Emery Bulinski, an entrepreneur who moved to Ely, Minn., after World War II and owned the former Snowbank Lodge and at least a dozen other businesses, died Sept. 27 in Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital. He was 93.
Born and raised in Chicago, where he trained and worked as a machinist, Bulinski got a taste of the North Woods on fishing trips with two buddies after serving in the Army during World War II. In 1956, he and his wife, Dolores, purchased the small lodge on Snowbank Lake at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).
At first, the lodge operated only in summer. The Bulinski family lived in Chicago the rest of the year, and Bulinski worked two jobs — as a machinist and a cabdriver, said Bill Bulinski, one of the couple’s six children. That changed in 1960, when the growing family moved to Ely full time.
Snowbank Lodge also grew, expanding from 10 to 27 cabins and becoming the largest resort in the area, with a restaurant that drew people from town, 20 miles away. Its main lodge had once been the main building at Basswood Lodge, which closed after the 1964 Wilderness Act. Bulinski bought that building at auction for $2,500, took it apart and hauled each log across the ice of two lakes.
“In April 1965, when the ice was starting to melt, we got the last of the logs across. The next day, you couldn’t walk on the ice,” said Bill Bulinski, who helped with the move. “They put it back together like a giant Lincoln Logs set.”
The building stood at Snowbank Lodge for another 14 years until most of the property was sold by the lodge’s subsequent owner to the federal government for the BWCA. The structure survives at a Wisconsin state park, where it was moved in 1985. The property has gone back to nature.
Snowbank Lodge catered to boaters, anglers and snowmobilers. Until the BWCA was closed to motors, Bulinski helped supply food by snowmobile to Dorothy Molter, the Root Beer Lady of the wilderness and its last permanent resident. And the lodge twice hosted the governor’s fishing opener.
As the battle raged over motors in the BWCA, Bulinski didn’t join in. “He was a believer in rolling with the punches,” said his son Greg. “When you are confronted with change, embrace it.”
In that spirit, Bulinski launched Canadian Border Outfitters on Moose Lake, offering canoe trips to the BWCA. His original partner in that business was the late Bob Cary, a friend and former Chicago outdoors writer who also had migrated north.
Bulinski also invested in Ely-area motels, resorts and restaurants, including Cranberry’s, which another son, Earl, operated and later owned until 1999.
“My dad could do anything,” said Earl. “He was a hands-on type of person. He didn’t walk around with a clipboard.”
Over the years, Bulinski hired people who were down on their luck and sometimes gave money or sold land on contract for deed to people trying to start ventures or build homes and cabins. “He was a guy who wanted to help people,” said Nick Wognum, general manager of the Ely Echo newspaper.
Dolores Bulinski, who had a major role in running Snowbank Lodge, died in April. Emery Bulinski is survived by his children, Bill of Eveleth, Minn.; Earl, Pamela, and Trish of Ely, Minn.; Becky Falk of Minneapolis, and Greg of St. Louis Park; eight grandchildren; four great-grandchildren, and a brother, Raymond, of Springfield, Ill.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. on Oct. 24 in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Ely, with visitation an hour before the service.