Nova Scotia

Cape Breton's Keltic Lodge gets $4.5M upgrade

Ontario based GolfNorth Properties has invested more than double the original budget for upgrades to the iconic since it took over the property last spring.

A former games room and meeting rooms were turned into six loft suites

A view of the renovated Keltic Lodge wedding and conference venue with its new floor-to-ceiling windows. (Nicole MacLennan/CBC)

Painters, carpenters and tradespeople are busy putting the finishing touches on a $4.5 million renovation at Cape Breton's iconic Keltic Lodge in Ingonish. 

Ontario based GolfNorth Properties has invested more than double the original budget for upgrades since it took over the property last spring. 

Graham Hudson, the general manager for the resort and the adjoining Highlands Links golf course, said last summer, the new operators asked him to come up with a plan to restore the resort to its former glory.

"Talking back and forth with head office, [I said] here's some of the 12 things we need to do to over the next four or five years and that seemed to make sense," he recounted.

"However, the principal of GolfNorth came in September and he said that vision is fine, the only problem is you can't do it in four or five years, you have to do it in 18 months."

Another view of the wedding and conference venue. (Nicole MacLennan/CBC)

Hudson said the resort, which includes the main lodge, an inn and a conference centre, was looking tired and was not up to visitor expectations.

"The biggest thing was, we do a ton of advance reservations and our prices are probably high by Cape Breton standards but people coming to stay here don't question that, until they get here," he said.

"We were not giving them the value. They didn't mind that it was a $300 room, until they got to the room. We've now taken that and said 'OK, we listened.'"

From the ground up

Renovations began in January with the contractor and workers housed on site.

The 40-unit Corson House, formerly the White Birch Inn, got a complete overhaul, with new windows, carpeting, spa-like bathrooms and furniture. A former games room and meeting rooms were turned into six loft suites. 

All the new furnishings and draperies have come from the Maritimes. 

Ceilidh Hall, the wedding and conference venue on the property, also got a cosmetic upgrade with bigger windows, increased floor space, new central heating and air conditioning system, plus a full kitchen. 

Two staff accommodations on the property and the manager's house were also turned into executive suites, with bedrooms and separate living spaces. 

Keltic Lodge general manager Graham Hudson in the renovated Corson House. (Nicole MacLennan/CBC)

Hudson says it was part of the vision to offer more of the type of accommodation tourists are looking for and to improve the experience at the lodge. 

"The idea again was to attract more golfers, people to stay longer," he said. "In other properties, they may get three and four nights, where here it was a little tired, so people would stay one night or two." 

Hudson says they've also increased the staff at the resort from 160 to 190 for this season. 

Bookings up 20 per cent

"The levels of staffing and services had been twisted back so far, you know they were trying to operate on a property like this with maybe one bellman. Well, you can't do that, so this year we have six bellmen and you know they'd have one on the desk when they really need three on the desk."

Bookings at the resort are already up by 20 per cent over last season, Hudson says.

A view of Graham Hudson from above in Corson House. (Nicole MacLennan/CBC)

The "Trump bump" helped, he says,  and people have been following the progress of the renovations online.

"The last few years have been pretty rough on the old place and we got a lot of making up to do and I think we're off to a good start," said Hudson. 

"Everybody has their perception of the Keltic Lodge, whether their parents came here on their honeymoon or whatever and said 'Wow!' We want them to come on the property and say, 'Yep, that's what Mom was talking about. It's special, Holy smokes, and that's where we want to be.'"