An outfitter that first opened its doors in Algonquin Provincial Park more than 60 years ago continues to grow within the fabled 7,600-square-kilometer canoeist’s paradise in Ontario. The family-owned Algonquin Outfitters set up shop on Oxtongue Lake in 1961. The outfitter has expanded in the decades since to operate over 12 locations both within Algonquin Park and on its periphery.
In mid-January 2023, Algonquin Outfitters announced they had won the lease to the store on the edge of Canoe Lake, celebrating their 13th business establishment.
Algonquin Outfitters Expands to Operate Canoe Lake Store
“The team at Algonquin Outfitters is excited to announce that after an open tender process, Ontario Parks has selected us to be the operator of the Canoe Lake Store concession (known as The Portage Store) in Algonquin Park, starting this season,” Rich and Sue Swift, the owners of Algonquin Outfitters, shared in a recent press release.
Rich’s father Bill Swift founded the outfitter. The family name is also behind Swift Canoes, including the aptly labeled Algonquin model. Rich grew up a part of the Algonquin Park community and began working for his family’s business in 1976. By the 1980s, Rich and his brother Bill Swift Jr. became driving forces in expanding the outfit’s reach. The latest addition of the concession on Canoe Lake adds to Rich’s legacy, 47 years and counting, of growth with Algonquin Outfitters.
Legacy Of The Portage Store
The store on Canoe Lake known as the Portage Store was an institution that’s been soaked with nostalgia within canoeing circles since it opened in the 1930s. Located in the heart of the Park, the Portage Store was both an outfitter and restaurant—a place to rent gear, grab a rewarding post-trip burger and meet up with fellow paddlers. For the last 47 it has been run by one family: Sven and Donna Miglin.
Ontario Parks owns the physical buildings on Canoe Lake, which through an open tender process is leased to a chosen operator. Every 10 years the lease is up for renewal and potential operators are invited to place bids to become the concessionaire. The 10-year lease is a process that’s intended to financially benefit the province.
The awarding of the lease to Algonquin Outfitters has not been met without criticism. While most commentary has respectful words for how the company operates, paddlers have also noted the Park concessions have turned into a monopoly. The three paddling facilities located within Park boundaries are all now operated by Algonquin Outfitters, along with the Lake of Two Rivers Cafe and Store.
Most directly, the province’s decision impacts the previous operator of the Portage Store, Sven Miglin, whose family business of nearly half a century has essentially been shuttered.
“I’ve got 47 years worth of history,” Miglin shared in an interview with Cottage Life. “My kids were partners in the company and now they’re looking for jobs. It’s pretty stressful.”
Miglin has operated The Portage Store on Canoe Lake since 1976. The Cottage Life article shares that in the Miglins’ most recent agreement with Ontario Parks, they were paying the agency approximately half-a-million dollars in rent annually, as well as a fixed percentage of sales from the location’s annual revenue of around $3 million.
When the tender process opened in 2022 in anticipation of the 10-year lease expiring in December, the Miglins placed their bid among the others. After decades running the Portage Store, the Miglins’ bid was declined by Ontario Parks. In an open letter to their patrons and staff the Miglins thanked all for decades of business, and stated they are exploring options, including possibly opening a location outside the Park.
The Business Of Managing Algonquin Park
Ontario Parks’ decision to enable Algonquin Outfitters to monopolize the Park confused Miglin as much as anyone.
“Algonquin Outfitters now owns every concession in the park. I had those concessions back in the 80s and Ontario Parks took them away from me because they said monopolies are terrible. So why would it have changed?” Miglin goes on to say in the interview with Cottage Life.
According to a representative from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, the ministry “conducts all procurements adhering to the Ontario Public Service Procurement Directive (2014), which was developed to ensure that goods and services are acquired through a process that is fair, open, transparent, geographically neutral and accessible to qualified vendors.” This process utilizes an electronic Request for Bids (eRFB).
When asked about placing a bid and how a business is awarded the lease, the ministry stated, “The bidder’s submission needed to articulate and demonstrate how they would meet the required deliverables (called the Technical submission), as well as bid on how much revenue would be returned to the ministry (called the Commercial submission).
“Each bidder’s technical submission was evaluated and scored by three ministry staff. Once the technical evaluation was complete, each bidder’s commercial submission was opened. A ranking of the submissions was determined based on a weighted formula of the technical score and the commercial score.”
Algonquin Outfitters Sees Trail Ahead On Canoe Lake
Now that Algonquin Outfitters has secured the lease they’ve made their intention for the Canoe Lake Store clear heading into the 2023 season.
“The opportunity to improve and enhance the visitor experience in Algonquin Park has always been our focus. Some of our initiatives include education and raising awareness in important areas such as Indigenous culture, canoe and camping ethics, and respect for Algonquin’s wildlife and natural spaces. This will help us embrace, preserve, and share the unique history and experiences of Canoe Lake and The Portage Store,” the Swifts included in their press release.
“We have a long history of providing quality canoe trip outfitting packages, equipment rentals and guided experiences for Park visitors. We are looking forward to bringing that experience to Canoe Lake.”
Algonquin Outfitters will be open for business on Canoe Lake in May of 2023 and are already accepting equipment reservations. To learn more visit: algonquinoutfitters.com.