Collingwood's year-round attraction
The quaint town of Collingwood, ON is primarily known for Blue Mountain, one of the most popular ski resorts in Canada. Visitors come from near, far and even further away to experience what this beautiful town on the southern point of Georgian Bay has to offer. While it’s easy to pigeonhole it as a ski-season-only type of town, the award-winning Living Water Resort is making a strong case for visitors to enjoy Collingwood year-round.
Laura (my better looking half) and I recently visited Living Water Resort, a short 90 minute jaunt north of Toronto, for a weekend getaway. We’d both experienced Collingwood in our younger years and we were excited to see what was in store for us as adults.
The water-wall display offered a great first impression and framed the entrance nicely.
Once we had our room keys, we walked through the modern, well designed lobby to the elevator, which led us to our third floor room.
Upon entering the magnificent one bedroom/full kitchen/living & dining room with balcony suite, “impressive” is an understatement. At about 1,400 sq.ft, the room is a versatile solution for couples, families with children, or a guys/gals weekend away, for a short or long term stay. There’s a full sized dining table available that seats up to six, an inset fireplace in the living room, and two large screen TVs. Our king sized bed was warmly comfortable, the bay view from the balcony should be on a postcard and the oversized on suite bathroom had a shower head that lit up when in use!
After a sound night’s sleep, Laura and I headed across the street to the sister property, Cranberry Resort, for a buffet breakfast at the Courtyard Bistro, which was full of appetizing standard hot breakfast fare coupled with energetic service levels.
We hopped in our chariot and headed to the nearby Scenic Caves attraction for a morning adventure. Unfortunately, what started out as a brisk autumn morning turned into a snow filled morning shortly after our 9:00 am arrival and due to safety reasons (completely understandable), the caves were closed for the day. For as much as we wanted to walk the suspension bridge, we realized that we’d simply return another time to experience the 420 foot long walk.
Laura and I chose our backup plan quickly, seeing as we were in picturesque Collingwood in autumn with an abundance of driving routes available to us.
We spent the balance of the morning driving through the east side of town, through beautiful Scenic Caves Road and other rural routes, taking plenty of pictures.
Interestingly, Mother Nature gave us vibrant, autumn colours and within about 10 minutes, she opened the snow gates worth about 5+ inches.
If you’re ever in a driving mood and want to see some breathtaking scenery and colors, take a spin up to Collingwood and make sure your camera is fully charged.
After lunch, we were treated to a lesson by the Head Golf Pro, Myles Bradford, who solved my “why does the ball drift so far to the left!?” drive issue by making a small adjustment to my right hand positioning. Laura also enjoyed the lesson and had a bunch of great tee shots that were far straighter than mine.
Myles explained that he’s been on board for a few years and truly loves what he does. He’s friendly, approachable, educated, a pro golfer and most importantly, he’s eager to share his knowledge of the game to help others and create a memorable experience, whether you visit once a year or once a week. Now that’s how you know someone loves what they do!
Before dinner, we spent some time with the General Manager of Living Water Resort and Cranberry Resort, Don Buckle, a seasoned hospitality pro with over three decades of experience and approaching his second year leading, empowering and supporting his remarkable team. Oh, and he’s the only back to back recipient of the Hospitality Manager of the Year award (2014 & 2015) from the folks at the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association.
He explained that since its inception seven years ago, the resort has aimed to be year round destination for a variety of guests. With Phase 3 recently underway and construction happening around the resort, it certainly hasn’t affected guest visits as they’re constantly at 80%+ capacity through their upgrades, which will see a new 160 seat waterfront restaurant with chef’s table and spa, and more rooms, to add to the existing 190 rooms.
Buckle’s goal is to create memorable experiences for each guest and from what I can see, he’s doing just that. It’s one thing for him to be a great coach and lead his team to do that, but he also enables his staff to give guests the best experience possible. That trust in his staff is evident at every turn. There’s low turnover, loyalty from his team and they’re all actively engaged with guests. Don speaks with immense pride about both resorts as well as the owner, Larry Law, who I’ll speak to further in this piece. Don’s customer-first philosophy and desire to be a part of Law’s “giving back to the community” approach made him a natural fit. For example, one of his staff made a quick decision to have a stranded junior hockey team taken in and fully fed on a cold winter night. Yes, it’s something all of us would do but Buckle’s team member reacted quickly and did the right thing.
