LIVING

Suburban oasis

A new spa may bring resort-goers to Canada

BARBARA WICKENS July 9 1990
LIVING

Suburban oasis

A new spa may bring resort-goers to Canada

BARBARA WICKENS July 9 1990

Suburban oasis

LIVING

A new spa may bring resort-goers to Canada

Outside the sprawling new building, bulldozers moved mounds of earth as landscapers carefully sodded the surrounding lawns. But inside the King Ranch Health Spa & Fitness Resort, a glittering new development 32 km north of Toronto, only a few details remained to be completed as the first guests arrived last week. Among them were Mississauga, Ont.’s Carolyn WaldoBaltzer, who won two gold medals for Canada in synchronized swimming at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, and Los Angeles-based James Spitz, president of distribution for Columbia Pictures. In return for paying prices that range from $920 for three nights of double occupancy to $3,510 for 10 days single occupancy, guests can jog, swim, hike on trails that meander across the spa’s 177 wooded acres, attend yoga classes or bathe in water laced with marine algae and exotic oils. But, at the end of a busy day, they cannot buy an alcoholic drink. At the luxurious resort, which is dedicated to health and well-being, the bar only serves mineral water—from 12 countries— as well as fruit and vegetable juices.

The brainchild of millionaire Toronto entrepreneur Murray Koffler, the King Ranch, which cost $45 million to build, could eventually rival leading

American spas, such as the Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Ariz., and the Bonaventure Hotel and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Koffler said that the idea for the spa grew out of his longtime interest in physical fitness. He said that, after he visited Canyon Ranch during the early 1980s, he felt that Canada was ready for something similar. Koffler added, “Everywhere I went, people said, ‘I can’t wait until you're open.’ ” The spa has rooms for 180

guests, and a staff of 265. As well as having the latest in fitness facilities, the spa’s main clubhouse contains conference and boardrooms that outside organizations can use for business meetings.

As well, the resort provides lavish facilities for physical fitness in a spectacular setting designed by Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson. Although the spa’s main clubhouse, guest rooms and spa building cover more than 182,000 square feet, the view from most windows is of the rolling countryside. Most fitness activities take place in the spa building, which can be reached from the clubhouse either through a walkway decorated with works by Canadian painters, or by a deck that also leads to the 25-m swimming pool.

At the centre of the three-storey spa, a staircase, illuminated by a skylight, leads to the upper floors. Each floor has a different type of function. On the top floor are offices for the medical director, nurses, dietitians and counsellors who advise guests on health matters On the middle floor are salons for skin, body and hair care. On the ground floor, which is devoted to fitness activities, guests can take part in exercise classes in one of four 2,000square-foot studios with cushioned floors to prevent injuries. There are also squash, racquetball and indoor tennis courts, as well as a weight-training room. One of the more spectacular features of the spa is an elevated 200-m running track that begins inside and continues in a structure that runs through nearby woods.

Originally scheduled to open in October, 1989, the project suffered a number of setbacks that added about $7 million to the construction costs. Strikes by Ontario construction workers that broke out last May forced the establishment to open with some lighting and carpentry still incomplete. One of the most serious disruptions resulted from Erickson’s financial difficulties, which led to the closing of his Toronto office in September, 1989. Koffler, founder of the 630-store Shoppers Drug Mart chain and one of the original investors in the Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels Ltd., said he hired Erickson after hearing him describe a visit to the ruins of an ancient health resort in Turkey. And despite Erickson’s problems, Tiana Koffler Boyman, Koffler’s daughter and the vice-president of the spa, praised the architect as “a visionary.” Added Koffler’s son, Adam, 31, the spa’s president: “He did a wonderful job for us.”

Although some Canadian resort hotels offer a range of sports and fitness-related activities, the King Ranch is the first major resort in the country to be dedicated to fitness, nutrition, body and beauty therapy, and lifestyle counselling. Some resort and travel industry experts say that Koffler and his family may have overestimated the potential for spa vacations in Canada. For her part, Anne Harding, president of International Spa Corp., a Toronto-based consulting firm, said that the opulent new establishment “will put Canada on the international spa map.” But it may be some time before Koffler’s investment actually pays off.

BARBARA WICKENS