Gone glamping in Renfrew
The premise is simple: take a rundown children’s theme park on an 89-acre slice of Canadian Shield, install mega-tents kitted out with king-sized beds, Egyptian cotton sheets and pricey all-natural toiletries, throw in a luxury yoga studio, hire an army of personal “wilderness butlers” to fulfill every whim … and call it glamping.
Better yet, call it Elements Luxury Tented Camp and Nature Spa, the latest “big, hairy, audacious” idea from Nikki Laframboise, 33, a glamazon farm-girl-slash-entrepreneur from the Ottawa Valley who learned everything she knows from the late Howard Darwin, her grandfather and once Ottawa’s most prolific sports entrepreneur. The camp is opening on the property of the former Storyland theme park near Renfrew (outdoorhotel.ca).
And when you’ve done all that — and included the kind of concierge service you’d only find at a Ritz-Carlton — invite people who, for a lack of better term, are camping-averse.
“I’m not pitching this to outdoorsy people who can traverse Algonquin Park in a canoe armed with a spork and a tarp,” Laframboise says.
“I want people who wonder if there’ll be bugs, who haven’t heard a frog croak in the woods and who need to reconnect, disconnect or be alone.”
But if paying five-star rates ($270 to $499 per night with meals) for camping sounds wackadoo, consider her demographic: 38- to 68-year-old educated, well-heeled and completely overstressed entrepreneurs, employees and public servants who either have fond memories of childhood camping or would like to experience it — as long as they’re not put out.
And there’s little chance of that. At Elements, which opens in June, “glampers” can choose from massive two- or four-person canvas tents, each featuring everything from eco-toilets to mini-furnaces and yes, those butler-camp rangers on staff who will fetch your camp food, show you how to cook it, get you takeout, bring you snacks, decant your wine and turn down your bed.
Want to go for a walk? Take a gentle stroll through the woods and have your butler set up a private champers and caviar picnic by a waterfall. Need some digital detox? Head over to the yoga studio for a free art class, followed by a massage. Want something more active? Wander up to Champlain Lookout, a rock upon which explorer Samuel de Champlain reputedly carved his name in 1613.
“People want something fresh and new. We’re a government city, which means a fairly proscribed lifestyle,” says Laframboise. “So people are walking around with weight on their shoulders. It seems there’s a rise in all sorts of mental health issues like stress and depression.”
It’s a subject with which she is familiar. Born one of four siblings on an Almonte beef and pork farm, Laframboise says family life was very unstable, and by the time she entered high school, she was being admitted for weeks at a time at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario for depression. Eventually, she went to live with her maternal grandparents. Her grandfather, Howard Darwin, was the man behind the Ottawa 67s, Ottawa Lynx and Ottawa Cable, the city’s first cable TV station.
“At CHEO, they taught me invaluable life skills. And my grandparents always gave me good advice, led by example and showed me another side of life.”
By 21, she’d started a family and a business called Account-ease after graduating in accounting from Algonquin College. From there, she moved to real estate, commercial investments and two years ago, bought Storyland.
Now a single mom of two and retired from real estate in Renfrew, Laframboise says her grandfather’s tireless entrepreneurial ethos still guides her every move, which will include building a winter camping experience in the near future.
“People always say, ‘Huh, do you think this is going to work?’ and they doubt me. My grandfather taught me that if you think bigger and more abstractly, people have a hard time believing in it. And that’s fine,” she says, with a grin. “I always win them over in the end.”