Jan 05, 2021

The Lakehouse

Story by Ian Smith Photo by Tanea Brown and Sugar and Soul Photography

There may be a surprise ingredient to running a successful hospitality company that touches everything from hotel stays, food services, retail, conference and wedding event services during a pandemic.

A Political Science degree.

Unconventional? Maybe. But that was the background of Karly McRae, owner of The Lakehouse, situated in the heart of Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park. 

Steering her talents towards graphic design and marketing early on, it was a business contact of Karly’s that fueled a desire to see her local community’s architecture and culture rejuvenated, and it’s potential realized.

McRae recalled, “we realized so much of our community had looked the same for the last twenty years and we wanted to breathe new life into it. Building up our community lies at the heart of everything we do.”

With The Lakehouse and Arrowhead Resort already in the fold, Karly and her team turned to a new project, The Danceland banquet hall, a provincially designated heritage site. They purchased it for renovation in early 2020.

But as late February rolled in, and the winds of a coming spring and full summer started to blow, the air carried something else Karly couldn’t ignore. Reports of COVID-19’s effects around the world were hitting home, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that things were going to be different this year. 

“We’re typically busy all year round, but as news of COVID began to circulate, we noticed a drop-off, and I felt an urgency to reassess everything we were doing just in case things weren’t going to change for months.”  

Her instincts were right. 

In May, federal parks like Riding Mountain were trapped behind barricades, keeping tourist traffic, the lifeblood of her business, away.

Despite a raft of unknowns, staff layoffs and grave financial implications, Karly pushed forward, cleverly leveraging insights she gleaned from the restrictions into innovations that would position her business for success in the future.

First, a local meal delivery service to generate revenue followed by a contactless system for check-in and check-out as well as room and concierge services. Lastly, an online food ordering system for their guests.

When Riding Mountain opened in June, they were ready. 

Sort of.

“Three months of shut down was devastating for us, having to lay off our staff, and it was equally as difficult to ramp up in June. It was definitely a rollercoaster.”

The summer was challenging, but fruitful as Manitobans were aching to get out while covid cases were stable. 

Now fall, navigating the new Code Red restrictions is an even more formidable challenge in some respects and one that may require McRae to draw from her previous Political Science leanings.

“Of course we’re following protocols and we’re open, but at the same time we understand that our government’s message is for people to stay home, and we need to honour that. That is the tension we feel. To respect and protect our community while at the same time ensuring that we’re around to serve them in the future. In that way, this isn’t easy.” 

Today, McRae is working on plans for skating rinks and trails on Clear Lake, helping to craft new winter activities for when restrictions are lifted and invites people to consider a take-out order, booking a future stay or a gift-card purchase.

When asked what she would like Manitoban’s to consider when thinking of local business, McCrae offers a sobering perspective.  

“Let’s celebrate innovation, for sure, but for businesses that aren’t positioned well to make changes, the heavy expectation on them to adapt and pivot has huge implications on a small business owner’s mental and physical health. We just can’t forget about helping those types of businesses, too.”

To discover more about The Lakehouse and its various properties, visit www.staylakehouse.ca.

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