Ottawa

Fiona McKean and Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke buy Opinicon Resort

A federal public servant is taking over the Opinicon Resort after she and her husband — the CEO of Shopify — made the winning bid on the 6.5-hectare property.

Short-term plans include reopening the Opinicon restaurant and ice cream shop for this summer

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      A federal public servant is taking over the Opinicon Resort after she and her husband — the CEO of Shopify — made the winning bid on the 6.5-hectare property.

      Fiona McKean, 35, has fond memories of the old resort, which is located on the Rideau Canal in the community of Chaffey's Lock, bordering Opinicon Lake, about an hour and a half southwest of Ottawa.

      Ice cream was sold here for years, in a shop painted mint green. (Stu Mills/CBC)
      Her childhood neighbour owned a cottage on nearby Newboro Lake, and they frequently trekked to the resort for ice cream in a whimsical shop painted mint green.

      More recently in 2008, she and her husband forged new memories at Opinicon after buying a cottage on Newboro Lake; they liked to dine at the resort's restaurant.

      In 2012 the Opinicon was shut down by the family who had operated it for decades, and McKean says she saw a sale listing soon after but thought the price was too high.

      Time passed and McKean fell out of the loop, but when the resort was listed for auction late last year, a colleague sent her a link.

      "I thought, wow. It was full of pictures and it just flooded me full of memories again. It just got us [she and her husband, Tobi Lütke] thinking," McKean says. 

      'We'll try to keep as much of the charm as we can'

      Initially they were excited by the opportunity, but McKean was in the very late stages of pregnancy and Lütke's work at Shopify keeps him quite busy. Eventually, they decided to put in an offer.

      A lot of mounted fish like this one can be found throughout the property, Fiona McKean says. (Stu Mills/CBC)
      "It just got to the point where we said the timing will never be right because we have three kids. So you just kind of take the opportunities as they come and run with them," she says.

      The couple didn't think their bid would win, but they got a call the day after the auction ended to say they'd made it.

      "I was a little bit shocked when they said congratulations, and it took quite a while for that to sink in and for me to regain the ability to speak," McKean says.

      Now, while on maternity leave with a one-month-old, she's grappling with the daunting task of determining what to do with the sprawling property, which includes 25 buildings, furniture, decorations and more sold as is.

      She'll be running the operation, with Lütke serving in an advisory capacity.

      For now the plan is to reopen the restaurant with a liquor license, as well as the ice cream shop, in time for the summer high season. Figuring out what to do for phase two will depend on building inspections, analysis of maintenance and repair costs and other considerations.

      "It won't be exactly as it was before; I don't think the economics of the area will support it. But it'll be as close as we can get and we'll try to keep as much of the charm as we can," McKean says.

      "We're dealing with kind of an unknown quantity at the time, so it's hard to say ... because we still need to figure out how much work needs to be plowed into various different options, so we'll have to wait and see."

      As for the restaurant, McKean says the popular prime rib dish will definitely be making a comeback.

      "Everyone will be happy to hear that yes, the prime rib will be back, and we'll keep some of the old favourites. But it's different times now and we'll update things, but it definitely won't be too fancy. It'll be in keeping with the history of the place," she says.

      McKean has reached out to several locals with intimate knowledge of the resort and its operations, and she feels like she's got people behind her.

      "There's a lot of people who are very enthusiastic about the place and are really gunning for it to succeed, so I kind of feel like I have a small army behind me and I'm not in it alone," she says. "It's such a charming place and it's got so much history, and so many people have so many lovely memories there."

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