They built a public campsite when nobody else could

Despite a surge of interest in camping most would-be campground owners couldn’t manage to open new properties

hammond camp site
hammond camp site

When Alexandra Anderson learned about a campground opening just east of Ottawa, she wasn’t sure she’d heard correctly—it was the first time in more than a decade the executive director of Camping in Ontario had heard about a new opening anywhere in the province.

Despite a surge of interest in camping during the pandemic, as quarantine-weary city dwellers desperately searched for outdoor recreation options, most would-be campground owners couldn’t quickly open new properties to meet the booming demand.

“It’s exceptionally hard to get a campground started,” says Anderson, whose organization represents some 400 campgrounds throughout the province. Challenges include getting approvals from conservation authorities and multiple levels of government, convincing utilities to extend service to remote sites, and securing loans from banks that are often hesitant to finance seasonal tourism businesses.

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Brad Cartier and his business partner, Aaron Markel, knew about many of these issues when they conceived Hammond Hill campground. However, they had several advantages when they started developing the 62-acre property, about 20 minutes from Orleans.

First, the land—leased to the partners by Leonard Gendron, owner of the adjacent Hammond Golf and Country Club—was already zoned for tourism. Second, the City of Clarence-Rockland was solidly behind the project. Third, Cartier’s background in real estate development and Markel’s in construction gave them the skills and knowledge they needed to pull it off. 

And finally, they had a team of about a dozen skilled people eager to work.

They took the project from concept to its August opening in just four months, albeit with substantial changes along the way. 

They didn’t start off planning to build a campground. They wanted to create a collection of tiny, off-the-grid cabins that could command premium rental rates.

However, due to pandemic-related difficulties in sourcing supplies such as windows, construction on the cabins was slow. So they switched their focus to setting up campsites (and a few cabins and yurts) in the interim, which can be rented for as little as $40 a night.

As much as possible, the partners used materials from the site for construction. They bought a small sawmill to transform the limited number of trees they cut down into fence rails, yurt foundations and wood chips for trails. (Other eco-friendly initiatives include no-kill bug spray and a chemical-free Japanese process for treating wood.) 

Hammond Hill also has an unusual campground attraction: a beer garden serving beers from Markel’s Broken Stick Brewing Company, located at the nearby golf course. Because they’re all on the same property, the craft brewery’s licence extends to cover the campground.

“As far as we can tell, I think we’ll be the first campsite [in Ontario] that is offering draft beer onsite,” Markel said.

At the beer garden, campers will be able to get casual dishes, like paninis and pizza. “And if they want a fancy meal, they just go 30 seconds down the road to the [golf course’s] restaurant,” Cartier said.  

The partners said they’ve seen a healthy stream of bookings and fielded several inquiries about weddings (plans for a chapel are in the works.) They plan to keep building in phases, so that the property will eventually have at least 10 yurts, 30 pioneer-themed cabins, and 50 higher-end, solar-powered cabins.

In the future, the partners also hope to host environmental and historical workshops, and other special events, to make the site more than just a place to pitch a tent. “We want it to be just sort of immersive experience, where people can come and do a number of different things,” says Cartier.

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