New hotel opens on Friday

LITTLE CURRENT—After years of studies, gathering investors, overcoming obstacles and a lot of hard work, the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre will officially open its doors this Friday, May 17.

“Our first guests will be a group of international visitors representing global tourism companies,” explained Great Spirit Circle Trail (GSCT) CEO Kevin Eshkawkogan during a tour of the facility last Friday. “International visitors spend a much higher average per day and will have a much higher economic impact on the region which is why we are working towards appealing to these markets.”

The GSCT is the organization representing the consortium of area First Nations including Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, M’Chigeeng First Nation, Sheshegwaning First Nation, Sagamok First Nation, Whitefish River First Nation and Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation that are building the new facility.

Construction of the $10.8 million, 58-room hotel and conference centre began in June of 2011 with a one-year construction schedule that was pushed back to the beginning of 2013 due to the addition of geothermal technologies and financing delays.

The outside of the hotel was nearing completion last Friday, with landscaping to take place this week prior to opening.

Inside, various construction crews were busy completing last minute touches, from the tiling of the pool, lighting, carpeting and setting up furniture.

“We are getting very close to being done,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan. “The deck will be going up this weekend, many of the rooms have been furnished and we are just finishing up the final elements.”

The large 1,400 square foot deck overlooking the North Channel will accommodate outdoor seating for the restaurant, in addition to the 1,600 square foot inside bar and restaurant space.

Despite an ongoing RFP process seeking a tenant for the restaurant and catering for the conference centre, a tenant that met the hotel’s vision was unable to be found, Mr. Eshkawkogan explained.

“We will be running the kitchen ourselves,” added Mr. Eshkawkogan. “We have some senior chef positions available and are still accepting resumes. We will be opening with limited service initially, bringing in an outside catering company that we have worked with in the past. We are hoping to have a full service restaurant established by July. Our vision for the restaurant is to service local product, such as meat which has been made possible by the new abattoir.”

In terms of the rooms, four will be large corner suites featuring a small kitchenette, living room area, and king size bed, while the several wheelchair friendly rooms will double as business suites, being larger than the standard rooms in size and having a bigger bathroom.

The décor of the rooms is modern, but between the colours, artwork and suites with exposed beams, they have a Northern Ontario feel.

“We will be using prints from Manitoulin First Nation artist Duncan Pheasant,” explained Mr. Eshkawkogan as he showcased the finished rooms. “We wanted to incorporate local art that reflects Manitoulin’s culture instead of just ordering generic prints online.”

The main lobby was also nearing completion last week, with the front desk and large teepee structure done.

“We are just waiting for the fireplace, which has been shipped and is expected on Monday,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan.

The teepee design was selected due to its cultural significance. Seven pillars represent the seven grandfather teachings and Mr. Eshkawkogan previously explained, “It is said that it takes your whole life to learn the six teachings in order to understand the seventh and the way the structure is designed represents this element as does the fire, which some believe is the doorway to the spirit world.”

The teepee structure is composed of huge pillars that form a circle, continuing from the main floor down to the ground floor. In the centre will be another pillar with a fireplace. On both the lobby and ground level, the teepee will have floor to ceiling windows. The lobby space will serve as a sitting area and place for people to congregate, while below sits a 1,500 square foot entertaining space, which curves around the teepee structure and overlooks the outdoor pool.

Pacrim Hospitality will be overseeing the operations of the hotel with a general manager reporting to the management company, who will then report to the board of directors made up of representatives from the seven project partners.

Sheila Bellefeville was originally hired as the hotel’s training coordinator for the GSCT, but has since been promoted to manager of the hotel and conference centre.

Mr. Eshkawkogan shared that he is excited for the next few months, and the many events the hotel will be hosting and the economic spin-off for the Island.

“We will be holding a tourism workshop at the end of the month, in addition to the Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assembly in June, among many other events,” Mr. Eshkawkogan told The Expositor. “The general assembly will bring in over 750 people, with a huge economic impact for the area. The hotel is already fully booked for the event, meaning that there will be opportunities for other hospitality businesses on the Island.”

The Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre opens this Friday, with room rates ranging from $139 to $249. For more information, or to make a reservation, call 1-877-710-3211.

Robin Burridge