No matter the time of year, a visit to Sir Sam’s Ski / Ride in Haliburton Highlands is breathtaking. In winter, the business is a brilliant white ski hill, but in the spring and summer it transitions to become a place for mountain bikers to traverse challenging trails.
In the fall, Sir Sam’s transitions once again to offer an incredible view of autumn colours, as the top of the hill looks down on the orange and yellow foliage that surround the calm, blue water of Eagle Lake.
Sir Sam’s new owner, Doug Wilkinson, believes the ski hill and its facilities should be a year-round destination. He was awarded funding from the Regional Tourism Relief Fund – Ontario’s Highlands (RTRF) to do just that.
The RTRF funding supports tourism entities with contributions of up to $100,000 for up to 50 percent of eligible costs for for-profit businesses (and 100 percent eligible costs for not-for-profit organizations), to support product development or enhancement of tourism experiences. The RTRF is supported by a $3.67-million Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency of Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
The funds Sir Sam’s Ski / Ride received have helped transform the ski hill’s lodge into a modern venue that can host events year-round. It will also lead to the construction of a new observation platform at the top of the hill and new infrastructure along the hill needed for Sir Sam’s to host ski-racing events.
These modifications are all part of Wilkinson’s plan to rejuvenate the hill and make it not only a tourist destination for people from outside the region, but also a spot that will be well used by locals. The newly renovated venue has already hosted celebrations of life and a tourism trade show.
“Every time we move one notch forward, it puts a smile on my face,” he said. “We’re enhancing this for our customers, but also the community itself.”
As part of the renovations, Wilkinson is planning on rebranding the lodge as Eagle View. Most of the renovations are already complete. Walls were knocked down to give the dining area an open-space concept, the floor was re-carpeted, the walls were repainted and the ceiling tiles were replaced. The bar was also moved, and the kitchen was expanded to give staff more room to work.
The indoor portion of the facility now has a liquor licence to serve 600, with room for an additional 200 outside, making it Haliburton County’s largest facility of its kind and the perfect place for a big wedding or celebration.
“There’s a pent-up demand out there for gatherings, and those gatherings could be weddings or celebrations of life,” Wilkinson said. “We’re expecting next summer to be huge.”
Once constructed, the observation platform is expected to provide a space for fantastic wedding photos. The platform will rise 60 feet, to give guests an even better scenic view. Wilkinson said his inspiration came from Algonquin’s Dorset Lookout Tower, which receives thousands of visitors each year.
The Wilkinson family are long-time cottagers in the area and took over operations of Sir Sam’s in November 2021, after purchasing the business from the Bishop family, who had owned and operated Sir Sam’s for decades.
With the Bishop family’s support, Wilkinson began to think of new ways to invest in the ski resort. When he learned about the RTRF program, he jumped at an opportunity to see some of his costs offset.
Wilkinson was encouraged to apply for the funding by a representative of Haliburton County’s tourism department, noting that the application process was easy. The work involved completing an online application and writing a roughly 500-word description of what he hoped to achieve.
Now that the work is coming into fruition, Wilkinson believes Sir Sam’s will evolve from a “hidden gem” nestled in the thick woods of Sir Sam’s road north of Haliburton village, to a busy hot spot of which locals can be proud.
“The more people we can get to come up here in the summer, the more it will be known, and hopefully that will lead to a new generation of skiers in the winter time,” he said.
Ultimate Recipients of the Regional Tourism Relief Fund received non-repayable contributions of up to $100,000 from Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization to adapt and recover, attract new visitors and drive economic growth in the area. This is part of an overall Government of Canada investment through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) of more than $78 million for 11 Regional Tourism Organizations and Indigenous Tourism Ontario.