As Sandy and Al Meline sat at a table in their newly-completed main lodge overlooking the waters of Lake of the Woods, you could hear the excitement they felt in opening a new resort at Nestor Falls.
For some 27 years, he has been guiding on Lake of the Woods, entertaining guests from all over the world and all walks of life.
For most of that time, Meline worked from his home, packaging trips for guests by using resorts and facilities in and around the community. Then two years ago, his sole guest cabin overlooking the falls, burned down while being spruced up for the opening of the season.
It was one of several setbacks the business has faced in the last five years. But it was quickly rebuilt and expanded on.
The new resort formerly belonged to Glen and Sharon McLeod. As Sandy Meline tells the story, “The camp had been on the market for quite some time.”
“Al and I were going into Winnipeg for one of his regular check-ups and he was grumbling about this and that, and was a little bit bearish that morning,” she recalled.
“He had been looking being able to put up his guests at his own place [and] I finally said, ‘Why don’t you just buy it?’
“I didn’t know he did that day.”
Al butted in and explained that they stopped a little up the road for gas and he called Glen McLeod.
“I didn’t let on ’til we got back that we had made the offer,” he chuckled. “Glen and Sharon must have really wanted us to have it.”
In early 2000, the couple began taking over the lodge. The old office was moved up the hill to make way for the new lodge. This year, the old office has been gutted and completely remodelled as a cottage. It will be wheelchair accessible.
Sandy, who has a degree in interior design, laid out the floor plan for the new main lodge and decided on its location, right at the water’s edge, with height to look out over the bay.
Colin and Allan Brown and their crew began work and framed in the new structure. Then James Lundgren did the finishing work.
Sandy’s design came into place. The exterior was log panel siding in natural pine tones, with each board sanded smooth to reflect the beauty of the wood. The interior walls were of soft knotty pine with a natural satin finish.
“Sugar Maple” flooring races from wall to wall. The dining room tables and chairs are all wrought iron, as are the chandeliers that hang down.
Guests already take their shoes off when they enter. When you ease into a chair or couch with game boards available, you have the immediate relaxing feeling.
Glancing up, you can look across the deck and see boats arriving and departing, catch the sun rise in the morning, or the summer sun setting in the evening.
“When the boats go out with the guides in the morning, my heart goes with them,” admitted Al. “I’d rather be out there. There is nothing like being on the water.”
Meline is cutting back on some of his guiding this summer to get this new enterprise up and running.
“I’m still up and attending to the guests at 5:30 in the morning, visiting, making sure everything is ready for them and seeing them off at the docks,” he said. “And I’m back down on the docks when they return and then visiting with them in the evening.”
But Sandy let on the schedule now permits Al some time to catch an afternoon nap that he needs.
But it is meeting all those people over 27 years that Al admitted has given him his schooling. “I’m not schooled.” he said. “I’m schooled by other people’s experiences.”
He said guiding is a really interesting business. He has fished with people who have travelled the world from Belize to Africa and have stopped in Nestor Falls.
“I listen and learn,” he stressed.
And now in the evening, when his guests arrive back and are in his dining room, he can circulate and visit at the tables. Subject to seating availability, local residents also can call ahead for reservations and enjoy the view and Al’s hospitality.
Al will be the first to tell you Lake of the Woods has the greatest variety of fish to be found. And the fishing is what attracts people to the Nestor Falls area year after year.
Most of his customers are repeat although the business has changed, attracting more corporate clients every year using a fishing experience on the lake for incentives or customer entertaining.
Meline’s Resort and Guide Service offers full American Plan. The camp provides breakfast and dinner, while shore lunch is provided by the guides.
“It’s a completely new facility at Nestor Falls and I think it’s first-class,” Al noted.
Few would disagree.