After being owned by the Breckbill family for 86 years, Severn Lodge is changing hands. On May 27, Brad and Sara Dunkley and their business partner, Jamie Hopkins, who jointly own the family theme park Santa’s Village in Bracebridge, Ont., announced that they had purchased the historic Muskoka lodge.
The Breckbill family put the 79-acre all-inclusive resort up for sale in mid-January with an asking price of $12 million. Sam Breckbill, whose grandfather Bill Breckbill purchased the lodge in 1936, says they decided to sell to be closer to aging family members in Ohio.
“It is somewhat bittersweet,” Breckbill says about the sale in an email. “Severn Lodge has been home our entire lives.” He’s not too worried about the state of his family’s former business, though. It is, after all, being left in capable hands.
Brad Dunkley’s connection to the lodge is more tenuous than Breckbill’s, but he too has family history at Severn. Dunkley’s great-grandfather, Vic Conner, lived near the lodge at Big Chute for 47 years. During that time, he became close friends with Bill and Jeanne Breckbill, Sam’s grandfather and grandmother. When Bill went to Europe to fight in World War II, Conner helped Jeanne run the lodge.
Years later, Dunkley vacationed at Severn Lodge as a child. It’s where he learned to waterski—or almost waterski, he admits. It’s also where he and his wife, Sara, got engaged. “This whole area is a very important place to my family,” he says.
When the lodge went up for sale, it caught Dunkley’s attention. But running a lodge is a lot of work, especially when balancing that with Santa’s Village. “I’m always a little bit afraid of something that big,” he says. “It’s a lot of responsibility to purchase.” However, after touring the property and being reminded of its beauty, Dunkley says he was convinced.
In many ways, Severn Lodge and Santa’s Village are similar. They’re both family-themed getaways. Santa’s Village offers two campsites, so Dunkley says they are familiar with operating accommodations. What he’s hoping is that the two businesses will be able to learn from one another.
“Severn Lodge is well known for having weddings, and we’ve always wanted to get into the wedding business at Santa’s Village. So, we’re looking to learn from Severn Lodge about that, and we hope to bring that learning to Santa’s Village at some point,” Dunkley says.
Beyond transferring knowledge, the plan is to keep Severn Lodge exactly as it is: a family-friendly, all-inclusive resort. “We think it’s already a great place and we don’t have any plans other than to just keep doing what the Breckbills were doing,” Dunkley says.
Sam Breckbill will make himself available to the new owners if they have any questions. Severn Lodge’s general manager, Gary Don, and head chef, Hubert Obermeier, will remain in their roles to help preserve the resort’s culture and traditions.
Severn Lodge will open for its 119th season on June 10. “The customers clearly do love Severn Lodge,” Dunkley says. “The Breckbills just did such a great job, and we’re looking forward to continuing the traditions that they’ve put in place.”