Company of the Year 16-50 Employees

Entrepreneurs experience some obstacles when getting their businesses off the ground, but not many have had to face a challenge from an elk during rutting season.

Richard Lafleur, owner of Cedar Meadows Resort and Spa in Timmins, learned the hard way when he first added a wildlife tour to his 275-acre facility. The mixture of young animals, such as moose, bison, fallow deer and elk, co-existed together in the beginning. When he added a horse-drawn wagon through the property, with guests enjoying the ride, things began to change during the fall and the elk rut.

"It took me half an hour to get an elk off the trail because he was challenging the horses. He wanted to fight with them," he said.

"This was an eye-opener. I had to get off the wagon and challenge the elk with big sticks and make sure he didn't charge. Everyone thought it was funny but they don't know how close they came to danger."

That was the last time the horses were used, which were replaced with a tractor. The same elk later charged the tractor four times and punctured a hole in a tire. The elk was no longer part of the wildlife tour. Lafleur recounts the story with much laughter, and it is one of the many challenges he has faced transforming the former potato fields into a successful and unique facility.

After growing up on a farm across the Mattagami River from Cedar Meadows, his business ventures have always been connected to nature.

"My first business was landscaping and then there was a nursery and a garden centre. I had a pool business and then I got into an equestrian centre and an event centre. Then I wanted to build a small hotel to accommodate the events," Lafleur said.

"All the businesses I got involved in were rotating around nature and she dictates everything. I have always worked with nature. I was born on a farm, and work seven days a week. It is a lifestyle I enjoy and I always want to get back into it."

The land he purchased in 1985 provided some topsoil for the landscaping business but he didn't strip it. He landscaped the former fields and started with an equestrian centre. In 2000, he began to build his resort.

He added a restaurant, which currently has a certified executive chef that creates meals from scratch.

Lafleur also wanted to start small, with a 12-room inn, but a business plan demonstrated that more rooms would be better. He began with 29, which later grew to the current 49, in addition to five chalets.

"When I first opened, I thought it would be easier to hire people because the hotel and restaurant business were not seasonal, which was what I always had," he said.

"There are lots of people in hospitality and I thought there was a pool of people to draw from. But I was wrong. The hardest business to run is a restaurant."

After some hiccups and proverbial fires to put out, Lafleur never gave up and the facility has grown into a destination spot. It currently offers one of the few Scandinavian-style Nordic baths in Canada, which are known for their health benefits. Its spa offers infrared saunas, a cocoonlike spa jet, hydro massages and laser technology.

There are conference facilities available and the landscaped grounds offer a picturesque location for weddings, which can accommodate up to 436 people.

He has plans for the future, but he isn't divulging anything yet. He has no intention of keeping the facility stale and is always seeking new ideas to keep his guests coming back and attracting new ones.

"I go by intuition and it has never steered me wrong, but always in the right direction. I have to come up with something different and unique and that is where the idea of the spa came in," Lafleur said.

"Perhaps the business might be better if I built it in Muskoka but I am not from there. I am here and it always keeps calling you back. People keep telling me how lucky we are to live here and that gives me another perspective."

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