SOUTH MILFORD, NS – The Milford House wilderness resort in Annapolis County has long been considered a hidden gem or best kept secret in Nova Scotia.
Well the cat is out of the bag.
“We had more ‘no vacancies’ days in 2020 than we ever had. We would have them on a Tuesday, ”said general manager Val Richard, who noted that Milford House has 28 cabins open during the regular season.
In a year that has seen the tourism and hospitality industries from near and far suffer significant losses from the global pandemic, Milford House has benefited from a provincial directive encouraging Nova Scotians to consider stays this summer.
“It was great visibility for us because people were looking for something in Nova Scotia,” said Richard.
“The idea of a stay that (Prime Minister Stephen) McNeil kept coming up with was really our lifeline.”
New guests from Nova Scotia have started booking stays at the rustic lakeside cabins of Milford House on the heels of the 2020 winter season temporarily halted by the provincial lockdown caused by the late COVID-19 virus March.
Richard was then tasked with presenting to the board of directors of Milford House Properties Limited three proposals outlining how to approach the looming regular season in unprecedented times.
“It was terrifying because there was so much unknown,” she said.
They envisioned everything from not opening for the season to a delayed opening that allowed some leeway for necessary changes to operations as the Nova Scotia Public Health response evolves to COVID-19.
“I listened to all the updates, changes and rules just religiously, like I felt like I knew Dr. Strang personally,” Richard said with a laugh.
A federal wage subsidy allowed them to bring staff back at a time when they weren’t sure what to expect from reservations. This allowed for a gradual reopening after the provincial lockdown, starting with the three freestanding winter cabins with full kitchens.
Milford House’s regular season typically begins with the May long weekend, but the gradual return to operations in 2020 saw only eight cabins open at that time.
“We brought most of our core staff back and opened in mid-June in the dining room,” said Richard.
“Then people started to come out of the woods. At the end of June, I said, “My God, I don’t have enough staff. “
Some employees receiving the Canada Emergency Benefit (CEP) did not want to return at the start of the regular season. Richard said finding employees for the rural complex along Highway 8 in South Milford, about 12 miles from Annapolis Royal and Kejimkujik National Park, has always been a challenge.
But the Milford House team made it work.
Richard said more than 300 reservations have been made by Nova Scotian guests booking one of the cabins at Milford House for the first time.
“We had all these new people and we hired more staff and in July we were operating as usual,” she said.
“Our summer has been as busy as any summer.
Restrictions on travel outside the Atlantic provinces have prevented several Milford House regulars who have faithfully booked cabins every summer – some continuously for decades – from visiting in 2020.
“We had to turn a few people away, but not a lot,” said Richard. “Most of the people were very understanding.
Milford House has long been a retreat for outdoor enthusiasts and metropolitan alike. It offers a getaway in the heart of nature in a place where no two cabins, and no two visits, are alike.
“People come for seclusion and simplicity,” said Richard.
Some go canoeing. Some enjoy the ambiance of a crackling fire inside the open fireplace of a lakeside cabin. Some visit for the hiking trails, home cooked meals in the lodge or the range of options for outdoor recreation.
“It’s the atmosphere, I think,” said Richard.
“I call it stepping into a time capsule because, except for the electricity, you wouldn’t know that it’s not 100 years ago when you’re in these cabins.”
Richard said that many guests discovering Milford House for the first time in 2020 “were blown away”.
“People started to come out of the woodwork and fall from the sky,” she said.
The resort began offering the option of take-out when COVID-19 restrictions called for reduced capacity at dining establishments, and Richard said it is likely that will continue in the future as long as it will be viable.
She was thrilled to see Nova Scotians step up and support the historic seaside resort with roots dating back to the early 1900s as the world wondered how to continue amid the global pandemic in 2020.
“Nova Scotians have been so cooperative. There was not a soul in Milford House who refused to wear a mask, ”she said.
“I am very proud of Nova Scotia for the way it has been managed, from the leadership to you.
Milford House has weathered its fair share of literal and proverbial storms with the help of the community at large and its dedicated patrons, Richard said.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else. We have met so many amazing people.
She looks to 2021 with the hope that the current vaccine rollout means better days ahead.
“Take off your feathers and continue,” she said. “This is what I hope. “