Browns’ Clearwater West Lodge is a special place to Brian Whalley and Aniela Hannaford. Brian grew up spending summers at this hunting lodge with his father, who claimed his site a year after it opened in 1978. After Brian met Aniela, it’s where he took her on their first date. It made enough of an impression that they returned to the lodge every chance they could.
So two years ago, when the owners retired and put the lodge up for sale, Brian and Aniela took a leap of faith and bought it. In Episode 3 of the Destination: Northern Ontario podcast, the couple talks about the experience of taking over the lodge, how offering free accommodations to Ukrainian families was a win-win, and how every season is different and keeps them on their toes.
Listen now, or read on for a few highlights.
Change the Name, or Keep It?
When they took over this lodge in Northern Ontario, Aniela and Brian didn’t feel the need to put their own stamp on it. With many regulars returning year-after-year, they decided to keep the name and preserve the atmosphere that they loved. They opted for smaller upgrades to start, like expanding a deck overlooking the beach. In the future, they’ll upgrade some cabins and infrastructure.
Offering Free Accommodations for Ukrainian Families Was a Win-Win
In 2022, many of Browns’ American regulars were held back due to border restrictions. At the same time, the news was full of stories about Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, and the lodge was short-staffed. Aniela and Brian decided to connect the dots and offer Ukrainians free accommodations in exchange for help maintaining the property. It was a win-win, attracting hardworking and reliable staff for the lodge, while the Ukrainians were able to get settled in Canada, gain work experience, and save for first-and-last rent payments. More than that, everyone has become an extended family.
Running a Lodge is an Exciting Game of Trial and Error
Brian and Aniela are still finding their groove running the lodge. For example, they stayed open for their first winter, but challenges with getting their kids to school in Atikokan, a 45 minute drive away, led to a decision to close it down for their second winter. Even in the summers, they’ve found that each season has been different as they gain more experience running a tourism business. This summer will be their first without pandemic restrictions or Canada-US border closures, so it’ll be another year of discovery, which they’re excited about.
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Next time on the Destination Northern Ontario podcast, we’ll share our third and final case study. It’s about a family of newcomers who had never even been to a cottage when they bought their cottage resort. Want to hear how that went? Follow us on your favourite podcast platform.