If you’re looking for a world-class luxury getaway, put Northeastern Ontario on your radar if it isn’t already. The area is a haven for many—the land of majestic rocks, Group of Seven painted trees, crystal blue lakes and larger-than-life characters. I know these Northern characters when I spot them — I’m one myself — so I found a kindred spirit in Holden Rhodes. Rhodes is the owner of two of Georgian Bay’s best adventure resorts: Killarney Mountain Lodge and Killarney’s Sportsman’s Inn.
Since last summer, Killarney Mountain Lodge (KML) has had an infusion of $14 million investment—obviously no chump change for any kind of revitalization. I sought out the man behind this project and met Holden, who spent time as a young boy with relatives in Killarney, where his mother, grandmother and uncle all had worked at KML. There he developed a solid work ethic. He also learned about the topography of the area and gained an profound appreciation for the perspectives of the larger-than-life people living in this fishing village of Killarney.
Born in Toronto’s Streetsville community that’s now part of Mississauga, Holden didn’t grow up in a wealthy family, but worked hard for his success. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario’s Law School, he paid his way through school by working in various restaurants where he learned the value of exceptional service. Holden maintained a strong work ethic in his law career and the business world, and has since propelled himself to take a new path—he will stop practicing law and raise the bar in another manner. He has set out to build a resort with grace and simplicity for families in need of pampered retreats.
“I didn’t have a lot of money growing up and so my parents would take us North to Killarney, Ontario in the summers to visit our family there; I feel a sense of connection with that community,” says Holden. “I love to see people have fun and we want to enhance that by providing a place where people can enjoy a relaxed vacation. Our job is to make that experience as comfortable as possible, so they feel really at home while being served the best food and enjoying the best service available.”
Earlier this season while attending the Chef’s Across the Waters event—an exchange initiative among chefs across the Great Lakes — I sat down with General Manager of KML, Kelly McAree, a former Salt Spring Island resort manager. He reinforced their passion in building relationships with community organizations. “We buy and hire local as much as possible, and have built a new staff house. We help locally as much as we can right now, such as fund raising for the fire department and promoting the need to resurface the area’s air strip,” says Kelly. Proceeds raised by the Chefs Across the Waters event went to support Killarney Elementary School.
Friends of Killarney Park’s Executive Director Kris Puhvel expressed his gratitude for a generous donation of a cabin stay at KML for their annual silent auction event. He added that it was wonderful to see the staff from KML coming to the Summer Concert Series and Art in the Park events. “There’s a sincere interest from Holden and staff in building a strong relationship with Friends of the Park. It’s a small town and we need to work together.” Friends of Killarney also organizes an artist-in-residence program, with many works displayed in the dining hall at KML. I can attest to this as my husband purchased two pieces for his newly constructed office in Milton. In speaking with Kris, he reminded me of how organic the charm of Killarney is — it’s the best of three worlds: hiking by day, gourmet meals with a local flair and a comfy bed by night.
Want to explore offsite the resort and have a more rugged experience? Killarney Outfitters can provide you with everything you need for an outdoor adventure. Top quality canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards are available to rent. They also offer trip planning and complete outfitting, including a menu of fresh and homemade meals.
There are some great people doing great work in Killarney. There’s a clear commitment to both encouraging the local economy by making visitors feel welcome and comfortable, while also protecting their pristine environment. I tip my hat to everyone in Killarney —especially the fish mongers at Herbert Fisheries, the guide taking me across by pontoon to the Island Spa, Eric who graciously greets me at the door, and the lovely staff keeping my cabin tidy.
And of course to Holden and his family, for their vision to revitalize this small community and make it a world class destination.
There are endless opportunities to de-stress at Killarney Mountain Lodge & Sportsman Inn, so go ahead and let the attentive staff do what they do best.