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Area remote lodge redesigns offerings in wake of COVID (6 photos)

Fishing lodge adapts in hopes of attracting more Canadian guests in 2021 season

With international travel opportunities limited, isolation fatigued Ontarians and Canadians alike are looking for new locations to vacation.

Whether they enjoy exploring, like an adventure in pristine Boreal forest, want to unplug, hike, swim, paddle, bird, photograph, fish, want to be pampered, be secluded and self-sufficient or spend quality family time, it has now become more important that we do so in a safe and mindful manner.

One area lodge abruptly reviewed and redesigned its offerings, adjusting the way it does business to make its business sustainable through COVID-19 precautions.

MarMac Lodge Wilderness Resort is a family-run lodge located on the shores of Esnagi Lake in the Algoma District, near White River, Ontario and it's been popular with Americans seeking a remote fishing experience for decades.

With their entire past operations being entwined in guests mainly from the United States and the new reality of border closure the family set out to brainstorm new ways to highlight vacation activities in a more diverse way for their lodge.

"We have redesigned our offerings and now cater to experienced, beginner and non-anglers.  We have purchased a small fleet of canoes for use with our new “Boreal Escape” package, a non-angling, wilderness vacation" explains Debbie Johnston, spokesperson for the lodge.

The lodge currently operated by Debbie and Ken Johnston began in the late 1950s when Debbie's grandfather purchased land on the lake and built his lodge then known as Camp 88.  In 1972 her parents also purchased another existing lodge about 3 miles north of Camp 88 which became MarMac, a name derived from her grandmother - Marcella MacLachlan.

During the devastation and write-off of their 2020 operating season, the Johnston's basically sat back and took a wait-and-see approach.  By mid-June, the realization came that they needed to do something to attract new Canadian guests.

After arriving at the conclusion they did not feel safe opening their kitchen and dining room for all-inclusive vacationers, and the negative cost-efficacy of selling to those who were looking to self-cater only, the couple came to the difficult decision to concentrate on upgrading the MarMac property for the 2021 season rather than contributing any more effort to the 2020 season.

"We have spent the last nine months re-imagining MarMac Lodge. Our entire family is passionate about the outdoors and passionate about the beauty of Northern Ontario. We are hikers and paddlers as well as anglers," said Johnston. 

There are still several stumbling blocks ahead of the Johnston's. The first of which is letting people know they are out there and then overcoming the perception that has grown over the years that they at MarMac Lodge only cater to hard-core fishermen.

Generations ago when this niche industry was created to cater to US anglers, traditional Northern Ontario lodges only offered a choice of two plans - "Housekeeping Plan" and the " American Plan".

Now most newly introduced Canadians or prospective guests, in general, don't understand these terms.  

This prompted a rename of these packages and new packages to be developed and created which means there is something for everyone who wishes to visit MarMac regardless of whether they are an angler or non-angler.

In order to operate, this 2021 season has also had to see changes in conjunction with COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Johnston said, "To help us meet our customers' needs and to operate safely we have adopted Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario’s 'COVID-19 Best Practises Protocol'."

"Additionally we have been awarded the 'Safe Travels Stamp' through the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario. This stamp is the world's first-ever global safety and hygiene stamp for the travel and tourism industry, and signals to the public that a destination is safe to visit."

"We are lucky enough to have the capacity to spread our dining areas over two levels of floor space in our main lodge and we are building an outdoor dining deck when we return to the property this spring. In the case that we end up in another mandated dining room shutdown, we will be delivering meals to individual cottages." 

"Cottages will be meticulously maintained according to COVID-19 standards. Once a group enters their cottage, we will not be going in. We will be doing daily deck-side towel and linen exchanges as well as deck-side trash removal. We will be following all guidelines and legislation regarding maximum numbers of people in common areas, hand sanitizing, surface sanitizing, and mask-wearing." 

Sustainability for generations to come is as important to the couple as it has been for Debbie's grandparents and parents. Surviving COVID-19 is no exception for the lodge.

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About the Author: Violet Aubertin

Violet Aubertin is a photograher and writer with an interest in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma's great outdoors
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