Running one of Nova Scotia’s most iconic rural resorts is the sort of challenge at which Jim Frise excels. After all, it’s his third time as general manager at Keltic Lodge Resort & Spa. Built on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the 105-room lodge is located inside Cape Breton Highlands National Park and offers a range of activities during spring, summer, and fall. Frise, whose résumé includes some of Canada’s finest hotels, is a natural fit for the landmark resort. Here, he discusses the career path that led him to Keltic Lodge.
Advantage: What motivated you to get into the hospitality industry?
Jim Frise: I started working for Canadian Pacific Hotels—now Fairmont Hotels—at Chateau Lake Louise during summers while in college. Later, I discovered that I didn’t really like college all that much. So I went back to my old friends at Canadian Pacific, and the career started from there.
Tell me a little about your career history prior to joining Keltic Lodge?
I apprenticed at the Royal Oak Hotel in Toronto in the early ’60s. Then I spent the next few decades at various other Canadian Pacific properties, including the Algonquin Hotel and Resort and Chateau Lake Louis, where I was general manager for 15 years in two different stretches. I first came to Keltic Lodge in 1994 and spent five years as general manager. Then I retired. I settled in nearby Ingonish Beach in 2001, and worked for a private-property developer for five years and then retired again. In 2007, I returned for a year at Keltic Lodge and then retired once more. The lodge went through some challenging times over the last few years, and New Castle Hotels and Resorts, which operates the hotel for the province, was looking for someone who knew the property and could strengthen its position in the marketplace. So I came back.
Though you retired on several occasions, you keep returning to work. Why?
At my age, I find that I need to have a few days a week where I have some workplace structure. I have enjoyed a few other things different than my career, and worked in the building industry just to stay active. I can keep busy with other things, but I think it’s healthy to spend time working in a job you enjoy, but without major responsibilities.
What keeps you coming back to Keltic Lodge?
The spectacular rural setting grows on you. I’ve managed both rural resort and city-based hotel properties, but I prefer resorts, especially in a place as beautiful as this. Keltic Lodge has spectacular countryside and oceanfront views and a really nice atmosphere. And I have found serving mostly individuals and families on vacation a little more rewarding than operating in the business community at city-based hotel properties.
What differentiates Keltic Lodge from other rural resorts?
We have great sandy beaches, which people don’t expect to see this far north. For hikers, the famous Cabot Breton Highlands National Park, here on Cabot Trail, offers unique experiences. In addition to a high-end dining room and a family-style restaurant, the lodge offers the Highland Sitting Room—a lounge area featuring nightly live entertainment, including music with our Cape Breton flare—and a 5,000-square-foot AVEDA Spa. Adjacent to the Keltic Lodge is Highland Lakes Golf Course, an 18-hole championship layout. Most of the holes are in view of the Atlantic Ocean. We offer vacation packages for golfing, kayaking, mountain biking, whale-watching excursions, and romantic weekends.
What has been your most demanding project since rejoining Keltic Lodge?
Finding the right people for a seasonal operation is always a challenge, and more so in a tight economy. We hire the majority of our staff for just a six- or seven-month period. Finding skilled people willing to give up their current position for half a year and then risk not being able to find another position when the season is over is increasingly difficult. We establish good relations with colleges that offer courses in hotel management and have success recruiting from them.
What does the future hold for Keltic Lodge?
We are hoping to soon begin renovations of many of the guest rooms and public spaces. It has been a few years since there was major renovation work on the property, and the facilities would benefit from updating. In today’s competitive resort industry, it’s important to keep your facilities fresh and abreast with current trends.