Travel Northern Ontario: Arowhon Pines
“I moose be dreaming,” says the sign on the board outside the door of the dining hall. Certainly, that’s how I felt when I first stood on the wrap-around porch of the hexagonal-shaped dining hall at Arowhon Pines. It’s the place I would continue to retreat to throughout the weekend, to sip my coffee as the mist rose from the water in the morning; to watch a pair of mating loons, skimming across the water like two hydrofoil boats in a drag race in the late evening.
Here’s what you’ll need to know if you decide to take the escape.
Besides a one-hour optional pontoon boat tour around the lake on Sunday afternoons, and the bell announcing meal times, visitors are left to plan how they want to spend their days. Staying at Arowhon Pines is like being at a well-equipped cottage with a difference: you can enjoy all the water and land activities that you want, but can also sit down to elaborate home-cooked meals each day. The pace is relaxed, the dress at dinner casual, and the vibe is elegant rustic, where stillness and peace are privileged over busy schedules and screaming kids.
Guests to Arowhon Pines tend to be adult. Only 10% to 15% of visitors are families, and the kids that are there are remarkable well-behaved: no scenes at the dinner table, no one poking at the bright red Jell-O disc on the dessert table (except for maybe my four-year-old son). When we visited in early June, the crowd was older – couples in their forties and beyond, as well as what looked like several family reunions, with three generations all staying and eating together.
Only half the guests that come to Arowhon Pines are from Canada – some of the more famous ones being actress Sarah Polley, filmmaker Atom Egoyan, Gordon Downie of the Tragically Hip, and Jim Creegan of the Barenaked Ladies, who also got married here. Others come from the United States, the UK, Germany and further afield. (The resort has small flags that they place at the tables of foreign guests showing the country they come from.) Sixty per cent of guests are repeat visitors.
Arowhon Pines is one of only three resorts in the 3,000 square miles of wilderness that make up Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s a three-hour drive from Toronto, 3.5 hours from Ottawa, and 16 kilometres from the western gate of the Park. The last eight kilometres takes you along a windy gravel road to the edge of Little Joe Lake, where you will see a cluster of red-roofed log cabins, which signal you have arrived!
This wilderness is shared with canoe trippers wishing to get lost in the deep forested green and wide blue spaces of the park; with long-time cottagers and international visitors to the park; and with children at one of several nearby camps, including Camp Arowhon, run by Helen Kates’ step-daughter and Globe and Mail restaurant reviewer Joanne Kates. Together, they share the space with a variety of less civilized species: according to the board outside of the dining hall, the most recent sightings include a bull moose, a snapping turtle, a red fox, otter and American marten.
Food and wine
“If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it,” says the sign in big bold letters looming over the kitchen. Because Helen Kates is not just the owner of Arowhon Pines, but its executive chef and the creator of all its recipes, food is one of the resort’s central attractions - as is the building where it is served. With its cathedral ceilings, central stone fireplace, and the copper pots filled with dried flowers that adorn the room, the place has an inviting feel, as do the large platters of food.
Kates is proud of the recipes she created over many long winters when the resort was closed. “They must follow them,” she explains, pointing to the overhead monitors in the kitchen where the recipes are displayed. (Over the years, some revisions have been made, along with certain “nuances” to the recipes, inspired by long-time head chef David Cooke.)
Arowhon Pines offers an eclectic choice of dishes, ranging from the more traditional roast venison, to the racier grouper with Singapore noodles, to the comfort of decadent desserts like chocolate mousse, butter tarts and berry pies. On weekends, the food is served buffet-style, along with a choice of three mains that you can order off the menu at breakfast and dinner. (If you really like something on the menu, they’ll even offer you seconds!)
The resort doesn’t serve wine, but you can bring your own, and you don’t have to pay a corkage fee.
In better economic times, the ratio of staff to visitors has been as high as one to three: now, staff numbers are lower, and some perform double duty. (The babysitter, for instance, also changed our bed sheets and cleaned the cabin.) Staff are warm, helpful and accommodating, though not always as well briefed as they could be. When we asked our server which of the three mains she’d recommend at dinner, she said blankly that she hadn’t tried any.
Outdoor activities are plentiful: you can swim; take out a sailboat, canoe or kayak; go for a hike; take a private sauna in the pine cabin at the edge of the water; or play tennis on one of two courts. If it’s rainy or buggy, you can sit out in the lovely screened-in porch off the games room, or – as the name implies – play games. There’s ping-pong, bumper pool and board games, as well as a video screening room for after-dinner movies. (A babysitter is available from 6 to 8 pm to occupy young kids here if you want a romantic dinner a deux.)
