Les Helliar has been there from the beginning. Literally. Helliar was born in 1936, the same year his father started Helliar’s Resort in Nester Falls.
On July 1, the business celebrated 70 years of operation. Helliar said that there have been good times and bad, but in the end their greatest accomplishment is that they are still around.
“A lot of businesses don’t survive that long, so we think that is pretty good,” Helliar said. “We’ve made it through several wars, several recessions and a depression. Dad started in the heart of the Depression, which is something that is hard for us to understand, even old guys like me.”
Helliar now runs the resort with his two sons, Glen and Wayne. They have a gift shop, a general store, 13 cottages, and boat and motor rentals. They have 15 employees, some of which have been with them for 25 years.
Helliar said their biggest success is the fact that they do all the work themselves.
“I think mostly just being here and doing it (is our success) rather than being somewhere else and having someone else do it for you,” Helliar said. “We’re resident owners, we’re here year round and we try to give good service.”
One of Helliar’s best memories from years ago is packing ice-cream as a child.
“We had ice cream before we had electricity,” he said. Because there was no electricity, he remembers packing the ice cream in layers of ice and rock salt to keep it frozen.
“When we had our 50th anniversary, we sold ice cream cones for a nickel like we did in the 40s,” he said. “Believe me, you get lots of people looking for ice cream cones when you sell it for a nickel.”
The family works hard to ensure that their cabins are the best they can offer to customers.
“We do our best to keep things modern and updated as much as we can,” he said. “We do lots of work every spring to keep the cottages up to date. They are all air conditioned. They are not old shacks or anything.”
The resort relies mostly on Americans who come to go fishing. Helliar said that recently there has been some issues that have caused business to be slower than in past years.
“We have had very high gas prices and people are funny about gasoline. They will drive 20 miles to save a dime a gallon,” he said. “Also, the US dollar has dropped a lot. It raises our prices without putting more money in our pocket. We still have to pay the bills in Canadian. We were better off when we were kicking them back 50 cents to the dollar. It wasn’t much fun for us to go to the States but it was better for business here.”
Helliar also believes the future of having to have a passport to get back into the States will encourage Americans to stay in their country.
While there are always challenges such as these for families running their own business, there are also encouraging things for the future of the business.
“The season has been getting longer because of the hunting up here. Deer hunting has come on a little bit in the last three or four years, so we have extended the season,” he said. “We need to tourist business. That’s the reason for coming up here. We don’t have a Disney World up here but we’ve got a lot of scenery. If you need to have a purpose, fishing seems to be it.”
At the age of 70, Helliar can look back at the business and explain why he likes his job.
“It’s just been a nice way to make a living. People are here because they want to be here and they are in their best frame of mind because they are on vacation,” he said “They are not that hard to deal with for the most part.”
Helliar explained how dealing with tourists can make you appreciate over and over again how lucky people here are to live in such a beautiful place.