Listen Up! The closure of Grandview reminds us that we must stay current and competitive

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Eat or be Eaten!

It was a sad day in paradise when it was announced last week that Grandview Resort in Huntsville has been closed. Grandview has a rich history spanning many generations, where at its beginning a vacation could be enjoyed for $2.50 per night! Its closing in some ways signals the end of an era.

I have many good memories of Grandview. My wife and I had our wedding reception there and for a month or two, many years ago, we lived there while our home was being renovated. I remember in particular, the Craik family who worked so hard to update Grandview and subsequently Bruce Evans who had a vision for the resort that included the Executive Golf Course and condominiums, some of the first in Muskoka. It was a shining jewel in our community.

One of the current owners of the Grandview property is former Mayor Claude Doughty, a developer who has also left his mark on Huntsville. It fell to him to announce the closing of the resort. He noted that the resort model is no longer viable for Grandview due to a major shift in the tourism business in Muskoka. Sadly, he is right.

Gone are the days when small family resorts were the staple of tourism in Muskoka. There are not many of them left and most of those that are have learned how to change with the times and adapt to new realities.

One example is Clyffe House in Port Sydney, the oldest resort in Muskoka that has been owned by five generations of the same family. David Scott, the current owner, recognized in the mid 1970s that the glory days of traditional lodges were fading and costs were skyrocketing. He convinced his mother and aunt, at that time the owners of Clyffe House, to close the full service dining room and convert the hotel to a cottage and housekeeping resort. This decision, while changing in many ways the nature of Clyffe House, allowed it to survive and it remains today a popular vacation destination for many families. There are of course other family resorts that have survived in Muskoka but many struggle and they are no longer a lynch pin of the Muskoka economy.

I became somewhat nostalgic when I learned of the closing of Grandview as a resort but it also reminded me of the reality of change and the importance of confronting it. As one approaches Huntsville from the north, south or east there is a welcoming sign that says “Touch the Past – Embrace the Future”. To me that says that we must honour our heritage but also be on the cutting edge of change. I wonder if we are doing that.

Whether we like it or not we live in a competitive world. That applies as much to communities as it does to anything else. We cannot stand still and the status quo, while perhaps comfortable, can never sustain us.

Perhaps it is the time of year, but as I travel the main street of Huntsville it seems to me to be getting tired again. There are empty stores and the entire block from the Empire Hotel lot to the old Dominion Store is not only vacant but becoming derelict. Some of these properties have been vacant for years. It is hard to see a sense of pride in this important part of our community life and the first place that many people see when they visit Huntsville.  I also continue to worry about the effect changes in the delivery of health care and especially changes to our hospital may have on our community. If we end up with hospital services subordinate to those in adjacent communities, we will be less competitive when it comes to our economic well being.

Recently the Town of Huntsville approved a Strategic Plan. I would be surprised if many of our readers have seen it as it has not been well publicized. I had a hard time finding it online, but that may be because I am technologically challenged! The vision for Huntsville contained in the Strategic Plan is:

A vibrant, inclusive healthy community which inspires innovation and growth, celebrates the arts, culture and heritage, promotes recreation while developing a resilient economy founded on social caring and environmental stewardship.
The Vision for Huntsville as contained in the Strategic Plan

The vision is excellent. The plan that follows it is okay. Much of it is motherhood, but it is okay. In my view however, it does not fully live up to its vision and it is not bold.

What we need in Huntsville is a BOLD plan; one that is ambitious, one that creates excitement, one that takes risks and one that anticipates the future. We need a plan that ensures a vibrant and healthy community and sets us apart from our neighbours in what we have to offer. We must protect our heritage but we must also think outside the box. We need specifics. We need to identify resources and we need timelines. We need a plan that ensures that our glory days are ahead and not behind us. We have a Council that is perfectly capable of doing this. It just takes a deep breath and raw courage.

We live in a changing and competitive world that does not exclude Muskoka and the communities in it. In Huntsville, our economy, our lifestyle and our future depends on our ability to deal with that. It’s eat or be eaten and I say, let’s eat!

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8 Comments

  1. A sign of the times.

    Can’t see Deerhurst doing their $500,00,000 project either. They will never get investors for that.

    The GTA people no longer can afford to do vacations as they are rent poor.

    Very sad.

    • Bill Harrington on

      Or you know the ‘GTA People’ know how to use technology and use AirBNB to book a cottage when they feel the need. I think you missed the point of this article, the old way of doing things is increasingly irrelevant and you are being left in the dust.

      Time to reinvent or collapse — that’s up to you, not the “GTA People”.

    • James Joseph on

      Deerhurst is selling condos at $250,000 cheap cf to anything else in Muskoka which you can live in 12 months. GTA is investing here since it’s an affordable alternative and a great area. Skyline is a property developer not a resort.

