Old resort being transformed into modern cottages

Peggy Revell

Call it a new twist on an old Northwestern Ontario favourite: a decades’ old resort in Sioux Narrows is being transformed into modern day cottages.
Dubbed “Au Lac Retreats,” these 17 cottages situated on Regina Bay aim to be more affordable and manageable for those wanting to “live the lake life.”
“What we did, actually, is we purchased an old resort—Sioux Narrows Lodge—and we’ve torn down all of the old cabins and we’re in the process of building new cottages,” explained Diane Querel, a partner in the project along with her husband, Bob, and Bill and Evelyn Orr.
These 17 new cottages then will be sold—but like a condominium development. The site will be a managed property, meaning all the infrastructure—from water and septic to landscaping and other maintenance issues—will be taken care of by an on-site manager.
“So when people get to their cottage, they won’t have to worry about any of those things,” Querel remarked.
“I think most people that go to the lake have hectic lifestyles at home and lots of responsibilities,” agreed Bill Orr.
“And today if we can go to the lake and enjoy lake life, without being a servant to our cottages and our grass and all those responsibilities, it’s extremely attractive,” he added.
“It’s maintenance-free, and to a large extent it’s worry-free because you don’t have security issues and things like that to worry about.”
Orr said they see middle-class people as their market.
“While we see property values going through the roof here, where it costs an average couple an excess of half-a-million dollars to try to enjoy the lake life, we kind of set out to find a way to do a quasi-condominium type project in a resort setting and put some nice new real estate on the market at the $250,000 range.
“And it’s been met with great success,” he noted.
The idea to develop the old resort site this way comes as the couples watched the area transition over the years from being a tourist destination for guided tours and renting cabins to more of a “cottage country,” with people looking to settle down on a permanent basis, Orr noted.
“My wife and I did a small development actually right next door to this project about seven years ago and it was met with success,” he explained.
Then they looked to the land next to them—an old resort built with the opening of the highway in the late 1930s that closed 17 years ago, but “had lots of intrigue with it.”
By having several cottages on a large piece of property, it makes cottages “way more” affordable to those wanting to own a piece of lake front, said Querel.
For each of the 17 sites, different cottage sizes—the “Fawn,” the “Doe,” and the “Buck”—are being offered, ranging in size from about 680 sq. feet to just under 1,000 sq. feet, and with a price range from $225,000 to $245,000 to $265,000, along with the monthly condominium fee.
The development also is within walking distance of the stores, shops, and restaurants of Sioux Narrows, as well as the government dock bay, noted Querel.
And still standing on the site is the original 1,900 sq. ft. Sioux Narrows Lodge, which will become the clubhouse for Au Lac Retreats’ residents.
“That was very important to us,” Orr said about preserving the historical lodge.
“You take a building that was built in 1936, and you look at the bones of it, and you look at the history and the character of it, preserving that was fundamental to what we wanted to do,” he stressed.
The lodge is in “great shape” inside, noted Querel, with a new wood fireplace having been installed and the exterior redone.
“This old lodge is going to be like a gathering place,” she enthused. “If you want to go have potluck dinners or play cards, it’s a nice cosy place to just go and spend some time.”
In the meantime, construction is busily underway as the new cottages are being built.
“We only started in the beginning of April, but we have two cottages built that people are already living in,” said Querel, adding that foundations for four more cabins were poured late last month.
“So what we’re going to be doing now is continuing with construction through the winter so that the people who have purchased will be able to move in for the May long weekend.”
Hydro and the roadway for the sites currently are being installed, and by next spring “it will look very different,” she added.
“It’s rolling along. We estimate it to be probably a three-year project,” Querel remarked.
“We’ve had good response in our first year, so we’re hoping that we can keep the momentum going next year.”
“I’m really looking forward to next year, and over the winter seeing these new buildings go up and a totally new look for this piece of property,” said Bruce Bennett of Northwoods Realty Ltd.
“Going from a 1950s resort to a 2010 resort is a huge leap.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Bennett added. “[It’s] a rebuilding of a total resort—just in a different manner than what it used to be.”
So far, they’ve had good response from people “all over” interested in purchasing the cottages, Bennett noted, with two American and four Canadian owners to date.
“I’m sure there will be other people coming up that will want to get in.
“I know a lot of people from Arizona and Florida, and states a bit further north like Missouri, that the heat is so bad down there in the summer time, they have to get out,” Bennett added.
“You’re looking at 120 Fahrenheit every day. It’s like our 40 below.
“So they’re trying to find cooler spots to spend their summer.”
More information on the project can be found www.aulac.ca or www.northwoodsrealtyltd.com
As the project proceeds, a photo blog (http://northwoods.smugmug.com) also is being updated on a regular basis.