If your company is seeking out the next location for its staff retreat, Ian Bowhey urges you to check out the “Caribbean of the North.”
That’s the nickname clientele have given Bowhey’s West Nipissing Resort Marina and Café, which hosts five cottages and a series of boats on five acres of wilderness along the shoreline of the northwest bay of Lake Nipissing.
“We set the bar very high,” said Bowhey of the family-run operation. “The property’s very well maintained, very well manicured; the cottages have everything you need – they’re very clean, cozy, quaint and Northern.”
Located in the small town of Lavigne, Bowhey’s is about 15 minutes southwest of Sturgeon Falls – which is itself roughly 30 minutes west of North Bay – and the resort offers visitors access to the same natural landscape as popular areas like Muskoka, but is affordable for businesses and organizations of all sizes.
“It’s usually two and a half hours to that part of Ontario, whereas we’re about four hours from Toronto,” Bowhey said. “So, an extra hour, hour and a half, (clients) get a bigger bang for their buck.”
The resort doesn’t have tidy meeting rooms or high-tech projectors and viewing screens – but that’s a large part of its charm.
Each of Bowhey’s five cottages can sleep up to four people and includes a full bathroom, as well as a kitchen equipped with a fridge, stove, microwave, coffeemaker, dishes, and pots and pans.
While there, guests have access to an in-ground pool and non-motorized equipment like pedal boats, and canoes and kayaks. The resort’s houseboat, yachts, and speedboat are available to use for an extra fee. High-speed internet is available at the property.
“We did one last year for a business out of Sudbury, and they took the whole resort,” Bowhey said. “They rented all the cabins, so they basically had their corporate retreat here...and they had their meeting up at the pool.”
Bowhey is also happy to set up various teambuilding activities for his guests – pedal boat races, a fishing tournament, or a tour around the lake on one of the resort’s watercraft are among the creative ideas he suggests to get groups bonding and working together.
There is a small café on site – the Wrap Shack offers up fresh, handmade wraps some contend are “the best in the North” – and if a group wants to take the night off from cooking, Bowhey can arrange a company pig roast or a fish fry, or bring in caterers to cook a meal.
“The sky’s the limit,” Bowhey said.
The hospitality business has changed dramatically since he and his wife, Lillian, acquired the West Nipissing Resort 20 years ago.
Originally from Collingwood, the Bowheys took the plunge into resort ownership in 1999, after seeing the potential in owning their own business.
Then it was more of a fishing lodge, with 12 cottages on site, and anglers would spend a week dropping their line into Nipissing’s shallow, teeming waters, happily hauling in walleye, pike, bass and muskie to their hearts’ content.
Guests can still enjoy fishing at the lake, but Bowhey recognized that, to stand out from the competition, he needed something else to offer.
Over the last two decades, he and he wife have done extensive renovations on the property, removing seven of the original 12 cottages, and upgrading the remaining five to modern standards. They also maintain other area properties that are rented out to tenants full time.
The Bowheys are now the veteran resort operators on Lake Nipissing. Ownership of every other facility on the lake has changed hands – in some cases, multiple times – in the two decades since they purchased their property.
After 20 years of hard work, Bowhey said he and his wife are very close to fulfilling the vision they once saw for their little slice of heaven. And they’re eager to continue sharing it with others. He believes weddings and corporate retreats could make up a large part of his future clientele.
“That’s where I can see some good benefit coming in the next five years,” he said.
Bowhey’s West Nipissing Resort Marina and Café is open starting on the May long weekend through to the end of October.