Nottawasaga Inn celebrates 50 years

Lou and Sue Biffis cut the anniversary cake at the celebration held Nov. 2.

Lou and Sue Biffis cut the anniversary cake at the celebration held Nov. 2.

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

ALLISTON, Ont. — When the Biffis family wanted to celebrate their 50th Anniversary with a party Nov. 2, they tried to include a multitude of different types of guests — from the suppliers they deal with day to day, to the families who have been coming for generations, and all the employees who had worked for the company for more than 18 years. 

“They were an eclectic bunch,” said Sylvia Biffis, director of convention sales, of the almost 300 people who attended the cocktail reception. “The celebration was fantastic, really nice.”

Nottawasaga's history is the stuff of legend. Patriarch Lou Biffis started the Nottawasaga Inn on a property that was used for sod farming, in Tecumseh, a dry county. Before he could build a successful motel, he had to change that. A friend bet him a bottle of whisky that he couldn't get a liquor license. But in 1967, Lou won that bet when 81.5 per cent of the population voted in favour of liquor licenses in a municipal plebiscite. Biffis got his license and the hotel was built in just eight months.

Lou Biffis in the early days.

Lou Biffis in the early days.

“It all started with a dream
and a bet, and for 50 years the Nottawasaga Resort has continued to grow and
expand based on that very dream,” Lou Biffis told Rick Vanderlinde of the Alliston Herald.

Biffis, who came from a poor Italian family, immigrated to Canada with only $8 in his pocket, wearing old patched
shoes. He had sold a newer pair of shoes for $3 to add to the $5 he already
had.

After working as a cabinet maker for several years, Biffis learned of property for
sale 75 kilometres north west of the city in Alliston. He decided to buy
the property, which was originally used by William Ruthven to produce the first
nursery-grown sod in Ontario. Biffis continued to grow sod to supply Toronto
builders until 1972.

Aerial view of the original property.

Aerial view of the original property.

His dream was to build a motel that
would take advantage of the picturesque river and rolling hills of
the Nottawasaga Valley. He drained the marshy area to create parkland. Then he built a 120-foot
long, four-foot wide bridge supported by cables over the Nottawasaga River,
which flowed through the property. The company that manages the resort, Cable Bridge Enterprises, takes it name from that structure.

Since opening its doors in 1968, The Nottawasaga Inn Resort & Conference Centre has experienced numerous expansions and developments (see chronology below for details). Over the years, it evolved from a 40-room motel with only one restaurant, a banquet room and café, to 269 guestrooms including 34 suites, three dining facilities, a lounge, 36 banquet/meeting rooms, an on-site chapel, an outdoor wedding garden, 45 holes of golf, two international soccer pitches, two NHL ice pads and a multifaceted sports and leisure dome.

Of all the changes throughout the years, the two NHL-sized hockey pads made the biggest difference to the property, Sylvia Biffis said. With hockey tournaments all year long, the hockey facilities introduced the Nottawasaga Resort to a new group of guests, who would bring their kids for hockey tournaments, and then return for weddings, anniversaries or other occasions.

The resort also has a regulation-size soccer field, where international teams coming to Toronto can practice in peace and quiet with all the facilities they need nearby.

Aerial view of Nottawasaga Inn today.

Aerial view of Nottawasaga Inn today.

Asked who in the family is involved in the resort, Sylvia Biffis laughed and said, “Everybody. Dad [Lou] oversees the hotel and construction of the condominium homes and Treetops single family units; my mother [Sue] does gardening along with the gardening crew; I handle conventions, sales and hotel renovations; my brother Dino is vice-president, marketing, and deals with the development side of Treetops; my older brother Peter is responsible for the water and sewage treatment plant, and takes care of the hotel and houses; my cousin Rocco [Lombardi] is responsible for Green Briar and Briar Hill adult lifestyle communities (1,600 homes); and my husband Raymond Bongiorno does engineering and maintenance and major renovations of the hotel.”

The family and the hotel have been honoured for their participation in community, professional and charitable activities. They often host activities of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA). Last spring, the Nottawasaga Resort erected a functioning memorial at the Center Ice Sportsplex in support of the Humboldt tragedy victims.

