‘I lost everything’: Fort Smith, N.W.T., man says his cabin in northern Alberta burned down

A Fort Smith, N.W.T., man is looking for answers after his remote cabin and a fishing lodge he managed burned down. So far, he has no idea how it happened.

Derek Marten travelled to his cabin on Nov. 26 to break trail and open up for the season. But when he arrived all he found was burned rubble. He then travelled to a fishing lodge he manages nearby and found it burned to the ground as well.

“It was awful, heartbreaking,” he said. “Wondering what happened, we looked for signs of a forest fire, I don’t know what would cause it.”

His cabin was 24 by 28 feet and was located at Myers Lake in Alberta, and the fishing lodge owned by Mikisew Cree First Nation was located at McLelland Lake, also in Alberta. It had the capacity to house six occupants.

A green and yellow fishing cabin.
Mikisew Cree First Nation’s fishing lodge on McLelland Lake, Alta. It burned down at the end of November, and so far the cause of the fire is unknown. (Submitted by Derek Marten)

Marten now lives in Fort Smith but he grew up in Fort Chipewyan and Anzac, Alta. He is a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

This was supposed to be Marten’s first year managing the fishing lodge and he was just about to take clients out for the season. He was also getting ready to open up his cabin for the winter season after the ice thickened up enough for him to travel out there.

“I lost everything I guess, I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel,” said Marten. “I’m supposed to be out there right now for Christmas.”

Marten said he used his cabin year-round. Every Christmas was spent out at the cabin with family fishing and catching muskrats. The rest of the seasons were also dedicated to hunting, fishing, picking berries and trapping. He would often share what he hunted and gathered with his elderly mother, aunts and uncles in Fort Chipewyan, Alta.

Marten said he is heartbroken, he lost his cabin, two sheds, and numerous supplies but he also lost his way of life. He says it took him 10 years to build up his life out at that cabin and is unsure with the price of supplies these days if he’ll be able to rebuild.

A remote cabin on a lake with the sun going down over the horizon.
Marten used his remote cabin year-round berry picking, fishing, hunting and trapping. He is now unsure if he’ll be able to rebuild. (Submitted by Derek Marten)

He estimates between his cabin and the fishing lodge, the entire loss was over $200,000.

The chief of Mikisew Cree First Nation, Billy Joe Tuccaro said he doesn’t have any answers either. But they are hoping to find out more in the coming days.

“We haven’t really done anything in-depth yet,” said Tuccaro. “But we have our GIR [Government Industry Relations] team looking at it.”

Meanwhile, Marten said he hopes to rebuild on the same plot of land or closer to the fishing lodge. But that won’t be easy with the cost of lumber and supplies and if he is able to rebuild, it won’t be possible until the warmer months. 

He said he has no idea why it happened but he has now filed a police report with the Alberta RCMP and is hoping to find some answers.

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