  2. Terry Clarke on

    Great article, Hugh!! Move forward, be positive, Huntsville is a wonderful community….Grandview was a wonderful resort, but now it can still be a ‘Village of Huntsville. Cheers

  3. That is a fine article Hugh and brings back a lot of memories to this old guy who is as follically ((?)challenged as you are. When I moved to Huntsville in 1960 it was also tired and in the doldrums. Many of my friends, and yours, turned Huntsville around and there was a sea change in the town. My children were born in Huntsville and they still proudly call it home.
    Yes things are changing but the beauty and the grandeur of the area remains. When I stop there to see some old friends from time to time or drop into Huntsville Downs for a game of golf I am still in awe of it’s natural beauty.
    I am confident your council, with goodwill and co-operation, will move Huntsville forward to its real and proper destiny.
    Stan Cox.

  4. Dianne Adams on

    A very sad day for Huntsville….. If your taste for a family vacation did not run with the “glitzy, Hollywood” style of Deerhurst, then Grandview was the spot for you. I have attended many functions there (anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, amazing brunches, etc) and always felt the sophistication and glamour without the unnecessary glitz. It was a subtle type of high class resort, catering to the needs of all types of people and needs. Even though you had a choice of stepping up to a Deerhurst venue, Grandview won with me every time. Coming in at a close second was the Sunday brunch at the old Hidden Valley Resort where awesome buffet food choices at a very reasonable price satisfied all. A third exceptional place was the Sandpiper Restaurant on Highway 60 – unbelievably delicious meals and comfortable, quiet ambiance. Gone, but never forgotten.
    Yes, change is inevitable, but I do miss the old establishment ways…….

  5. Brian Tapley on

    All good points and Hugh has touched many of them.
    Bondi Resort in Dwight is now entering its 112th year since its founder, my grandfather arrived here from England and set up shop, first as a farmer, then as the resort. There have been a lot of changes, many exactly like Cliffe House where Mr. Scott is a good friend.
    I’m in my mid 60’s now and I can remember a much more vibrant time for the area, a time when there were many more resorts, and large ones too. Deerhurst has been the recipient of much funding, one way or another and I wonder, as the sort of star attraction for the Huntsville area how its plans for the new village will work out. One of the younger generation that I know well, when we toured the sales area (very well staffed by the way) at Deerhurst to see what they were proposing said afterward.. “so it is Blue Mountain without the mountain?” as a response. This from an under-25 university graduate… I leave you to form your own opinion.
    My observation, while trying to continue to run our little resort is that the planning function, however well intentioned, is essentially a “reactionary” process. To put it very very simply, someone does something that the neighbors don’t like so they make a by-law to prevent it in future, but guess what? It has already happened so it is too late. We are “reacting” not looking (as both Hugh and Spock would say) “boldly to the future”. The biggest “tourist resort” in Muskoka by far today is the private cottage rented by an online travel agent such as Air B&B. It is not the Deerhurst’s and Grandview’s of the world but our governments do not even acknowledge this existence.
    A further observation is that most government ministries seem to think a small business, be it the corner gas/convenience store or a small resort is sitting on some king of money mine where funds are essentially unlimited and results don’t matter. We can just pay this fee, that tax, comply with these new rules and so on unendingly and with nothing more than a stroke of a pen to a check. Well as Doughty has pointed out and he is a pretty sharp man with the calculator, this financial model no longer works. It has its limits.
    There are a few of us, either too stupid, too obstinate or in my case too nostalgic I think, who continue to operate the classic resort business here in Muskoka. I do it for the thanks from long-time guests, the joy I see in young kids enjoying the place. I sure don’t do it for the money and prestige as neither of these exist in this world today anymore and this is kind of sad in many ways. Put another way there is just so much in the way of costs, taxes and regulatory compliance that any business can support and it would behoove the political masters of our fine Country, Province and Municipality to remember this fact for at some point the owner/operator, like that poor old camel with just that one more straw on its back, will simply quite.
    Last point would be to agree with Hugh about downtown Huntsville. When Walmart et al came to town we were told words to the effect that they would not hurt the downtown core… well all that is left now is either high end niche boutiques, a few restaurants and banks and that is about it. The family run businesses that dealt in the field covered by Home Depot/Walmart et al you may notice are now closed and gone. There are a few businesses like the auto parts stores but they don’t rely on walk-in trade much and could be located anywhere in the area just as effectively. I suspect they are downtown where they are more due to inertia than anything else and this is good as at least they are there!
    My son tells me (and he is younger so he knows vastly more than me) that you can “always tell a tourist area in the USA because the number of fudge shops increases” and in this case he might be right so keep your eyes out for a nice glass fronted fudge making shop near that good old swing bridge that no longer swings. When it arrives Trump will not be far behind.

  6. This is just a small comment regarding Huntsville looking tired.There are small thoughtful things that can be done to sharpen up the look and appeal of our historical and charming Main St.
    For instance, while walking past the beautiful wrought iron gateway to RiverMill Park, what does one see? A beautiful garden? a gazebo perhaps or some of Rudi Sades ‘wonderful stone seatiing? N. What you see are three big blue doored biffies, albetit decent ones, but … It would be nice if people visiting our town could enter the park thinking that it is every bit as special as it could be and not some back alley maintenance area. Just a thought .

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