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What is to become of the vacant Kempenfelt Conference Centre?

April 2023

The Kempenfelt Conference Centre, or more importantly, the 20-acre property it occupies on the south shore of Kempenfelt Bay, screams big opportunity for Simcoe County’s tourism sector, either as a vacation resort or a wellness retreat. Right now, the Ontario government-owned facility in the Town of Innifsil is vacant and deteriorating, due to minimal maintenance.

When it was in operation, the Kempenfelt Conference Centre features 11, 500-square-feet of meeting space, a kitchen that served a licenced dining room, patio and lounge, a lecture hall with 180-seat capacity, and recreational options that include a double tennis court, baseball diamond, horseshoe pits, golf driving nets, volleyball courts, basketball court, paddle boats, mountain biking, an abundance of natural woodland and bonfire pits for relaxing evenings along the 1,400 feet of private shoreline.

Over 70 guest rooms over four buildings were available to accommodate extended stays.

Georgian College acquired the property from the Ontario government in April 1982 for use by their Hospitality Management/Administration students. At the Kempenfelt Conference Centre, students were able to gain hands-on training in a variety of hospitality-related skills, including front desk services, housekeeping, sales and marketing, accounting, conference services, management functions, maintenance and engineering, food and beverage service and food preparation.

All that ended on 31 October 2017, when Georgian College returned the Kempenfelt Conference Centre to the provincial government, when aging facility became too costly to upgrade and maintain. Infrastructure Ontario assumed control of the property until it’s ultimate fate is determined.

Estate for a World War I veteran

The property occupied by the former Kempenfelt Conference Centre, was originally owned, starting in 1929, by Major-General Donald Hogarth, DSO, and his wife Margaret. Hogarth was a veteran of World War I, who had been in-charge of military supplies and transport in London for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in London. He was later appointed as Quarter-Master General.

At the time, MGen Hogarth was also the sitting Member of Provincial Parliament for Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay), a post he held from 1911-1923, and again from 1926-1934.

After the war, MGen Hogarth became well-known as a mining financier, founding some of the biggest gold mines in Northern Ontario, along with business interests in the pulp and paper industry.

In 1930, the Hogarths built a lodge, Mardon Lodge (a combination of their names), and boathouse on their estate, along with a private golf course in 1936. The lodge was built using wood harvested from the property, with a grand living room featuring pine beams and a massive stone fireplace.

Georgian College noted about the Mardon Lodge in a brochure:

“The lodge was designed so that each room faced the water and extended the full length of the building, thereby capturing southern light.”

The Hogarth family sold the estate after MGen Horgarth’s death on 27 June 1950, and after going through several different owners, was finally bought by the Ontario government in June 1968, for use as a staff development centre. At the time, the facility consisted of the estate lodge, the boathouse and a cottage, known as the Foster House, that had been built after the Hogarth family sold the property. The boathouse would be demolished in 1976.

Since the buildings were uninsulated, the facility initially could only be used from April to November, but after all buildings were finally insulated, it became a year-round facility. The main building, the CTMC Building, was built in 1972, with the three-storey Bayview Building added later.

Sources:  Province will take over Kempenfelt Conference Centre in Innisfil (simcoe.com), Order in Council 631/2018 | Ontario.ca, Kempenfelt Conference Centre, Barrie Meeting Rooms Innisfil | MeetingPackage, Province will take over Kempenfelt Conference Centre in Innisfil (simcoe.com), Hospitality students turn Kempenfelt Conference Centre into living lab – Georgian College, Georgian College to cut staff, sell conference centre | CTV News, History of the Kempenfelt Centre | CORe (ocls.ca), Donald Hogarth – Wikipedia, REMEMBER THIS: Slightly Spooky Stories — Mardon Lodge, Part Two – Barrie News (barrietoday.com), Port Arthur (provincial electoral district) – Wikipedia.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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