After closing in December, The Portage Store has rebranded and opened a new location on Highway 60 outside Huntsville, Ont., just south of Algonquin Provincial Park’s West Gate. As part of the rebranding, the iconic canoe rental shop has taken on a new name: The Portage Outpost.
Previously, Sven and Donna Miglin operated The Portage Store on Canoe Lake, within Algonquin Park. They’d been doing so since 1975 with help from their daughter Liana and her husband Vincent Ouimet over the last 13 years. It was one of the few businesses allowed to operate within the park, leasing its store from Ontario Parks.
As part of the lease, the Miglins paid the government agency approximately half a million dollars in rent annually and were required to submit a bid every 10 years to continue operating the store. In December, after 47 years of operating the business, Miglin received an email from Ontario Parks informing him that he had lost the bid. Instead, the store was awarded to Algonquin Outfitters, which now holds a monopoly on all canoe rental stores within Algonquin Park.
Miglin says the decision took him by surprise. His kids, who had taken over operations, were suddenly out of work. But the family has bounced back, opening The Portage Outpost. Miglin says the new store will be run by Liana and Vincent, with he and his wife, Donna, in support roles.
“Vincent and Liana have been full partners, and they really were running the store for the last 10 years,” he says. “They have the experience.”
The new location is as close to the park boundary as you can get, divided only by a mile or two of Crown land. Miglin says its proximity to the park will make it an ideal spot for customers to pick up canoes. “The building has a history of being an outfitting base, so it’s a good site for us,” he says. “We were looking at a number of sites, but this was the most favourable one. And we were able to make a deal with the owner.”
As part of the move, the family—with help from friends and staff—spent the winter transporting canoes on trailers and flatbed trucks to the new location. “We moved everything off as of the middle of April,” Miglin says.
The Portage Outpost is slightly smaller than the previous store, so Miglin says they will sell off more canoes than usual during their annual used canoe sale on June 3 and 4. Despite a reduced inventory, the store will offer a variety of canoe options, including ultralight Kevlar, carbon fibre, and standard-weight Kevlar, along with other equipment, such as tents and backpacks. The store will also offer its complete outfitting package, which includes all camping equipment plus prepared meals.
Since the new location isn’t on the water, Miglin says it will be difficult to offer guided canoe tours, especially in the store’s first year as they sort out logistics. But he says he hopes they’ll be able to arrange an agreement with a public dock and start offering guided tours of the park in subsequent years.
“For those people who liked The Portage Store and felt it was a special place, we’re the company that made it. With our staff, our customers, we made it a special place,” Miglin says. “And we believe that The Portage Outpost will have the same flavour and ambience.”
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