Business View Magazine interviews Dianne Hounsome, 5th generation operator of Bayview Wildwood Resort, for our focus on Exceptional Ontario Resort Destinations.
For over a century, Bayview Wildwood Resort has been welcoming guests to the lakeside hamlet of Port Stanton, Ontario. Tucked into the shoreline of beautiful Sparrow Lake, this delightful four-season Muskoka destination offers suites, resort rooms, and waterfront cottages, perfect for a romantic couples’ getaway, weekend wedding, corporate retreat, or the ultimate family vacation.
Recently, Business View Magazine spoke with Dianne (Stanton) Hounsome, fifth-generation operator of Bayview Wildwood Resort, about its fascinating heritage and evolution. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation:
BVM: Can you share the story of the Stanton family legacy that created Bayview Wildwood Resort?
Hounsome: “Today’s Bayview Wildwood Resort was, at one point, four separate resorts. It started in the late 1800s, when my ancestor, Captain Tom, had been working the area as a steamboat captain and decided to start his own business on the Severn River. He built a steamship and settled in on Sparrow Lake about 1884. In 1898, his oldest son Burt got married and moved into a little cottage that became Lakeshore House. That’s the year we were established as a tourist destination. That summer, the newlyweds spent $40 fixing up a room and never thought they’d see the money back. They made $80 that year. This was pretty exciting!
“The main impetus for tourism being here is because Captain Tom, in his wisdom at the time, gave land to the railroad to bring in a rail line. It actually cuts our property in half. We had our own Sparrow Lake Station right up until the 1960s. People would get off at the station, get on boats – our family was in the boat business, too – and travel up and down the Trent-Severn Waterway. But they’d also stay here in this little village of Port Stanton to have a vacation resort experience.
“In 1930, my ancestors built Wildwood Inn on the old saw mill building. My dad started Bayview Lodge when he was 18 years old. There was another one called Wild Echo Lodge, where The Cottages at Port Stanton (a cottage development we started in 2001) are located. It’s a whole combination of different properties pulled together by my father to become Bayview Wildwood Resort, with The Cottages at Port Stanton as part of it. Back in 1910, you could stay at any of these locations for seven dollars a week. My father passed away three years ago; my mom still lives here on a beautiful little piece of property. I presently operate all the resort properties, and I’m still a big shareholder, but in 2008, I brought other investors into the company, so there is money coming in for renovations and upgrades.”
BVM: How big is the property?
Hounsome: “The main property isn’t on a ton of acreage, but it’s all shoreline that goes around the bay on the southwest shore of Sparrow Lake. I have some back lands, too, so 250 acres in total. We’re on the Trent-Severn Waterway between Lake Couchiching and Georgian Bay; a pretty village wedged between beautiful forests with Canadian Shield rock in back and Sparrow Lake in front.
“As for accommodations, we have 73 units on the main site, from five-bedroom houses down to a single resort room. In the summer, guests number upward of 210. Lakeshore House is where our indoor pool is now – it’s like our games room. The original piece of that building is called Albert Manor – a beautiful five-bedroom house that we rent out. We also have a little store and government dock and marina that operates seasonally and is named after what it was in 1906 – Stanton Brothers General Supplies.
“In 2001, our family built the Cottages at Port Stanton where Wild Echo Lodge was. As a fractional development, there are 18 cottages (one, two, and three bedrooms) with 10 owners per cottage and each owner has that cottage for five weeks of the year. They can use it, trade it, rent it, whatever they want. We were only the second one in Ontario to go into that. It was a scary thing for us, we went out on a limb and it’s been very successful. We also built a second project – The Cottages II at Port Stanton. It’s currently only four, three-bedroom cottages located just past our main site.”
BVM: What amenities and recreational activities do you offer?
Hounsome: “Bayview Wildwood Resort is open year-round. With the forest lands, we have trails for nature hikes, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. We have a heated outdoor pool, and a recreation building with an indoor pool, games area, exercise area, billiards, squash court, and hot tub. Guests can ice fish, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, water ski. In the summer, we have a whole inflatable water park that’s tons of fun. We also offer nine to ten weeks of family programming in the summertime; not many resorts still do this kind of all-inclusive family resort experience.