Earlier this year, Lou Biffis received the Georgian College Board of Governors' Honorary Diploma, which honours external candidates who have made a major contribution to an academic program at Georgian College in nearby Barrie, Ont. Last year, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross Medal which was issued by the Holy Pope Francis, at a ceremony held at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica in Toronto. This award recognized his contributions to the church and the bridges he built within the community. 

In 2016, the EIA Innovation and Continuous Energy Improvement Awards, held at the International Centre in Mississauga, recognized the Nottawasaga Resort for their environmental efforts. The Resort also received the Quality Award for Large Business at the 2015 South Simcoe Annual Business Excellence Awards. 

“We remain family owned
and operated, which sets us apart from a number of vacation properties,” Lou Biffis
said.

Left to right: Dino Biffis, Sue Biffis, Lou Biffis, Sylvia Biffis, Peter Biffis, Rocco Lombardi.

Left to right: Dino Biffis, Sue Biffis, Lou Biffis, Sylvia Biffis, Peter Biffis, Rocco Lombardi.

NOTTAWASAGA INN CHRONOLOGY

The Nottawasaga Inn
is a Resort, Convention Centre and Golf Course located beside the Nottawasaga River,
just outside of Alliston, Ontario.

1959:  Land purchased by
Lou Biffis.

1965:   Marshy area drained
to form parkland. Construction of suspension bridge.

1967:   81.5 per cent of Tecumseth
residents vote in favour of liquor licenses. Within weeks, construction was
underway and, in eight months, the Nottawasaga Inn opened to the public with
forty guestrooms, a dining room, coffee shop and one banquet hall.

1972:   34 guestrooms and
six meeting rooms added

1981:   Another floor added to the existing bedroom wing increasing room count to 108. Another meeting room and
two racquetball courts were also added.

1984:   The landing strip
was removed for the construction of an 18-hole golf course, pro shop and
driving range.

1985:   The golf course
opened in the fall of 1985 along with the grand opening of Green Briar.

1986:   Indoor pool, sauna,
whirlpool and gymnasium built.

1987-88:   Hotel more than
doubled its size to 164 bedrooms and 33 meeting rooms plus a huge new lobby,
coffee shop, bar and fine dining restaurant.

1991:   Expansion of the
Riverview Dining Room, Mahogany Dining Room and Starlite Lounge.

1992:  Nine holes of golf were
added.

1994:   The 70,000 square foot
Sports and LeisureDome opened as an integral part of the hotel, featuring a pool,
100-foot water slide, gymnasium, squash courts, convertible squash/racquetball
court, aerobics studio, indoor tennis courts, video arcade, billiards tables, and an
18-hole indoor miniature golf theme park. The old indoor pool and racquetball
courts and gym were converted into meeting rooms.

1995:   70 seat chapel with hand-painted
ceiling added.

1997:  Grand opening of
Briar Hill.

1998-99:  27 suites built along
with three more floors of bedrooms, bringing the total number of guest rooms to
269. Another nine holes of golf added.

1999:  The outdoor Wedding
Garden was created.

2000:  An additional nine holes of golf were constructed and that nine plus the nine built in 1999 became a
second course called The Ridge. This course boasts its own pro shop, driving
range and putting green. This is the only resort surrounded by 45 regulation holes of golf.
Rated Top 25 Golf Resort in Canada and Best Family Resort in Ontario.

2002:  The coffee shop was
renovated and another floor was added to the main part of the building. This
added four more meeting rooms and office space.

2006:  Centre Ice Hockey
Arena opened, with NHL-Size ice surface.

2007:  Demand was so great
for ice time, that an additional ice pad was opened.

Residential Component

1985:  In addition to the
Nottawasaga Inn, Lou Biffis is also responsible for starting an adult-lifestyle
condominium community called Green Briar, located adjacent to the Nottawasaga
Inn and consisting of 497 houses surrounded by the Nottawasaga Golf Course.

1997:  Lou started a second
adult-lifestyle community of Briar Hill and the Vistas, located on property
across the river from the hotel. The Briar Hill/Vistas community currently
includes 1,087 occupied homes and leisure suites of the projected total of 2,200
homes.

2012:   The latest housing
project, Treetops, located across from Green Briar, was launched in June 2012,
reaching 2/3 completion of the projected total of 1,867 single family low rise
homes.