Visitors to Sault Ste. Marie wanting a quiet, clean, family-friendly place to stay without paying for a resort can choose from a number of locally owned and operated motels in town, especially along Great Northern Road.
Among them is the Catalina Motel, the subject of this week’s SooToday Mid-Week Mugging.
The Catalina is something of a landmark with its gazebo, clearly visible near the corner of Great Northern Road and Northern Avenue.
The motel is managed by Dean and Susanne Anderson, owned by Susanne’s parents, Elmer and Elizabeth Kars.
If the Kars name seems familiar, it’s because Elmer Kars parents owned and operated Parkville Motel and Cabins at 1418 Queen Street East, across from Bellevue Park.
Elmer Kars built the Catalina Motel in 1964.
“There was still an apple orchard here on Great Northern Road. Elmer built it from the ground up, so it’s been in the family throughout its existence,” Dean told SooToday.
Dean (a Sudbury native) and Susanne (born and raised in the Sault) jumped into full-time management of the Catalina in 1999 after relocating from southeastern Ontario.
“The past couple of years, the winters have been a struggle (because of the demise of passenger train service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Dean being a member of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, or CAPT, a stakeholder group crusading for the Sault to Hearst line’s revival).”
That said, business is still good in the spring, summer and fall.
Each of the Catalina Motel’s 17 newly-renovated rooms have large photographs mounted on the walls, the photographs taken by Dean and Susanne, showcasing the natural beauty of the Highway 17 area north of the Sault.
In keeping with the subject matter of the photographs, the rooms themselves are identified as ‘Lake Superior,’ ‘Katherine’s Cove,’ ‘Canadian Shield Paths,’ ‘Sand River’ and so on, in the same way swanky four-star or five-star hotels often have names for their suites.
“The rooms, with their names, draw more attention to the whole area, not just ourselves,” Dean said, adding many regular customers will return to the Catalina and ask for their favourite named room, such as ‘Katherine’s Cove’ for example.
Many guests use the Catalina as a base when they travel to the Sault to enjoy hikes or other outdoor adventures in our area.
“A lot of people who have nice vehicles like staying with us because they get to park right at the door,” Dean said.
“Motorcyclists who stay with us like the fact whenever they come in we always make sure they get a bucket of water, soap and rags to wipe the bugs off.”
“Little things like that make a difference, and they get lodging that’s as good, if not better, than what the hotels are offering in their rooms.”
Not only those who are motel guests, but also those passing by on foot, are welcome to sit down and relax in the shade of the Catalina’s gazebo.
“We get a lot of people in the heat of summer, if they get tired and hot, they’ll just go in and take a break and get out of the sun.”
Dean and his father-in-law built the gazebo together, from scratch.
“We had to get a crane come in and put the top on all the posts when we built it.”
Is competition vicious along that strip of locally-owned motels?
“Personally, I don’t look at the other places in town as my competition. Sudbury and Sault, Michigan is my competition. I don’t try and nickel and dime the other local motel owners,” Dean said.
“I love the business because we get to come into contact with so many different people and be a positive influence in their lives in a small way.”
“A lot of times we’ll have people coming through because their mother or father passed away, they’ll sit in the office and we’ll lend them an ear.”
“They’re not just a number, or just a customer. There are people who come back and we know them by first name. They come and see us as family because we treat them like family. It’s become a bigger family than just ourselves,” Dean said.
“We don’t just shuttle people into a room and make the money. It has to be beyond that, or else there’s no purpose in it.”
The Catalina Motel, open 12 months a year, employs a total of seven people, including Dean and Susanne.