“We go all out. Kids’ camps for ages three and up; entertainment every night; three meals a day. Some people have been coming here year after year for 65 years. A big group has come for over 40 years; it’s a tradition. People get their own table when they stay three or more nights, and they want a specific table that’s theirs! Same with their room – the one beside might be exactly the same, but they need their particular number every time.
“We have our own restaurant; guests can choose from 3-meal and 2-meal packages, or just book and come in to dine. Corporate retreats are our bread and butter. About 35 to 40 percent of our business is groups – company Christmas parties, weekend weddings, conferences, social retreats. Because we’re rural, and we haven’t got cable yet, we put our own tower in several years ago. So, we have WiFi through every unit. Summer is when we do the most business and have about 95 employees on staff. In winter, there’s a core staff of 30 – part-timers bring it to about 55. Our strongest market is Ontario guests within a 3-hour drive. U.S. visitors account for around 10 percent of summer business.
“On the sustainability front, we recycle all our cooking grease. We do a towel program; this year I’m looking at allowing a room rate reduction for not having daily cleaning. We have LED lighting, and make use of programs to do that kind of replacement. Because we aren’t on a municipal septic system or well water, we run our own lagoon system and insist that all required chemicals are environmentally friendly.”
BVM: How do you market your resort?
Hounsome: “I’m past chair of CVOA (Canadian Vacation Ownership Association) and currently on the Board of Directors. I’m also president of Resorts of Ontario. Certainly, repeat referral is 60 to 65 percent on average. Much of the rest is done through Resorts of Ontario, a big marketing agency that does a lot of digital programs with print backup. I also have many good referral agents on the internet, like ResortsandLodges.com. I really watch my stats to see what kind of traffic I’m getting. I do our own in-house newsletters and have someone who works three to four days a week purely on social media and email blasts, etc. for new business.
“We have fun using the term ‘two turns from Toronto’ because once people are on Hwy 400, all they have to do is turn onto South Sparrow Road and make another turn onto Port Stanton Parkway. We’re on the southern edge of Muskoka, within an hour and a half of Toronto, depending on traffic, and a 20-minute drive to Orillia or Gravenhurst, the nearest large centers. We also provide our own bus service to and from Washago.
“For 11 years, we’ve hosted the Taylor Cup Pond Hockey Tournament in January and raised over one million dollars for Princess Margaret Hospital in that time. We also have a fun ‘Girls Gone Wild’ weekend in April in conjunction with the Royal Victoria Hospital Foundation in Barrie. We create our own events to support great causes. We also value our long-term relationships with Economy Chemical out of Orillia (now called Alpine Group), Stewart’s Food Service, OFS for fire suppression, and Budget Propane.”
BVM: What does the future look like for Bayview Wildwood Resort?
Hounsome: “This is probably the last generation of family ownership. That decision was made in 2008 when I brought in other investors. We’ve done pretty darned good for five generations, but with every operation you need equity financing, and that doesn’t usually come from the generation below you. The way I look at it, you have to separate yourself from the personal family side and do what’s best for the business, the staff, and the longevity.
“I just want people to know that there are amazing vacation destinations in Ontario, and Bayview Wildwood Resort is a great example. It’s about people connecting with other families – that kind of nostalgic experience. Sometimes I just have to walk away from my office and go out to the dining room, which is all windows overlooking the lake, and take a look. It grounds you.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Bayview Wildwood Resort
WHAT: Muskoka lakefront resort and cottage community
WHERE: Port Stanton Pkwy, Severn Bridge, Ontario
Budget Propane – Founded n 1989, Budget Propane is a family-owned business serving the central Ontario region, including Gravenhurst, Muskoka, Bracebridge, and Haliburton. It is a leading supplier of propane fuel and tank installation, repair, and servicing for its residential, commercial, contractor, and builder customers. –www.budgetpropaneontario.com