You can also take over the entire resort for a wedding of up to 120 people. It’s a perfect setting to get married under a canopy of trees, with a backdrop of blue water and sky.
There are 49 rooms spread out over one, two, three, four, eight and 12-room cabins. Each room has a private bath, and each cabin has a shared sitting room with a flagstone fireplace, fridge and variety of antique pine furniture. Most have their own decks. While the dining hall would be considered elegant rustic, rooms are simply rustic.
The resort is open from June 1 through to Thanksgiving. Rates include accommodations, plus three meals a day, but meals can also be purchased separately.
1000 PLACES TO SEE (IN THE USA AND CANADA) BEFORE YOU DIE
The cry of a loon across a misty lake, a wolf's howl at sunset, paddling through a string of lakes to reach a remote log lodge - these experiences of the Canadian frontier are found today at Algonquin Provincial Park, a sanctuary of nature just three hours but worlds away from Toronto or Ottawa. Algonquin, one of Canada's largest provincial parks - stretching across 3,000 square miles of wilderness forest and lakeland - is traversed by just one road. The Algonquin's backcountry is paradise for paddlers and is one of Canada's top canoeing destinations. The canoe is about the only means of exploring Algonquin's watery wonderland, where more than 2,500 lakes and more than 1,240 miles of designated canoe routes coverage. With lake pouring into lake, experiences paddlers can plan a leisurely multiday trip through the heart of algonquin, or, with a few short portages, complete a lopp circut through the wilds.
When a wolf pack comes within range of the park's southern corridor, rangers offer evening "public wolf hows," one of the highlights of a late summer trip to the park. With up to 2,000 people in the attendance in an outdoor amphitheater, park naturalists howl to the wolf pack and the audience awaits a response from the pack. There's nothing more spine-tingling than hearing the cries of wolves echoing across the lakes and lonely hills under a black, star-filled sky.
At the backcountrys edge, nestled in deep forest, is Arowhon Pines, a historic lodge resort at the edge of Little Joe Lake. The Kates family established Arowhon Pines in the 1940's, when they built the originial six-sided log-and-stone lodge right on the lakes edge, and have been running it ever since.
With a massive three-story stone fireplace at its center, the lodge serves as the dining room, famous accross ontatio for its fresh ingredients expertly prepared, friendly and excellent service, and extraordinary sunset views. Log cabins are scattered around lakefront, decorated with pine furniture and rustic Canadiana. The most romantic are the one-bedroom cabins with stone fireplaces,but it's also fun to share one of the larger cabins (with three four, eight, and up to a dozen bedrooms, all with private bathrooms) with travelers who may come from as far awa as Argentina or Austrailia.
BEST TIMES: spring for trout fishing: May-June for moose viewing; July-Aug for lond days and warn temperatures; Sept for foliage.
"Arowhon Pines is so special and uniquely Canadian that a visit should be a compulsory part of the agenda for all foreign visitors..."
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|"Arowhon Pines ...an elegant hotel that dips its toes in the supremely clear water of Joe Lake. The cluster of cabins exudes simple rustic charm but offers gourmet banqueting in a magnificent hexagonal double-height dining room, hewn in 1938 from fir trees that grew on the spot." SUNDAY EXPRESS UK|
"Set dinners begin and end with buffets (scallops tossed in watercress; fruit pies), salmon a typical in between--an attractive formula when ingredients are of such quality and unpretentious cooking so well executed. Warm ambience of a high log hexagon built around a fireplace and overlooking Little Joe Lake."
An excerpt from TORONTO LIFE "Getaway Guide 2006"
Found at the end of a private road that winds eight kilometers through Algonquin Park woods to the shores of Little Joe Lake, Arowhon Pines is far enough off the beaten track to leave you with the sense of being in some remote hinterland. In fact, this is one of Ontario's more civilized corners: the dining is superb, the sporting facilities ample, the company cultured. Accommodations are cottage like: 50 bedrooms (ensuite bathrooms in each) are spread among 13 cabins, all of which have a comfortable lounge, where guests mingle in front of an evening fire. However, most visitors plan to spend little time indoors. Paths from the resort connect to Algonquin's Mizzy Lake Trail, a 15-kilometre hiking route, and guests have free use of the resort's sailboats (Albacores and Sunfish), kayaks and canoes on the network of lakes, where you may spot a few of the park's plentiful moose. Staff will pack lunch for day trips. There are also tennis courts, shuffleboard and a sauna.