For the staff, there are plenty of ways to be engaged: team building exercises yearly, charity work in the community, full use of all the facilities, a caring fund that is for team members that may be going through a hard time, a Christmas dinner for the less fortunate, and donations to local charities as well as working with Georgian College.
So it’s really not all about the bottom line. Instead, Buckle has created an inviting atmosphere for guests and staff and the sea of smiles proves he’s passionate about his role.
Dinner saw Laura and I visit Memories, a fine dining restaurant in Cranberry Resort with delicious food at non-fine-dining prices. Our menu consisted of kale salad, butternut squash and apple soup, surf and turf and a raspberry chocolate flourless cake, all of which was beautifully plated, mouth-watering and thoroughly enjoyed. The Junior Sous Chef, Tanner, came out after our meal to see how our night was and that personal touch was in line with a great dining experience.
We retreated back to our beautiful suite for the night for another great night’s sleep.
As we were in the elevator, we heard guests for a wedding (yup, they do weddings, events and conferences as well) comment on how great the venue was and how great their experience has been.
Our final portion of the trip saw us meet with the owner, Larry Law and his wife, Maria for lunch in the Jane Bishop room.
As the four of us ate in a room named after one of the first settlers in Collingwood, Larry explained that after years of being a successful businessman and a respected architect, it was the death of his first wife that changed his life. He realized that being a business owner wasn’t only about dollars and cents. While it’s easy to keep blinders on and focus on keeping a business profitable, there’s a human side that Larry and Maria have integrated into both Cranberry and Living Water. They’re relationship builders, whether it be via guests or their team. Their mission statement is to build a fun and caring community, which is a simple yet powerful statement. Their actions speak louder than their words, though. Larry and Maria speak and act with purpose, are dedicated to working with the community to foster relationships, work with the less fortunate, treat their staff like family, among many other things.
But you’ll rarely catch them bragging about it, which to me, is the most admirable part. They do these things because they want to and don’t expect anything in return, they don’t want awards or recognition. They simply want to create meaningful relationships, help those around them and serve others from their heart.
A perfect example of this was illustrated over lunch. The Restaurant Manager, Dhiren, came in to check on us and he and I started a brief conversation about his history and future goals. He mentioned that one of his goals is to be the youngest General Manager in Canada. In his mid-20’s, he’s got a few years to reach that goal as the youngest one he knows of is 35. Once he left, Larry mentioned to us that now that he’s aware of Dhiren’s goal, he’s going to work closely with him and offer him an opportunity to achieve his aspirational and realistic goal. Larry listens carefully and reacts quickly and accurately.
Our three hours together passed quickly and Larry and Maria took just as much of an interest in Laura’s and my life as we did in theirs. There’s something to be said for those who are interested in listening to others instead of monopolizing the conversation.
They’ve done a stellar job of positioning Cranberry and Living Water as a top notch, year round resort that welcomes all types of visitors, all through focusing on the bigger picture and thinking of others.
The Living Water Resort, with the unique on-site Agua Tapas Bar and Lounge, offers visitors a wide array of amenities, including fitness classes led by the enthusiastic Lori.
From Larry and Maria and Don, down to the newest team member, the entire team are given the tools to create stellar guest experiences. And it’s working, seeing as they’ve won the 2015 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence award.
The design work, décor, amenities, and aura compliment what guests are looking for in Living Water. And with a variety of off-site attractions, the true sense of community is fostered by everyone working towards keeping customers happy.
They’ve got a beautiful waterfront property, outstanding golf, banquet and meeting facilities, a clear, forward-thinking vision and the right people on board to keep progressing. One happy guest at a time, the Living Water Resort and its sister resort, Cranberry, is proving that with the right approach, strong leadership and an even stronger team, having an outstanding year-round resort run from the heart and mind is absolutely achievable.