Local businesses have created a romance-based tourism boom with little help from the city – Lindsay Advocate

By Nancy Payne

Sandra Mzite and Alex Lipowski got married in 2022 at the Sir William Mackenzie Inn in Kirkfield. Photo: Laura Hargrave.

Even as snowdrifts cover local fields and our lakes lie dormant under ice, members of a vibrant local industry are focused on the warmer months when they embark on another busy season serving a tourism sector that many Kawartha Lakes residents have no idea exists. Unbeknownst to many of us, our area has become an extremely popular location for destination weddings, offering a more memorable experience than an impersonal event in a big city without the hassle and price tag of a tropical location. .

“People go to Mexico or Cuba for a destination wedding, but it’s too expensive,” says Jason Friedmann, property manager at Eganridge Resort, Golf Club and Spa west of Bobcaygeon. Wedding parties that come to him are usually looking to make a weekend out of what was just a big day.

“Here they can barbecue, hang out with friends, play golf. They might have brunch the next morning on Sunday. It’s not just six or seven hours in a banquet hall and then you go home.

Many weddings take place on the cottage roads that few of us travel. About a third of the couples married by wedding celebrant Janet Grant are from outside the region. “They either came as youngsters to a family cottage or a friend’s cottage, and they have a lot of sentimental ties here.” For example, she does a lot of dockside ceremonies, “which gets interesting when they have dogs running around.”

Those of us who live here take beautiful scenery for granted, ranging from the hills around Bethany – among the busiest areas for wedding tourism with places such as Iron Horse Ranch, Hollowbrook Highlands (the former South Pond Farms) and The Ranch Resort – to lakes, fields and, further north, the rocky Canadian Shield. What’s ordinary for us is a huge appeal to people in the GTA and other major cities.

Leyna and Tom Renaudin. Photo: Siena Frost.

“When they arrive they say, ‘We’ve never seen so many stars!'” laughs Andrea Ross, who runs Bethany Heaven on Seven’s catering company. Although she only accepts jobs within 20 kilometers of her home-based business, she easily books 70 weddings from May to November, turning down 10 or 15 more requests a day. Ross estimates that 90-95% of his customers come from outside of Kawartha Lakes. Many grew up in this area and moved to western Canada, but when it comes to their big day, they want to be back home.

Others come from much further afield. Ross remembers getting a call from a woman she couldn’t hear very well. “I asked if I could call her back but she said the reception would be the same as she was calling from a beach in Wales.” The bride-to-be’s parents grew up in Scotland but fell in love with Bobcaygeon and built a house there. The caller continued, “Oh, and the groom is from Dubai.” Guests came from all over the world.

Laura Hargrave’s business is also made up of far more foreigners than locals. Like Ross, the Cameron-area photographer is a hot seller at popular wedding venues, in her case places like the Sir William Mackenzie Inn in Kirkfield. Hargrave has also gone to great lengths to incorporate keywords that help her Photography by Laura Elizabeth website appear at the top of Google searches. “Eighty percent or more of my wedding business comes from non-local clientele,” she says. They often also ask for extended family portraits to take advantage of the fact that everyone is together.

From backyard tented weddings and chic rustic barns that can accommodate hundreds of guests to sophisticated little venues such as Lindsay’s the Pie Eyed Monk and Lindsay Lounge, there’s an ever-expanding range of locations to suit all budgets. “Affordability draws a lot of GTA people that way,” Hargrave says, but many who choose Kawartha Lakes are happy to pay top dollar.

“After going through COVID and everyone being locked up at home, now they want events,” says Ross. Where in the past couples might have had their eye on a new car or a big-screen TV, now “they want an over the top wedding.” They want to dance under the stars. They want memories.

A recent wedding at Eganridge Resort, Golf Club and Spa.

Coming to a rural area for a special wedding of course brings some surprises to city dwellers. High heels sink into these green lawns; pegs twist on unexpected rocky outcrops. And, as Hargrave notes, guests wearing summer suits and mini-dresses are often unprepared for chilly evenings in May and June.

And then there are the bugs. Hargrave remembers the groom who ended up screaming as he tried to flee the descending mosquitoes at dusk, and saw more than a few brides afflicted by the grasshoppers that inevitably get stuck in their skirts at an outdoor ceremony. “You wanted nature,” she remembers thinking. “Well, here is nature!”

Whether a wedding brings 20 guests or 200 to Kawartha Lakes, these visitors spend big on local hotels, resorts, Airbnbs, restaurants and stores. But this ever-growing economic powerhouse operates almost entirely outside of municipal government support or influence. Unlike, say, Muskoka and Prince Edward County, the Kawartha Lakes Tourism Department doesn’t do wedding-focused marketing and doesn’t keep statistics on the sector’s financial impact.

Individual sellers need to promote themselves to potential customers, many of whom return later for anniversary events, to explore further, or even to settle down. Lindsay’s Pie Eyed Monk won a 2022 Achievement Award through the Lindsay District Chamber of Commerce + for her wedding tourism marketing efforts; the hard work pays off with 65% of its wedding guests coming from outside the region while it also functions as a popular venue for local couples.

Hargrave noticed that venues are starting to offer innovative packages for everything from proposals to elopements. Thrive Co-working Community, which aims to start hosting small weddings in 2023, is hosting the Kawartha Lakes Bridal Show in late January with sponsors The Bridal Studio and Nisbett’s Clothiers as sponsors. (The Attorney is the media sponsor of the event.)

Despite the lack of formal marketing and local profile, our region continues to be an extremely popular draw for couples planning destination weddings, from the simplest to the most spectacular. And if we stop to see what we have here for us, it really isn’t hard to see why. “When I take a couple on tour and walk on our land,” says Friedmann, “despite the fact that I’ve done it a hundred times before, I always think, ‘This is a really nice place. to live.'”

Or, as celebrant Janet Grant puts it, “Come on. You can’t beat Kawartha Lakes!

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