Nestled in a copse of trees abutting Algonquin Provincial Park, the yurt is in an idyllic setting. Pasture rolling out before it and gentle hills rising behind, for many visitors this past summer, the Buffalo Farm Destination has been a slice of heaven.
“It’s very beautiful at any season of the year, and I think, because of this wide open space here and the sky, it’s never the same,” said owner Stan Gibson, surveying the acreage. “It’s constantly changing.”
Four years ago, Gibson and his family moved to Northern Ontario from the GTA with a love for the open air and an idea. This past summer, his Mattawa-area farm opened to the public for overnight accommodation in which visitors are immersed in a wholly Northern experience.
For less than $100 a night, visitors can hunker down in the 23-foot yurt — hand-built from wood harvested on the property — along the bank of the Emable du Fond River. Canoeists can launch a cedar-strip canoe, also hand-built, to explore the river and its sand beaches, while land lovers can enjoy the view from the yoga platform, which doubles as an eating area and observation deck.
It’s not uncommon to see moose, bears, and deer wandering the property, but those more comfortable with domesticated fauna can interact with any of the 11 rescued horses on site.
Listed on the global accommodations website Airbnb, enthusiastic reviewers have described the site as “magical” and “re-energizing,” commending their hosts for their hospitality. Visitors have trekked from across Canada and the U.S. to take in the experience, but a healthy percentage of their clients are European, which was a surprise for Gibson.
“I would say we’ve had about as many people from Europe as from Canada,” he said. “That, I wasn’t anticipating. I felt that we could eventually build up a European clientele.”
It wasn’t a distaste for Toronto that spurred them to move, but the family — comprised of Gibson, his wife Mariam and their three adult children — loves the outdoors, and it had been a long-held dream to own property in a rural area. After deciding on Northern Ontario as their preferred destination, the Gibsons looked sporadically for about a year for their ideal property, centring their search in the New Liskeard area. But disappointment with the lack of available options soon set in.
“I think we probably saw at least 50 properties there, and we were starting to get a little frustrated,” Gibson said. “At the last minute, we were directed to this, and as soon as we saw it, we knew immediately that this was what we wanted.”
Known locally as the “buffalo farm” for the large herd of buffalo raised there for decades by the previous owner, the 600-acre property is ever-changing as the Gibsons add amenities.
This fall, they plan to return buffalo to the property. Guests will tour the farm in horse-drawn buggies where they can view the buffalo up close while learning their history, or enjoy them from a distance from a second accommodation, “the buffalo suite,” to be built alongside the ungulates’ paddock.
Test plots with three types of hops are being assessed for overwintering capabilities, so they can be used to make beer. Construction of the straw-bale brewery is slated to start this year; it will produce one hectolitre to start.
The unused silo will be retrofitted for a store, where the Gibsons can sell their beer, buffalo-related paraphernalia, and local produce. A greenhouse, which will contain a small eatery, will be added later, Gibson said.
Other plans include hosting small music festivals and yoga retreats, and because the yurt is winterized, guests can stay year-round, enjoying cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on groomed trails. Additional accommodations are also planned for the property.
Even while the Gibsons further integrate themselves into country life, Stan and Mariam both still retain their Toronto-based jobs and travel back and forth to the city for work. But as Stan said, “I don’t think any of us are pining for the city.”
“We see huge potential in Northern Ontario,” Gibson said. “People need to see that and really get behind it.”