Heart firstPublished on May 20, 2016

  • Fiona & Fraser rest after a workday
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • Boaters are always welcome at The Opinicon
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • Plenty of opportunity to relax
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • The yellow, green and red colour scheme blends with the natural surrounding
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • The liars bench beckons outside the general store
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • Leading the way to The Opinicon
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • Water sports are plentiful.
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • The classic ice-cream parlour
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

  • The main dining room
    Photo by: Mark Holleron

Time spent with Fiona McKean is time well spent. She is an interesting, genuine soul who makes you feel better for having had the chance to be with her, even just for a while. It makes you realize how sometimes life works out the way it should.

Fiona grew up an only child, but spent her childhood summers in the company of neighbourhood brothers. Each summer, the boys next door adopted her and she went along with their family when they headed to the cottage on Newboro Lake near Chaffey’s Lock in the Rideau Lakes region. The gang would often head to the Opinicon Resort for ice cream, penny candy and the chance to roam the lush grounds on Lake Opinicon. It was a timeless stage of life that Fiona ultimately outgrew, but she never outgrew the lake life.

Eventually she bought her own cottage on Newboro Lake with husband Tobias Lütke. As her family began to grow, Fiona settled into her past life of carefree summers on the lake, creating new memories with her children that included the Opinicon. Her son took his first steps in the resort dining room and the family quickly discovered that the resort had much more to offer than sweet summer treats.

Fiona and Tobias first heard of the Opinicon being for sale in late November 2014, the week she went on maternity leave with their third child.  They anguished for a couple of weeks over whether to put in an offer, and were surprised to get the winning bid at the December auction, taking ownership on January 29, 2015.

“It was a decision of the heart and now the head has to catch up,” offers the clever woman who seems to have no problem keeping up with her decision as plans are underway for massive renovations, all managed by Fiona.

The main lodge is being completely revamped to include an industrial kitchen run by chef Angela Baldwin, with a new pub and lounge area that enjoys sweeping views of the lake, plus a refreshed main dining room that maintains much of its original charm. Restaurateur Stephen Beckta helped with the wine menu and was a huge support to Fiona, who states that “he threw himself into the project with so much heart – I have tremendous gratitude to him.”

There is no longer lodging inside the main building; all the guest space is held within the eighteen cottages that dot the grounds. Every cottage is being renovated and each will carry vintage charms suited to the property.  LineBox Studio is the architect for the project while Fiona, who spends a lot of time scouring area antique shops, is handling much of the décor.

Tobias is busy with his own business as the founder and CEO of Shopify, but Fiona says he dreams of being at Opinicon when he has time. “It’s his happy place,” she says and claims that the novelty of ownership doesn’t seem to be wearing off. “I still get goose bumps when I drive up the driveway.”

The family of five now makes the “manager’s cottage” at the resort their summer home and spends most weekends there. Fiona affirms that as the kids get older (they are aged five, three and one), they will all work at the resort as she wants them to have the experience of offering good customer service.

Customer experience is an overall priority for Fiona who says it’s a difficult balance to run a business, yet keep prices affordable. While she wants the business to thrive, her idea of thriving might differ from the average businessperson. She hopes that revitalizing the Opinicon will directly affect the surrounding community by creating jobs, encouraging other businesses and bringing in tourists.

“We came to the conclusion that we want this to be a social enterprise and we hope to dedicate some of the profits to the community,” offers Fiona. She admires the work of Zita Cobb’s Shorefast Foundation and says, “I hope to implement something similar which gives me a sense of purpose and defines the project. I need to feel like I am doing good and this gives more heart to the project.”

So far she can feel very good as she genuinely works to contribute to the community and surrounding areas, sourcing and hiring locally as much as possible. Fiona has a unique style and truly genuine spirit that makes one stop and breathe in the air around her, just to try to capture some of what makes her tick. She truly is a quintessential innkeeper with an air of infectious calm.

Visit the revamped Opinicon Resort this summer; pick up an ice cream and take a seat on the Liar’s Bench to breathe in the fresh lake air.

Mary Taggart

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