With our new Only in Ontario feature, we’ll be taking a look at some of this province’s best edible adventures, Canadian Signature Experience members and Feast ON designees. An hour and a half east of Toronto, Elmhirst Resort is firing on all three cylinders.
Located on Rice Lake in the small community of Keene (fun fact: Keene was voted “prettiest town in Canada” by Harrowsmith Country Life Magazine), the family run Elmhirst Resort has been curating unique outdoor adventures since the late 60’s. The Elmhirst family’s connection to Rice Lake goes back centuries – enter the “Elmhirst Origin Story”.
Back in 1818, King George IV granted 1000 acres of Crown land was to Phillip Elmhirst, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Current owner Peter Elmhirst’s grandfather Frank later purchased another 340 acres on the edge of the Lake in 1906, which became the site of the present day resort. A keen business man, Frank supplemented his income farming the property by building and renting small cabins along the lake to visiting fishermen (tourism runs in their blood!). When the property was passed down to his son Arthur, the cabins were upgraded into full scale cottages. And when Peter returned home after taking a hotel and resort administration course in 1965, he set his sights to turning the resort into the year-round destination it is today. True to form, his sons Stephen and Greg have jumped on board.
Heritage moments aside, there is nothing antiquated about the experience the Elmhirst team offers its guests. From fly-fishing to kite boarding lessons to horseback riding to sightseeing flights in a floatplane, the family is constantly adding to its impressive itinerary of adventures. Their newest recreation program, the Experience Interpreter, includes nature walks, edible plant walks, outings in Voyageur canoes, visits to the on-site henhouse and passes to the Canadian Canoe Museum.
Response to the new program has been very good and the family is seeing their customer base grow. Says Peter’s wife Anne Marshall, “we’re seeing the next generation of US visitors, new Canadians and young European families enjoying the traditional cottage vacation.” Growth in the overseas tourism market has also been bolstered by their inclusion in the Canadian Signature Experience Collection (SEC).
As a benefit to the CTC program, the Elmhirsts have attended international marketplaces and seen their brand awareness increase with operators in the UK and Europe. The biggest benefit to being a member of the Signature Experience Collection? That would be the networking opportunities, as Marshall recently elaborated: “A small family business with a story – that’s what we are and that’s what the Collection promotes.”
Closer to home, the newest addition to their already accomplished resume is their Feast ON certification. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting the resort, you are no doubt already aware of their dedication to living sustainably and serving the freshest, hyper-local ingredients. Dishes at the Hearthside Dining Room and the Blue Yonder Pub are garnished with herbs from their own gardens. And in the winter, their on-site hydroponic garden means they are able to continue serving their own produce.
The family also keeps their own ducks, chickens and Black Angus cows. Each cottage is also fully equipped with kitchens and barbecues, and how’s this for service – they’ll even deliver the steaks to your deck! You don’t even need to be staying at the resort to indulge in a delicious locally sourced dinner – the property’s restaurants are open to the public and reservations can be made through OpenTable.
With four seasons of adventures and flavours to experience, there’s little wonder that Elmhirst’s Resort has been a go to vacation destination for over forty years. But of course, the best way to really take it all in is to book a cottage for yourself. And make sure to ask for extra napkins when you order that Black Angus burger!