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‘Fish & Ships’ and a water wheel!

Gros Cap restaurant featured fresh-caught Lake Superior fish and a barbeque spit powered by a water wheel

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Have you ever driven to Gros Cap?

The destination wasn’t just for the beautiful scenery.

It might have been for a drive on a first date, maybe it was for an ice-cream cone at the little restaurant, or it could have been for a meal of fresh whitefish or lake trout.

In years gone by, many locals and tourists enjoyed a visit to the Blue Water Inn Restaurant located in Gros Cap. In 1964, The Blue Water Inn was purchased by local Gros Cap residents, Jacob and Anna Pandzic.

This restaurant sat on a portion of 84 acres of land that the couple owned, which also included the Gros Cap bluffs. The restaurant also included a few overnight rooms.

It wasn’t a fancy place, however, due to its charming attributes and good food, the Blue Water Inn became a well-known destination. Diners could enjoy a hearty meal while scanning the waters for passing ships which made for a picturesque dining experience. As the saying goes, “location, location, location”! As time went on, the restaurant was becoming very busy especially during the weekends.

Jacob Pandzic wanted to keep his customers satisfied so he decided to expand the cooking and dining experience to an outside location. In fact, the little Inn became so busy that Mr. Pandzic introduced a popular concept that was quite common in his home country of Yugoslavia. He was a welder by trade and in the fall of 1977, he constructed a 12-foot water wheel!

Wanting to utilize the natural resources of the surrounding area, his plan was to construct and power a barbeque spit that would sit within a seven by ten-foot barbeque pit. The entrepreneur used the natural spring water that flowed off of the mountain to turn the wheel. The water coming from the spring would empty into a 1,000-gallon tank.

In turn, he was able to control the amount of water that was used to power the spits. The spits were individually controlled by a gear that was attached to the wheel.

If there was not enough water coming from the mountain, then water was also drawn from Lake Superior to fill the big tank.

The outside of the steel wheel had 32 steel buckets that were spaced evenly and used falling water to create the energy needed to turn the spit. It was a fun sight for any diner as they watched their food turn and turn while the inviting smells of beef, pork or lamb filled the outside air.

This interesting piece of history still sits on the property that was once a happening gathering place. In the seventies, Mrs. Pandzic, and the cook at the time, Erica Ruprechter ran the restaurant. Mrs. Ruprechter served the basics like steak, pork chops, salads, homemade fries, pies and tarts. However, it was often the fresh fish that hooked the interest of the diners.

Fresh fish that was caught in the blue waters that lapped up on the rocky shore in front of the restaurant. During this time there were about six commercial fishermen in the Gros Cap area.

Just a few doors down from the Blue Water Inn, the boats would haul in their day’s catch of Lake Superior whitefish, lake trout, herring and smelts when in season.

One afternoon, the ladies were unassumingly working in the restaurant, serving customers and unbeknownst to them, they had served some pretty important visitors. The two ladies had no idea that the establishment was being judged as they went about their waitressing and cooking tasks.

Little did they know that they had served inspectors from the restaurant guide titled, Where to Eat in Canada! To this day, the guide has a long-standing policy, to never make their visits known. Where to Eat in Canada by Anne Hardy has helped many people over the years decide on a restaurant choice.

The guide is in its 48th year of printing and in the 1972-73 edition of this Canadian coast-to-coast guide, you will find the Blue Water Inn Restaurant that was once situated in beautiful Gros Cap!

A much newer edition of the book can still be found on the shelves at the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library but the Blue Water Inn is only a fond memory of the past.

After being in operation for many years, the restaurant changed ownership and on a very stormy night, the wind blew fiercely and The Blue Water Inn Restaurant succumbed to a devastating blaze, leaving the property nothing but a memory.

With a jewel like Gros Cap, where the air is fresh and the view of the water breathtaking, could it be possible that someday, someone might once again take an interest? Is it possible that sometime in the future we might drive to Gros Cap and dine at another quaint restaurant where the fish is served fresh from the blue waters of Superior? One can only hope.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here