Welcome to Mud Lake City

It’s not on a map of Northwestern Ontario or Ontario, or even a municipal one, but just south of Devlin lies Mud Lake City–“Population one, sometimes two.”
Founded in 1976, the “city,” located about 20 km west of Fort Frances, has grown to include a bank, courthouse, blacksmith shop, garage, a couple of shops, and (shhhh) even a bordello.
“The town’s going to get bigger but the population’s going to stay the same,” laughed Betty Salchert, whose husband, Wayne, has spent hours at Mud Lake City over the past few years, creating the old western-style town which is an amazing array of antiques and artwork.
In Mud Lake City, the shop fronts could be used as a set for a western movie. In fact, visitors arrive half-expecting to spot a cowboy saunter out the door of the bordello with a smile and a gun–until Wayne Salchert walks out of a neighbouring shop with his baseball cap, pin-striped shirt, and rubber boots, shouting out a cheerful hello.
“I always wanted to be a sheriff and no one would let me,” he grinned as he led a tour of his town.
Not only is Salchert the local sheriff, he is the builder, shopkeeper, mechanic, shingle maker, blacksmith, and pretty much everything else.
After retiring from a career as an electrician, Salchert has taken his enthusiasm of mechanics, welding, and woodworking and created the stunning “city” in the middle of Rainy River District.
After years of collecting antiques at auctions, garage sales, and from friends and neighbours, Salchert and his wife were running out of room in their Devlin home and searching for a place to put their collection.
Mud Lake City, named after a nearby bog, is the result.
“I pack more lunches now than I did when he was working,” said Betty Salchert. “We had too much stuff and no place to put it.
“Now the more place we get, the more stuff we get.”
Salchert often spends 10-hour days there building or renovating old vehicles. His wife often helps out by refurbishing antique furniture, painting, and decorating.
“There’s no real purpose to this whole thing but hopefully it’ll preserve some stuff that others would throw away. There’s stuff worth hanging onto,” he stressed.
From flip toasters and brownie cameras to water-propelled egg beaters and china, the local shops’ shelves are packed with momentos that trigger memories for visitors of all ages.
“A lot of it’s [from the] ’50s, maybe ’60s, but a lot of it also dates back to the ’20s and ’30s,” said Salchert.
Mud Lake City represents a mixture of eras with antique cars, campers, and snowmachines around the property as well as horse trappings and hand tools.
What started as a casual hobby has taken off. Some of the shops are false fronts for Salchert’s garage but others are recreated inside and out–and cluttered with antiques and collectibles.
Some of the antiques have become too valuable to keep at the site, including a radio, purchased for $5 which is now worth over $2,500, but most of the items are simply of sentimental value.
“This is not costing money, it just takes time,” said Salchert.
Mud Lake City is becoming more renowned in the area with visitors stopping by to check out its antiques. And the Salcherts enjoy having visitors at the site as long as the gates are open.
“It’s never going to be a commercial thing, it’s just for people to see old stuff,” Salchert stressed.
Most of the shops are named in honour of family and friends who have contributed to the town, including Bet’s Bordello where his wife, Betty, admits she is the madam, and Rod’s Rural Delivery & Auction Company named after his brother, auctioneer Rod Salchert.
This fall, the Salcherts are planning to invite family and friends to the second musical in Mud Lake City, where musicians from the Bellamy family and others will bring their fiddles and guitars for a late-night jam session, playing traditional music from the deck of the Mud Lake City courthouse.
Salchert has made a dream of every youngster a reality.
“You have to use your imagination in Mud Lake City,” he noted.