Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Grand Reopening of The Keltic Lodge Resort

As a youngster with a wild imagination, I thought the Keltic Lodge Resort in Ingonish, Cape Breton was a place where royalty and movie stars stayed when visiting the island.  Every time I came across a picture of the resort or admired it from nearby Ingonish Beach, it's well-manicured lawns and stately main lodge reminded of something from an enchanted fairy tale. I envisioned women with big fascinator hats and Victorian-like dresses strolling through the gardens and men in tuxedos sipping Brandy and smoking cigars in a chandelier-lit lounge. The closest I got to the place was an impromptu mini photo shoot orchestrated by my parents who thought having us kids sitting together in one of the Adirondack chairs (or Keltic Lodge chairs as I called them because that's the only place I ever saw them) would make a fun, unique photo.  My curiosity about the place was fueled even more by rumors that well-known celebrities and politicians frequented the lodge.  Many years later, I would find out what it was that attracted so many visitors from around the world.
I was already living away in another province when I found out my sister would be working at the Keltic Lodge for the 2002 season.  My first thought upon hearing this news was "she can get the inside scoop on the place and tell me what it's really like inside and who stays there".  Before she was able to spill anything, I had the opportunity to get the inside scoop myself when I traveled home that summer and visited her at her home-away-from-home at the on-site staff residence.

I was a little uncomfortable with having to drive up to the resort and trying to find my sister.  Would I look suspicious?  Would security stop and question me?  It was, after all, a grand resort where the rich and famous took their vacations and I didn't want to look like some crazed paparazzi.  I was reassured that there would be nothing to worry about and that those things I heard about the rich and famous were just fairy tales fueled by local children trying to impress us city slickers who camped in Ingonish on summer weekends.  Was she serious?  Just fairy tales?  Or was she sworn to secrecy?

I arrived one evening in the early summer of that year and parked in the main parking area in front of the Balmoral residence.   I already had the back seats of my parent's mini van taken out and a sleeping bag set up in the back as I wasn't able to stay in my sister's room.  Because this post is supposed to be about the grand reopening of The Keltic Lodge, I'll sum up my time spent there that summer like this:
I learned that The Keltic Lodge is not some untouchable place where only the rich and famous stay.  It is not a stuffy, snobby resort with gold-plated railings, crystal chandeliers and bowtied garcons.  It is, however, a beautiful, magical place that caters to people from all walks of life.  That summer was one of the best summers of my life.  Through my sister and my time spent around the lodge while visiting with her, I met lots of people from all over the world, I sampled ice cream from the Atlantic Restaurant, I embarked on a tour of the inside of some areas, I enjoyed some wonderful evenings in the Sitting Room while Cyril MacPhee performed, I was introduced to the Thirsty Hiker Pub at the nearby Glenghorm Resort and even took my turn as the designated driver back to base and, most importantly, I fell in love with that iconic white building with the red trim that I'd admired from afar for so long.

Although I never had the opportunity to actually stay at the Keltic (besides sleeping in a van in the residence parking lot), I've visited the grounds many times and often park in the big parking lot near the restaurant during lightning storms (best place in the area to watch lightning, hands down!) when it's too stormy to stay in my tent at nearby Broad Cove.  I've always wanted the resort to succeed partially because my sister worked there, partially because it employs so many local people but mostly because it belongs on the Middle Head Peninsula.  It's the heart of The Highlands and without it, the area just wouldn't be the same.  A few years ago, rumors started to spread. The beautiful resort needed some major repairs and that it was for sale and that perhaps it would even have to close.  Those are just some of the things I heard.  That's why when I recently learned that some major renovations were done and there would be a grand reopening to show the public that the Keltic was, in fact, still alive and not going anywhere, I clicked on that "attending" button on the Facebook event page and made plans to attend it back on June 25th, 2016.  I wanted to be there and show my support for the new initiatives being taken to revive Cape Breton's premiere vacation destination.

A number of people were already roaming the grounds when I arrived but I was still able to find a parking space close to the building before it got too crowded.  I entered my name in the draw to win one of several great prizes (one of which was for a stay at the resort) and walked around the newly-renovated area.  I started to explore the Inn area on my own when a very friendly, well-mannered young man offered to give me the grand tour.  I was very impressed with what had been done with the suites and especially loved the ones with the glass doors overlooking the bay.  The spa was also very impressive and I especially loved the hot tub on the outside deck looking toward majestic Cape Smokey Mountain.  As I wandered around admiring the spectacular work that had been done to an already spectacular place, I heard the faint sound of a lone piper. And than I heard another.   
The ribbon cutting ceremony wasn't due to start for another couple of hours so I decided to take a spin around Ingonish to visit some of my favorite places.  I went to Black Brook, Warren Lake, Broad Cove, North Bay Beach, The Point and Ingonish Beach.  I even stopped along the way to buy a Frisbee at The Outdoor Store but there were none left. Guess a few people had that in mind for the weekend seeing as, in Ingonish, you are surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches perfect for a game of Frisbee.  On my wanderings, I noticed that there seemed to be more tourists around than usual for that time of year.  A telling sign to come?  Word is getting around.

I returned to the Keltic just in time for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and speeches.  Everyone involved in the resort's present and future success were so full of energy and promise for a bright future.  There was even mention of making the Keltic a year-round resort which I think would be fantastic! Unfortunately, I didn't win any of those door prizes but I felt privileged to be in attendance at such a wonderful event in honor of the resort and to be among the first people to learn more about what is coming from Cape Breton's premiere destination...which may sooner than later become Nova Scotia's premiere destination or even Canada's premiere destination.  And why not?  It has everything - The world-class golf course, beautiful scenery, sandy beaches, fun activities, warm hospitality and scrumptious food and drink.
I ended that afternoon with a hike on the Middle Head Peninsula Trail.  I hadn't done that trail in many years and thought it would be a fitting end to the day.   The breeze coming off the water was nice and there were no flies.  I walked right to the end of the peninsula and stood at what felt like the edge of the world and admired the awe-inspiring views.  On the way back, the wind died down and the flies came out in full force.  The final leg of the trail was pure torture.  I stopped at one point to get some bug spray from my backpack (I found everything but) and heard something fairly big moving in the bushes not far from where I stood.  I froze in terror thinking it might be a bear and when I got the nerve, I started moving slowly down the trail before speeding up again.  Fortunately, I was closer to the end of the trail than I thought and within minutes I was back in the safety and comfort of my air-conditioned Sonata.
I ate supper at the Seagull Restaurant before heading to my favorite cafe in the area for dessert.  One of my traditions when in Ingonish is to have a piece of that delicious carrot cake they serve at the Bean Barn Cafe and grab a coffee to go and enjoy it along the shores of Freshwater Lake while the sun sets.  But, much to my disappointment, The Bean Barn was closed early that day.  Despite that one hiccup, it turned out to be a great day in The Highlands.  One that made me appreciate that shining star on the Middle Head Peninsula even more.  The Keltic Lodge has always been special.  Amazing.  Spectacular.  Grande.  Now it will be all of those things and more for generations to come. And perhaps someday, I will leave the tent in the trunk and forego a night at Broad Cove Campground to spend the night in one of those luxurious rooms with a view. 

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