Sad News for Saganaga


Virginia "Dinna" Marilyn Madsen passed away at 6:50 pm CDT, Wednesday October 27, 2010 at her island home on Saganaga Lake, Ontario, Canada at 88 years old.  Although Dinna had been in good health and spirits, she had been bedridden the past 11 months due to a continuing frail state. Her Manzo family was with her at the last, and she passed peacefully away in the arms of her daughter, Helen Sue. 

Dinna was born February 17, 1922 in Duluth, Minnesota where she was also raised. She worked at Arrowhead Creamery in Duluth where she set a precedent by becoming their first female driver. She met Justine Kerfoot May 4, 1940, and was persuaded the same day to travel up the north shore and Gunflint Trail to begin working for Justine at Gunflint Lodge. As a result, she and Justine became close, life-long friends. 

In January 22, 1945, Dinna moved to Seattle, Washington to contribute in the war effort at Boeing as a riveters’ assistant on B-17’s and B-29’s. At the end of WWII war she returned to Gunflint Lodge. 

Dinna’s curiosity was piqued as Justine would tell her often of a Canadian Quetico Park Ranger, Art Madsen, along with comments that she wanted Dinna to meet this eligible, stalwart woodsman, officer of the law and resort owner-operator-the first to settle on the Canadian side of Saganaga Lake in 1931. November 2, 1946 Art Madsen and Dinna married. Together they completed building their wilderness island resort -felling trees for log cabins and, also, turning logs into lumber. Their Native American neighbors taught Dinna how to build "tikinagan" (baby carriers), made with a back of cedar and a bow (which served as a roll bar) of ash, in which all their children were carried. 

Dinna is most remembered for her epic winter journey in 1956 from Saganaga Lake to the nearest hospital to deliver her second daughter, Helen Sue. In some of the heaviest snows recorded, Dinna travelled across the lake by snowshoe, dog team, and propeller-driven snowboat. Dinna made her way through Grand Marais, and eventually to Duluth. Art and Dinna made international news, and Dinna was dubbed the "Mushing Mother of the North." Their new daughter was nicknamed the "Snowshoe Baby." 

See the following related stories at

Heroes Among Us: Uncommon Minnesotans by Jim Klobuchar, copyright 1996 Pfeifer-Hamilton Publishers. (Excerpt on Dinna reproduced with permission from the author.) 

Boundary Waters Journal Winter 2005 article "Art Madsen’s Snowshoe Baby" by Helen Sue Manzo and Alesha Leanne Manzo. 

Boundary Waters Journal Winter 2007 article "Winter Hardships On Ottertrack Lake 1946: 6-year-old Bonnie Ambrose & Dinna Clayton wintering at the Benny Ambrose homestead" by Helen Sue Manzo and Marco John Manzo III. 

Dinna is survived by her son Peter Clayton, granddaughters Erin, Emily and Ella Clayton; daughter Sandra "Sandy" (Leonard) Holladay of Anchorage, Alaska; grandsons Nolan (Nerida) Holladay of Robina, Queensland, Australia; Monty (Angie) Holladay of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; two great-grandsons Landon and Caeden; daughter Helen Sue "Susie" (Marco) Manzo; grandson Marco John Manzo III; granddaughter Alesha Leanne Manzo; granddaughter Ginni (Michael) Davies [daughter of the late David Bruce Madsen]; daughter Judy (Christian Letourneau) of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada; grandsons Justin and Matthew Bouchard and step-granddaughter Jasmine Letourneau; One sister Betty (Bruno) Michelizzi; two brothers Claude Clayton and Terrence Clayton. Dinna was predeceased by her husband Rudolph "Art" Arthur Madsen; three sons Charles Peter Madsen, Chris Arthur Madsen and David Bruce Madsen; two brothers Richard Clayton and Robert "Bob" Clayton. 

All are welcome to attend the following services to remember Dinna:
1) A graveside service will be held at 1:00 pm EDT on Friday, November 5th, 2010 at Riverside Cemetery in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

2) A memorial service will be held at 1:00 pm CST Monday, November 8th, 2010 at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Marais, Minnesota. If you are able to attend, please leave a voice mail or email with the number of persons attending at: 218-370-1074 or Following the memorial service, all are encouraged and welcome to stay and visit. Refreshments will be provided afterwards.