks, and ― since the pandemic ― even healing camps.

Fittingly, the lodge’s philosophy is “Experience a Dream,” and the team works hard to make the dream a reality by creating an oasis where guests can enjoy water sports, connect to nature and also educate themselves on Indigenous culture. “Our style is welcoming, warm, comfortable and experienced,” boasts Letcher, adding “we have a beauty-and-the-beast philosophy — be our guest and put our service to the test. We aim to provide the best service possible in the middle of the wilderness.”

Despite the challenges of the past four years, Letcher continues to promote the area as a travel destination. She’s hoping to “increase the number of rooms and additional facilities to support the increased capacity and desire for private meeting space.” 

She believes location sets her lodge apart from others. “We have the only full-service hotel located on Cli Lake in the Nahanni Mountains near the Nahanni National Park, a UNESCO World-Heritage Site.” 

When asked what makes the lodge successful, she states, “We struggle every day to make this possible and operational for our family and community. We’ve raised our children in this lifestyle; they’re grown now and appreciate what we’ve done. They’re present with us and continue to work to see the dream realized now for their children. This to me is success.” 


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