Nicole Guertin, a passionate Haileybury entrepreneur who worked tirelessly to build and promote tourism in northeastern Ontario, has died following an illness.
Guertin died on Oct. 18 after living with cancer over the last few months.
Well known and respected in the hospitality industry, Guertin was the co-owner of Les Suites des Presidents (The Presidents’ Suites), a Haileybury-based accommodations business that rented out historical homes to tourists, business travellers, and others seeking accommodations in the Temiskaming area.
Building the business from the ground up, Guertin and her partner, Jocelyn Blais, acquired their first house – built in 1906 by the early mining executive Arthur Ferland – in 2003, transforming it from an aging forgotten relic to a modern-day beauty, and opening it up for rentals.
Several more homes followed, and in the ensuing years, the couple acquired nearby Farr Island in Lake Temiskaming, evolving it into a successful glamping business, and established the Café Meteor Bistro, which was later sold and transformed into a craft brewery.
In early October, Guertin shared her prognosis via social media.
Three months prior, she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer, Guertin said in a video, which had metastasized to her liver.
“Unfortunately, yesterday, we found out that the cancer has taken a great portion of my body and I will not be here very long,” Guertin said.
Rather than wait until her death for family and friends to memorialize her life, Guertin opted to hold a virtual celebration of life on Oct. 10, which was livestreamed on social media.
Over the course of three and a half hours, friends and family shared memories, sang songs, and contributed kind words of their interactions with Guertin and her impact on the region.
Guertin died a little more than a week after that event.
The response from the Northern Ontario community has been swift and empathetic.
Charlie Angus, the member of parliament for Timmins-James Bay, expressed his condolences for her loss in an online statement.
“Nicole Guertin was an incredible force of life. I am so sad to know she is gone. It is really hard to comprehend,” Angus wrote.
“She worked so hard to build the potential of our region. Whenever I spoke to Nicole she had a hundred new ideas and plans to make each one of them a reality. She is with the angels.”
Tourism Timmins also paid homage to Guertin’s life on its social media pages: “Our condolences to Nicole’s friends and family. As a strong advocate of tourism in the North, many of us will miss her passion. Rest in peace.”
It was Guertin’s wish that, in lieu of flowers or donations to other charitable organizations, people wanting to commemorate her life would make a donation to the NISKA Leadership & Entrepreneurship Fund.
Established by Guertin and Blais, the fund will support development of innovative ideas and projects from entrepreneurs and social enterprises to help strengthen communities in Northern Ontario.
“For me, this legacy is a very important part that leadership can continue in northeastern Ontario and be inspiring other people that we wouldn’t reach out necessarily to,” Guertin said in a video prior to her death.
The fund will be administered by the Temiskaming Community Foundation.
Entrepreneurship was important to Guertin, who, in addition to running The Presidents’ Suites, established and operated many businesses and organizations over the years.
Among her projects, she launched a theatre troupe, formed a nursing organization, started the Destination Nord tourism group, operated a clothing store, created a French newspaper (which she later sold to Québecor), developed a French tourism smartphone app, and launched a French health centre.
More recently, she had established Co-Worx, a coworking office space, with her daughter, Danielle, and spearheaded 101 Experiences, a social enterprise that harnessed the expertise of local guides for unique tourism experiences.
In 2018, Guertin was named an Influential Woman of Northern Ontario by Northern Ontario Business, and earlier this fall she received a 2021 Desjardins Group Excellence Award for her extensive contributions to her community.