Just two hours or so north of the Toronto core, the Collingwood area has become a home away from home for those seeking a respite from the non-stop blur of buzzing stimuli. In the past generation or so, Collingwood has become an all-season destination with the amenities of a city, yet a stone’s throw from ski hills, trails and beaches. The area has drawn every age group, to be sure, eager to take in the natural surroundings, without the intensity of the concrete jungle.
This is also where you can find Living Water Resort & Spa and Living Stone Golf Resort (formerly Cranberry Golf Resort), establishments across the road from each other, that have become synonymous with comfortable accommodations for the short or long-stay traveler. Tens of thousands of people in the past two decades – many repeat clientele – acknowledge the attention to detail, doting staff and high-end caring services.
The brainchild of developer Larry Law, these elegant properties have been improved upon over time, changing and growing with the times. All this, has come with decades of know-how and experience.
Launching his career as an architect in California in 1977, for the next six years he was a developer in Hong Kong, later an architect in Toronto from 1984 to 1988. Law has, since 1988, led his group of companies to build more than 2,000 homes across Ontario including the most prominent project called Cornell in Markham, a master planned community of 1200 acres and 35,000 people.
The Collingwood vacation developments in particular - Living Stone Golf Resort and Living Water Resorts - have its own unique back story.
Already long acquainted with the region for his own family weekend getaways, Law saw potential in a burgeoning property, and decided to purchase a 76-room Cranberry Inn in the 750 acres of community, in 1992. Peculiarly, this was his first foray as a hotelier, but that didn’t stop the wide-eyed investor.
Call it prescient, foresight, or a good hunch, but a funny thing happened to Collingwood in the ensuing years. Enamoured with local festivals, enchanted by the growing plethora of outdoor activities, vacationers came in throngs; more people took up residence, and Law, from his end, already had a vision to be where the action is.
Fast forward two decades or so, and that little roadside inn is only a faint memory, compared to the luxury lifestyle resorts that today are an imprint on the Collingwood landscape.
Lately, in addition to hundreds of houses built around Living Stone Golf Resort after several phases of expansion, Living Water Resort now boasts 400 condo-style suites, a 5,000-square-foot indoor spa, a golf course, marina, four restaurants, and children’s camps. (One of which is the only restaurant-patio facing the water in the region.)
It’s truly a success story for the books: From those humble beginnings came rapid growth, that has culminated in both properties becoming well-known name brands. 750-acres fill each year with scores of golfers, skiers, families, travelers, and those seeking staycations.
Whether a guest wants to stay two days, a week or even a month, wellbeing and comfort is clearly the guiding philosophy from the moment of check-in.
The accommodations aim to be the proverbial home away from home, with airy spaciousness, jaw-dropping balcony views, modern décor, kitchen, living room and dining rooms. It’s evident that everything from cooking utensils to the ergonomic contours of the chairs has been given meticulous deliberation. The hard work and devotion to the clientele has culminated in Living Water earning the 2015 Certificate of Excellence from Tripadvisor.
The public’s been captivated with Living Water so much so, where there’s no shortage of weddings and conference bookings, leading to the expansion of The Bear Estate, Collingwood’s only waterfront banquet hall, to cater to more than 400 people, from the existing 220.
“I know it will be an inspirational and impressive experience for anyone who comes,” Law says of the entire resort.
“More important is Mother Nature, the water, wildlife, earth, sky, and fresh air. It sounds simple, but those things are rare when people are coming up from the city. So, they are in this relaxing environment and feel good about that.”
There is, moreover, an important underlying factor that has contributed greatly to the overall success, he believes. From Law’s perspective, when his employees feel cared for, and supported by the company, they will in turn serve and care the guests well. (It has proven to be true, time and again.)
“Good leadership matters. Good modelling leadership matters the most,” he states. For years, Law has been striving to build up a purpose-driven team with integrity, honesty, fairness and love. It works the best for a successful business.
It took a profound emotional loss to bring about this revelation.
In 2001, he lost his wife to cancer, leading him to ponder more about what it truly meant to have meaning, and fulfillment, both in his personal and business spheres. His soul-searching inspired him to lead a devoutly Christian lifestyle, and with it, a more empowering definition of success.
“It means, not by measurement of how much money I’m making, but by how much is done for other people’s lives – how much positive impact you’ve had that way,” he asserts.
“I started off on a totally different management style: I’m a leader; I manage you, by title. The other side of that now is that I have a servant heart. Even though I pay my employees, I want to serve my employees and guests with my loving heart. I want to do something for them. I love my community.”
That comes from extending appreciation, respect and inclusivity, he says, where five hundred staff “have a common goal to unite to serve the people with love. When we all feel that, we see the people come in here and feel that.”
If one has money, he or she can get 6-star services, but one seldom can get a caring and inspiring experience, notes Law. “The experience will inspire one to re-shape his style of working to be kind and caring, which he can get the rewards too -- more allocation of time with family.”
It’s not merely words: employees are offered wellness seminars, team building events and appreciation dinners, among other strategies for cohesiveness and cooperation.
“Now, people are not calling me a ‘home builder’; they are calling me a ‘people builder’. I’m proud to serve people. That kind of giving in return is a rewarding feeling. The most important thing is that both staff and visitors feel the genuine warmth,” he notes.
“We gain more than money. We help others, and each other. On top of that, we are proud to say that we are helping to build a better community in Collingwood.”
Indeed, he asserts that it is “everyone’s social responsibility to help those around us, as well as the community at large”, and his actions are a testament to that. Examples are legion of Law helping or donating to local charities, including hospitals, libraries, homeless organizations, Georgian College and Tyndale University.
Dubbing it a “purpose-driven” life, his commitment to community also extends to providing a free Christmas dinner to 300 underprivileged people each year, while more than fifty staff are volunteering in partnership with a dozen local churches.
“They feel that they are working for a common purpose – to make the world a better place to be.”
Law also runs an annual charity golf tournament at the resort each year, and provides scholarships and interim employment to students. “The best benefit to youths is to truly experience a good company culture, which does not focus on money as the only goal, but doing good to others with integrity, so that they can spread it out to other companies after their graduation.” His philanthropy is also felt globally: Law and his wife and his children spent time in Paraguay in 2015 funding and building a foster home for homeless children, and has had multiple visits to Cambodia and China to provide training in good leadership development and education for underprivileged children in Paraguay. Now, Law’s staff, as a whole, participates to support the children financially.
Not merely a tour de force of home and resort-building, Law is building something else, too: a reputation for instilling positivity and joy with those he serves. Indeed, it is embedded in the corporate mission: to be caring, and care for others, as well as inspiring each other to help the community.
“Our promise: Do what you love, with the people you love, in an environment where people truly want to give you the most inspiring experience,” Law states.
Indeed, this success didn’t come from merely bricks and mortar, investments and capital. It came from a deep dedication to bring heart-centered relationships to staff, guests, and locals.
“I think it’s the experience that we are so proud to offer the customer. Not only do they come to have a good time, but they can be away from the city, and relax, and enjoy the inspirational experience,” he beams. “By coming here, they will be bettering their life, family or company.”
He is grateful to God, wife, family, the executive team and all his staff. Despite the negative environment all over the world, we can share good news with people - that is the ultimate joy" Law said.
Dave Gordon has penned more than a thousand articles, and more than five hundred editorials, on every topic imaginable. He writes regularly on domestic and international politics, current events, culture, relationship issues, and much more.
He has spent time in the newsrooms of the Toronto Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Baltimore Sun, National Post and eye Weekly.