Early risers enjoy coffee and the paper while listening to loons call through the morning mist. Served in a hexagonal dining room, meals are an event. Dinners are four-course affairs and being with a choice of hot or cold soup and an appetizer buffet, which features such delights as scallops tossed with watercress, wild rice salad, arugula and mango salad, and barbecued red peppers with anchovies and capers. Typically, the choice of three entrees includes a fresh salmon or local trout and classic roasts. Dessert is another buffet of goodies best appreciated by those who have put in a hard day of paddling: bread-and-butter puddings with rum and raisins, maple mousse, pies and an ample cheese board.
How Much: $162 - $345 per person (double) includes accommodation, all meals and use of all facilities; bring your own wine.
|Anne Hardy's "Where to Eat in Canada"
(Have been featured in this book series since 1974)
"Everything about the Arowhon Pines suggests that it's easy to run a place like this, that the rooms clean themselves, that fresh linen and towels appear of their own accord. The gardens don't seem to require much attention, though they look lovely. The food is good though nobody seems to take any great pains with it. There's no dusting of icing sugar around the lemon-chiffon pie with its layer of dates. Wildflowers seem to grow in the salads and they grow to good effect. Ars est celare artem, and of course everything has been manicured as if it were a putting-green. Because after all this is a seasonal operation and chefs change every year, Eugene and Helen Kates have put their recipes, all 700 of them, on a computer, and the cooks and bakers are told to follow them to the letter. Menus are planned seven days in advance, so no guest, most of whom stay for a week, gets the same meal twice. Meals are all served as a matter of course in the great hexagonal dining-room, where the the tables are arranged around the central fireplace. Breakfast means hot porridge, homemade granola, Black Forest ham, kippers, smoked cod and one or two specials, pancakes with maple syrup, perhaps, or welsh rarebit with peameal bacon and fried tomatoes. At noon there's a choice of soups, salads, several hot and cold dishes and sweets. At night there are always two or three hot dishes, one of which will be fish -- sea-bass crusted with parmesan cheese, grilled pickerel with orange and ginger. Atlantic salmon with sorrel. The meat might be fresh Ontario lamb with homemade mint sauce or roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. Dinner is a seven-course affair. The buffet tables are heavy with salads, breads, pickles, pâtés, fruits and cheese. Sweets cover a table of bread-and-butter pudding with rum."
Our supreme accolade was a front page story by Tricia Bauer (with a half page photo of our dining room) on the front cover of the SUNDAY TRAVEL SECTION.
"spacious compound of lodges and cabins, each with a central common room and fireplace..."
"splendid blue and evergreen-coloured backdrop of virgin forest"
"dinner in the lodges' circular dining room with its towering ceiling and huge central fireplace was a perfect ending to each full day. A choice of three exquisitely prepared entrees, such as grilled local salmon with sorrel sauce, followed a selection of a hot or cold soup and a buffet of such appetizers as arugula and mango salad."
"Everything is made from scratch here, right down to the mayonnaise. Because the Arowhon feels that excitement and variety are essential to a meal, the menu is never announced in advance. The only problem this presents is guessing whether to bring a red or white wine to dinner. (The park is dry, but Arowhon staff members will uncork your wine at the table). After selecting from innumerable freshly baked desserts, we liked to retire to the dining room porch..."
"Arowhon Dines" - Review by Don Butler
"At top-rated Algonquin resort, CUISINE is the main course; NATURE'S on the side......Arowhon, a justly renowned 50-room resort in Algonquin Park, offers up a lavish banquet three times a day - then invites you to have a second helping."
|"one of the premier resorts in the province"|
|"a utopia in the wilderness"|
|"both the joys of nature - and spectacular cuisine"|
|"for the best meal of your life"|
|Leisure Ways||"creme de la creme of rustic but luxurious lodgings"|
|Elegance||"unpretentious luxury doused in the fragrance of endless pine"|
|The Financial Post||"The heart of the Pines is the dining room"|
|Cleveland Plain Dealer||"some of the best food in Canada"|
|Gault Millau France||"un seul hotel..sejourner dans cette fabeuleuse nature"|