By Mike Baker
With a milestone 60th anniversary to celebrate this year and a brand new expanded space in downtown Haliburton, things are looking good for Algonquin Outfitters.
The business has enjoyed great success since it opened up a location at the heart of the Highlands more than a decade ago, says local store manager Rob Zonnevel. The organization recently upgraded its space, taking over the old JoAnne Sharpley’s Source for Sports facility.
“This is a much, much bigger space, it provides for better parking for our customers. Going from around 1,800 sq. ft. to 5,000 sq. ft. is a pretty big move, we’re very excited about it,” Zonnevel told the Echo. “We have plans to expand on our camping division, which is one thing we’re definitely known for. We can display more watersports inside, have a bigger and better bike program – the new store just allows us to showcase some of the things we couldn’t in our old space.”
Algonquin Outfitters opened its new location to the public on June 18.
The Haliburton store is one of 12 scattered across cottage country. Owned by the Swift family, Algonquin Outfitters has established itself as one of the continent’s premiere canoe tripping organizations. According to Randy Mitton, long-time marketing director with the firm, Algonquin Outfitters boasts the largest lightweight canoing fleet in the world, with more than 700 kevlar canoes. In total, the organization services thousands of people every year through their three sites inside Algonquin Park, with a total fleet of around 1,200 boats and watercraft available to the public to rent.
That’s a far cry from the businesses’ humble beginnings. The first Algonquin Outfitters was opened by Bill Swift Sr. in 1961 at Oxtongue Lake, operating as a seasonal business at the location until the late 1980s. As Bill Sr.’s sons, Rich and Bill Jr., became more involved with the business, things expanded, with more of a focus on becoming a retail operation. The organization’s current hub, located in Huntsville, was opened in 1994.
As well as the recent move in Haliburton, Algonquin Outfitters has expanded its operations in Minden, Bracebridge and Port Carling in recent years.
Even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, business has been good, Mitton admits. That has enabled the Swift family to reinvest into the communities it has come to call home.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we looked back and tried to find anything similar that may have happened throughout our history, to try and figure out what we should expect… We quickly learned that we, as a business, seem to do better in down times than in prosperous times,” Mitton said. “There are many reasons for that. Someone may have had a European vacation planned for their family, but with the borders closed, rather than spend $10,000 on an overseas vacation, they stay closer to home and go on a canoe trip instead for a fraction of the price.”
He added, “Canoe trips have become incredibly popular during this pandemic. People looking to escape from the city, escape from their surroundings will come up, rent a boat and disappear into the wilderness for three or four days.”
Here in Haliburton, the focus is more on enjoying the many local lakes scattered throughout the Highlands.
“Water sports is a big focus here,” Zonnevel said. “Paddleboards, wakeboards, tubes, then we also sell a lot of canoes and kayaks.”
Remembering the last major milestone the company celebrated – 50 years back in 2011 – Zonnevel said the success of Algonquin Outfitters is a testament to the ongoing drive and commitment of the Swift family.
“This is a really big, important milestone for us. The Swift family has been so heavily immersed in the business for so many years. Bill Swift Sr. started this business 60 years ago, and today his son and his grandson continue to be involved,” Zonnevel said. “Now that we’re open in a new space, with renovations complete, we’re looking forward to continuing on with summer. We want to continue to grow and cater our product mix to the Haliburton community.”
It’s safe to say then, Zonnevel confirms, that Algonquin Outfitters is here in Haliburton to stay.
“We’re glad to be here. We really like being here, and we’re excited to see how much the business grows and thrives in our brand new location,” he concluded.