Killarney Mountain Lodge hosted a celebration for the grand opening of Canada House, billed as the largest log-built convention centre in the world, on June 22.
The 34,000-square-foot addition is the latest element of an $18-million renovation project that is the brainchild of resort owner Holden Rhodes, who purchased the property back in 2015 from Maury and Annabelle East.
The building includes a spacious main entrance, ballroom-sized dining hall, waterfront patio, steakhouse, fitness centre, mini bar and conference rooms.
More than 500 people were involved in the design and construction of the building, and an incredible assortment of materials – 1,000 logs, 2,500 truckloads of gravel, 15,000 hours of masonry, 2,500 trees and shrubs to decorate the landscape – and three years to complete.
Appropriately named Canada House, the building was constructed using towering pines from Ontario and Quebec, Douglas fir from British Columbia, pink granite from the Canadian Shield, white quartz from La Cloche mountain range, gravel from Greater Sudbury and stone from Owen Sound and Wiarton.
Over the decades Killarney has traditionally been a summer destination, "but it's beautiful here at other times of the year as well," said Rhodes.
"So the focus (of Canada House was to create a space) for guests, weddings and corporate events to come throughout the year and enjoy the community for that whole period of time."
Almost every section of the lodge property has been touched in the renovation process, said Rhodes, including the docks, accommodations, laundry facility, kitchen, lobby and staff residence.
In addition to revitalizing aspects of the existing property, Rhodes has introduced a private coffee shop and full-service marina since acquiring the lodge.
"We started with a small renovation project in mind and it was really about infrastructure," said Rhodes. "It just kept getting bigger and bigger (until) the scope had increased well beyond what I had anticipated."
Check out a video tour of the facility below:
Rhodes is a former corporate lawyer and one of the founders of CarProof, a Canadian tech company that provided detailed histories of used vehicles. CarProof was sold in 2015 to IHS Inc., which owns CarFax, for $650 million.
Throughout the renovations, he made a considerable effort to restore or maintain historic aspects of the resort, which was originally opened as a private retreat for employees and customers of the Freuhauf Trailer Company back in the 1950s.
Since being purchased by the East family in 1962 and turned into a public resort, visits have become an annual tradition for residents of the surrounding area, which was a significant motivator for Rhodes to maintain as much of the property's unique character as possible.
"They've done a good job in trying to keep it as rustic as possible, but at the same time have the size that would appeal ... to the masses," said guest Greg Mayhew at the grand opening.
For years, Mayhew used to organize men's retreats to the lodge under its previous ownership, a much more rustic experience he said than what guests will find now.
"I can't believe the amount of money they have put into the property and the quality (they achieved) – they went way over the top. It's absolutely beautiful," he said. "It's posh, yet it's still very natural, so I think everyone would be happy here."
In addition to the resort's historic relevance, renovations have paid tribute to the surrounding community through the given names of each room, and a significant amount of local, Indigenous artwork. One artist featured prominently throughout Canada House is James Simon Mishibinijima, who was present June 22 to present 15 of his latest creations.
Mishibinijima, which translates to "birch bark silver shield" in Ojibwe, has been a professional artist for the past 50 years, presenting his art across Canada, the United States and Europe, including one piece that hangs in the Vatican. Born and raised in Wikwemikong First Nation, he said his art is inspired by the landscape around him and reflected in two styles: 'Mish Mountains' and what Mishibinijima refers to as ‘Native art.’
Having dedicated his life to reflecting his surroundings and the community it supports, Mishibinijima said it felt natural to display his art alongside the natural resources of Canada House.
"This art style, it's the natural geographic location – what it looks like around here, it's home," he said. "So the two come together and become one with the landscape."
"Killarney is about people, it’s about determination," said Rhodes. "People have been coming here as early as the fur trade and establishing roots, and making a life for themselves which is a very hard thing to do in Northern Ontario – so it's about perseverance, really."
Reflecting on the purchase of the property, Rhodes said almost everyone in his life advised him against the sale, but this was about more than monetary gain for the former Toronto lawyer.
"This was where my mother was born and raised, and all of our ancestors going back to the 1800s when the town was founded in 1820," said Rhodes. "It's been an impoverished community. We had fishing and mining and a few other industries – timberwork – out of this community, but tourism is also a big part of it."
With the town nearing its 200th anniversary, Rhodes felt this was the perfect opportunity to give back to the community, providing a space for its 250 residents to live, work and play. Having recently purchased Killarney's Sportsman's Inn, Rhodes appears to have big plans for the small town, but he said he has no desire to change it into something it's not.
"(My vision is for it to be) a destination for people to come, whether you call that tourism or hospitality. It's a place for people to come and experience this part of the world – which is quite unique," he said.
While he hopes to be an encouraging part of that development, Rhodes said it will take more than his own efforts for Killarney to grow as a premium destination for Northern Ontario tourism.
"It's really about other people getting involved as well – and that's not just coming here, but coming to invest here and partake in everything this area has to offer."This story originally appeared on Sudbury.com, a sister publication of Northern Ontario Business.